Origin of the Habsburgs: Three Major Theories

There are three major theories of the Hapsburg ancestry, which are: (a) the Alsace theory, which would make them a branch of the Etichoni, who were themselves a branch of the Alaholfingians; (b) the Merovingian theory, which would make them a branch of the Merovingians; and, (c) the Colonna theory, which would give them an imperial descent from “the Forum Iulii”, descended from Julius Caesar’s cousin, Sextus.

The “Alsace theory” was the official theory of the House of Lorraine, which, after the extinction of the Hapsburgs in the male-line, its legacy was inherited through the Hapsburg-heiress, Empress Maria-Theresa, to her husband and her descendants by him, representing the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine. This theory was popularized by the House of Lorraine since it was a branch of the Etichoni, and would make Lorraine and Hapsburg collateral-lines. The Merovingian Theory was popular in the medieval times; and the Colonna Theory was popular during the Renaissance (David Hughes, The British Chronicles (2007), 338). This source must be treated with caution, but the information appears to be accurate.

The Mythological Origins: Colonna

The Habsburgs could not link their origins to the existing German dynasties of the era – i.e., the Saliens or the Staufens. So, from as early as the 14th century, Habsburg genealogists have attempted to trace their origins back to the Romans, through a Roman patrician family called Colonna, who claimed their descent via the counts of Tuscany to Julius Caesar (Berenger 8-9).

According to legend, the ancient and distinguished Colonna Family, descend through the Counts of Tusculum from Gens Julia, the family of Julius Caesar, and via Augustus the original Imperial Family of Ancient Rome. The name Colonna is said have been taken from Trajan’s Column. The style Colonna is first found in an official document of 1047, referring to the family castle in the Alban Hills. Their lands and possessions included vast estates lying south of Rome, as well as numerous properties within the city walls.

The Mythological Origins: Pierleoni

In the 15th century, the Habsburgs attempted to trace their origins to the Pierleoni and the counts of Aventine, who counted among their members Pope Gregory the Great and Saint Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order. (Berenger 8-9).

“One Heinrich von Gundelfingen in 1476, wrote that the Habsburgs came from the Pierleone, Counts of Aventino, descendants of the Anicii of the late Roman empire, and related to pope Gregory I. In fact, there were no such counts of Aventino, and the the Pierleone family of twelfth century Rome descended from a converted Jewish banker, related to popes Gregory VI and Gregory VII, and to which the antipope Anacletus II belonged.

“Ferdinand Gregorovius, in Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter Vom V. bis zum XVI. Jahrhundert, called this the right family, and mischievously twitted the Habsburg emperors in the mid nineteenth century about their Pierleone pretensions, saying that they were actually looking for ancestors in the ghetto of Rome. The full text of Gregorovius is available at Archive.org.

“Actually, if the original Habsburg castle is dated 1020, that probably would be too early for this Pierleone family” (Leonard Lipschutz, MEDIEV-L@raven.cc.ku.edu, Feb. 13, 2003).

The Pierleoni claimed descent from the Anicii, an old Roman gens. Other ancient sources, including Boethius’ own De consolatione philosophiae, give more details. Boethius belonged to the ancient Roman family of the Anicii, which had been Christian for about a century and of which Emperor Olybrius had been a member. Boethius’ father had been consul in 487 but died soon afterward, and Boethius was raised by Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus, whose daughter Rusticiana he married. He became consul in 510 under the Ostrogothic king Theodoric. Although little of Boethius’ education is known, he was evidently well trained in Greek. His early works on arithmetic and music are extant, both based on Greek handbooks by Nicomachus of Gerasa, a 1st-century-AD Palestinian mathematician. There is little that survives of Boethius’ geometry, and there is nothing of his astronomy.

The Mythological Origins: Merovingian

Also during this century [the 15th], another legend surfaced tracing the “Frankish” origins of the Habsburgs back to the Carolingians, the Merovingians before them, and back further to the Trojans (Berenger 8-9).

The Historical Origins

Each of these mythological origins had a political purpose at the time of their dissemination – whether it be a connection to the imperial Roman past, the sacred descent from popes and saints, or the descent from the Frankish empires (Berenger 8-9).

In 1649, a theory developed by the French scholar Jerome Vignier proposed that the Habsburgs were descended from the dukes of Alsace – specifically, from Eticho in the 7th century and on through his ancestors who ruled over Alsace and Swabia. This theory was particularly embraced when Maria Theresa married the duke of Lorraine, Francis Stephen, presenting the new Lorraine dynasty as a restoration of the House of Alsace founded by Eticho (Berenger 9). This genealogy led unquestionably to Guntram the Rich, count of Alsace and the Breisgau, in the 10th century. He is believed to be the “count Guntrum” who was deprived of his estates in 952 by Otto the Great for treason. Part of his confiscated lands were returned as part of an amnesty. Situated within the kingdom of Burgundy, this Habichtsburg domain was allodial land – i.e., land that was the absolute property of its owners, free from feudal dues or taxes. The fact that Guntram was known as “the Rich” underscores the considerable extent of his holdings in Alsace, Breisgau, and the Aargau. So, from the beginning of this family’s known historical origin, the Habsburgs were well established in the heart of Europe and of medieval Christendom – a geographic location that became known as the “crossroads of Europe”, where political, intellectual, and cultural currents mingled (Wandruszka 25).

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