The last knight. Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg

“For what is the use of man if he gains the whole world, but damages his soul?”
Matthew 16: 26


The last knight. Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg

Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg. Portrait of a brush by Albrecht Durer (Museum stories Arts, Vienna)



People and weapon. Probably, among people interested in knightly armor and weapons, as well as the history of the Middle Ages, there is no such person who would not hear about the “Maximilian armor” that appeared at the turn of the XV-XVI centuries. and characterized by a "grooved surface", high strength and high price! That is, they know that they were invented and used by Emperor Maximilian I (1459 — 1519), who was the king of Germany since 1486, the Archduke of Austria from 1493 and the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 1508. But what kind of person was he? What were his aspirations, was he a humanist or a tyrant, his likes and dislikes, that he loved and hated? What do we know about all this? In short, what kind of man was he and what trace did he leave on earth, except that according to the fashion he introduced throughout Europe for more than 20 years, knightly armor with grooves was forged?


One of the most valuable exhibits of this exhibition. The completely gilded armor of Emperor Maximilian I (1459 — 1519), made for him by the Italian craftsman Francesco da Merata of Milan in the traditional “Milanese style”. It was made in 1508 year. Height: 180 cm (Imperial Armory, Vienna)


And today we’ll just tell you about this, taking advantage of the fact that in the USA in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in October the Last Knight exhibition opened, which coincides with the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Maximilian and is the largest exhibition of European weapons and armor in the North America in recent decades. It includes 180 items selected from approximately thirty public and private collections in Europe, as well as in the Middle East and the United States itself. Acquainted with her, you can learn about Maximilian’s unprecedented passion for the attributes and ideals of chivalry, and how she nurtured his equally limitless ambitions, served as political opportunistic intrigue, and ... provoked decisive actions, as well as what efforts he made to leave after him a worthy heritage.


Armor of the opponent of the emperor Maximilian at one of the tournaments. Belonged to Claude de Vodre, approx. 1485, also made in Milan. Height: 179 cm (Imperial Armory, Vienna)


At this exhibition, for the first time, many works are presented, including Maximilian’s own luxurious armor, which speak of his patronage to the greatest European armourers of his century, as well as related manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, glass, tapestries and even toys. And all this only emphasizes the chivalrous ambitions of the emperor himself, and his commitment to the ideals of chivalry at the imperial court and even beyond, but in the spheres of his influence. Of course, the vast majority of VO readers do not have the opportunity to board a plane, fly two or three days to New York, visit this exhibition there, and see everything with it with their own eyes. I certainly don’t. But thanks to the fact that we live in the world of the Internet, we, nevertheless, even without going anywhere, can get acquainted with this exhibition and get a fairly complete picture of it.


Armor of Emperor Maximilian I for Jostra approx. 1494 g. The work of the master Jörg Helmschmid the Younger, from Augsburg. Height: 194 cm (Imperial Armory, Vienna)



And this is the comforter for the tournament helmet “toad head”. 1484 Innsbruck. Dimensions: 37 x 25 x 30 cm (Imperial Armory, Vienna)


To begin with, the origin of Maximilian I was the most noble: his father was none other than the Holy Roman Emperor and the Austrian Archduke Frederick III, and his mother Eleanor of Portugal, daughter of the King of Portugal. As it was then supposed in feudal families, in early childhood he was brought up with his mother and, as they say, went to her with his character. But in the 1467 year she died and this was a heavy blow for Maximilian.


A passionate fan of tournaments, Maximilian took great care to maintain their “cleanliness”, ordered sketches of individual fights, and then put it all together in the Freydal “Tournament Book”. One of the 225 thumbnails of this book. It depicts the duel of the knight Freudal - his alter ego, under this name he is represented, with Frederick von Horn (Imperial Armory, Vienna)



Since his elder brother died in infancy, the fate of Maximilian was a foregone conclusion: he was to become the heir to his father. He believed that under the influence of his mother he grows too pampered, and periodically appointed strict teachers to him. In particular, one of them was a monk who instructed him in faith. But young Maximilian, again under the influence of his mother, believed in the Lord by his own understanding, sometimes at odds with the Catholic Church on a number of issues. And indeed, even his chroniclers did not hide that the future emperor did not like to study, in the traditional understanding of the teachings of that time. At the same time, his language abilities showed up. He spoke languages ​​such as French, English and Flemish, but could not learn Latin, and in addition he stuttered - a vice that teachers could not fix.


