Maximilian in armour, a posthumous portrait in 1618 by Peter Paul Rubens.
Sallet of Maximilian I, ca. 1490–95, by Lorenz Helmschmid, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Emperor Maximilian I and his family; with his son Philip the Fair, his wife Mary of Burgundy, his grandsons Ferdinand I and Charles V, and Louis II of Hungary (husband of his granddaughter Mary of Austria).
Maximilian talking to German knights (depiction from the contemporary Weisskunig)
The hommage ceremony of the estates to the emperor (depiction from the Liber missarum of Margaret of Austria, 1515)
Maximilian personally led his troops at the battle of Wenzenbach in 1504.
Young Maximilian’s life was tied to building power and reputation for the family. For the same, he married Mary of Burgundy, in 1477, in order to curb military conflict with her father Charles the Bold and acquire the vast Burgundian possessions for his House of Habsburg.
Almost immediately after acquiring the Duchy of Burgundy, Maximilian defended the new empire from the military attack of the French forces, defeating Louis XI at the Battle of Guinegate on August 7, 1479.
As per the agreement before marriage, the right to inherit the Duchy of Burgundy was restricted to the couple’s children and neither of the surviving parent could acquire the same after the other’s death. As such, following Mary’s untimely death in 1482, Maximilian’s position weakened as the inheritance passed on to his son, Philip the Handsome.
The declining state of power of Maximilian aggravated political pressure. Though he claimed to be recognized as the guardian of Philip and regent of Netherlands, his demands were not adhered to. Furthermore, Maximilian was compelled to assent to the treaty of Arras in 1482 between the states of the Netherlands and Louis XI, thus giving up Franche-Comté and Artois to the French crown.
In February 1486, Maximilian was elected as the King of Romans. The coronation was held in April in Aachen. In 1488, he was held in captive in Bruges for about three months. He was set free only after his father approached with a large force.
In 1490, in order to surround France, he made a treaty with Francis II, Duke of Brittany by marrying the latter’s daughter Duchess Anne of Brittany. During his initial years of rule, greater part of Austria was under Hungarian rule. By 1490, he successfully re-conquered the lost territory of Austria and entered Vienna.
The seizure of Hungary made him a candidate for the vacant Hungarian throne. When Vladislas (Ulászló) II of Bohemia was elected to the throne, Maximilian waged a successful campaign against Vladislas. It resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Pressburg in 1491 as per which the succession to Bohemia and Hungary would pass to the Habsburgs if Vladislas left no male heir.
In 1493, the Treaty of Senlis was signed which marked the end of conflict with Netherlands and France. Meanwhile through his cousin archduke Sigismund, the county of Tirol was added to his list of possessions. Soon, the district became his favourite place of residence.
Following his father Frederick III’s death in 1493, Maximilian became the head of the Holy Roman Empire. Following year, he married Bianca Maria Sforza, daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan. The marriage was basically to hinder King Louis XII’s claim for the Duchy of Milan. Yet again a conflict between Maximilian and Louis XII arose but the former was unable to curb the French take over.
In 1495, Maximilian allied himself with the Holy League, involving Spain, Venice and Milan to drive out the French, whose invasion of Italy had disrupted the balance of power in Europe. The league successfully drove out the French from Italy.
Just like himself, Maximilian made marriage alliance of his son and daughter to strengthen the Habsburg Empire. In 1495, he married his son to Spanish infant, Joan and in 1497, betrothed his daughter Margaret to the Spanish crown Prince. Both the marriages were basically to allow his succession in Spain and control over the Spanish colonies.
Maximilian’s continuous attempt at strengthening the empire and his invasions of France did not go well with the public. Demand for deep reform rose to preserve the unity of the Empire. This resulted in the launch of Reichskammergericht, a new body that was largely independent from Emperor.
To adhere to the demand from local rulers for independence and strengthening of the territorial rule, Maximilian encouraged building up of a new organ, Reichsregiment. It consisted of deputies of the Emperor, local rulers, commoners, and the prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire who aimed at granting greater powers to local rulers. However, the organ failed and Maximilian regained absolute power in 1502.
Meanwhile, in 1499, he fought an unsuccessful war against the Swiss who in turn won an important victory at the Battle of Dornach. The victory resulted in granting independence to the Swiss confederacy from the Holy Roman Empire.
In 1504, he strengthened the European position by an agreement with France. Furthermore, he made impressive victory in the war against Bavaria and the Rhenish Palatinate.
In 1508, with the assent of Pope Julius II, he became the elected Roman Emperor, thus ending the customary tradition of the Holy Roman Emperor being crowned by the pope. Same year, he entered the League of Cambrai with France, Spain and Pope to partition the Republic of Venice. However, his lack of financial means led him to become an unreliable partner of the alliance.
In 1513, with the assistance from Henry VIII of England, he made an important victory at the Battle of Spurs against his arch-rivals, French. However, the victorious league was followed by a massive debacle in 1515 that thwarted Maximilian’s effort to regain Milan. The failed attempt led to the signing of the Treaty of Brussels according to which Milan was granted to the French and Verona to the Venetians.
Much like his previous attempts, Maximilian successfully arranged marriage between members of the Habsburg family and the Hungarian royal house, in order to strengthen the Habsburg position in Hungary and Bohemia.
Towards the end of his life, Maximilian diverted his energy towards succession rights of Charles V, his grandson. In order to secure the throne to the Habsburg House and prevent Francis I of France from taking over, he campaigned extensively, bribing people massively.
He breathed his last on January 12, 1519, at Wels in Upper Austria. He was buried in Georgskirche at Wiener Neustadt. A magnificent tomb at the Hofkirche in Innsbruck was completed later.
Maximilian I was a member of the Order of the Garter, nominated by King Henry VII of England in 1489.
Maximilian's marriage to Mary of Burgundy in 1477 plunged him into a conflict with the king of France, Louis XI, over the Burgundian territories. Holding his own against Louis, Maximilian also had to put down revolts in Flanders. His son and heir, Philip of Burgundy, was born in 1478, and his wife died in 1482. Maximilian held his Burgundian dominions, and in 1496 married Philip to Juana, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, thus linking the Hapsburg house to the most vigorous dynasty of Europe. In 1500 the future emperor Charles V was born to Juana and Philip, and by a series of dynastic accidents Charles became the heir not only of Maximilian's Hapsburg territories and claim to the imperial title but to Burgundy and Spain as well, thus laying the foundations for the power of the Spanish monarchy for the next century.
After the death of his first wife, Maximilian I married Anne of Brittany - they were married by proxy in Rennes on 18 December 1490, but the contract was dissolved by the Pope in early 1492, by which time Anne had already been forced by the French King, Charles VIII (the fiancé of Maximilian's daughter Margaret of Austria) to repudiate the contract and marry him instead.
In 1493 Maximilian I married Bianca Maria Sforza; the marriage bringing Maximilian a rich dowry and allowing him to assert his rights as Imperial overlord of Milan. The marriage was unhappy, and they had no children.
In addition, he had several illegitimate children.