MoboReader > Literature > Tyrol and its People


Tyrol and its People By Clive Holland Characters: 60414

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

As early as the eighth century Tyrol received a name which could not be bettered as descriptive of its scenery and institutions-"das Land im Gebirge," the Land in the Mountains. Fascinating alike is the scenery of Tyrol and its history. When one crosses the Swiss frontier by the Arlberg route one at once enters upon a land of mountains, rivers, and pleasant valleys. And with equal truth it may be said that when one crosses the frontier of Tyrolese history one is at once plunged in the midst of stirring, romantic, and gallant deeds enacted throughout the centuries from that far-off age, when the Cimbri penetrated and traversed the country and swept into north-eastern Italy, down almost to our own time.

That Tyrol should have proved the battle-ground of nations is, of course, largely due to its geographical position. In early days it formed a "buffer state" between the Roman empire and the territory of the Cimbri and Alemanni.

The question of the original inhabitants of Tyrol is still a much debated one, and appears to be as far off final settlement as ever; and this notwithstanding the enormous amount of interest which has been manifested in the subject by scientists, arch?ologists, and students during the last two centuries. Whether they were Cimbri, Etruscans, or Celts is still doubtful, although many learned authorities-more especially linguists-incline to the view that the earliest inhabitants were mainly of the Ligurian race, who were followed by Illyrians and Etruscans.

And also regarding the manners, customs, and general characteristics of these early inhabitants, whoever they may have been, very little conclusive evidence is yet available. By both Greek and Roman writers they were referred to as Rh?tians, in common with the inhabitants of Eastern Switzerland; and Horace himself speaks of "The Alpine Rh?ti, long unmatched in battle." Thus it is that the most ancient name by which Tyrol is known is that of Rh?tia.


To the Romans, however, all-conquering though they were, little was known of the country until the Cimbri penetrated its mountains and traversed its valleys and passed on their way to the north-eastern frontier of Italy about 102 B.C.

By what route these barbarians crossed the Alps on their march to invade north-eastern Italy there has been as much discussion as over the question of the original inhabitants of Tyrol. And, although the event to which we refer occurred scarcely a century prior to the conquest of Tyrol by the Romans there is little information other than of a speculative character to throw light upon the question at issue. For many years the weight of opinion was in favour of the contention that the Cimbri entered Southern Tyrol and eventually reached the Venetian plains by the Reschen Scheideck and the Vintschgau, but the later researches of Mommsen have served to give additional, if not absolutely conclusive, weight to the view that the Brenner was the route taken by the Cimbri[1] on their way southward from their Germanic fastnesses, just as it was undoubtedly the route, but, of course, reversed, chosen by the Romans under Drusus by which to enter Tyrol on their march of conquest.

One piece of evidence which would appear to be of considerable weight, and as conclusively favouring Mommsen's view, is the fact that the Brenner route forms not only the one of lowest altitude, but also the only one by which the whole Alpine system and its parallel chains can be crossed by passing over one chain alone, and in no other spot in the range do two valleys on either side cut so far into the centre of the principal chain of the Alps.

Moreover, from Plutarch's "Marius" one learns the spot where the Roman general, Quintus Lutatius Catullus, and his legions, which were sent from panic-stricken Rome to check the advance of the invaders, first encountered the Cimbri on the banks of the River Adige between Verona and near the foot of the Brenner. The encounter ended in the triumph of the host of skin-clad invaders who descended the snow-slopes of the mountains with an onslaught so terrible that even the trained and well-armed hosts of Rome had to give way before them. But the power of Rome was not easily shaken, and the triumph of the Cimbri was but brief. Their southward march was destined very soon to meet with so severe a check that further advance on Rome, or into the heart of Italy, was rendered impossible. In 101 B.C., the year following their appearance in the beautiful province of Venetia, where they created, so historians tell us, a terrible panic, the Roman arms triumphed at Vercelli, when the invaders, led by Bojorich, suffered a crushing defeat in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought, in which it is said 320,000 were slain, and were driven out of Italy.

The moral effect of this invasion upon the Rh?tians, through whose territory the Cimbri had passed, bore fruit a few years later, when they attempted the same tactics, making frequent raids into Roman territory. Some sixty years after the incursion of the Cimbri they were defeated and driven back into their valleys and mountains by the Roman general, Munatius Plancus; and a few years later, in 36 B.C., not only was a fresh raid repulsed, but the invaders were followed home, and a considerable portion of the district in the neighbourhood of what is now known as Trent was taken possession of by the Roman forces.


The Rh?tians, however, were a hardy, valorous, and pugnacious tribe, and so frequent were their attacks upon the Roman forces left to hold the conquered country that the Emperor Augustus, about twenty years after the subjection of the Trent district, decided as a measure of self-protection on the conquest of the whole of Rh?tia, as far as the River Danube.

And for this work he deputed his two stepsons, Drusus and Tiberius. The campaign, historians are agreed, was planned with great skill, and probably by the Emperor himself. The Roman forces were divided, one portion, under Drusus, entering Tyrol from the south, having Tridentum (Trent) as its base; and the other, under Tiberius, delivering its attack from the west across what is now Switzerland. Tiberius took this route (the most direct, though a difficult one) because at that time he was absent from Italy, in Gaul, as governor. Drusus had a more easy task, and pushed his way up the wide valley of the River Adige[2] to the present site of Bozen. His objective was the Pass of the Brenner, which, once seized, would give him the command of the country. His advance was not, however, made without opposition, for the Breones and Genones, who dwelt in the vicinity of the Brenner, attacked the Roman forces, and a fierce battle and series of skirmishes ensued. Horace, in Book IV., Ode 14 and 4, gives a vivid if, possibly, highly coloured account of the struggle which took place in the gorge near Bozen. The river Icarous ran red with the blood of both conquerors and conquered. And-as has been the case on many subsequent occasions when fighting has had to be done by the Tyrolese-the women played a valorous part, even, according to the historian, Florus, throwing their infant children into the faces of the Roman soldiery when other weapons failed.

