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Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv – History

The sovereign's acts and charters

The oldest holdings in the archive date back to the days of the margraves and dukes of Austria, i.e. the Babenbergs and early Habsburgs. The first mention of a Babenberg "archive" is found in the year 1137; at that time it was located in Klosterneuburg near Vienna.

After the Babenberg family died out in 1246 the treasure trove of acts and charters was transferred to the Teutonic Order and was handed on to the new sovereigns, the Habsburgs, via Ottokar II. Přemysl. The Habsburgs' acts and charters were originally kept in the chapel of Vienna’s Hofburg palace.

Fragmentation of the archival heritage

In the late Middle Ages, the Habsburg lands were divided, which led to the acts and charters also being divided up among the various lines of the dynasty reigning in parallel; this was done according to territorial principles. In the various residences "archives" in their own right emerged as time went by.

The early attempts of Emperors Maximilian I. and Ferdinand I. at centralising the archives were unsuccessful. In 1564 yet another division of the lands caused the fragmentation of the collection of acts and charters to be perpetuated for a longer period to come. Repositories and "archives" remained or were established in Prague, Innsbruck, Graz and Vienna. Even the reunification of all Habsburg lands under Emperor Leopold I. in 1665 did nothing to change the situation.

Even the sovereign's collection of acts and charters in Vienna was dispersed over several locations and subordinate to several authorities until the middle of the 18th century: The dark and inconvenient "Schatzgewölbearchiv" ("archive of the treasure vault") was no longer kept at the chapel as from the 16th century. It had been moved to the Western tower of the Hofburg. More recent acts and charters pertaining to the House and Family of Habsburg were stored in the Schatzkammer (Treasury) of the at the Hofburg's "Schweizertrakt" wing whilst fragments of written records were housed by the Hofbibliothek (court library).

The foundation of the Geheimes Hausarchiv in 1749

For some time there had been calls for a complete archive, an easily accessible "Universal-Staatsarchivum domus Austriae". However, the idea only started to materialise when, at the beginning of the War of Austrian Succession (1740 to 1748), Maria Theresia had to acknowledge that she was unable to assert her claim to her father's lands because the required documents were not available quickly enough.

The foundation of a Geheimes Hausarchivs in Vienna in 1749 must be seen against the backdrop of the "state reform" initiated by Maria Theresia as a response to the crisis that had just been overcome; she sought to eliminate the historical grouping of countries and to bring the Bohemian and Austrian lands into line via centralised administration. "Centralisation" was indeed the keyword to best describe the archival policy of the Empress and Queen.

"Archive of selected holdings"

The new archive, housed in the Reichskanzlei wing of the Hofburg from 1753 to the late 19th century, was actually an artificial "archive of selected holdings" bringing together the most important acts and charters of family and state to make sure that the legal titles and rulers' rights of the Habsburgs would be well documented. For this purpose Maria Theresia sent her personal archivist Theodor Anton Taulow von Rosenthal (1702 to 1779) to Prague, Graz and Innsbruck; at the same time, the archives of the authorities in Vienna and in the lands as well as the Treasury were searched for important acts and charters.

Large numbers of agreements on the distribution of the estates of deceased persons, settlements, prenuptial contracts, waivers of sovereignty, last wills, provisions for succession to the throne, alliances, peace treaties and armistice, as well as privileges granted to certain classes and lands were sent to the Hausarchiv in Vienna.

Moreover, Maria Theresia's husband, Duke Francis Stephen of Lorraine (Francis I. as Holy Roman Emperor), added the archive of the House of Lorraine, which he brought from Nancy, to the Habsburg holdings.

On the way to a "living archive of administrative authorities"

As the modern age dawned, the new central authorities produced large quantities of written records which were kept in the registries along with the related account books and then by and by sent to the "old registries" (archives of the chancelleries) as there was not much of an interest in them in the 18th century.

Nevertheless, as early as in 1753 it was foreseen to deposit original treaties with foreign powers and free cities as well as family documents in the Hausarchiv.

Although the archive was directly subordinate to the Geheime Haus-, Hof- und Staatskanzlei as from 1762 anyway, it took quite some time for the authority in charge of foreign policy and family matters to eventually translate the principle into reality. From the early 19th century onwards, this relation was also reflected in the name of the Hausarchiv, which was from then on called "(Geheimes) Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv".

The decisive step towards a "living" archive kept by an administrative authority was only taken when, in 1829 and 1851, respectively, major holdings of records were transferred to the archive by the Staatskanzlei as well as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Imperial Household Ministry, which replaced the Staatskanzlei as from 1848.

