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For the butterfly genus, see Archduke (butterfly). For "Grand duke" Piano Trio by Beethoven, see Piano Trio, Op. 97 (Beethoven).

The title of Archduke (feminine: Archduchess) (German: Erzherzog, feminine form: Erzherzogin) was borne by the Habsburg rulers of the Archduchy of Austria and, later, by all members of that dynasty. It denotes a rank within the Holy Roman Empire below that of king and above that of duke.

Territory ruled by an archduke or archduchess is called an archduchy.


The English word is recorded only since 1530, derived from Middle - via Old French archeduc, from Merovingian Latin archidux, from arch(i) (Greek αρχή meaning authority or primary,[1] see arch- (adj.)) + dux 'duke' .

Archduke (in German Erzherzog) is a title distinct from Grand duke (in German Großherzog), used by some other European dynasties, e.g. Luxembourg.


The first known use was by the rulers of Austrasia (c.750), one of the Merovingian (Frankish) realms resulting from the complex successions in the house of Clovis, roughly comprising Germany, Switzerland and the Low Countries.

In the Carolingian Empire, the title was awarded as a unique promotion to the duke of Lotharingia (who held a substantially larger territory than the post-medieval Duchy of Lorraine). The Lotharingian duchy could be seen as successor to the former Carolingian kingdom of Lotharingia, a realm which had been of approximately equal stature with West Francia (modern France) in the dynastic divisions under the early heirs of Charlemagne. But Lotharingia was eventually absorbed by East Francia (Greater Germany), becoming part of the Holy Roman Empire rather than a fully independent kingdom.

After the split (959) of the (arch)duchy into Upper - (German Oberlothringen, including modern Lorraine) and Lower Lotharingia (German Niederlothringen, north of it, with its capital at Cologne. It was originally vested in Cologne's prince-archbishop, but the duchy extended north to Frisia). The latter's further fragmentation created two "succeeding" duchies in the Low Countries, Brabant (mainly in present Belgium) and Gelre (now in the Dutch kingdom, giving its name to the province of Gelderland). Both claimed archducal status but were never officially recognised as such by the Holy Roman Emperor. The Dutch form is Aartshertog.

Archduke of Austria, the only archducal title to survive, was invented in the Privilegium Maius, a 14th-century forgery initiated by Duke Rudolf IV of Austria. Originally, it was meant to denote the "ruler" (thus "Arch-") of the duchy of Austria, in an effort to put the Habsburgs on a par with the Prince-electors, as Austria had been passed over when the Golden Bull of 1356 assigned that title to the highest ranking Imperial princes. Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV refused to recognise the title. But Duke Ernest the Iron and his descendants unilaterally assumed the title archduke.

The archducal title was only officially recognized in 1453 by Emperor Frederick III, when the Habsburgs had solidified control of the office of the Holy Roman Emperor, making it hereditary de facto.[2] Ladislaus the Posthumous, Duke of Austria, who died in 1457, was never in his lifetime authorised to use it, and accordingly, neither he nor anyone in his branch of the dynasty ever used the title. Emperor Frederick III himself used just "Duke of Austria", never Archduke, until his death in 1493. The title was first granted to Frederick's younger brother, Albert VI of Austria (d. 1463), who used it at least from 1458.

In 1477, Frederick III also granted the title archduke to his first cousin, Sigismund of Austria, ruler of Further Austria. Frederick's son and heir, the future Emperor Maximilian I, started to use the title, but apparently only after the death of his wife Mary of Burgundy (d. 1482), as Archduke never appears in documents issued jointly by Maximilian and Mary as rulers in the Low Countries (where Maximilian is still titled "Duke of Austria"). The title appears first in documents issued under the joint rule of Maximilian and Philip (his under-age son) in the Low Countries.

Archduke was initially borne by those dynasts who ruled a Habsburg territory, i.e., only by males and their consorts, appanages being commonly distributed to cadets. But these "junior" archdukes did not thereby become independent hereditary rulers, since all territories remained vested in the Austrian crown. Occasionally a territory might be combined with a separate gubernatorial mandate ruled by an archducal cadet.


From the 16th century onward, archduke and its female form, archduchess, came to be used by all the members of the House of Habsburg (e.g., Queen Marie Antoinette of France was born Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria. Upon extinction of the male line of the Habsburgs and the marriage of its heiress, the Holy Roman Empress-consort Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary, Archduchess of Austria to the Duke of Lorraine who was elected Holy Roman Emperor Francis III, their descendants formed the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire this usage was retained in the Austrian Empire (1804–1867) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867–1918).[2]

The official use of hereditary titles, including archduke, has been illegal in the Republic of Austria for Austrian citizens since the Law on the Abolition of Nobility (Gesetz vom 3. April 1919 über die Aufhebung des Adels, der weltlichen Ritter- und Damenorden und gewisser Titel und Würden). Thus, those members of the Habsburg family who are residents of the Republic of Austria, are simply known by their respective first name and their surname, Habsburg-Lothringen. However, members of the family who reside in other countries may or may not use the title, in accordance with laws and customs in those nations. For example, Otto Habsburg-Lothringen (1912–2011) was an Austrian, Hungarian and German citizen: As he lived in Germany, where hereditary titles are treated as part of the surname, he chose to be known as Otto von Habsburg.[2]

The King of Spain also holds the nominal title of the Archduke of Austria as part of his full title; when the Bourbons came to the Spanish throne they took over all the titles previously held by the Spanish Habsburgs but they never used it as a subtantive title and it is only held by the King and not other members of the Spanish Royal family.


The insignia of the archduke of lower and upper Austria is the archducal hat, a coronet which is kept in Klosterneuburg Monastery.

Fictional archdukes

References and notes

  • EtymologyOnLine

See also



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