The campaign of the two stepsons of Augustus resulted in the complete and final conquest of Tyrol. The victory, won in the narrow gorge of the Eisack, was commemorated in the name of the bridge Pons Drusi spanning the river, hard by which now stands the interesting medi?val town of Bozen.

Successful as Drusus' forces were, none the less so were those of Tiberius. There, however, is less record of his battles, and the actual ground on which they were fought forms still matter for conjecture. And equally uncertain is the exact spot where the two victorious generals ultimately met. It is, however, thought by several reliable authorities to have been somewhere in the valley of the Inn, and probably not far distant from the present site of Innsbruck. This view is made the more probable from the circumstance that a Roman post was established at Wilten (now a suburb of Innsbruck) then known as Veldidena.

Here probably both armies rested after a campaign of great fatigue and severity owing to the nature of the ground over which it was fought and the stubborn resistance offered by the inhabitants.

Soon Veldidena, from a halting-place of armies, became a town with houses of considerable size, temples, baths, and surrounding vall?, or earthen fortifications formed to defend the inhabitants from sudden attack. Although precautions of the nature we have indicated were taken wherever a Roman post or station was placed, there is no historical data to show that the Breones and other adjacent tribes who were thus brought under the Roman sway did not very speedily accommodate themselves to the new condition of things and become good and peaceful citizens of Rome. It appears probable, however, that the Rh?ti did not adapt themselves to the altered conditions as speedily as did their northern neighbours, the inhabitants of Noricum, with whom certain Roman habits and customs (including the system of municipal government) already obtained.

From the evidence adduced by several diligent historians and from that of one comparatively modern writer[3] in particular it is almost certain that after the sanguinary and decisive battle on the banks of the Eisack Tiberius set his face once again westward to resume his governorship of Gaul, leaving his brother, Drusus, to continue the subjection of Tyrol, and ultimately to found the important settlement of Augusta Vindelicorum, now known as Augsburg. Here the Roman general not only threw up a fortified camp, but also built a forum to encourage commerce; and soon the settlement became the most important Roman station to the north of the Central Alps.

Some writers, doubtless bearing in mind the hardihood and bravery of the native inhabitants and the mountainous and thus easily defended nature of the ground the Roman legions had to traverse and fight over, have expressed some surprise at the comparative ease with which Drusus and Tiberius appear to have accomplished the conquest of the country. More perfect discipline and arms of greater effectiveness will not, however, we think, altogether account for this, for history has over and over again proved that knowledge of the ground by the defenders and mountainous regions count heavily against successful attacks on the part of an invader. It can only therefore be supposed that the various tribes who formed the inhabitants of Rh?tia were either antagonistic to one another or at least were not welded together in a common cause against the invading Roman hosts, and thus the country was conquered and kept in subjection with greater ease than would otherwise have been the case.

As a result of the invasion by Drusus and Tiberius and the Roman legions the tract of country then and for some considerable time afterwards known as Rh?tia, but now known as Tyrol and the Vorarlberg, ultimately became Romanized, and by the making of the Brenner Post Road, which was constructed by the direction of the Emperor Augustus between Verona and Augsburg (Augusta Vindelicorum), communication between the Germanic Empire and Italy was opened up. Thus was the lowest and most accessible of the passes over the mountains which separated Italy from the barbaric regions beyond crossed by one of those splendid military roads, which has endured nearly two thousand years until the present day.


The Roman occupation of Rh?tia lasted for five centuries. Under the rule of Rome the inhabitants learned much of those arts which remained the heritage of conquered races long after the sway of the great Roman Empire had come to an end. And traces of that rule, in the form of weapons, ornaments, articles of jewelry and the toilet, and other relics have from time to time come to light throughout the portions of Tyrol settled by the Romans.

Soon along the great Brenner Road, which formed a highway from Italy to the northern lands beyond Tyrol, activity evinced itself. One of the most important of the early stations upon it was Veldidena (Wilten), where the road after crossing the main range of mountains emerges from the Alpine gorge on the northern side into a wide and pleasant valley. From this point-close to which, later on, the capital of Tyrol was destined to be founded-the great Brenner Post Road branched. One fork led by two divergent ways to the same objective-Augsburg. The other led in a north-westerly direction by way of Masciacum (Matzen) and Albianum (Kufstein) to Pons Aeni, which in all probability closely approximates to the present-day site of Rosenheim. This road ran down the wide Inn valley, nowadays known as the Unter Innthal to differentiate it from the valley of the Upper Inn which runs from the frontier of Switzerland to Innsbruck.

It was along the great military road leading from Verona to Augsburg that the chief Rh?to-Roman stations were placed. Amongst these were Tridentum (Trent), Pons Drusi (Bozen), Vilpetenum (Sterzing), Matrejum (Matrei), Scarbio (Scharnitz), Veldidena (Wilten).

At first, doubtless, these outposts of Roman civilization were little more than isolated fortresses, or even perhaps merely specul? or watch towers, and of these many examples still remain, from which not only could the road and its approaches be reconnoitred, but also signals both by day and by night could be made. In the first case by means of smoke or semaphores, and in the second by bonfires kindled in cressets or on the hillside itself.


Another highway into Tyrol through the Vintschgau came to be known as the Via Claudia Augusta, which name was also improperly applied to a portion of the Brenner Road. After much contention we think it is now generally accepted that Mommsen, who has investigated and weighed the evidence with astonishing care, is correct in assuming that the only portion of the road via the Reschen-Scheideck Pass which should be called the Via Claudia Augusta is that traversing the Vintschgau Valley. The road was constructed not in the reign of Augustus, who initiated the Brenner Road, but in that of his grandson, the Emperor Claudius, about A.D. 46-47. It was intended to connect up the River Po with the River Danube by the Reschen-Scheideck route, and along it at various times since the middle of the sixteenth century milestones of Roman origin have been discovered. Though from the fact that little reference is made to it by the better-known Roman writers of the period, one may assume that the Via Claudia was of quite secondary importance to the Brenner Road. But nevertheless it seems probable that it was the route used for the transportation of stores for the Roman forces of occupation during the fifth century not long prior to the evacuation of the country. The Brenner Road for a considerable period after its construction appears to have been rather a highway for commerce than a military road in the usual sense of the term.

