Vienna’s only king





by  Rita Klement

Vienna’s only king





by  Rita Klement

Conrad IV’s death in 1254 marked the beginning of the interregnum in the Holy Roman Empire, which would not end until the election of the Habsburg Rudolf I – and the execution of Conrad’s son Conradin at the age of only 16 marked the end of the once proud imperial dynasty of the Hohenstaufen. [1]
However, when Conrad IV had been elected Roman king almost exactly 17 years earlier, all the hopes of his father, Emperor Frederick II, of still being able to avert the turmoil in the empire still rested on the then only 9-year-old child.

Conrad’s life already began dramatically. He was born on April 25, 1228, the son of Emperor Frederick II and his second wife Isabella of Brienne, the daughter of the King of Jerusalem. The mother was 16 or 17 years old at the time of Conrad’s birth – we do not know her exact date of birth – and had already been married for three years. A daughter of the couple, whose name we do not even know today, had been born two years earlier, had not survived infancy. [2] Now the birth cost the young mother her own life, she died ten days later as a result of the delivery. [3] Konrad spent the first years of his life in Italy. However, when his father moved across the Alps to the German Empire to bring his insubordinate eldest son Henry, who had already been king for 15 years and married for 10 years to Margaret, daughter of the Babenberger Leopold VI, [4] Conrad entered for the first time the country of which he was to be king only two years later. [5]

Emperor Frederick II, however, not only wanted to depose his son Henry in the German lands, who had been in opposition to his father for several years, but also to call the insubordinate Austrian Duke Frederick II the Quarrelsome to order. For the Babenberg Frederick bore his epithet well deserved. The duke also refused to appear before the emperor at the Imperial Diet on several occasions and was therefore ostracized and declared to have lost his lands. To underline the coercive measures, Emperor Frederick moved into Vienna, the residence city of the Babenbergs, in 1237. [6] He spent a total of three months in the city on the Danube, which he also elevated to the status of an imperial city on this occasion. [7]

Michel (Michael) Wolgemut (Künstler), Vienna Pannonie, 1493, Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 31024, CC0 (

Frederick II had already tried to have Conrad elected king. But at first he had probably failed because of the Pope’s resistance. Possibly the princes also felt bound by the oath given to his eldest son Henry VII. [8] Now, at the beginning of the year 1237, however, the emperor could realize his wish.

About the election itself we are only extremely poorly informed. Although it was the only election of a Roman king on Austrian soil, the Austrian sources are completely silent about it. There is also little to be found about it in the historical works. If there were not several copies of the election decree, or the certification of the election by the 11 electing princes, this royal election might already have been relegated to the realm of legend. [9] Therefore, we know only very limited about the place and the course of the election. Even the date cannot be determined exactly, since the copies of the election decree are not dated. We can only make a restriction about the fact that one can determine on the basis of documents when some of the electing princes arrived in Vienna or left again. This results in an election of Konrad between the last days of February and the first days of March 1237. Also the exact place of the election action is not handed down. The election decree says “apud Viennam”, which can just as well mean “near Vienna” as well as “at Vienna”. However, since it has been handed down that the emperor and his son stayed in Vienna and the electors went to Vienna, it is unlikely that they would have left the city again for the election. The election was also obviously held only in the inner circle. Therefore, the vestries of churches – which were sometimes used for such acts – or much more likely the ducal court of that time come into question as a place. [10]

Möglicherweise Kerzenleuchter: Berittener Ritter, anonym, ca. 1275 – ca. 1300; CC0 Rijksmuseum

This first princely residence in Vienna was located on the square still called “Am Hof”. After the elevation of Austria to a dukedom, Henry II Jasomirgott built the “Herzogenhof” in the southwest of the former Roman camp. Here were the duke’s residential building (probably at the present address Am Hof 1 and 2) and two chapels. [11] The emperor now seems to have taken up quarters in this complex, because documents report that Frederick II held court with the princes in the curia – i.e. the residence – in Vienna during his stay there. [12]

