Genealogists today often think of genealogy as a search for the truth about family relationships and history. But, for our royal and noble ancestors genealogy was something different.
It was a two-pronged propaganda campaign. One goal was to prove they were an ancient and distinguished family. The other goal was to prove that they were entitled to whatever titles, territories, and privileges they claimed.
The Habsburgs are a particularly well-documented example of the way medieval genealogies changed over time.
When Count Rudolf von Habsburg (1218-1291) was elected Holy Roman Roman Emperor in 1273 the Habsburg family seems to have had no genealogical tradition about their origins. If they did have, it has since been lost.
Rudolf was avidly interested in genealogy. Very soon after he was elected he circulated the idea the Habsburgs were descendants of the Colonna family. The Colonna are an Italian noble family, said to be a branch of the Counts of Tusculum, who in turn were supposed to be descended from the Roman gens Julia, the family of Julius Caesar. So, at a stroke, a formerly obscure Swiss family was linked to ancient Rome. Not surprisingly, Rudolf’s new imperial dynasty also gained apparent legitimacy.
The idea that the Habsburgs were descended from the family of Julius Caesar gave them an opening to tag onto an older bit of political propaganda. Caesar himself claimed to be a descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who was the son of a Trojan prince Anchises and the goddess Venus (Greek: Aphrodite), according to Homer’s Iliad. Virgil’s Aeneid tells the story of how Aeneas gathered the Trojan survivors along with the statues of the household gods of Troy, and eventually settled in Italy where he became the ancestor of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, and his companions became the ancestors of the Romans.
So, this genealogy made the Habsburgs not only the heirs of Rome but also the heirs of the Trojans and the founders of Rome.
- Chronik der 95 Herrschaften (Chronicle of 95 Seigneurs) by Leopold of Vienna (Leopold Stainreuter) (late 14th century). A compilation of the 95 rulers of Austria from Noah down to the present. In 1453 Frederick III used this compilation to have a memorial created in St. George’s church in the castle at Wiener Neustadt. The memorial shows 107 coats of arms, most of them the imaginary arms of fictitious Austrian rulers from Noah down to himself. Frederick had himself portrayed in the central field as ruler of the Austrian domains.
The Colonna story continued as the official history of the Habsburgs until the reign of Maximilian I (1459-1519), the next family genealogist.
In 1476 a Swiss monk, Heinrich von Gundelfingen, produced a new genealogy showing the Habsburgs were actually descendants of the Pierleoni family. This genealogy might have been prepared for Maximilian’s wedding the following year to Mary of Burgundy.
The Pierleoni, like the Colonna, were an Italian noble family. They claimed descent from gens Anicia through Roman Emperor Olybrius (died 472).and the counts of Aventine. The previous genealogy had underlined the legitimacy of the Habsburgs as an imperial dynasty. This one also emphasized their sanctity. St. Benedict (480-543), the founder the Benedictine order, and Pope Gregory the Great (c540-604) were Anicii. Other famous members included the philosopher Boethius (c480-524), author of Consolation of Philosophy, a very popular and influential work, and Roman Emperor Petronius Maximus (c396-455).
This version of the Habsburg genealogy was still being published as late as 1694, when it reached its peak of popularity under Leopold I (1640-1705). Unfortunately it turned out to be too good to be true, although the full extent of the fraud wasn’t understood until 1836 (Fürst Eduard Maria von Lichnowsky, Geschichte des Hauses Habsburg).
The Pierleoni were really descendants of Leo de Benedicto Christiano, a Jewish banker who had converted to Christianity in the 11th century.
Trojans and Merovingians
Maximilian I launched a search for his family’s origins, and promoted the production of illuminated manuscripts, illustrated genealogies, and treatises on heraldry. In 1498 he commissioned Dr. Konrad Turst in Zurich to search for documents in the family’s Swiss homeland. He also engaged many of the leading scholars of his age as consultants, including Konrad Celtis, Johannes Cuspinianus, Konrad Peutinger, Willibald Pirckheimer, and Johannes Stabius, as well as Abbot Trithemius, and his own historiographers Jakob Mennel (Manlius) and Ladislaus Sunthaim.