The chief article exported from Tyrol was salt from the still famous salt mines at Hall, near Innsbruck, on the northern bank of the Inn. There were also sent southward into Italy raw hides, timber, Alpine herbs used in the preparation of medicines, liqueurs, and the purposes of the toilet; and dairy produce of various kinds, of which cheese was probably (according to Pliny) one of the chief articles. In those far-off days, too, much excellent wine was grown far further north in Tyrol than nowadays when the vine is not cultivated, for vintage purposes at all events, further north than the southern slope of the Brenner.

In Roman times the Brenner also formed a link between Aquileia, one of the most flourishing and important seaport cities on the Adriatic, and Noricum. As did also another, then important but nowadays almost deserted route, that of the Pl?cken Pass, of which it is believed C?sar made frequent use. Along this several important stations were founded, amongst them Tricesimum, Julium Carnicum (Zuglio), Aguntum (Innichen), Lonicum (Lienz) and Sebatum (Schabs). Time, however, was destined to divert the trade from the Pl?cken Pass route to that of the Brenner, and the settlements along the former gradually declined in importance.

As we have before stated, the Brenner Pass was not originally used so much for military purposes as was afterwards the case. And it is not until the latter half of the second century of the Christian Era that we find it assuming importance as a military highway. Then the frequent incursions southward of various Germanic tribes caused the Romans to fully comprehend the strategical value of northern Rh?tia.

Two decades at least were occupied in the reconstruction of the surface and bridges along the road which had owed its origin to the Emperor Augustus, and the result was the building of a highway suitable for the speedy passage and massing of large bodies of troops. Of the stations which were founded along it we have already spoken, it only remains to say that these were supplemented by "posts" which were dotted here and there as they were along most other roads made by Roman builders. They were, however, chiefly used for military and state rather than for ordinary purposes.

An interesting writer,[4] who has made the history of the Brenner a special study, has thrown considerable light upon the inns and hostelries which little by little sprang up to meet the requirements of the travelling public of those days, who were not, as a rule, permitted to make use of the official posts. Apparently, these refuges from the other alternative of spending a night upon the road were by no means luxurious. In fact, they were probably far otherwise, and their chief redeeming feature was the undoubted cheapness of the accommodation they offered. It could not be considered an extravagant charge for a night's lodging with food of sorts when the bill amounted to rather less than the equivalent of an English halfpenny! a sum which would nowadays surprise the modern oste or innkeeper of the Italian Tyrol as much as his own charges would the Roman wayfarer of long ago.



On the heels of Roman civilization, represented by commerce and travel, which was destined not only to permeate conquered Rh?tia, but to penetrate the regions beyond, in course of time there sprang into existence a fortress here and a castle there which not only served to hold the land, but also to encourage and initiate civilization and bring security to those residing in its immediate vicinity. Of these, happily for the historian and antiquarian, many traces yet remain. All along the Brenner the Romans found and were not slow to seize upon natural coigns of vantage where their unexampled skill as military builders and engineers permitted them to speedily convert not easily accessible spurs of the mountains into impregnable fortresses. Upon some of the castles, the ruins of which nowadays serve to render these rocky crags of undying interest, the stars must have looked down ere the dawn of the Christian Era.

Of the occupation of Rh?tia by the Romans, unfortunately comparatively few authentic details have come down to us. But long ere the power of Rome had waned, never to reassume its pristine greatness, the problem of resistance to the invasion from the Teutonic tribes to the north and north-east had become a very real one. Towards the end of the third century A.D. the Alemanni crossed the Danube and threatened Rh?tia, and through it Italy. They were, it is true, defeated by the Emperor Maximianus, but the check inflicted was but temporary. About A.D. 260 Rh?tia was invaded several times by the same barbarian tribe, and on one occasion, at least, Tyrol was ravaged from end to end, and the invaders afterwards entered Italy, which they penetrated as far south as Ravenna, having first plundered and destroyed Verona. In the reign of Claudius (about 269) there was yet another invasion, and although the forces of Rome ultimately proved victorious in the struggle with the Teutonic hordes in a battle fought at Na?ssus on the borderland of Tyrol and Italy, when 320,000 are said to have been slain, there was no lasting peace.

The inroads of the Goths vexed many a quickly succeeding Emperor in the days when reigns were scarcely to be reckoned as frequently by years as by months, and it was not until the reign of Aurelianus that the Goths were driven out of Rh?tia and Vindelicia.

Under succeeding Roman rulers there were other raids by the Goths, and then at last along the roads of Rh?tia and over the passes of the Brenner and the Pl?cken poured the invading hosts which were destined to bring about the eclipse of the powerful Empire which had for so many centuries controlled the destinies of the greater part of the then known world.

Just as in our own land, history is almost silent for the period immediately following the departure of the Roman legions, drawn off to save Rome, if possible, from the invading hosts of the Goths and Huns, so was it in Tyrol. Of the years of devastation by fire and sword which succeeded the withdrawal of the Roman forces from Rh?tia there have come down to us but very scanty details. During this period much of Roman art and civilization was undoubtedly blotted out by the barbarian hordes; and, indeed, so far as can be ascertained, little of either was ultimately left in Rh?tia.

Theodoric, the Ostrogothic leader, who had conquered Italy in about 489, planned Rh?tia and the Brenner as a barrier against the attacks of northern invaders, a tribe of whom (the Baiovarii) ultimately possessed themselves of Vindelicia and Rh?tia as far as the southern slope of the Brenner Pass. About this same period-the middle half of the sixth century-a very considerable portion of north-eastern Italy and that part of Rh?tia in the vicinity of Tridentum (Trent) was seized by the Longobards or Lombards. Their Italian Empire lasted for two centuries, and eventually included the larger portion of what is nowadays known as the Italian Tyrol.

