Vienna: Empire, Dynasty and Dream

The Habsburgs

Series 1 - Episode 1 The Habsburgs



After learned peregrinations through Rome and Istanbul, panama-behatted historian Simon Sebag Montefiore turns his attention to that other great imperial city, Vienna, for what he describes as a story of “rollicking heroes and extreme bloodletting”. There’s no shortage of the latter in this first episode, as he describes the slaughter – of family rivals, opposing kings, Ottomans and Jews – that accompanied the early centuries of the Habsburg dynasty as they accumulated power and influence. But they were also good at marriage, and it wasn’t long before they controlled huge swathes of continental Europe as Holy Roman Emperors.

In case the parade of names threatens to dull the attention, Montefiore relishes the more gruesome aspects of the time, notably the savagery of the Thirty Years War, all the while wandering through elegant streets and ornate palaces. It sums up the schizophrenic nature of the period neatly.


Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore describes how the Habsburgs transformed Vienna into a multi-national city of music, culture, art and ideas. Simon explores the Habsburgs' rise to power and discovers more about how Vienna marked Europe's front line in the struggle to defend both Christendom and the Catholic Church from revolutionaries who plotted to destroy them.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Simon Sebag Montefiore
Director Dominic Ozanne
Executive Producer Mike Smith
Producer Dominic Ozanne
Series Producer Richard Downes