Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Birthday Greetings #15

My its a big month for birthdays. On this occasion the shout out goes to Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick was the Habsburg Duke of Inner Austria and the second Habsburg in succession to hold the imperial crown (although they had held the title once or twice previously). Frederick wasn't elected emperor due to any personal qualities he may have possessed but largely on the strength of his name. In the early fifteenth century the states of Germany were sadly aware that the empire no longer commanded the universal respect it had a century or two ago. They yearned for the days of the empire under Frederick I and thought that the next best thing was to elect another guy named Frederick. This didn't turn out as well as they had hoped. Frederick I had been given the epithet "Barbarossa" a reference to his red hair but also indicative of a wild and ferocious spirit. The next Frederick was given the epithet "Stupor Mundi" which apparently means "The Astonishment of the World" (or possibly "I'm comatose on Mondays"). What did our Frederick get as an epithet? "The Fat".

At first glance Frederick's reign (and indeed his entire life) looks like an unmitigated disaster. Actually a second and third glance will probably tell the same story. He was distant, slow of movement and, apparently, thought and spent most of his life wandering from place to place as the armies of his various enemies kicked him out of wherever he happened to be residing. However there was something about Frederick. He had a stubborn, remorseless refusal to let reality interfere with his outlook on life. And eventually reality came around. Attacked on all sides, frequently by members of his own family, Frederick lost every battle he ever fought but proved more adept at politics of the Richard III kind. Somehow he was always beaten but never quite defeated. He stubbornly asserted his rights, even when everybody was laughing at him, and was prepared to wait forever until they were recognised. By refusing to relinquish the letter of his power even when military action deprived him of its actuality he laid a basis for future, more vigorous emperors to regain what he had lost. His patience served him in another area as well, while he sat and waited his enemies died. His brother (who had waged war against him) died and Frederick inherited his lands. His nephew (whom Frederick had locked up in a tower) died and Frederick inherited those lands as well.

He married his son Maximilian to the daughter of Charles, Duke of Burgundy. Charles, known as the Rash (probably because Charles the Psychopathic Maniac didn't look good on letterhead) predictably died in a pointless battle soon afterwards and the fabulously wealthy Burgundian lands became part of the Habsburg heritage. Towards the end of his reign he associated Maximilian with his rule. This encouraged the electors to elect Maximilian as emperor after Frederick's death and the joining of Maximilian's quicksilver vitality with Frederick's stolid experience and determination proved a workable combination.

Despite the unremitting gloom of his reign Frederick laid the basis for Habsburg power, cementing the crown of the empire within his family and initiating the first of a series of spectacularly successful marriage contracts which would result in the Habsburgs dominating half of Europe. Whether Frederick himself was visionary enough to realise the path he had set his dynasty on is open to doubt. There is one interesting fact though; Frederick (like many Habsburgs) loved cyphers and symbology. He took as his personal cypher AEIOU. What this stood for he never quite explained but the most common interpretation is Alles Erdreich Ist Osterreich Untertan. The Whole World is Subject to Austria.

1 comment:

  1. More brilliant stuff. I wish we had been able to read this at school; we would have remembered much more than we do. And Sellars and Yeatman wouldn't have had the run they had..