Meantime, the Baiovarii or Bavarians had conquered the upper part of Rh?tia, and in the beginning of the seventh century their Duke, Garibaldi II., succeeded in checking the frequent inroads of the Slavs, although he did not succeed in entirely excluding them from the country; in the eastern portion of which they remained for a considerable period. Towards the end of the eighth century (about 789) the whole of what is now known as Tyrol came under the sovereignty of Charlemagne, who crushed the Lombards, and a few years later succeeded in also subduing the Baiovarii.

During the centuries of internecine warfare, with its concomitants of rapine and chaos, which succeeded the evacuation of Rh?tia by the Roman forces, most of the original inhabitants or peaceably disposed Romanized Rh?tians fled with other fugitives from the southern or northern plains to the valleys and byways amid the mountains which hitherto probably had been almost if not entirely unpopulated. Here they settled, leaving the main routes open to the passage of the Teutonic invaders bent on the plunder of the Italian cities and plains, who, we may imagine, did not greatly trouble themselves regarding the byways or waste time in conquering those who had thus hidden themselves amid the higher Alpine valleys and fastnesses.

The result of this is seen in the circumstance that whilst in many cases the out-of-the-way places and villages to this day preserve their original Romanized Rh?tian names, those upon the main routes of travel have in many instances a purely Teutonic nomenclature.


The great Empire which Charlemagne created had strangely enough no natural delimitations, and when it was divided, in A.D. 806, into three portions amongst his sons, the division was not made upon any usually recognized system or plan. Tyrol still was unknown by that name, the country about that time being known as "Das Land im Gebirge," or "The Land in the Mountains." The immediate successors to the divided empire of Charlemagne were far less able than he to cope with the anarchy which so frequently overwhelmed south-eastern and north-eastern Europe in those days. There was practically no such unity as now prevails, and, owing to this, the powerful nobles and ecclesiastics gradually succeeded in dividing up the land amongst themselves according to the almost universal custom of the Middle Ages.

The records of Tyrolese history of the period are, however, so wretchedly meagre that few positive and uncontrovertible facts have come down to us regarding the events which immediately followed the partition of Charlemagne's Empire amongst his sons. That the Brenner Pass and Tyrol formed a sort of highway for successive invaders of Italy, who swarmed across it from the East and North, there is, however, little reason for doubt. As has been very truly said, "What these vast expeditions, consisting of more or less disorderly masses of curiously mixed races, all in the panoply of war, all eager for booty, even if bent on a peaceable mission, meant for the countries through which they slowly ate and robbed their way, it is not quite easy to picture to one's self in these civilized days, when, even in the fiercest war, the non-combatant has no reason to go in fear of a violent death or having his women outraged before his eyes, and his house razed to the ground." That such things took place in Tyrol is made almost certain from the statements of contemporary writers, amongst others, Gottfried von Viterbo, Vincenz von Prague, and Otho von Freising.


It is the custom for most people to imagine that the "extras" for lights, tips to servants, and attendance which so often makes the present-day hotel bill exasperating, are a modern institution. This is, however, not the case, for some most interesting and illuminating diaries of early travel which were discovered in 1874 amongst the archives of the monastery of Cividate show that at the commencement of the thirteenth century there were a succession of inns already existing along the Brenner route, where travellers could not only obtain lodgment and entertainment, but even purchase necessary medicines. There are also entries for lights, attendance, and gratuities, which probably vexed the soul of the ecclesiastical diarist we have referred to as much as they do modern travellers.

Of the types who tramped or rode along the great Tyrol highway and lodged at the inns, we have fortunately a fairly detailed and accurate picture handed down to us. If only there had been a Tyrolese Chaucer what a record might have been preserved! From the diaries of the Bishop of Passau (whose notes we have quoted), however, we gratefully gather that in addition to the ordinary itinerant merchants and countryfolk there were bard musicians of both sexes, conjurers (more or less skilful, and many of them charlatans), singers, mendicant friars (some of little holiness), and the far-famed minnesingers who for a considerable period had a great vogue at Courts and castles. Along this famous high-road of the Brenner and through Tyrol passed, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, many of the pilgrims and Crusaders bound for or returning from Palestine or some distant shrine of peculiar merit or holiness.


One of the chief amongst the many changes and reforms instituted by Charlemagne was the sub-division of the countries he had conquered and welded together to form his Empire into margravates or departments which he placed under the rule of his nobles and other officials whom he appointed for the purpose. Although this system undoubtedly worked well during his powerful sway, after his death and during the anarchy and dissension which distinguished the reigns of his immediate successors what might have been expected happened. The more powerful of the nobles and officials and their descendants soon commenced to regard their offices as of the nature of hereditary appointments, and in consequence with the development of this idea small dynasties were gradually founded, and towards the close of the tenth century three of these had sprung into existence in Tyrol. These three Countships or Grafschaften were of Andechs, Eppan, and Tyrol, and the country was eventually divided up amongst them and the great ecclesiastical lords of the Sees of Trent, Brixen, and Coire.

As is the case with so much of early Tyrol history and events, very scanty information of a reliable character has come down to us regarding the origin of these three great families of nobles who held sway in the country. Nor is it for the purpose of this book necessary to enquire closely into the evidence we have. The origin of the family of Andechs is almost entirely unknown, although for a considerable period they were the most powerful of the three families we have named. The Eppans are believed to have been descendants of a natural son of a Duke of Bavaria, and their long and bloody feud with the Bishops of Brixen on account of lands taken from them and given to the See is enshrined in Tyrol history and legend.

The third family, the Counts of Tyrol, though originally by no means the most important, was destined to outlast the other two, and eventually to become possessed of most of the country and give its name to ancient Rh?tia. Although even in the days of the Roman occupation there appears to have been a Castle Tyrol, which was the residence of a centurion, the family, as it is generally known, is supposed to have taken its origin from Count Hunfried who lived in the reign of Charlemagne, and was also Count of Vintschgau. This noble came into prominence on the division of Charlemagne's Empire amongst his three sons; but it appears to be probable that it was not until the middle part of the thirteenth century that one of the owners of Castle Tyrol or

Teriolis first took the title of Counts of Tyrol.[5]

The earliest reference to the three Counts of Tyrol appears in the archives about the year 1140, and we find the family dwelling in the Castle Tyrol or Teriolis, near Meran. It was from this fortress, now in a ruinous condition except for the chapel and fine porch dating from the twelfth century, that not only the family took its name but eventually the whole country came to be known. Gradually one by one the possessions of the other nobles in Tyrol were taken from them or became absorbed by marriage in that of the Counts of Tyrol. Until about 1240 the then reigning Count Albert was able to style himself Prince Count (or gefürsteter Graf) of Tyrol so widespread and rich were his possessions.

