Well now, if you’ve ever had a lesson in European history, you’ll have heard of the Habsburgs – the biggest dynasty to rule large parts of the continent since 1273… but did you know they started in Switzerland and that there is a place of that name? Probably not!
If you travel from Basle to Zurich by car, you will pass through a tunnel that is named Habsburg. Had you stopped to look into it (well, perhaps not right there on the motorway!), you would find that the hill it is going through is, in fact, the seat of the original Habsburgs, and if you know this and look a bit more closely, you might just notice that there is a castle on the hill – Habsburg. Built around 1020, the first to call himself by that name was Otto, who died in 1111. The name comes from Habichtsburch – hawk’s castle, though you could be forgiven for thinking it might come from haben – to have, as they were definitely “haves” (as opposed to “have-nots”!) and rapidly extended their territories to become a hugely important family, abandoning the original family seat around 1220… (the hill actually has the delightful name “Wülpelsberg”, the village was more of a hamlet and there is hardly anything left of the castle apart from the western walls – just enough to have a little museum and restaurant in the palas – but it’s still worth a visit; there’s a youth hostel nearby in Brugg where my youngest daughter spent a lovely week’s school camp!)
So, in the course of the 13th century, the family split for the first time. From the 14th century they dominated the Holy Roman Empire (= Germany), Austria, Kroatia, Bohemia and Hungary and from the 15th century, went on to rule Spain and Portugal and all their colonial territories…and at times, parts of the Netherlands and Italy, surviving and influencing world politics until the mid-18th century and in connected families until 1918, when the last Austrian emperor was deposed (the family still exists, just no monarchs any more!). See, Switzerland ruled the world! Interestingly, though, Switzerland itself has never had a monarchy or a king of any kind, how curious is that?!Emperor Karl, Empress Zita and their son Otto von Habsburg
Ironically, the Habsburg itself was soon taken over by the Swiss Confederation, though relations remained on an even keel, with the last empress, Zita, spending many years in a Swiss convent before her death at the ripe old age of 96. Trifels above Annweiler, Pfalz, Germany
My own personal connection is very marginal! Near to where I was born in Germany is a castle high up on a sandstone cliff, the Trifels, and it is here that you can see copies of the Imperial Regalia (or crown jewels) of the Holy Roman Empire – the originals are now in Vienna, another place I love! But even more curiously, when we visited the small castle of Kyburg, not very far from where we live (and with a name very similar to that of one of our daughters, so it sort of feels we “belong”!), imagine our suprise to find another set of copies here! It seems that the lack of a proper capital in old German territories meant that the Imperial Regalia were constantly being moved here and there and two of those places were the Trifels and Kyburg, which is why they now both have copies! Small world.Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman EmpireKyburg near Winterthur, Switzerland