Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor

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Ferdinand II
Kaiser Ferdinand II. 1614.jpg
Portrait c. 1614
Holy Roman Emperor
King in Germany
Reign 28 August 1619[1]15 February 1637
Coronation 9 September 1619, Frankfurt
Predecessor Matthias
Successor Ferdinand III
Archduke of Austria
Reign 9 October 1619 – 15 February 1637
Predecessor Matthias
Successor Ferdinand III
King of Hungary and Croatia
Reign 1 July 1618 – 15 February 1637
Coronation 1 July 1618, Pressburg
Predecessor Matthias
Successor Ferdinand III
King of Bohemia
Reign 5 June 1617 – 15 February 1637
Coronation 29 June 1617, Prague
Predecessor Matthias
Successor Ferdinand III
Born 9 July 1578
Graz, Austria
Died 15 February 1637 (aged 58)
Vienna, Austria
Burial Mausoleum in Graz, Austria (body)
Augustinian Church, Austria (heart)
Spouse Maria Anna of Bavaria
Eleonor Gonzaga
Issue Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor
Maria Anna, Electress of Bavaria
Cecilia Renata, Queen of Poland
Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria
House House of Habsburg
Father Charles II, Archduke of Austria
Mother Maria Anna of Bavaria
Religion Roman Catholicism

Ferdinand II (9 July 1578 – 15 February 1637), a member of the House of Habsburg, was Holy Roman Emperor (1619–1637), King of Bohemia (1617–1619, 1620–1637), and King of Hungary (1618–1637). He was the son of Archduke Charles II of Inner Austria, and Maria of Bavaria. In 1590, his parents, who were devout Catholics, sent him to study at the Jesuits' college in Ingolstadt, because they wanted to isolate him from the Lutheran nobles; in the same year, he inherited Inner AustriaStyria, Carinthia, Carniola and smaller provinces—from his father. Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor, who was the head of the Habsburg family, appointed regents to administer Inner Austria on behalf of the minor Ferdinand.

Ferdinand was installed as the actual ruler of the Inner Austrian provinces in 1596 and 1597. Rudolph II also charged him with the command of the defense of Croatia, Slavonia and southeastern Hungary against the Ottomans, he regarded the regulation of religious issues as a royal prerogative and introduced strict Counter-Reformation measures from 1598. First, he ordered the expulsion of all Protestant pastors and teachers, then he established special commissions to restore the Catholic parishes, the Ottomans captured Nagykanizsa in Hungary in 1600, which enabled them to invade Styria. A year later, Ferdinand tried to recapture the fortress, but the action ended with a defeat due to the unprofessional command of his troops in November 1601, during the first stage of the family feud known as the Brothers' Quarrel, Ferdinand initially supported Rudolph II's brother, Maximilian, who wanted to convince the melancholic Emperor to abdicate, but Matthias' concessions to the Protestants in Hungary, Austria and Bohemia outraged him. He planned an alliance to strengthen the position of the Catholic Church in the Holy Roman Empire, but the Catholic princes established the Catholic League without his participation in 1610.

Philip III of Spain, who was the childless Matthias' nephew, acknowledged Ferdinand's right to succeed Matthias in Bohemia and Hungary in exchange for territorial concessions in 1617. Spain also supported Ferdinand against the Republic of Venice during the Uskok War in 1617–18, the Diets of Bohemia and Hungary confirmed Ferdinand's position as Matthias' successor only after he had promised to respect the Estates' privileges in both realms. The different interpretation of the Letter of Majesty, which summarized the Bohemian Protestants' liberties, gave rise to an uprising, known as the Second Defenestration of Prague on 23 May 1618. The Bohemian rebels established a provisional government, invaded Upper Austria and sought assistance from the Habsburgs' opponents, after Matthias' death on 20 March 1619, Ferdinand was elected Holy Roman Emperor, but the Protestant Bohemian Estates dethroned him and offered the crown to the Calvinist Frederick V of the Palatinate on 26 August.

His acts against Protestantism flared up the Thirty Years' War, which started already in 1618 as a result of inadequacies of his precedessors Rudolf II and Matthias. As a zealous Catholic, Ferdinand wanted to restore the Catholic Church as the only religion in the Empire and to wipe out any form of religious dissent.