The Principality thus formed remained a fief of the German Empire until the reign of Maximilian I. (1493) when it was incorporated with the other possessions of the Crown.

The first of the Prince Counts of Tyrol was successful, in 1248, in obtaining from the Counts of Andechs the district of the Inn Valley, once the site of Roman Veldidena, which place tradition asserts was destroyed about A.D. 452 by the Huns under the leadership of Attila on their return through Tyrol after their defeat by A?tius at the battle of Chalons.

During the early Middle Ages the Premonstratensian Abbey of Wilten had been built on the site of the ancient town, and later on the Counts of Andechs, who had become possessed of land in the neighbourhood on the banks of the Inn, became the most powerful and influential nobles in the district. Under them a trading post or centre of commerce was founded near the bridge over the Inn, the importance of which can be easily understood when its proximity to the Brenner high-road, a then busy thoroughfare, is borne in mind. From this bridge over the Inn was derived the name of the town Innsbruck-afterwards destined to become the capital of Tyrol-a mention of which appears for the first time in archives of the year 1327. It was to the foresight and enterprise of Otto of Andechs that the town owed the walls, towers, and fortifications which were to stand it in good stead. Count Otto also built himself a palace, which still is known as Ottoburg.

Concerning the various princes who reigned over Tyrol in succession to Count Albert down to Henry, the youngest son of Meinhard II., who, by marrying the daughter of the King of Bohemia, claimed the throne on the death of his father-in-law and took the title of king, although forced to surrender his claims to Bohemia, and rest content with Tyrol and Carinthia, it is not necessary to say much. This Henry was a good-natured, easily influenced ruler, who by reason of these characteristics fell almost entirely into the hands of the more powerful of his nobles, who by flattery and supplies of money to meet his spendthrift habits were able to acquire not only influence over him, but also gain great possessions from and unchecked by him. Under this ruler Meran became the capital of Tyrol; and Hall, Sterzing, and other places were raised to the dignity of towns.

Though easily led, Henry was not without his virtues, for he granted several privileges which were in the interests of commerce, and under his rule the hard lots of the villein and working classes were lightened, and a heritable system of land tenure for the peasant class devised and established. The effect of this was destined to be beneficial not only to those it was primarily intended to assist, but also to the nobles, and Henry himself. For as the nobles seldom or never paid taxes it followed that, with increased prosperity, the lower orders (who bore the greater part of the burden of taxation) could be taxed to a higher degree without suffering in proportion.

Many stories are current concerning the difficulties into which Henry's wastrel habits got him. One of them is that he was unable at Innsbruck to settle the bill of a fish and wine merchant, and as a last resort gave this man, one Eberhard, the bridge toll, which it is unnecessary to say formed a valuable consideration.



At his death in 1335 he left no male heir, the succession falling to his daughter Margaret, known to history as "wide (or Pocket) Mouthed Meg" on account of her remarkably ill-formed mouth. How her mouth became so ugly is not exactly known. One story states the name was derived from the word Maultasche, in consequence of her having had her ears (or side of face) boxed or struck. The explanation gains some weight from the fact that the blow was said to have been struck her by one of her Bavarian relatives, and the circumstance that she ultimately left her heritage to her Austrian cousins and not to the Bavarian branch of the family, thus causing Tyrol to become a part of the Austrian Empire.

Eventually, after many abortive attempts to arrange a marriage with the numerous suitors who were willing to become allied to perhaps the richest though the ugliest heiress in Europe of that time, for her inheritance comprised the dukedoms of Goricia, Croatia and Carinthia, as well as the beautiful land Tyrol, Margaret was married, in A.D. 1330, to the youthful Prince John of Bohemia, the bridegroom being nine years of age and the bride several years older. The latter was destined to have a troublous career, ugly as her mouth in some of its details; and the young couple, when (a few years after the formal marriage) they came to live together, were almost from the first at variance.

John was feeble and of weak intellect, and Margaret as determined and shameless as were many other women rulers in those times. Plots and intrigues were rife, the former between the two parties who espoused the German or Luxembourg (Bohemian) claims, the latter between Margaret and her courtier and even peasant lovers, some of whom were given privileges and even lands and patents of nobility by the amorous princess of the "Pocket Mouth," who made several unsuccessful attempts to get rid of her husband, until she frightened him into returning to his own country. This desire accomplished, Margaret commenced to put in operation her further plans. John was a fugitive, going from castle to castle in search of shelter or sanctuary, awaiting assistance from his father or the Luxembourg party, which was favourable to the Bohemian side of the question. Soon the Emperor Louis, who was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and a deadly enemy of the Bohemians, saw an opportunity for accomplishing a long-cherished desire, that of the acquisition of Tyrol.

He found a ready accomplice in his good-looking, attractive son, who appeared willing enough to marry another man's wife, however ill-tempered and ugly, even before the first marriage was formally declared null and void by the Pope, provided wealth and possessions were acquired with her. However, when the Pope-who himself had cast longing eyes on Margaret's possessions-heard of the proposed union, he not only declined to annul the marriage between John and Margaret, but threatened the latter with excommunication if she espoused the son of Louis, who was his implacable foe. There were also reasons of consanguinity which made the marriage impossible without the Pope's sanction. Louis, however, not to be thwarted in his desire, set about to find a bishop willing to defy the Pontiff and bold enough to solemnize the marriage. Soon he succeeded in persuading the Bishop of Freisingen both to annul the first marriage and celebrate the second. Accordingly the Emperor, in whose train were numbers of nobles, set forth with the bishop mentioned, and also the bishops of Augsburg and Regensburg, for Tyrol.