In his earlier years Maximilian was inclined to accept the Pierleoni descent. Later, he favored research that showed he was a descendant of the ancient Trojan kings through the Merovingians. The French kings claimed the same origin, but their line went through the Carolingian usurpers. Claiming a different version of the same line allowed Maximilian to present himself as the legitimate heir of the ancient kingdoms of Gaul and Germany, and provided a justification for his territorial expansion into France and Burgundy.
There were variations of the Trojan line, even during Maximilian’s lifetime. One version traced the line back to the Trojan hero Hector. Maximilian had this line published in a book prepared for Charles VIII of France when he was trying to convince Charles to marry his daughter. Other versions took the line back to the Egyptian god Osiris and to the biblical Noah. Konrad Celtis went a different direction — he traced the Habsburgs back to the Norse god Tuisco, the ancestor of the Teutons.
- Trithemius (1495-1503): 1, Marcomir. 2. Anthenor. 3. Priamus. 4. Helenus. 5. Diocles. 6. Helenus. 7. Basanus. 8. Chlodomer. 9. Nicanor. 10. Marcomir. 11. Clodius. 12. Anthenor. 13. Clodomer. 14. Merodach. 15. Cassander. 16. Ancharius. 17. Franco (um Beginn unserer Zeitrechnung). 18. Clogius. 19. Herimer. 20. Marcomir. 21. Clodomir. 22. Anthenor. 23. Ratterius. 24. Richimer. 25. Odemar. 26. Marcomir. 27. Clodomer. 28. Favabert. 29. Sunno. 30. Childerich. 31. Berthar. 32. Clodius. 33. Walther. 34. Dagobert. 35. Clogio (died 309). 36. Clodomer. 37. Richimer. 38. Thedemer. 39. Clogio. 40. Marcomir. 41. Dagobert (died 385). 42. Genebald. 43. Faramund. 44. Clodius. 45. Merovech. 46. Childerich. 47. Chlodevech usw. (Chronicon Hirsaugiense)
- Gebweiler (1530): 47. Chlodvech. 48. Chlothar. 49. Sigubert. 50. Childbert. 51. Theodebert. 52. Sigubert. 53. Otbert. 54. Bebo. 55. Robert. 56. Amprintus (Rampert). 57. Guntram. 58. Luthard. 59. Betzo. 60. Rapoto. 61. Berengar. 62. Otto. 63. Werner. 64. Albert I. 65. Albert II. 66. King Rudolf I.
- Memorial of Maximilian I (1572), at Hofkirche, Innsbruck. The original plan for Maximilian I’s cenotaph was that it would be surrounded by 40 large statues of his famous ancestors, 100 smaller statues of the family’s patron saints, and 34 busts of Roman emperors who had been his predecessors.The work was never finished. The completed work included 28 statues of his ancestors, including King Arthur, Theodoric the Great, and Clovis I; 23 statues of the family saints, including St. Morand; and only 21 busts of the Roman emperors.
- Genealogy of Philip II of Spain (16th century), traces his ancestry to Adam through Hercules Lybius: 1. Adam. 2. Seth: 3. Henos: 4. Cainan: 5. Malaleel: 6. Iared: 7. Henoch: 8. Mathusalam: 9. Lamech: 10. Noe: 11. Iapeth: 12. Iauan: 13. Dodanin: 14. Hercules: 15. Thusco: 16. Altheo: 17. Blascon: 18. Cambo Blascon: 19. Dardano: 20. Ericthonio: 21. Troe: 22. Iilo: 23. Loomedonte: 24. Priamo: 25. Heleno: 26. Genger: 27. Franco: 28. Esdron: 29. Gelio: 30. Rasabiliano: 31. Plaserio: 32. Plesron: 33. Eliacor: 36. Gaberiano: 35. Plaserio: 36. Antenor: 37. Priamo: 38. Heleno: 39. Plesron: 40. Basabiliano: 41. Alexandre: 42. Priamo: 43. Getmalor: 44. Almadion: 45. Diluglio: 16. Heleno: 47. Plaserio: 48. Diluglio: 40. Marcomiro: 50. Priamo: 51. Heleno: 52. Antenor: 53. Marcomiro: 54. Antenor: 55. Priamo: 56. Heleno: 57. Diocles: 58. Basano: 59. Clodomiro: 60, Nicanor: 61. Marcomiro: 62. Clodio: 63. Antenor: 64. Clodomiro: 65. Merocado: 66. Casandre: 67. Antario: 68. Franco: 69. Clogion: 