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Originally from Bamberg in Franconia, now northern Bavaria, the Babenbergs or Babenberger ruled Austria as counts of the march and dukes from 976 - 1248, before the rise of the house of Habsburg.


Early history of the family

The earliest known ancestor of the Babenbergs was one Poppo, who early in the 9th century was count in Grapfeld , in the area between modern Hesse and Thuringia. One of his sons, Henry , sometimes called margrave and duke in Franconia, fell fighting against the Normans in 886; another, Poppo , was margrave in Thuringia from 880 to 892, when he was deposed by the German Carolingian king Arnulf of Carinthia. The family had been favoured by Emperor Charles the Fat, but Arnulf reversed this policy in favour of the rival family of the Conradines .

The leaders of the Babenbergs were the three sons of Duke Henry, who called themselves after their castle of Babenberg on the upper Main, around which their possessions centred. The city of Bamberg was built around the ancestral castle of the family.

The Babenberg feud

The rivalry between the Babenberg and Conradine families was intensified by their efforts to extend their authority in the region of the middle Main, and this quarrel, known as the "Babenberg feud ," came to a head at the beginning of the 10th century during the troubled reign of the German king Louis the Child. In the battle of Fritzlar in 906, the Conradines won a decisive victory, although count Conrad the Elder fell in the battle. Two of the Babenberg brothers were also killed. The third, Adalbert of Prague was summoned before the imperial court by the regent Hatto I, Archbishop of Mainz, a partisan of the Conradines. He refused to appear, held his own for a time in his castle at Theres against the king's forces, but surrendered in 906, and in spite of a promise of safe-conduct by Hatto was beheaded.

The Conradines became dukes of Franconia, while the Babenbergs lost their influence in Franconia.

Margraves of Austria

In 976 Liutpold, a member of the family who was a count in the Donnegau , is described as count of the Eastern March, a district not more than 60 miles in breadth on the eastern frontier of Bavaria which grew into the duchy of Austria. Liutpold, who probably received the mark as a reward for his fidelity to the emperor Otto II during the Bavarian rising in 976, extended its area at the expense of the Hungarians, and was succeeded in 994 by his son Henry I. Henry, who continued his father's policy, was followed in 1018 by his brother Adalbert and in 1055 by his nephew, Ernest, whose marked loyalty to the emperors Henry II and Henry III was rewarded by many tokens of favour.

The succeeding margrave, Leopold II, quarrelled with Henry III, who was unable to oust him from the mark or to prevent the succession of his son Leopold III in 1096. Leopold supported Henry, the son of Henry III, in his rising against his father, but was soon drawn over to the emperor's side, and in 1106 married his daughter Agnes, widow of Frederick I of Swabia. He declined the imperial crown in 1125. His zeal in founding monasteries earned for him his surname "the Pious", and canonization by Pope Innocent VIII in 1485. He is regarded as the patron saint of Austria.

Elevation to dukes

One of Leopold's sons was Otto, bishop of Freising. His eldest son, Leopold IV, became margrave in 1136, and in 1139 received from the German king Conrad III the duchy of Bavaria, which had been forfeited by Henry the Proud. Leopold's brother Henry (surnamed Jasomirgott from his favourite oath, "So help me God!") was made count palatine of the Rhine in 1140, and became margrave of Austria on Leopold's death in 1141. Having married Gertrude, the widow of Henry the Proud, he was invested in 1143 with the duchy of Bavaria, and resigned his office as count palatine. In 1147 he went on crusade, and after his return, renounced Bavaria at the instance of the new king Frederick I who gave the duchy of Bavaria to Henry the Lion of Saxony. As compensation for this, Austria, the capital of which had been transferred to Vienna in 1156, was elevated into a duchy in the Privilegium Minus.

The rise of Babenberg power...

The second duke was Henry's son Leopold V, who succeeded him in 1177 and took part in, the crusades of 1182 and 1190. In Palestine he quarrelled with Richard I of England, captured him on his homeward journey and handed him over to the emperor Henry V. Leopold increased the territories of the Babenbergs by acquiring Styria under the will of his kinsman Duke Ottokar IV. He died in 1194, and Austria fell to one son, Frederick, and Styria to another, Leopold; but on Frederick's death in 1198 they were again united by Duke Leopold VI, surnamed "the Glorious".

The new duke fought against the infidels in Spain, Egypt and Palestine, but is more celebrated as a lawgiver, a patron of letters and a founder of towns. Under him Vienna became the centre of culture in Germany and the great school of Minnesingers. His later years were spent in strife with his son Frederick, and he died in 1230 at San Germano , whither he had gone to arrange the peace between the emperor Frederick II and Pope Gregory IX.

...and its fall

His son Frederick II followed as duke, and earned the name of "Quarrelsome" because of his ongoing disputes with the kings of Hungary and Bohemia and with the emperor. He deprived his mother and sisters of their possessions, was hated by his subjects on account of his oppressive rule, and in 1236 was placed under the imperial ban and driven from Austria. Restored to his duchy when the emperor was excommunicated, he treated with Frederick in vain to make Austria a kingdom. The male line of the Babenbergs became extinct when he was killed in battle in 1246.

After some years of struggle known as the Interregnum, the Duchies of Austria and Styria fell to Otakar II of Bohemia, and subsequently to Rudolph I of Habsburg, whose descendents were to rule Austria until 1918.

Also see

Last updated: 05-19-2005 00:04:06