Members of the Habsburg family

Weird Ideas, Weird Behaviors: Bringing the Habsburg Family Skeletons Out of the Closet

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The Habsburg family is one of the most important royal families in the history of Europe. This may be somewhat surprising, as many of the rulers from this family behaved strangely, had some weird ideas, and were apparently mentally ill. A mysterious mental illness may actually have been one of the reasons for the fall of their dynasty.

The Habsburgs started to rule in Europe during the 11th century. The dynasty’s name comes from the name of a fortress built around the 1020s in the territory of modern Switzerland. The first king in this family was Rudolph of Habsburg who became the king of Germany in 1273. In 1438, the Habsburgs took the throne of the Holy Roman Empire and they kept it until 1740.

The rich family history was created around the thrones of countries like Croatia, Ireland, the Kingdom of Bohemia, England, France, Germany, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, and many others. They created a hermetic reality based on people of Habsburg blood - a royal blood empire which was thought to be perfect. However, their story contains many shameful and weird episodes.

Rudolph I of Habsburg

Rudolph I of Habsburg. ( Public Domain )

Joanna's Impact on the Genes

The story of mental illness in the Habsburg family probably started with the marriage of Joanna of Castile with Phillip the Handsome. Due to this marriage, the Habsburgs took the throne of Spain in 1496. Joanna was a young and lovely woman, but she was already known for her abnormal behaviors.

Although she was very intelligent, she was also very sensitive – she suffered from melancholia or perhaps even schizophrenia. Although the suggestions that she had to be mentally ill if she was interested in Martin Luther's works should be ignored, Joanna was famous for being a malicious person.

Joanna and her husband with their Spanish subjects.

Joanna and her husband with their Spanish subjects. ( Public Domain )

Joanna probably received genes predisposing her to mental illness from her mother’s family - specifically from her maternal grandmother: Isabel of Portugal, who had the same symptoms as Joanna. In Joanna’s case, the first signs of her instability took place in 1506 when her husband died. She did not want to bury him and tried to continue her life with Phillip’s dead body. Her depression grew so strong that there was no way to save the poor woman. She spent her life in the castle near his grave. According to many resources, she never understood that he was dead.

Charles, A Man Who Wanted to See His Own Funeral

The Habsburg family has many more sad and weird stories. It is impossible to describe all of the cases in just one article. However, the story of Charles V is one of the most spectacular examples of Habsburg madness.

Portrait of Charles V

Portrait of Charles V. ( Public Domain )

The king of Spain and Holy Emperor Charles V was well-known for his unique personality. Since the day he became king, he began working on his funeral ceremony. One of the main goals of his life was preparing a perfect funeral - a celebration of his life and death, which he wanted to be greater than any other. Charles did not feel remorse over too many things in his life, but he surely regretted that he was unable to see his own funeral. However, he did get to include the place where he wanted to be buried in his last will…and it was a special request.

When he knew that his life was going to end, Charles had a final rehearsal where he laid in his funeral shroud surrounded by monks holding black candles. He ordered them to hold a mass and prayed with them to save his soul.

Charles V at the Castle of Torgau, by Lucas Cranach, 1544.

Charles V at the Castle of Torgau, by Lucas Cranach, 1544. ( Public Domain )

He ate lunch after the bizarre ceremony, but it was a sunny day and the heat affected him. He had a stroke and died on September 21, 1558. He expected it - so he was prepared. He died with a book by Thucydides, and held a cross at the moment of his death. That same cross would be held in the hands of Queen Isabel and Phillip II when they were dying.

Charles wanted to be buried with half of his body under the altar and the other half in front of it - just to make sure the priest would stand on the king’s chest during religious ceremonies. This wish was fulfilled for the next 26 years, after which he was exhumed and buried in a different place.


Interesting article Natalia but I believe the original surname for these inbreded royals is with a "P" not a "B". Is there something I am missing?

Elle Shepard's picture

Both are correct, sort of... If you are an American, it is more likely to be spelled with the "p" - If you are European ir will almost always be spelled with a 'b" - because that is the actual way it was meant to be spelled - In german the B is almost always sounded as a P - the Habsburgs spelled it that way - and then again they spelled it the other way as well - as a matter of fact, sometimes they left the P/B our altogether and spelled Hasburg. If you are from an old and very Royal family you can do most anything you wish with your name I suppose.


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