Spur. OK. 1500. Spur made of iron coated with brass foil. There is a copy of the XIX century, with a coating of red copper. The original sample has the mark of the master, letter R. The original, which replaces the copy, is stored in the Vienna Art Museum of History and History (A131). Around 1400, the length of the necks of spurs in Western Europe began to increase. During this period, raised saddles and a very specific riding style with long straps on the stirrups and legs extended forward led to the fact that the rider's legs no longer touched the sides of the horse. Thus, new stirrups with long necks eliminated the consequences of such a landing. In the first decades of the XVI century. the position of the rider in the saddle again changed, such long necks became unnecessary. Nevertheless, they continued to be used with tournament armor, since the medieval riding style in tournaments was preserved much longer. Length 24,43 cm. Weight 269,3 g (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

The marriage age for the royal blood at that time came quite early. So Maximilian was found a bride in 15 years. It was Mary of Burgundy, daughter of the Duke Karl the Bold. She was very enviable for the bride, because her father actually owned half of Europe, including such rich lands as Flanders, Holland, Franche-Comté and Boulogne. The king of France, Louis himself, strove to get her the bride for his son, and it is clear why. There were other applicants, but Karl chose the young Maximilian and why, too, is clear. Still, being an emperor’s wife is better than being a king’s wife.


Helmet arme by Lorenz Helmschmid from Augsburg (approx. 1445 – 1516), dated 1490 year. Height 32 cm. Weight 5140 g. (Royal Arsenal, Leeds, UK)


But the negotiations on the marriage were neither shaky nor sweeping. And all because Karl immediately began to ask Frederick for money for the war. And only after Karl died in the battle of Nancy, negotiations ended in marriage, moreover, by proxy, only later repeated in Ghent. Louis XI did not give Mary permission to marry, and was in his own right, since after the death of her father he was her overlord. But not without reason it is said that love overcomes everything. The marriage between Maximilian and Mary was nevertheless concluded! Well, what about Burgundy? Burgundy was in the hands of Maximilian, which for King Louis was very disappointing.


Maria of Burgundy (1457 — 1482). Portrait of a brush by Niklas Reiser. It was considered the richest heiress in Europe. According to the reviews of the chroniclers, the couple lived in mutual love, which for the ruling persons of that time was completely unusual. (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)


War of the Burgundy Legacy


So there was a reason for the war, called the "War for the Burgundian inheritance." It began already in the spring of 1478, and it’s interesting, but Emperor Frederick III did not help his son at all in this war. The wars at that time went on with armistice, so a decisive battle took place only on 7 of August 1479 of the year under Ginegat. And it was won by the Burgundians, and as they say, Maximilian’s courage played in this, decisively rushing into the thick of the battle, and thereby turning the tide of the battle in his favor.


Left hand armor for joystra approx. 1490 of the work of Lorenz Helmschmid from Augsburg (c. 1445 – 1516) or Jörg Helmschmid the Younger. 62,5 cm length (Imperial Armory, Vienna)


But then the young Maximilian was very unlucky. In 1482, his wife Maria, whom he loved very much, fell from her horse during a falconry and crashed so badly that she died three weeks later. She was buried in Bruges, where they say that the heart of the future emperor will forever remain. Wealthy Dutch families refused to recognize the will of Mary, which immediately decided to take the restless Louis XI, who reiterated his rights to the whole inheritance of Charles the Bold.


Mechanical Bundkirass for Bundrennen 1480 – 1500 gg. Weight 6950 g (Army Museum, Paris)



Mechanical Bundkiras for Bundrennen1480 – 1500 (Imperial Armory, Vienna)


Under these conditions, it became especially difficult for Maximilian to fight. The Flemings wanted peace and did not want a continuation of the war. As a result, the General States, ignoring Maximilian, in the 1482 year concluded an agreement with Louis in Arras, according to which Burgundy was divided into parts, so that something went to Maximilian, and something to Louis.


German Salute from Landshut, approx. 1480 – 1515 which ultimately became a very popular tournament helmet (Army Museum, Paris)


To wage war further, Maximilian organized the famous mercenary army of the Landsknechts in 1483, after which the war continued until June 1485, until the city council of Ghent made peace with Maximilian. Thus, although not without difficulty, he managed to consolidate his power not only over the economically developed Netherlands, but also with a number of areas lying between France and Germany. This immediately sharply increased the prestige of the Habsburg imperial house and promoted them to the rank of leading European politicians.


