Today on March 22, 1459, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian Ⅰ was born, becoming the 'Last Knight of Europe.'
Born into the powerful House of Habsburg, Maximilian Ⅰ would hold several royal titles throughout his life, including Holy Roman Emperor, King of the Romans, and Archduke of Austria. He was born in the city Wiener Neustadt, located south of Vienna. As a young boy, he became an avid hunter and turned into a competent horseback archer. Being the eldest son of Emperor Frederick ⅠⅠⅠ and Eleanor of Portugal, he was destined to rule over the Habsburg empire. For nearly a decade, he jointly ruled with his father before eventually becoming the sole Emperor in 1493.
Maximilian Ⅰ secured vast new territorial holdings during his reign. Lands across Bohemia and Hungary were acquired through military pressure and new treaties. In 1477, he married a duchess named Mary of Burgundy—the daughter of Charles the Bold. The marriage brought the Netherlands and lands in eastern France under his domain. However, several notable uprisings broke out across the Netherlands. Flemish rebels even managed to capture the Emperor and his son for several months. Maximilian ultimately set the foundations for the Hapsburgs to rule over Spain by marrying his son, Philip the Handsome, to Joanna of Castile. His grandson and eventual successor, Emperor Charles V, became the first to govern over a united Spain.
The reign of Maximilian I was marked by several major wars against his greatest rival, King Louis ⅩⅠ of France. He established a loyal and efficient mercenary army to fight his wars known as the 'Servants of the Country.' In 1479, he achieved a decisive victory against the French army at the Battle of Guinegate. Maximilian developed a passion for collecting armor, not only for use on the battlefield but as artwork for the royal palaces. He commissioned more flamboyant pieces that emphasized elaborate fluting patterns rather than the popular etched pattern design. The style became known as Maximilian Armour.
The Emperor was also an avid patron of the arts and supporter of the scientific community. Leading European scholars of the day were often found at his side. Politically, Maximilian reorganized the empire's central institutions by empowering the imperial judiciary and establishing regional governing mechanisms. The Italian political philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, referred to Maximilian as "a wise, prudent, God-fearing prince, a just ruler."
In 1501, he abruptly fell from his horse and mangled his leg. Unfortunately, he would live the rest of his life in severe pain and fell into a deep depression. In 1519, at the age of 59, the Last Knight of Europe died. His dream of uniting all of Western Europe, like Charlemagne, had ultimately failed. Nevertheless, he succeeded in establishing a strong power base for the Hapsburg family to rule for centuries to come. His grandson, Charles V, became one of the most formidable and powerful monarchs in European history.