The Habsburgs: The Rise and Fall of a World Power

by Martyn Rady

Hardcover, 2020



Call number



Allen Lane (2020), 416 pages


"Habsburgs ruled much of Europe for centuries. From modest origins as minor German nobles, the family used fabricated documents, invented genealogies, savvy marriages, and military conquest on their improbable ascent, becoming the continent's most powerful dynasty. By the mid-fifteenth century, the Habsburgs controlled of the Holy Roman Empire, and by the early sixteenth century, their lands stretched across the continent and far beyond it. But in 1918, at the end of the Great War, the final remnant of their empire was gone. In The Habsburgs, historian Martyn Rady tells the epic story of the Habsburg dynasty and the world it built -- and then lost -- over nearly a millennium, placing it in its European and global contexts. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the Habsburgs expanded from Swabia across southern Germany to Austria through forgery and good fortune. By the time a Habsburg duke was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in 1452, he and his clan already held fast to the imperial vision distilled in its AEIOU motto: Austriae est imperare orbi universe, "Austria is destined to rule the world." Maintaining their grip on the imperial succession of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries, the Habsburgs extended their power into Italy, Spain, the New World, and the Pacific, a dominion that Charles V called "the empire on which the sun never sets." They then weathered centuries of religious warfare, revolution, and transformation, including the loss of their Spanish empire in 1700 and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. In 1867, the Habsburgs fatefully consolidated their remaining lands the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, setting in motion a chain of events that would end with the 1914 assassination of the Habsburg heir presumptive Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, World War I, and the end of the Habsburg era. Their demise was ignominious, and historians often depict the Habsburgs as leaders of a ramshackle, collapsing empire at Europe's margins. But in The Habsburgs, Rady reveals how they saw themselves -- as destined to rule the world, not through mere territorial conquest, but as defenders of Christian civilization and the Roman Catholic Church, guarantors of peace and harmony, and patrons of science and learning. Lively and authoritative, The Habsburgs is the engrossing definitive history of the remarkable dynasty that forever changed Europe and the world."--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member BarbaraS2016
The Hapsburgs. Once one of the world's most powerful families. Yet so few people have heard of them. People have heard of Marie Antoinette but they don't know she was a Hapsburg but this book is not about her but it is about her family beginning to end. It is an interesting book. It moves along
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well. It doesn't get too bogged down in politics and wars which is a good thing because it has to get through about 1000 years in a reasonable number of pages without boring the reader silly. The book gives you an overview of the major players and anyone or any time frame you want to read about in more depth you can get that book. Because this is a serious history book it does have copious notes and a bibliography in order to find these other books.
The Hapsburgs sort of come into their own in Swabia in the 1000's. The one thing you will notice about the Hapsburgs is they fight when they have to but they prefer to marry their wealth. That and they are lucky about having boys, boys who survive into adulthood. Other families die out and the Hapsburgs are left standing and inherit. By the time we get to Charles V Holy Roman Emperor, the first superpower, the sun doesn't set on his empire. The empire is also too big. In order to keep it in the family, intermarriage is a thing with 4 uncle-niece marriages, 11 first cousin marriages, and 28 second cousin marriages. They had an 80% infant mortality rate which was higher than the peasants. The "Hapsburg" chin was a deformity. The empire was too big. Charles split it. Phillip II his son got Spain and the new world. Ferdinand I his brother got Austria and the Low Countries.
Other notables include Maria Theresa and her 16 children who married everyone including Marie Antoinette who went to France. Leopold II who sent his daughter Marie Louise to France to marry Napoleon. She at least kept her head if not her throne. Franz Joseph the longest-serving Emperor, his only claim to fame other than being related to tragedy. He was husband to the beautiful, wilful and tragic Sisi (Empress Elisabeth), brother to the tragic and ill-fated Emperor Maximilian who was executed in Mexico, the father of the tragic Crown Prince Rudolf who committed suicide and uncle of Franz Ferdinand who was his heir after Rudolf died and was assassinated kicking off WWI. Emperor Franz Joseph died just in time leaving his great-nephew Karl Emperor and holding the bag and Karl was punished for the war. Karl's son Otto acquitted himself well but there is no empire left and eastern Europe continues to writhe. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read this book in return for a review.
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LibraryThing member modioperandi
Thanks to NetGalley for my ARC.

