Albert III: Duke of Austria

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Albert III was Duke of Austria for three decades in the 14th Century, sharing power with his brother Leopold.

Albert III, Duke of Austria

He was born on Sept. 9, 1349, in Vienna, the son of Albert II and Joanna of Pfirt. Albert had an older brother, Frederick, who died in 1362. That left the governing of Austria in the hands of Albert and his younger brother Leopold, in support of their older brother, Rudolf.

A few years before that, Rudolf had pulled a stunt in order to increase his reputation and prospects for power. Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV had named the seven who would have the power to select the King of the Romans (Germany). Rudolf, who since 1358 had been the head of the House of Habsburg, was incensed that he was not on that list and so ordered the "discovery" of the Privilegium maius, a trove of documents that elevated Austria to the status of an archduchy, with rights equal to the prince-electors named Charles IV's Golden Bull. The emperor recognized this claim for the falsity that it was and refused to recognize the Habsburg ruler's claims. A frustrated Rudolf died in 1365.

Meanwhile, Albert and Leopold were widening their sphere of influence elsewhere, absorbing surrounding territory such as the County of Tyrol and the Swabian city of Freiburg. The brothers eventually disagreed on the way forward and, in the 1379 Treaty of Neuberg, divided the lands between them. Albert got Austria, and Leopold got Carinthia, Carniola, Styria, and the Tyrol.

Leopold's expansion efforts rankled the leaders of the Old Swiss Confederacy, sparking a conflict that turned violent. At the Battle of Sempach, in 1386, Leopold died. A number of other Austrian nobles died as well. This left Albert as sole ruler of all Austrian lands.

Albert himself tasted defeat at the hands of the Swiss, at the Battle of Näfels in 1388. He had also gotten involved in the disagreement over who was most qualified to succeed Charles IV, who died in 1378. Albert backed Jobst of Moravia, who eventually became King of Germany, and opposed King Wenceslaus IV of Luxembourg. Albert was on campaign against Wenceslaus when he died, on Aug. 29, 1395, at his Laxenburg hunting lodge outside Vienna.

Albert had two wives. He married the first, Elisabeth of Bohemia, in March 1366. She died still young, having given birth to no children. In 1375, Albert married Beatrice of Nuremberg. They had a son, named Albert, two years later. Thus, one Albert succeeded another.

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