But whilst on the journey and crossing a pass (the Jaufen), which afforded the quickest route from Sterzing to Margaret's home near Meran, the Bishop of Freisingen's horse stumbled and threw its rider, killing him on the spot. This accident so sapped the courage of the other two bishops (who doubtless considered the event as a direct message of wrath from Heaven) that they refused to go on with the scheme upon which they had embarked.

This did not, however, weaken the determination of either the Emperor or Louis, who, on his arrival at Castle Tyrol, forced the terrified resident chaplain to celebrate the marriage, although we are told the people protested loudly, anticipating terrible punishments for breaking the laws of the Church and defying the commands of the Pope.

Nevertheless the event was celebrated with great festivities, and, so far as one can gather, no immediate wrath from Heaven was experienced by the evildoers.


During the weak rule of John, the various nobles in Tyrol had gained great ascendency; had extended their possessions and rights; and had in fact seriously weakened the sovereign power of their ruler. Louis proved of very different metal to his precursor. He at once attacked the nobles, who had aggregated to themselves unlawful or dangerous authority, devastating their estates, burning and dismantling their castles and fortresses, and exiling those who did not submit. Civil war of the most bloodthirsty kind ran riot in Tyrol, and other disasters in the shape of fire, which destroyed some of the most important towns, including Meran the capital; swarms of locusts, plague and earthquake, all afflicted the unhappy and unfortunate land. It is needless to say that these terrible calamities were esteemed by many Tyrolese as the direct expression by Heaven of anger at Margaret's bigamous marriage and defiance of the power of the Church.

The ravages of the Black Death were not less severe than in other parts of Southern Europe, and, according to one chronicler, scarcely a sixth of the population of Tyrol were left alive. As was so often the case in the Middle Ages, some human scapegoat was sought for and found; and the very common one was fixed upon-the Jews. The persecution of this unfortunate race which ensued was of so ruthless a character that neither women, children, nor the aged were spared, with the result, we are told, that very few were left alive.

Then succeeded a period of war. The supporters of the discarded husband of Margaret-John of Bohemia-were not slow to seek to revenge themselves upon her, and Tyrol was subsequently invaded by the King of Bohemia, who was joined by the militant Bishop of Trent with considerable forces. An active campaign followed, characterized by great cruelty on the part of the invaders, during which the two chief towns, Meran and Bozen, were captured and destroyed, and ultimately Margaret was besieged in her own Castle of Tyrol. It was so admirably situated for defence that in her husband's absence Margaret, who, with all her vices and failings, was no coward, was able to defend it successfully from all assaults, and did so until her husband was able to return by forced marches, and surprising the besiegers, succeeded in defeating them and forcing them to retire. The country, however, suffered terribly during the enemy's retreat, as, in revenge for being baulked of their prey, they burned and ravaged in every direction, and spared no man from the sword. Indeed, the history of the campaign exhibits in the most lurid light the underlying and primitive savagery of all warfare in the Middle Ages.

It was to meet the heavy charges arising from the prolonged campaign and defence of his territory that Louis had to sell or pawn many of his richest personal possessions, with the result that many nobles (who provided him with money or other support) gained or regained valuable privileges and a considerable accession of power and influence.


Into the whole course of this war and the history of Tyrol-interesting and even fascinating though it be-it is impossible for us to enter. Margaret ultimately (it may be noted) made her peace with Rome, owing to the influence exercised over the Pope by her Austrian cousins of the House of Habsburg, the condition of their mediation being that she should leave to them and not to her Bavarian cousins her heritage should her son and heir Meinhard pre-decease her, and die without issue.

Fate favoured the schemes of the Habsburgs, for both Margaret's husband Louis and her son died before her, the latter at the early age of twenty. As an example of the old saw, "Give a dog a bad name and hang him," popular opinion laid both deaths at Margaret's door. Her husband died in 1361-2 whilst on a journey to Munich in her company. This supposed murder was, according to then common report, a crime passionel arising from Margaret's fear that Louis was about to compass the death of Conrad of Frauenberg, a noble with whom she had carried on an intrigue that had been common talk and a scandal for years. On the death of his father, Meinhard assumed the responsibility of government; in doing this he appears to have placed, or attempted to place, some sort of check upon the shameless conduct and intrigues of his mother, and when he died in January, 1363, his death, like that of Louis, was laid at his mother's door. Popular opinion, however, has been proved to have been in error by historians who do not favour the supposition that she was really guilty of either death; and although no explanation of the actual cause of Louis's death is forthcoming, there would appear some evidence for supposing that Meinhard's untimely end was unromantic and free from mystery, and, in fact, was the result of drinking cold water whilst overheated from exertion.

In those days, although news travelled but slowly according to modern ideas, it was less than a fortnight ere it had reached Vienna, and Rudolph IV. of Habsburg, by travelling "day and night," was at Bozen eager to make certain his position as the eldest of the three brothers to whom his cousin Margaret had agreed to cede Tyrol and her other wide possessions.

Around the picturesque, though licentious and uninviting, figure of "Pocket-Mouthed Meg" has gathered an accretion of traditions and tales unequalled by those attached to any other Tyrol ruler. But, although she was for many years so outstanding a figure in the history of her country and indeed of South-Eastern Europe, strangely few authentic records or documentary corroboration of these stories have been discoverable.

Thus, by the death of Meinhard in 1363, the country became a portion of Austria under the rule of Rudolph IV., who, though young, was wise and far-seeing. However, he was not destined to long enjoy the possessions he had acquired chiefly by skilful diplomacy, and on his death, two years after his accession, Tyrol was governed jointly by his two brothers-Leopold and Albert.

During this dual control the Bavarian relations of Margaret made frequent incursions into the country, especially in the neighbourhood of the Unter-Innthal, and in 1369 succeeded in obtaining a large sum from the Habsburgs at a temporary peace made at Sch?rding. Ten years later the dual sovereignty came to an end, the two brothers dividing the inheritance, Leopold taking Tyrol as his share. He was killed at the Battle of Sempach on July 9th, 1386, where the Swiss gained so signal a victory under the leadership of Arnold Von Winkelried.