70. Marcomiro: 71. Clodomiro: 72. Antenor: 73. Paterio: 74. Richimero: 75. Odemara: 76. Marcomiro: 77. Clodomiro: 78. Faraberto: 79. Sunon: 80. Hilderico: 81. Baltero: 82. Clodio: 83. Valter: 84. Dagoverto: 85. Clogion: 86. Genebaldo: 87. Dagoverto: 88. Clodion: 89. Marcomiro: 90. Faramundo: 91. Clodion: his son, 92. Merobeo: 93. Childerico: 94. Clodoreo: 95. Clotario (or Olotario): 96. Sigisberto: 97. Thoeberto: 98. Bebo: 99. Roperto: 100. Amprinto: 101. Gontramo: 102. Luthardo: 103. Betgon: 104. Rapoto: 105. Berengario: 106. Othon: 107. Vernero: 108. Alberto Elrico: 109. Alberto, 2: 110. Rodulpho: 111. Alberto, 3: 112. Alberto Elsabio: 113. Leopoldo: 114. Ernosto: 115. Federico: 116. Maximiliano: 117. Don Philipe, 1:118. D. Charolus: 119. D. Philipe, 2: 120. D. Philipe, 3: 121. D. Philipe, 4: 122. D. Philipe, 5. (John O’Hart, Irish Pedigrees (1892)).
- Arbor Monarchia (1698), a hand painted tree about 25 feet tall created for Leopold I to show the Habsburg descent from Adam, who is said to have died in the Year of the World 930 and was buried on Mount Calvary. This tree is now in the Vienna State Archives.
In 1649 French genealogist Jérôme Vignier advanced a new idea about the Habsburg origins. He based his theory on a manuscript fragment he found in Lorraine, but never produced the manuscript. He traced their ancestry back to Eticho, duke of Alsace in the 7th century, and from him back to Aega, major domo of Clovis II in the 6th century.
At the time, this line had political implications. The Habsburgs were no longer the heirs of the ancient French kings, they were one branch of a subordinate family.
Then, in the early 18th century the Habsburgs had a succession crisis. Emperor Charles VI (1685-1740) was the last of the male line. His daughter and heiress, Empress Maria Theresa married Francis I Stephen, duke of Lorraine and later titular emperor.
The Habsburg family seized on Vignier’s research. Marquard Herrgott (1694-1762), a monk at Sankt Blasien, compiled a genealogy history at the request of Charles VI — The dukes of Lorraine were also descended from Eticho, so the Habsburg family wasn’t really extinct. Charles VI’s son-in-law was just a different branch of the same family (Genealogia diplomatica Augusta Gentis Habsburgicæ (1737)).
Yet, both Julien Havet and Horace Round later ridiculed Vignier’s research. Havet thought it was a “remarkable coincidence” that Vignier’s discovery “was full of genealogical details, that is to say, exactly what he wanted in order to prove his theory.” (Horace Round, “Our English Hapsburgs: a Great Delusion” in Studies in Peerage and Family History, pp. 216-249 (1901), quoting Julien Havet).
- Jean-Jacques Chifflet (1650): As an agent for the Habsburgs in Spanish Netherlands, he wrote political tracts upholding the rights of the Habsburgs against France. In Stemma Austriacum annis abhic millenis(1650), he reversed his previous opinion about the Habsburg ancestry and accepted Vignier’s theory, Later, he discovered the tomb of Childeric I (died 480/1) at Tournai. He published an inventory of its contents (Anastasis Childerici I. Francorvm Regis, sive Thesavrvs Sepvlchralis Tornaci Neruiorum (1655)). This inventory was in fact a piece of political propaganda, written to discredit the Bourbon kings of France as heirs of the Merovingian dynasty (Anthony Wagner (1973)).
- Kirchmair (1677): 1. Ethico. 2. Etho. 3. Alberich. 4. Ottbert. 5. Leutfrid. 6. Hunfrid. 7. Guntram der Reiche. 8. Landolus. 9. Radbot. 10. Werner I. 11. Otto. 12. Werner II. 13. Albert. 14. Rudolf. 15. Albert. 16. König Rudolf I.
