Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube – ‘Let others wage war: thou, happy Austria, marry’.

Wikipedia doesn't say too much on the topic; but it's a frequently repeated historical anecdotal phrase.

What exactly was the origin of this foreign policy in Austria; and why was Austria special among other European powers (including other Hapsburgs) that they both tried and succeeded in it?

  • 2
    As a policy it was not unique to Austria. I thought the quote refers to the Hapsburgs being uniquely successful at inheriting territories from their marriages and thus adding them to their domains. I do wonder how other families like the Jaegellions and Bourbons were any different. Most of the time these families were not able to collect territories into a single kingdom. France, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Parma, the Netherlands, etc were administered as separate units even if they had a common ruler. The union of Austria and Hungary seems historically unique in comparison.
    – Mike
    Apr 8, 2014 at 2:19
  • @Mike And unless my memory disserves completely, Austria and Hungary were not united through marriage. Apr 8, 2014 at 4:51
  • @FelixGoldberg right you are
    – Mike
    Apr 8, 2014 at 23:20
  • Did Austria succeed in this strategy? One Habsburg line went extinct in the 18th century; Austria lost the Austro-Prussian War and failed in the Großdeutschland policy in the 19th century; the Austrians lost in their ambitions in World War I and the Empire dissolved in the early 20th century. It's now formally illegal to even use noble titles in Austria. I'm not sure there's much evidence that the strategy was all that successful. This is leaving out the possible consequences of rigorous inbreeding.
    – NL7
    Apr 9, 2014 at 19:23
  • 1
    @NL7 - the saying is from the monarchs... L'Etat, c'est moi.
    – DVK
    Apr 9, 2014 at 20:02

2 Answers 2


MOST countries' kings practiced "Diplomacy by marriage." Austria stood out by making it work. That's because her kings' marriages seemed to be highly topical, rather than random.

For instance, there didn't seem to be much of a point for Maximilian of Austria to marry Marie of Burgundy. Until you realize that Austria is on the southeast edge, and Burgundy/Netherlands was on the northwest edge of the Holy Roman Empire, and Maximilian was likely to (and became) Holy Roman Emperor.

The marriage of Maximilian and Marie's son Philip to Ferdinand and Isabella's daughter Juana didn't seem to make much sense either, until you realize that Spain and the Netherlands were on the south and north of their common enemy, a newly united France.

A couple generations later, the marriage of Austria's Prince Ferdinand to the heiress of Bohemia didn't seem to have to particular meaning, until one realizes that it enabled Austria, Bohemia, and the Holy Roman Empire to split off from Spain and the Netherlands (the latter two under Philip II).

On the other hand, the marriage of Philip II of Spain to England's Queen Mary didn't do much for either, except to arouse antagonisms on both sides. And the marriages of various French kings to Polish princesses didn't do much for France, because Poland was a liability, rather than an asset to France, given all her enemies. The marriages of French Louis (XIII and XIV) to Spanish princesses didn't reconcile these natural enemies.

  • I'm STILL upset that Anne of Austria was actually Princess of Spain :)
    – DVK
    Apr 9, 2014 at 19:51
  • Adam Smith in An inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations noted:

    [W]hen land was considered as the means, not of subsistence merely, but of power and protection, it was thought better that it should descend undivided to one. In those disorderly times, every great landlord was a sort of petty prince. His tenants were his subjects. He was their judge, and in some respects their legislator in peace and their leader in war. He made war according to his own discretion, frequently against his neighbours, and sometimes against his sovereign. The security of a landed estate, therefore, the protection which its owner could afford to those who dwelt on it, depended upon its greatness. To divide it was to ruin it, and to expose every part of it to be oppressed and swallowed up by the incursions of its neighbours. The law of primogeniture, therefore, came to take place, not immediately indeed, but in process of time, in the succession of landed estates, for the same reason that it has generally taken place in that of monarchies, though not always at their first institution.

  • On what basis d you believe that the Austrians practiced diplomacy through marriage any better, or more or less frequently, than any other male-preference primogeniture nation? For a simple start, consider the many European Wars sub-titled of Succession, such as:

  • War of Austrian Succession

  • War of Spanish succession
  • War of Bavarian Succession
  • War of Polish Succession
  • War of Breton Succession

All of the above had a Hapsburg (or in the case of Castile a pre-Hapsburg) belligerent.

  • And ... how does this answer the question?
    – andy256
    Apr 8, 2014 at 10:50
  • 1
    I'm not necessarily against answers that attack the premises of the question. However it seems to me in this case that the examples cited actually strengthen the question's case.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 8, 2014 at 14:50
  • 1
    Just to be clear, Austrian Hapsburgs != other Hapsburgs (I thinks some of yuor links relate more to Spanish branch)
    – DVK
    Apr 8, 2014 at 16:49
  • @T.E.D. - Since the question is based on a popular saying (that I'm not even certain can be attributable, at least based on my Googling); I'm perfectly happy if a well cited answer concludes that the saying was wrong.
    – DVK
    Apr 8, 2014 at 16:50
  • @DVK: Austria was likely the most belligerent nation on the continent from Charles V to extinction of the HRE. Apr 8, 2014 at 21:39

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