A historical central archive

As early as in the first half of the 19th century, the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, being the guardian of the sovereign's acts and charters as well as of artificially selected registries, increasingly came to be considered a convergence point for historically significant archival records from a wide range of provenances.

The archive obtained the valuable records and holdings of acts and charters of dissolved monasteries and bishoprics as well as from the Republic of Venice, which fell to the Habsburgs in 1797, just like the registries of the Habsburgs' administrative authorities in those countries which were lost in the turmoil of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars ("country departments", in particular the Belgian-Dutch "Departement" and the Italian-Spanish Council).

It went without saying that the records of the supreme authorities of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which had operated out of the Emperor's court in Vienna (Reichshofrat, Reichskanzlei), were also transferred to the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv after 1806. In 1852 the archive also secured the Erzkanzlerarchiv of Mainz for itself after it had been derelict for a long time.

A centre of research

Alfred von Arneth (1819–1897), Direktor des Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchivs 1868–1897 © OESTA

During the first half of the 19th century, the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv complied with the mission for which it was founded, i.e. to provide historical and legal information to the dynasty and the state; it was accessible to external researchers in exceptional cases only. However, some archivists such as Joseph von Hormayr (1782 to 1848) or Joseph Chmel (1798 to 1858) made their mark in the historiography of the Vormärz period.

It was Alfred von Arneth (1819 to 1897), the most eminent biographer of Maria Theresia, who was appointed director of the archive in 1868 and subsequently opened the holdings to researchers. He also urged his employees to play an active role and contribute to shaping Austrian historiography.

Up to the Second Republic, the civil servants of the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv made a special symbiosis of archival work, research and teaching at university level materialise. Prominent historians such as Ottokar Lorenz (1832 to 1904), Hans Schlitter (1858 to 1945), Hans von Voltelini (1862 to 1938), Lothar Groß (1887 to 1944), Otto Stowasser (1887 to 1934), Otto Brunner (1898 to 1982), Franz Huter (1899 to 1997) and Erika Weinzierl (* 1925) all worked at the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv at some point of their careers.

The new archive building 1899 to 1902

Naturally, the enormous additions to the archival holdings led to increasing shortage of space which could no longer be overcome by more and more makeshift solutions in the shape of repository outposts in various buildings in the inner city of Vienna. Owing to the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Agenor Gołuchowski (1895 to 1906), the archive building in Minoritenplatz square was erected between 1899 and 1902; at the time, it was a state-of-the-art functional structure and it continues to be used today.

Ironically, shortly after the archive and the service it was affiliated to had finally been brought together in one place – the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv moved into a building directly adjacent to the building of the Staatskanzlei designed by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt in Ballhausplatz square – the monarchy collapsed (1918).

First Republic and National-Socialist era

Ansicht des Urkundenspeichers mit Gitterboden © OESTA

After World War I, the archive remained subordinate to the Staatsamt and Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs (later on: Federal Chancellery/Division of Foreign Affairs) and continued to take on past records of archival quality as well as new international treaties.

The years after World War I were on the one hand characterised by transfers of holdings to successor states and victorious nations which were significant in terms of quality and quantity. On the other hand, the collapse of the monarchy lent archival quality to the registries of the supreme offices of the court (Obersthofmeister, Obersthofmarschall, Oberstkämmerer, Oberststallmeister) and the imperial cabinet from one day to the other, as it were, and they were transferred to the building in Minoritenplatz.

In 1940 the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv became part of the "Reichsarchiv Vienna", which brought together the central archives in Vienna in one organisation and was headed by the long-standing director of the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, Ludwig Bittner (1877 to 1945). Towards the end of World War II, archival holdings kept in a repository in Lower Austria suffered dramatic losses.

Since 1945 the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv has been a department of the Austrian State Archives.

Back to the roots

After the foundation of the Archiv der Republik in 1983, the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv transferred its archival holdings from the days of the First and Second Republics and the National-Socialist era to the newly formed department, which also assumed responsibility for the ongoing acceptance of archival-quality records of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. This helped solve the most pressing problems caused by shortage of space. Parts of the court archives stored in the Neue Hofburg were returned to the main building.

General renovation

At the end of the 1990's difficult times dawned for archivists, users and archival holdings as the old building on Minoritenplatz had to be cleared completely for general renovation. Emergency operations were maintained on makeshift premises near Minoritenplatz square.

After renovation (2001 to 2003) had been completed and the building had been festively reinaugurated, a new era began in splendid old surroundings. The historical building has been completely refurbished and both building services and user facilities now offer state-of-the-art convenience. In 2005 the last archival holdings were returned to Minoritenplatz.


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