The fact that the election in Vienna took place “in silence,” so to speak, seemed to have several reasons. One of them might have been that some of the most important princes of the empire were not present. Although at the beginning of the 13th century there was no precise regulation as to who the electors were, there was already a consensus that, for example, the Duke of Saxony or the Margrave of Brandenburg, two of whom, as holders of arch offices, were later to be among the seven electors, absolutely had to agree to an election of a king. But these two, of all people, were not present in Vienna. Frederick II certainly did not want to alienate some of the most important princes of the empire after his return from Italy. [Moreover, as a precautionary measure, Emperor Frederick II probably did not want to have a royal election followed by a coronation. The experiences he had made with his eldest son, whom he had deposed two years earlier, made him cautious. Therefore, there was no complete election of the child king in the legal sense, followed by a coronation, in which royal power would have immediately passed to the young monarch, but only a nomination followed by a vote. [14] The eleven princes who now cast their votes for the young Conrad in 1237, thus ensuring, at the Emperor’s request, that in the event of his demise the succession would be smoothly secured, were the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Salzburg, the Bishops of Bamberg, Freising, Passau and Regensburg. King Wenceslas of Bohemia, the Dukes Otto of Bavaria and Bernhard of Carinthia, and the Landgrave of Thuringia. [15]

It sounds like an irony of history that the election decree states that the election of the infant Conrad took place while his father was still alive, since it was intended to prevent an interregnum [16] and after Conrad’s death precisely this interregnum plunged the lands of the Holy Roman Empire into violent political turmoil for more than 20 years.

Miethke & Wawra (Verlag), 1., Am Hof, allg. – Kirche Zu den neun Chören, um 1870, Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 207928, CC0 (

Of course, Konrad himself could not rule after his election. His father had left for Italy in August and was never to enter the German lands again. Archbishop Siegfried of Mainz was appointed as administrator in the empire. In addition, there was a council through which the emperor wanted to secure his interests in Germany. These mainly Swabian nobles were also to supervise the education of the young monarch. The rest of Conrad’s life was not very pleasant. The pope imposed a ban on the emperor, which also weakened the position of his son, the bishop of Mainz also changed fronts, and other nobles also fell away from the Staufers. On the side of the young king in the following conflict were mainly the German cities. In 1245 Conrad saw his father for the last time in Italy, and it was here that they learned of the Pope’s attempt to depose the emperor. In Germany, Heinrich Raspe, once a partisan of the Hohenstaufen, was now forced by the pope to be the counter-king, which earned him the nickname of the “priest-king”. However, he was able to win a battle against Konrad and Konrad was just able to flee behind the protective walls of Frankfurt. The reason for the defeat was the betrayal of some nobles, who were bribed by the pope and left Konrad’s army in the last minute. After Heinrich Raspe died shortly after, however, there was no relaxation, the pope made sure that a new counter-king was elected. Also with the new counter-king, William of Holland, there were numerous military conflicts. When Conrad had just succeeded in negotiating a truce at least with the Rhenish princes, the news of the death of his father, Emperor Frederick II, reached him in 1250. Now Conrad also tried to succeed to the kingdom of Sicily inherited from his father and traveled to Italy. But here, too, he was pursued by the antagonism of the Pope, who had the declared goal of completely destroying the House of Hohenstaufen. Perhaps the eternal battles had weakened him, perhaps it was malaria – in May 1254, the just 26-year-old King Conrad IV died. His body was laid out in the Cathedral of Messina, where the funeral was to take place. But just at this time a lightning struck the church, which burned down together with the corpse of Conrad. [17] At least Conrad IV did not have to live to see his son Conradin executed by an adversary when he was only 16 years old. [18]

The wish of Emperor Frederick II to secure the succession of his family and to preserve the power of the House of Hohenstaufen with the only king election in Vienna had thus finally failed only 31 years after the Vienna election and the dynasty of the Hohenstaufen had become extinct.