Ferdinand II, 1626

Born in the castle in Graz on 9 July 1578, Ferdinand was the son of Charles II, Archduke of Austria, and Maria of Bavaria.[2] Charles II, who was the youngest son of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, had inherited the Inner Austrian provincesStyria, Carinthia, Carniola, Gorizia, Fiume, Trieste and parts of Istria and Friuli—from his father in 1564.[3] Being a daughter of Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, by Charles II's sister Anna, Maria of Bavaria was her husband's niece,[4] their marriage brought about a reconciliation between the two leading Catholic families of the Holy Roman Empire.[5] Ferdinand's both parents were devout Catholics, but Charles II granted concessions to his Lutheran subjects in 1572 and 1578, because he wanted to secure the predominantly Protestant nobles and burghers' financial support for the establishment of a new defense system against the Ottoman Turks.[6][7]

Ferdinand's education was managed primarily by his mother,[8] he matriculated at the Jesuits' school in Graz at the age of 8.[8] His separate household was set up three years later,[8] his parents decided to send him to Ingolstadt in Bavaria to continue his studies at the Jesuits' college, because they wanted to isolate him from the Lutheran Styrian nobles.[9] He chose Paul the Apostle's words—"To Those Who Fight Justly Goes the Crown"—as his personal motto before he left Graz in early 1590.[10] His parents asked his maternal uncle, William V, Duke of Bavaria, to oversee his education.[11]


Inner Austria[edit]

First years[edit]

Charles II died unexpectedly on 10 July 1590,[8] he had named his wife, his brother Archduke Ferdinand II, their nephew Emperor Rudolph II, and his brother-in-law Duke William V the guardians of Ferdinand.[12] Maria and William V tried to secure the regency for her, but Rudolph II, who was the head of the Habsburg family, appointed his own brothers—first Ernest in 1592, and then in 1593, Maximilian III—to the post,[12][13] the Estates of Inner Austria urged the Emperor to achieve Ferdinand's return from Bavaria, but Maria resisted and Ferdinand continued his studies at the Jesuits' university.[12] Ferdinand and his maternal cousin, Maximilian I, were the only future European rulers who studied at a university in the late 16th century,[14] he regularly attended the classes, although his delicate health often forced him to stay in his chamber.[15] His religiosity was reinforced during his studies:[16] he did not miss the Masses on Sundays and feast days and made pilgrimages to the Bavarian shrines.[15]

Ferdinand completed his studies on 21 December 1594, but Rudolph II allowed him to return to Graz only two months later,[17] before leaving for his homeland, Ferdinand solemnly promised to support the university and the Jesuits.[17] Maximilian III renounced the regency and the Emperor made the 17-year-old Ferdinand the new regent for himself.[18] Ferdinand chose the Jesuit Bartholomew Viller his confessor.[19] A burgher from Graz, who had converted to Catholicism, Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg, became one of his most trusted courtiers,[20] the weak position of Catholicism in Graz astonished Ferdinand, especially when he realized that only his relatives and most trusted courtiers celebrated the Eucharist during the Easter Mass.[21]

Ferdinand reached the age of majority in late 1596,[22] he was officially installed as the actual ruler first in Styria in December.[22] He avoided to discuss religious affairs with the Estates, taking advantage of their fear of an Ottoman invasion and the peasant uprisings in Upper Austria.[22] Early next year, the representatives of the other Inner Austrian provinces swore fealty to him,[20] he did not change the traditional system of government, but he appointed only Catholics to the highest offices.[20] He and his mother went to Prague to meet with Rudolph II.[20] Ferdinand informed the Emperor about his plans to strengthen the position of Catholicism,[21] the Emperor's advisors acknowledged Ferdinand's right to regulate religious issues, but asked him not to provoke his Protestant subjects.[23] Rudolph II made Ferdinand responsible for the defense of Croatia, Slavonia and the southeastern parts of Hungary proper against the Ottomans.[24] He visited Nagykanizsa and the nearby fortresses and ordered their reparation.[23]

Ferdinand decided to go on an unofficial journey in Italy before he got fully involved in state administration,[23][25] he named his mother regent and left Graz on 22 April 1598.[26] He met with Pope Clement VIII in Ferrara in early May,[27] he briefly mentioned that he wanted to expel all Protestants from Inner Austria, but the Pope discouraged him.[28] Ferdinand continued his journey and visited the Holy House in Loreto,[28] at the shrine, he ceremoniously pledged that he would restore Catholicism, according to his first biography written after his death by his confessor, Wilhelm Lamormaini.[28]


Ferdinand returned to Graz on 20 June 1598.[23] Johannes Kepler, who had been staying in the town, noted that the Protestant burghers watched Ferdinand's return with some apprehension.[29] He had made unsuccessful attempts to appoint Catholic priests to churches in predominantly Lutheran towns already before his Italian journey.[30] A former Jesuit student, Lorenz Sonnabenter, whom Ferdinand had sent to a parish in Graz, made a formal complaint against the local Lutheran pastors on 22 August, accusing them of unlawfully interfering in his office.[31] Ferdinand's mother and Jesuit confessor urged him to take vigorous measures,[31] he ordered the expulsion of all Protestant pastors and teachers from Styria, Carinthia and Carniola on 13 September, emphasizing that he was the "general overseer of all ecclesiastical foundations in his hereditary lands".[25][32] When the Protestant nobles and burghers protested against his decree, he stated that the Estates had no jurisdiction in religious affairs,[33] he summoned Italian and Spanish mercenaries Graz.[34] Due to his firm actions, no riots broke out when the leaders of the Protestant community left Graz on 29 September.[35]

