On August 26, 1278, German and Hungarian forces led by Rudolf I of Habsburg and Ladislaus IV of Hungary defeated the Bohemian army of Ottokar II at Battle on the Marchfeld, which marked the rise of the House of Habsburg in Central Europe.
The death of Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen in 1250 ushered in a period of internal confusion and political disorder throughout the Holy Roman Empire known as the Great Interregnum during which there was no emperor and nobles gained increased control over their territories.
It was during that time that the newly-crowned Bohemian King Ottokar II consolidated his power by moving into the princeless Duchies of Austria, Styria and Carinthia, and defeating the Hungarian King Béla IV in 1260.
At the height of his power, Ottokar aimed at the Imperial crown, but the Empire’s Princes-Electors, distrustful of his steep rise, elected the Swabian Count Rudolph of Habsburg as the new King of the Romans in 1273, which marked the official end of the Interregnum.
Rudolph claimed the Austrian territories for the Empire and summoned Ottokar to the 1275 Reichstag in Würzburg. But the Bohemian King refused to acknowledge Rudolph as his rightful ruler and did not appear at the Diet.
Preparing for war, Rodolph concluded an alliance with King Ladislaus IV of Hungary, who intended to settle old scores with Ottokar, and besieged the Bohemian King in Vienna, forcing him to surrender all of his acquisitions.
Determined to regain his territories, Ottokar campaigned against Austria and, supported by Duke Henry I of Lower Bavaria, laid siege to the towns of Drosendorf and Laa an der Thaya near the Austrian border. But Rudolph decided to leave Vienna and to face the Bohemian army in an open pitched battle in the Morava basin north of the capital, where the Cuman cavalry of King Ladislaus could easily join his forces.
Surprised by Rudolph’s maneuver, Ottokar quickly abandoned the sieges, marched southwards, and met the united German and Hungarian forces near Dürnkrut. Assailed from two directions at once, Ottokar’s army disintegrated into a rout, and Ottokar himself was killed in the confusion and slaughter while the Cumans pursued and killed the fleeing Bohemians with impunity.
With 15,300 mounted troops, the so-called Battle on the Marchfeld was one of the largest cavalry battles in Central Europe of the Middle Ages.
Rudolph’s victory assured his possession of the Duchies of Austria and Styria, the heartland and foundation of the rise of the House of Habsburg. At the 1282 Diet of Augsburg, he installed his sons Albert and Rudolf II as Austrian dukes; their descendants held the ducal dignity until 1918.
The Austrian territories thus remained under Habsburg rule for more than 600 years, forming the core of the Habsburg Monarchy and the present-day country of Austria. Meanwhile, the influence of the Bohemian kings was diminished and restricted to their inheritance in Bohemia and Moravia.
Following the death of Louis II of Hungary in the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg was elected King of Bohemia and Hungary, which eventually became hereditary Habsburg domains in the 17th century after the Battle of White Mountain.
Find out more about Central European history in our new On this Day series.