Well, this tournament helmet “toad head” has its own and even very dramatic story. This helmet belonged to the famous Italian knight and tournament fighter Gaspard San Severino d'Aragon, nicknamed the Destroyer, who at that time was so famous that Maximilian decided to invite him to his court to personally fight him on the tournament field. But fate ordered that shortly before the scheduled battle Maximilian was wounded in battle and could not participate in the tournament. But the fight still took place. A knight came out against the Destroyer, who personally taught Maximilian all the tournament wisdom, but he died in a duel. And the Destroyer went to his home in Milan, but left his armor to Maximilian as a keepsake, so that he remembered who defeated his best fighter. The armor was made in 1490 in the workshop of the Missaglia family. Pay attention to the additional pads on the front of the helmet, enhancing its protective functions. The real helmet of a professional tournament fighter! (Imperial Armory, Vienna)

Breton Legacy War


Then the war for the Breton inheritance followed - a military conflict that took place between Maximilian I of Habsburg and the French royal house in 1488 - 1491, during which he managed to return Franche-Comté county under his arm. He defeated the French at the Battle of Senlis in 1493, but he was unable to develop his success. Nevertheless, France was finally forced to officially recognize the rights of the Habsburg house in the Netherlands.


Thumbnail from the Tournament Book by Maximilian I 1512 - 1515 Freudal's duel with Wolfang von Polheim (National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald Collection, Washington)


Dominion in Austria


After the death of his father Frederick III, Maximilian in 1493 became the Archduke of Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Krajna, that is, he inherited all the lands of the Habsburgs. Then, when in the 1500 year the Goritsky dynasty also died out, he also got the Goritsky county, as well as the lands that were in East Tyrol.

The war with Matthias Corwin


A serious problem for Maximilian was Hungary. Rather, the ambitions of her king Matthias Corvin. In the 1485 year, he managed to take possession of Vienna, and made it his residence. Not only that, he recaptured Lower Austria, Slavonia, Styria and Carinthia from Frederick III, so that after his father died, Maximilian had to fight with Matthias Corvin as well. And this was a difficult matter, not so much because of the military talents of the latter, but as a result of the fact that, being married to a Neapolitan princess, he received help from the Neapolitan kingdom.


Thumbnail from the Tournament Book by Maximilian I 1512 - 1515 Freudal's duel with Sigmund von Welsberg (National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald Collection, Washington)


Seeing that he lacked strength, Maximilian proposed to solve the matter peacefully. But fortunately for the Habsburg dynasty, Matthias of 6 on April 1490 suddenly died and then, having gathered new troops of Landsknechts, Maximilian regained Vienna and even invaded Hungarian lands. Because of the riot among his mercenaries, the campaign ended in failure. But although King of the Czech Republic Vladislav II was eventually elected king of Hungary, Maximilian dared insist that if he dies without leaving any heirs, then Hungary will fall under the rule of the Habsburgs. And in the end, this is exactly what happened after the marriage of the grandson of Maximilian Ferdinand to the daughter of Vladislav II Anna. Thanks to this dynastic marriage, in 1526, Hungary and the Czech Republic were annexed to the Habsburg empire.


Thumbnail from the Tournament Book by Maximilian I 1512 - 1515 Freudal’s on-foot duel with Claude de Vodre. (National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald Collection, Washington)


Bavarian Succession Disputes


Then in 1503, a war broke out for the Bavarian inheritance. The war went on with varying success, and devastated vast territories. Only in September 1504 of the year at the battle of Wenzenbach (near Regensburg) Maximilian managed to defeat the Palatinate-Czech troops, and he himself proved himself in this battle as a real warrior. As a result, Bavaria withdrew to its ally Albrecht IV, but Maximilian also added part of the territory of Tyrol to his possessions. That is, in fact, this completed the folding of the very huge Austro-Hungarian empire that existed in Europe until the 1918 year.

Maximilian I - Reformer


Many rulers try to follow the course of reforms, but far from always they succeed. Dagger, poison, lack of determination - these are the enemies that lie in wait for the ruler along the way. However, the rule of Maximilian in this regard for the development of the Austrian state was happy. While still an archduke, he launched a broad program of transformations in the field of public administration. So in 1493, two districts were created in the country: Upper Austria and Lower Austria. Governorates were organized in them, the heads of which were appointed by the Archduke himself, and the staff of advisers. In Vienna, a single treasury was created for all lands (later transferred to Innsbruck) and an account chamber. In 1498, a harmonious system of higher bodies of state administration was created: the Court of Advance, the Court of the Courts and the Court Chancellery. Management of the military forces of all lands was also centralized. That is, in fact, the foundation has been laid ... for the future absolute monarchy!


Many prominent artists of that time sought to portray tournament fights, so that information about them more or less was preserved. For example, an engraving by Albrecht Dürer himself, presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York


As usual, there were those to whom the reforms of the emperor stood across the throat. In particular, it was the old land nobility, advocating the preservation of the estate court. Since in order to fight, and Maximilian fought almost continuously, money was required, he had to make concessions, so his administrative reforms were never completed. But, nevertheless, even what he managed to do strengthened state power, and this is undoubted!

PS The VO administration and the author are grateful to Meryl Cates, senior publicist of the External Relations Department of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art for providing the press materials and photographs.

To be continued ...
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