In 1406 Frederick, Leopold's youngest son, succeeded to the sovereignty, which during his minority had been held by his elder brothers and his Uncle Albert, who had ruled the country in so lax a manner that the nobles gained a great ascendency.

It was, indeed, no easy task to which Duke Frederick was called. The nickname bestowed upon him, that of "the Empty Purse," was by no means an exact description of his financial condition, save during a comparatively short period of his reign of thirty years. It was given him at the time he was an outlaw by reason of the ban of the Church, and was obliged to fly for his life and take refuge amid the mountains. His was a stormy reign. In the early portion of it he was at variance with many of the most powerful of his nobles, who resisted his attempts to curtail the power which they had acquired during his minority. After the anxieties and hardships which ensued, when the country was over-run by the Bavarians, and even the capital threatened, Frederick was destined to have still greater trouble by reason of his action at the Council of Constance, which was summoned to settle the momentous questions as to who was the rightful head of the Church, and who the ruler of the Empire. There were three claimants for each position, nominated and supported by the rival factions. The spiritual claimants were John XXIII., Benedict XIII., Gregory XII.; and the temporal Kings Sigismund of Hungary, Jost of Moravia, and Wencelaus of Bohemia.


Of the Ecclesiastical claimants John had Frederick's support, and when the former, failing to get elected by the Council, had not only to renounce his claims but flee for his life, Frederick assisted him to escape from Constance. This act of loyalty to a friend almost cost Frederick his life, as Sigismund (who of the three candidates had been elected Emperor) was his enemy, and not only succeeded in persuading the assembly to declare Frederick's throne forfeited, but also him and his chief supporters and followers outlaws, to shelter any of whom was a crime punishable with death.

Frederick's evil case was made worse and his difficulties immeasurably increased by the secession to the ranks of his enemies of his brother Ernest, who had taken the Dukedom of Styria as his portion of the inheritance.

Duke Ernest took up the reins of Government of Tyrol, and there ensued a period of bloodshed and disastrous Civil War in which the peasants and the lower classes remained firm and loyal supporters of their ruler Frederick, and the greater number of the nobility espoused the cause of the usurper Ernest. At length a peace was brought about between the two brothers, chiefly through the mediation of the Archbishop Eberhard of Salzburg, and the Duke Louis of Bavaria. The reconciliation of Frederick and Duke Ernest, whose estrangement had been brought about by Frederick's action in relation to Pope John at Constance which had brought him under the powerful ban of the Church, took place at the castle of the Archbishop at Kropfsberg.

The remaining portion of Frederick's life appears to have been peaceable, and notwithstanding his sobriquet of "Empty Purse" he left a huge fortune in treasure, which some authorities assert was the greatest amassed by any ruler of those times. He was undoubtedly one of the most able, and with the peasants and townsfolk most popular, rulers Tyrol has ever had as a separate principality. He carried on a struggle throughout his reign against the encroachments of the nobility upon the lands and liberties of the people, which in itself was a thing sufficient to gain him the love and loyalty of the great masses of his subjects, which his affable manners, generosity, and kindliness served to cement. To him belongs the credit of summoning the first Tyrolean Landtag of any use or importance, held at Meran in 1423. Subsequently the Landtag was convened at Innsbruck, which town in consequence gradually came to be regarded as the capital of Tyrol.

On the death of Frederick he was succeeded by his son Sigismund, then a mere lad of eleven or twelve years of age. The latter lived for some seven years at the Court of Vienna under the control of his guardian the Emperor Frederick III. Whilst in Vienna he became acquainted with one ?neas Silvius de Piccolomini, afterwards Pope Pius II., a widely travelled, able but licentious man who had journeyed so far afield as Scotland, and who poured such glowing descriptions of the beauty of the ladies of the Scottish Court into the young Duke Sigismund's ears that he became possessed with a desire to marry a Scotch bride. Thus it happened that when the daughter of Charles VII., King of France, died (whom it had been intended by his father he should marry) the young Duke Sigismund wooed and won Eleanor, daughter of ill-fated James I. of Scotland, to whom as dowry the Duke gave the historic castles of Ambras, Imst, and H?rtenburg for life. This gifted princess lived in Tyrol for a period of more than thirty years, and by her gentle manners, love of sport, especially hawking and hunting, and social accomplishments made herself much beloved by her husband's subjects. Her Court, for the size of the principality over which her husband ruled, was very large and luxurious.

During the reign of Sigismund the vast mineral wealth of the Unter-Innthal district especially became opened up, and this enabled the Duke to spend lavish sums upon pleasures, entertainments, arts, and science, which soon caused his Court at Innsbruck to be spoken of as one of the most refined, gay, and interesting in Eastern Europe. At the same time Tyrol owed much to Sigismund, as he was a generous patron of art and employer of artists of all kinds.


On the death of his consort Eleanor he married, in 1484, the Princess Catherine of Saxony, who was both young and beautiful. A man of great judgment, he yet committed the grave error of provoking a war with the Venetians, whose trade with Tyrol was an important and valuable asset in the country's commerce and material prosperity. It arose from the seizure of some rich silver mines the property of the Venetians in the Valsugana, and the tense situation arising from this act was aggravated shortly after, in April 1487, by the forcible seizure of the goods of Venetian merchants who had come (as was their wont) to the great fair held at Bozen. Over a hundred and twenty Venetian merchants were also thrown into prison. In the war which ensued the Tyrolese were ultimately victorious; but the victory was a Pyrrhic one as Tyrol lost much by this struggle with the great commercial power of those remote times. The Venetians took a speedy revenge, "boycotting" Tyrolese trade, absenting themselves from the fairs and markets, and avoiding using the Brenner Route which had very materially added to the wealth of the country.

Sigismund, as had other rulers of the Mountain Kingdom, fell out of favour with the Church, owing to a quarrel with the Cardinal Bishop of Brixen, Nicholas of Cusa, chiefly on account of the latter's persistent endeavour to exalt the power of the Church at the expense of the former's temporal authority, and it was only Sigismund's indifference to religious matters and power in his own country which enabled him to treat with unconcern if not positive contempt the ban placed upon him by the Church of Rome. He even went the length of making war upon the Bishop, and of besieging him in his castle at Brunneck; and as a consequence was excommunicated by both Pope Calixtus III. the Courageous and Pius II.