Ferdinand forbade the Estates of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola to held a joint assembly, the Styrian nobles and burghers unsuccessfully sought assistance from Rudolph II and their Austrian peers against him.[36] Although he issued new decrees to strengthen the position of the Catholic Church without seeking the Estates' consent, the Estates granted the subsidies that he had demanded from them,[37] after the Styrian general assembly was dissolved, Ferdinand summarized his views of the Counter-Reformation in a letter to the delegates.[38] He claimed that the unlawful prosecution of Catholics had forced him to adopt strict measures, adding that the Holy Spirit had inspired his acts;[38] in October 1599, Ferdinand set up special commissions, consisting of a prelate and a high officer, to instal Catholic priests in each town and village, and authorized them to apply military force if it were necessary.[25][39] During the visit of the commissioners, local Protestants were to choose between conversion or exile, although in practice peasants were rarely allowed to leave,[39] the commissioners also burnt prohibited books.[25] Ferdinand did not force the Lutheran noblemen to convert to Catholicism, but forbade them to employ Protestant priests.[40]

Brothers' Quarrel and Turkish war[edit]

Ferdinand married his cousin, Maria Anna of Bavaria, in Graz on 23 April 1600,[41] their marriage improved the relationship between the Habsburgs and the Wittelsbachs, which had deteriorated because of the appointment of Ferdinand's brother Leopold V to the Bishopric of Passau.[42] Around the same time, the relationship between Rudolph II and his brother, Matthias, deteriorated.[43] Fearing that the Protestant prince-electors could take advantage of his childless brother's death to elect a Protestant emperor, Matthias wanted to convince Rudolph II to name him as his successor.[43] Matthias discussed the issue with his younger brother, Maximilian, and with Ferdinand at a secret meeting in Schottwein in October 1600,[43] they agreed to jointly approach the Emperor, but the superstitious and melancholic Rudolph flatly refuted to talk about his succession.[44][45]

The Uskoks—irregular soldiers of mixed origin along the northeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea—made several attacks against the Venetian ships, claiming that the Venetians cooperated with the Ottomans.[46][47] The Venetians urged Ferdinand to prevent further piratical actions;[46] in 1600, he sent an envoy to the Uskoks, but they murdered him.[46] Ottoman raids against the borderlands continued and the expenses of the defence of Croatia, Slavonia and southwestern Hungary were almost exclusively financed from Inner Austria.[48] Ferdinand could never properly manage financial affairs and the most important fortresses were poorly supplied,[49] the Ottomans occupied Nagykanizsa on 20 October 1600 which left Styria border almost defenseless against Ottoman raids.[48] Ferdinand urged the Pope and Philip III of Spain to send reinforcements and funds to him,[48] the Pope appointed his nephew, Gian Francesco Aldobrandini, as the commander of the papal troops.[50] Ferdinand's counselors warned him against a counter-invasion before further reinforcements came to his assistance, but Aldobrandini convinced him to laid siege to Nagykanizsa on 18 October 1601,[49] after his troops were decimated by hunger and bad weather conditions, Ferdinand was forced to lift the siege and return to Styria on 15 November.[50]

The Ottomans could not exploit their victory, because Rudolph II's troops defeated them near Székesfehérvár,[51] the victory restored Rudolph's self-confidence and he decided to introduce severe Counter-Reformation measures in Silesia and Hungary, outraging his Protestant subjects.[45] The Calvinist magnate István Bocskai rose up against Rudolph and most Hungarian noblemen joined him before the end of 1604.[45] Taking advantage of his relatives' anxiety, Matthias persuaded Ferdinand, Maximilian and Ferdinand's brother, Maximilian Ernest, to start new negotiations about Rudolph's succession,[52][53] at their meeting in Linz in April 1606, the four archdukes concluded that the Emperor was incompetent and decided to replace him with Matthias in Bohemia, Hungary and Upper and Lower Austria.[52] Ferdinand later claimed that he only signed the secret treaty because he feared that his relatives could otherwise accuse him of pursuing the throne for himself.[52] Rudolph did not abdicate the throne and announced that he was thinking of appointing Ferdinand's brother, Leopold, his successor.[54] Actually, the Emperor authorised Matthias to start negotiations with Bocskai,[55] their agreement was included in the Treaty of Vienna which granted religious freedom to the Hungarian Protestants and prescribed the election of a palatine (or royal deputy) in Hungary on 23 June 1606.[55][56] The subsequent Peace of Zsitvatorok put an end to the war with the Ottoman Empire on 11 November.[53][57]

