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habspurg-wappen_zwbHis Imperial Highness Archduke Eduard of Austria recently published an excellent article in the Catholic Herald, speaking of the recent Papal Audience with House of Austria, and including in this article a rather curious postscript;

I’d like to take this opportunity to reach out to our English-speaking friends and ask them always to write Habsburg with a “b”. The “Hapsburg” variant has been around since the 17th century, but that doesn’t make it the correct spelling. Thanks.

Now I intend no disrespect to the Archduke, but having made a thorough study of the etymology and orthography of the name of his most Noble House, I have found that the variant spelling is not only a correct spelling, but it in fact predates the Neuhochdeutsch “Habsburg” variant. This is not to say that the Imperial and Royal family ought not use the spelling “Habsburg,” but rather I intend to show through the orthographic history of the name that the spelling “Hapsburg” is in fact a correct and usable variation.

The origin of the noble House is obscure, but there is good reason to believe that the first Count, Rædbot of Klettgau, was descend from Emperor Charlemagne (Karl der Große) in the female line (the main male lines having died out a century earlier). Whether he named the tower that he raised in the canton of Aargau, after the ford of the river nearby (Old High German: “hap“), after his hawk as the old legend suggests (OHG: “habuch“), or from Old Germanic “happ” (a fortunate event or prophecy; hence English “happening“) can no longer be ascertained. Regardless of uncertainly, the contraction resulting from any of these origins seems to have certainly been “Hapsbvrg“¹ at the time of the building of the burg in A.D. 1020. (In the case of “habuch” this results from the Germanic devoicing of “b” into “p” at the end of a syllable and before “s” . In Modern German this is evidenced in the fact that both the form “Hapsburg” and the form “Habsburg” are pronounced “ˈhaːps.bʊʁk“) Evidence for this spelling (with very few variants) lasts until the time of Count Albrecht IV during which the variant “Habesbvrg” appears on some seals and documents, though “Hapsbvrg” and “Hapsbvrch” continued use in the reign of Rudolf I.²  However, these variants was at no time exclusive, but is actually contemporaneous with the Middle High German variant “Habspvrg“.

By the 1300s, “Habspvrg” has completely replaced “Habesbvrg“, and remains the dominant form of the name till about 1650, save in certain documents in English and in the House of Austria’s Spanish dominions . Interestingly enough, around the time New High German “Habsburg” becomes the dominant form and practically replaces the Austro-Bavarian form “Hapsburg“, the latter form has become dominant in English usage. (In Petermann Etterlin’s 1507 Chronik der Eidgenossenschaft both the form “Hapsburg” and the form “Habsburg” are used together, instead of the more common form of the period, “Habspurg“. The use of double variants seems to be a not uncommon practice for most periods.) Looking at an n-gram of German language sources (available from Google-books) from 1500 onward and comparing its English equivalent reveals interestingly enough that from 1715 till about 1768, the archaic form “Habspurg” actually replaced the more modern “Habsburg” in most documents.

These charts also reveal that the Sacrétemporal (Medieval) form “Hapsburg” had in fact gained some (admittedly very small) usage in German language sources around the 1950s, before ultimately being dropped in favor of the modern form. The question of which form ought to be used by German-speakers has to some extant been settled by the passage of time (although I personally would not mind seeing the return of the original form), but if the Archduke is of the opinion that it would be more correct for English-speakers to cease using their preservation of the ancient form in favor of the modern usage, I should like to ask his Highness if he similarly recommends that French-speakers desist using the form “Habsbourg (Old French “Hapsbourgh“)?  Each of these valid historical forms has its own value; together they attest to the Supranational nature of the vocation of the House of Austria, and I believe it would be a shame to see the end of their usage, incorrectly suppressed as “misspellings”.

Habsburg Hoch!

¹ Annales Sancti Udalrici et Afræ Augustenses
² Monumenta Hohenbergica

(P.S. thanks to PZMedic on Google+ for informing me of the article)