In Sigismund's declining years he applied himself "to the task of purchasing salvation in the manner approved by the Church he had defied, and whose bulls, bans, and mandates he had scorned." He set about founding monasteries, gave largely to charitable endowments, and was generous in other ways to a Church which was anxious to pardon the sinner who was willing to purchase absolution on satisfactory monetary or other terms. One effect of this great expenditure was to impoverish the country, which had already been much "drained" by the demands made upon it by Sigismund's patronage of art, love of women, and lavish entertainments.



Maximilian, his cousin (afterwards the famous Emperor Maximilian I.), succeeded him on his abdication in 1493. He was in a great measure an ideal ruler for Tyrol, whose brave, independent people were touched by the spirit, frankness, and great personal bravery of their new prince. Fond of war, he was equally devoted to the chivalric jousts and games of the period, and, if one may believe historians, to these sterner qualities was united a kindly and approachable disposition which further endeared him to his people. It was only in the latter portion of his reign that he lost touch with and hold upon them, and, owing to the heavy drain that incessant wars and military operations had placed upon the country, necessitating heavy taxation, became in a measure unpopular.

From his biographers one gathers that the Emperor was deeply affected by the change of attitude of the populace towards him, and he referred to it bitterly on several occasions. During some considerable time before his death he always went about accompanied by his coffin, which he is stated to have described as "the one narrow palace which architects can design at small cost, and the making of which does not bring ruin upon princes."

During the reign of Maximilian to Tyrol was added other and considerable new territory, including the Ampezzo district; Rovereto; the three lordships of Rattenberg, Kitzbühel, and Kufstein; the towns of Riva and Arco; a portion of the present Vorarlberg; and a portion of the Pusterthal. Maximilian also did something for education in his capital of Innsbruck, where he built a new palace which was first used at the time of his second marriage with Maria Bianca Sforza of Milan in 1494.

He was succeeded by his two grandsons, the Emperor Charles V. and the Archduke Ferdinand. The former, however, found his dominions so vast that he soon resigned his Austrian possessions (including Tyrol) to his brother Ferdinand, who afterwards became Emperor. The reign of the latter, though long, was not a happy or prosperous one. The religious disturbances brought about by the Reformation, which Ferdinand severely suppressed, and risings of the peasants in consequence, made his name detested in Tyrol, so that in the War of the Schmalkald the inhabitants supported Charles V. It was at Innsbruck (after two unsuccessful attempts to leave Tyrol) that he was surprised by his treacherous friend Maurice of Saxony, who had marched his army rapidly into Tyrol intent upon capturing Charles. The latter, who had no army with him, having arrived at Innsbruck on his way to the Council of Trent, in order to escape had to leave his palace at dead of night in torrents of rain in May 1552-a man broken in health and tired of life.

It was this Ferdinand who founded the famous Franciscan Church at Innsbruck with its world-renowned tomb in memory of his grandfather Maximilian I.

On the death of Ferdinand, in 1564, he was succeeded on the throne of Tyrol by his second son who bore his name. A romantic interest attaches to this Archduke, who after much opposition on the part of his family married the beautiful daughter of an Augsburg merchant, Philippina Welser, who ultimately succeeded in winning the Emperor's sanction to the marriage.[6]

The thirty-one years' reign of Archduke Ferdinand was chiefly notable for the encouragement given by him to Art. Indeed, during this period the country reached its highest culture. The world-famous art collection now in Vienna, concerning which most authorities are in agreement that it was the most extensive and beautiful formed up to that period, owes its existence almost entirely to him. In his Castle of Ambras, near Innsbruck, he gathered together art treasures that are now, as regards many examples, almost if not quite unique; and by so doing ensured his position with posterity as one of the first, most learned, and most discriminating of art collectors and connoisseurs the world has known.


Ferdinand and his beautiful spouse remained throughout their married life devoted to each other, although when the former's father, in 1563, recognized the marriage it was agreed that any children born to the pair should not be recognized as of Royal birth, the alliance being regarded as morganatic. The story that Philippina died a violent death seems to have no basis upon fact.

Ferdinand after the death of his first wife married Anna Katharina Gonzaga of Mantua, to whose devout tendencies and influence over him Innsbruck and the neighbourhood owed many of its religious houses and institutions.

On the death of Ferdinand, as his and Philippina's children could not succeed to their father's possessions and title for the reason we have mentioned, and as there were no children of the marriage with Anna Katharina, Tyrol reverted in 1595 to the Emperor Rudolph II., who soon appointed his brother the Archduke Maximilian as Regent. This prince was the head of the Teutonic Order, and bore the title of Deutschmeister. After his death Tyrol reverted to the Emperor Ferdinand II., who in 1622 celebrated his second marriage with Eleanora Vincenzo of Mantua at Innsbruck. The event was celebrated with great magnificence even for a period when entertainments of the kind were veritable triumphs of splendour and art, and the wedding feast was served by Tyrolese noblemen.

Ferdinand soon appointed his brother the Archduke Leopold as Regent, and on his death in 1632 the latter was succeeded by his widow, the wise and beautiful Archduchess Claudia Felicitas of Medici, who governed Tyrol during the minority of her two sons. Her chief counsellor was the brilliant and distinguished Chancellor Wilhelm Biener. The Archduke Ferdinand Charles came of age (and succeeded to his estates) in 1646, and in default of male heirs was succeeded by his brother Francis Sigismund in 1662. The reign of the last named lasted only three years, and came to a sudden and tragic close on the very eve of his marriage. Popular opinion ascribed his death to poison, given to the Archduke by his physician Agricola, the latter, at the time, being supposed to have been instigated to the crime by some Italian nobles whom the Archduke had banished from his Court. On the death of Sigismund the second Tyrolese-Habsburg line of rulers came to an end.


It was then that Tyrol finally came into the possession of the Emperors of Austria, by whom the ancient title of Prince-Count of Tyrol and other subsidiary titles are still borne.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top