Martyn Rady writes very engaging history books. His chronological journey of the Habsburgs in his "A Very Short Introduction' on the Habsburgs gives just a preview of his skill as a historian and an engaging writer that rises above dry academic tone. As is the case
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with nearly all history books you may have to be either in the know or at least interested in European history. However with Rady's The Habsburgs the history being told feels relevant as ever to our times and this in-itself makes the book read more like a novel than what you could expect from a deep history of this family dynasty that reaches just shy of 1,000 years.

The Habsburgs reaches from the 13th century to the 20th and delivers on grippingly told histories in some twenty eight well arranged chapters that not only include the relevant stories and players and personalities but does what great histories do: Rady tells the story and relates it back to our life now. In this age of increased nationalism and division and consolidation of power and revolution this history of the Habsburgs is more urgent than ever.

This is a totally comprehensive without being exhausting read. For the uninitiated let me whet your appetite just by the names of some these Habsburgs alone:
Albert the Wise, Rudolf the Tight-Lipped, Albert the One-Eyed King (of Bohemia), William the Courteous, Leopold the Fat Ernest the Iron Fredrerick of the Empty Pockets, and Franz Ferdinand (as in Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination and Habsburg family influence led to world war one),

Rady buttons up the history in the last two chapters that blend in beautifully with his concluding remarks. Yes - A history book with a beautiful conclusion and even engaging acknowledgements. I cannot express more how much of a joy this book is. Also it is so beautifully researched! The further reading and comments and notes are just a treasure trove into more deep reading than you will ever have the time for but its there and its waiting for you.

Martyn Rady's The Habsburgs is relevant, engaging, ambitious, and full of perspective and just stunning prose.
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LibraryThing member briandrewz
A decent look at the House of Habsburg. This author takes a thousand years of Habsburg history and presents it to us in a little over 300 pages. We begin with the origins of the mighty Habsburg dynasty, how they shored up their rule in Europe and bound their empire together. As their rule
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progressed, they were able to incorporate territories in both the Old and New Worlds into their empire.

The book is complimented by a full cast of characters including Maria Theresa, who ruled as Queen/Empress in her own right; and Franz Josef I, who brought the Habsburgs into World War I. While this book isn't lacking at all in the political side of things, I find that it is greatly hindered by the omission of a great many personal details of the members of the House of Habsburg. Reading the political became extremely trying at times, and I was soaking up the personal bits like a sponge that's been too long without water.

In summary, this is a good book for those looking for the political rise of the Habsburgs. Look elsewhere if you are seeking something a bit more personal.
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LibraryThing member Opinionated
For surch an important dynasty, many people, including me, don't know that much about the Hapsburgs. Martyn Rady puts that right in this compact 330 page, introduction. We learn about the rise and massive expansion of the Empire, the shaving off of the Spanish component, the horrors of the Thirty
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Years War - which really should be known as the First World War given that it involved conflict on 4 continents including as far East as Taiwan, whereas the Great War of 1914-18 was primarily fought in continental Europe - the formation of a multi ethnic, multi religious Empire that held together remarkably well considering.

Throughout, the eccentricities, insanity, and inbreeding of the Hapsburgs are noted but not dwelt on. More space is given to the politics and factions of this complex edifice. And then finally, the end. As Martyn Rady notes, 1918 marks the end of a chapter for most countries, but for the Hapsburgs it marks the end of the book

Highly recommend
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Original language


Physical description

9.45 inches


0241332621 / 9780241332627
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