Such an election to secure the succession was not to take place for a very long time from then on. For the first time it occurs again in the 16th century, when Charles V, who was almost always in Spain, had his brother Ferdinand I elected as his deputy in the empire after a long hesitation. [19] Subsequently, the early election of the successor was practiced several more times. Especially in times of crisis, this was a tried and tested method. After the Habsburgs had lost the imperial crown for a few years following the death of Emperor Charles VI in 1740, Francis I Stephen, for example, used the royal election during the reigning emperor’s lifetime in 1764 [20] to have his son, the later Joseph II, elected and crowned Roman king.

For Vienna, at any rate, the splendor of the emperor’s visit, the court day and the election of the young king meant a whole new dimension of stately representation. For the first time, the city had become the focus of imperial politics. Contemporaries critically remarked that the ruler and his entourage were mainly enjoying themselves in Vienna without doing anything useful. [However, despite the high costs of feeding the princely entourage, the Staufer’s stay paid off for the city. In April, Frederick granted the city a protective privilege and thus placed it directly under the emperor’s control. This privilege gave the citizens far-reaching rights, such as the right to participate in the appointment of the town magistrate or, for the first time, to influence the school system. This strengthening of civil rights was not to last, however, and soon the pendulum swung back in favor of the Babenbergs. [22]

By the way, the time of the election of King Conrad IV and the stay of several months with his father Frederick II in Vienna is significant for the city not only because it was the only election of a king on Austrian soil, but also because at this time, with the utmost probability, the construction of the Hofburg as a fortress castle was started by Emperor Frederick II [23] – but that is already another story…..

References and literature used
Literary sources:

1 … Hartmann/Schnith, S. 348ff.

2 … Hartmann/Schnith, S. 321 u. 348.

3 … Eibl, S. 225.

4 … Hartmann/Schnith, S. 347.

5 … Eibl, S. 225.

6 … Hartmann/Schnith, S. 338ff.

7 … Csendes/Oppl 2021, S. 25.

8 … Hugelmann, S. 24.

9 … Hugelmann, S. 10ff

10 … Hugelmann, S. 29.

11 … Schwarz, S. 35.

12 … Hugelmann, S. 29.

13 … Hugelmann, S. 30.

14 … Hugelmann, S. 8.

15 … Csendes/Oppl 2021, S. 25.

16 … Eibl, S. 225.

17 … Eibl, 225ff.

18 … Hartmann/Schnith, S. 355.

19 … Hamann, S. 102f.

20 … Hamann, S. 188.

21 … Csendes/Oppl 2021, S. 25.

22 … Csendes/Oppl 2001, S. 104.

23 … Schwarz, S. 78ff.




Peter Csendes/Ferdinand Oppl. Wien. Geschichte einer Stadt. Band I: Von den Anfängen bis zur Ersten Wiener Türkenbelagerung (1529), Wien/Köln/Weimar 2001.

Peter Csendes/Ferdinand Oppl, Wien im Mittelalter. Zeitzeugnisse und Analyse, Wien/Köln 2021.

Elfie-Marita Eibl, Konrad IV. In: Evamaria Engel/Eberhard Holtz (Hrsg), Deutsche Könige und Kaiser des Mittelalters, Köln/Wien S. 224-230.

Brigitte Hamann, Die Habsburger. Ein biographisches Lexikon, Wien 1988.

Gerhard Hartmann/Karl Schnith (Hrsg.), Die Kaiser. 1.200 Jahre europäischer Geschichte, Wiesbaden, 2014.

Karl Gottfried Hugelmann, Die Wahl Konrads IV. zu Wien im Jahre 1237. Weimar 1914.

Mario Schwarz (Hrsg.), Die Wiener Hofburg im Mittelalter. Von der Kastellburg bis zu den Anfängen der Kaiserresidenz, Wien 2015.


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