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The Privilegium Minus (as opposed to the later Privilegium Maius, which was a forgery) is a document issued by Emperor Frederick I on September 17, 1156. It included the elevation of the Margraviate of Austria to a Duchy, which was given as an inheritable fief to the House of Babenberg. Its recipient was Frederick's paternal uncle Margrave Henry II Jasomirgott. In addition to that, inheritance should also be possible through the female line of the ducal family. In the absence of children, the duke was allowed to designate a successor (Libertas Affectandi). The duke's duty to attend the Reichstag was limited to those cases where it convened in Bavaria. Also, Austria was henceforth only required to provide troops to the emperor in wars in its vicinity.

The issue of the Privilegium Minus document is to be seen before the backdrop of the conflict between the Hohenstaufen and Welfen dynasties in the Holy Roman Empire, which the then young emperor -- who was descended from both houses -- desired to end. The Duchy of Bavaria was returned to Henry the Lion of the Welfen dynasty, which the Babenbergs had ruled since 1139. To make up for the loss, Austria was raised to the status of a duchy. This was then seen as a loss for Duke Heinrich II Jasomirgott. Only much later, the document turned out to be founding act for what was to become a nation. Because of it, 1156 is sometimes given as Austria's date of independence, which it then gained from Bavaria.


Text of the document

The English translation of the Latin original reads as following:

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Frederick, by favour of the divine mercy, august emperor of the Romans. Although a transfer of property may remain valid from the actual act of performing such transfer, and those things which are lawfully possessed can not be wrested away by any act of force: it is, however, the duty of our imperial authority to intervene lest there can be any doubt of the transaction. Be it known, therefore, to the present age and to future generations of our subjects, that we, aided by the grace of Him who sent peace for men from Heaven to earth, have, in the general court of Regensburg which was held on the nativity of St. Mary the Virgin, in the presence of many of the clergy and the catholic princes, terminated the struggle and controversy concerning the duchy of Bavaria, which has long been carried on between our most beloved uncle, Henry duke of Austria, and our most dear nephew, Henry duke of Saxony. And it has been done in this way: that the duke of Austria has resigned to us the duchy of Bavaria, which we have straightway granted as a fief to the duke of Saxony. But the duke of Bavaria has resigned to us the march of Austria, with all its jurisdictions and with all the fiefs which the former margrave Leopold held from the duchy of Bavaria. Moreover, lest by this act the honour and glory of our most beloved uncle may seem in any way to be diminished,-by the counsel and judgment of the princes, Vladislav, the illustrious duke of Bohemia, proclaiming the decision, and all the princes approving,-we have changed the march of Austria into a duchy, and have granted that duchy with all its jurisdictions to our aforesaid uncle Henry and his most noble wife Theodora as a fief; decreeing by a perpetual law that they and their children alike, whether sons or daughters, shall, by hereditary right, hold and possess that same duchy of Austria from the empire. But if the aforesaid duke of Austria, our uncle, and his wife should die without children, they shall have the privilege of leaving that duchy to whomever they wish. We decree, further, that no person, small or great, may presume to exercise any jurisdiction in the governing of that duchy without the consent or permission of the duke. The duke of Austria, moreover, shall not owe any other service to the empire from his duchy, except that, when he is summoned, he shall come to the courts which the emperor shall announce in Bavaria. And he shall be bound to go on no military expeclition, unless the emperor ordain one against the countries or provinces adjoining Austria. For the rest, in order that this our imperial decree may, for all ages, remain valid and unshaken, we have ordered the present charter to be written and to be sealed with the impress of our seal, suitable witnesses to be called in whose names are as follows: Pilgrim, patriarch of Aquileija, etc. etc.[1]

In succession crisis of the 13th century

Because the Babenberg Austria was inheritable by female lines, two rivalling candidates emerged after the last male Babenberg Frederick II, Duke of Austria, Styria and Carinthia died in 1246.

  • Herman VI, Margrave of Baden (died 1250), second husband of Gertrude of Babenberg, the daughter of the late Henry of Modling, the elder brother of the now late Duke Frederick. She was the primogenitural heir of Duke Frederick and the entire Babenberg line of Dukes of Austria. Her first husband Vladislav of Bohemia, Margrave of Moravia (died 1247) had already claimed Austrian duchy against duke Frederick, as Gertrude was heiress of the elder brother. After Herman's death, her third husband Roman, Prince of Novogrudok (married 1252, divorced 1253) continued the claim in 1252-53. And then Gertrude and Herman's son Frederick I, Margrave of Baden's claim was asserted to the Babenberg inheritance, but he was killed in 1268, leaving a sister (the future Countess of Heunburg) to continue the line.
  • King Ottokar II of Bohemia (1233-78), since 1252 husband of the (childless) Margaret of Babenberg, dowager Queen of the Romans and the only surviving sister of Duke Frederick. By proximity of blood, she was the closest surviving relative of the last duke. Ottokar and Margaret were proclaimed Duke and Duchess of Austria. However, Margaret was barren and they got divorced in 1260, Ottokar marrying a younger woman. Margaret died in 1267 and left no children (so her heiress would be Gertrude again) - but Ottokar kept Austria, Styria etc. claiming to be the heir designated by Margaret in their divorce settlement. He held the duchies until deposed by king Rudolf I of Germany in 1276.

In the succession crisis of 18th century

The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 was partially based on provisions of Privilegium Minus of Austria. Although not given to the Habsburgs but to the Babenbergs, it anyway allowed female heiresses to succeed in Austria, and it designated to the Duke the right to name a successor in absence of heirs. It led to War of Austrian Succession.


  1. ^ History of Austria: Page 9 - The Creation of Austria


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