- David Blondelli bei Kirchmair (1677/80): Archinoald. 2. Leudesius. 3. Adalrich-Ethico. 4. Hetto. 5. Alberich. 6. Eberhard. 7. Hugo. 8. Guntram. 9. Landolus. 10. Radbot. 11. Werner. 12. Otto. 13. Werner. 14. Werner. 15. Albert. 16. Rudolf. 17. Albert. 18. König Rudolf I.
- Eccard (1721): Leuthar, Herzog von Alamannien, d. 554. 2. Leudefred I. 3. Leudefred II. 4. Ethico I. 5. Ethico II. 6. Alberich (Bego I). 7. Eberhard I. 8. Bego II. 9. Eberhard II. 10. Eberhard III. 11. Hugo I. 12. Guntram. 13. Lanzelin usw.
- Herrgott (1737): 1. Ethico. 2. Adalbert. 3. Liutfrid II. 4. Liutfrid III. 5. Liutfrid IV. 6. Hugo I. 7. Liutfrid V. 8. Hunfrid. 9. Guntram der Reiche. 10. Lantoldus. 11. Radbot. 12. Werner. 13. Otto II. 14. Werner III. 15. Albert III. 16. Rudolf. 17. Albert IV. 18. König Rudolf I.
In 1889 Franz von Krones definitively put an end to the old myths (Grundriss der österreichischen Geschichtsforschung).
The majority view in modern times is that the Habsburgs are descended from Count Guntram the Rich, who held lands in the Aargau area of Switzerland. The Acta Murensia, a manuscript history written in the 12th century, was lost in the monastery library at Muri until its discovery in the 16th century. The annals give an account of the lives of the early Habsburgs, and prove they descend from this Guntram.
He might (or not) have been the same person as the Guntram who was duke of Upper Alsace (count of the Sundgau). This other Guntram had his lands confiscated in 952 as a punishment for rebelling against Emperor Otto the Great. His property was granted to the bishop of Constance in 962. If the two men were the same, he lost his lands in Alsace because it was part of the Holy Roman Empire but kept his lands in Aargau because it was part of the old Kingdom of Burgundy, not part of the Holy Roman Empire.
And, if the two men were the same then Guntram really was a descendant of Duke Eticho, although descent from Aega is now known to be fictitious.
- Acta Murensius says he was a son of Theodebert, king of Helvetia and Alemannia.
- The Vita Sancti Deicoli names “primogenitus Heberardus, secundus Hugo, tercio Guntramnus” as the three sons of Hugo [VI of Nordau].
- The Notitiæ Altorfenses names “Guntramus filius Hugonis” in relation to a donation of property to the monastery “pro anime sue remedio”.
- “Otto…rex” donated several named properties “in pago Elisaza…et in comitatu Bernhardi comitis…in villis Brumagad, et in Mumenheim et in Grioz et in Walahon et in Bernnesheim et in Moreseim”, confiscated from “Guntrammus”, to Kloster Lorsch by charter dated 11 Aug 953
- Otto…rex” donated property “in ducatu Alamannico in comitatu Burchardi ducis Durgeuue…in villa Askinza” [Eschenz in Thurgau] which had been confiscated from “Gundranmus comes” to Kloster Einsiedeln by charter dated 6 Jan 958.
- “Otto…rex” gave property in “Cholumbra et Hitinheim” which previously belonged to “Guntramnus in Hillisazaas” to “fideli nostro Rudolfo” by charter dated 14 Apr 959. This Rudolf was the son of Rudolf of Burgundy and Berta of Swabia.
Habsburg DNA Project
The organizers of the Habsburg DNA Project believe the Habsburgs have a very different origin.
See Harry Hoppes Hoax at Family Tree DNA . . .
The English Feilding family, earls of Denbigh, had a tradition they were descended from Gotfrid, count of Habsburg-Laufenburg (died 1271), through a son also named Geoffrey who settled in England temp. Henry III and took the surname Feilding. The claim has been discredited.
- Horace Round (1901): “Our English Hapsburgs: a Great Delusion” in Studies in Peerage and Family History, pp. 216-249 (1901). He debunked the myth.
- Alphons Lhotsky, Das Haus Habsburg (1971)
Prepared as an overview for the Geni project of same name.