Rudolph II convoked the Imperial Diet to Regensburg and appointed Ferdinand as his deputy in November 1607,[55] at the opening session of the Diet on 12 January 1608, Ferdinand demanded funds from the Imperial Estates on the Emperor's behalf to finance 24,000 troops.[58] The delegates of the Protestant princes stated that they would vote for the tax only if the Catholic Estates accepted their interpretation of the Religious Peace of Augsburg, especially their right to retain the lands that they had confiscated from Catholic clerics in their realms.[59] Ferdinand urged both parties to respect the Religious Peace, but without much success,[60] he started negotiations with William V of Bavaria about the formation of an alliance of the Catholic princes, but his uncle wanted to establish it without the Habsburgs' participation.[61] After the Diet was closed in early May, the Electoral Palatinate, Brandenburg, Würtemberg and other Protestant principalities formed an alliance, known as the Protestant Union, to defend their common interests.[62][63]

Ferdinand's appointment as the Emperor's deputy to the Diet implied that Rudolph regarded Ferdinand—the only Habsburg who had already fathered children—as his successor.[55][64] Matthias made public his secret treaty with Ferdinand, but the Emperor pardoned Ferdinand.[60] Matthias concluded a formal alliance with the representatives of the Hungarian and Austrian Estates and led an army of 15,000 strong to Moravia,[65] the envoys of the Holy See and Philip III of Spain mediated a compromise in June 1608.[65] According to the Treaty of Lieben, Rudolph retained most Lands of the Bohemian Crown and the title of Holy Roman Emperor, but he had to renounce Hungary, Lower and Upper Austria and Moravia in favor of Matthias.[65] Both brothers were forced to confirm the privileges of the Estates in their realms, including religious freedom.[65]

Matthias' successor[edit]

Negotiations and alliances[edit]

Ferdinand's mother died on 29 April 1608, while he was staying in Regensbug,[66] with her death, as historian Robert Bireley noted, Ferdinand "lost the most important person in his life, the one who more than any other had formed his character and his outlook."[66] He requested the scholar Caspar Schoppe, whom he had met at the Imperial Diet, to elaborate a detailed plan for an alliance of the Catholic monarchs.[67] Schoppe argued that the alliance was to guarantee the Religious Peace, but he also demanded the restoration of Catholicism in all former ecclesiastic principalities and the return of the consfiscated Church lands.[68] Ferdinand embraced Schoppe's views and appointed him to start negotiations with Pope Paul V about a "just war" for the defence of the interests of Catholics, but the Pope avoid making a commitment, because he did not want to outrage Henry IV of France.[69] Ferdinand also tried to strengthen his relationship with his Bavarian relatives, because Matthias' rebellion against Rudolph II and his concessions to the Protestants had shocked Ferdinand.[70][71] However, William V and Maximilian of Bavaria ignored him when they and the three ecclesiastical electors—the archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne—established the Catholic League in February 1610.[67] Only Philip III of Spain, who promised financial aid to the League, could persuade the Catholic princes to accept Ferdinand as a director and the vice-protector of the League in August.[67]

Cooperating with Rudolph II's principal advisor, Melchior Klesl, Bishop of Vienna, Ferdinand persuaded the Emperor to seek a reconciliation with Matthias.[72] Ferdinand and other imperial princes came to Prague to meet with the Emperor on 1 May 1610,[72] he stayed neutral in the family feud, which enabled him to mediate between the two brothers.[73] They reached a compromise, but Rudolph refuted to name Matthias as his successor.[73] Instead, he adopted Ferdinand's younger brother, Leopold, who had hired 15,000 mercenaries at his request.[74] Leopold invaded Bohemia in February 1611, but the troops of the Bohemian Estates defeated him,[74][75] the Bohemian Estates dethroned Rudolph and elected Matthias king on 23 May 1611.[74][75] Since Rudolph retained the title of emperor, his succession in the Holy Roman Empire remained uncertain.[74] Matthias, Ferdinand and Maximilian III assembled at Vienna to discuss the issue with Philip III's envoy, Baltasar de Zúñiga, in December,[74] they decided to support Matthias' election as King of the Romans (which could have secured his right to succeed Rudolph II), but the three ecclesiastical electors opposed the plan because of Matthias' concessions to the Protestants in Hungary, Austria and Bohemia.[76]

Matthias was elected Holy Roman Emperor only months after Rudolph II died on 20 June 1612,[77] since Matthias and his two surviving brothers, Maximilian III and Albert VII were childless, his succession in Austria, Bohemia, Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire was uncertain.[78] Matthias made Ferdinand the governor of Lower and Upper Austria and appointed him as his representative in Hungary, but Klesl became his must influential advisor.[77] Klesl wanted to forge a new princely alliance in the Holy Roman Empire with the participation of both Catholic and Protestant princes.[79][80] Ferdinand and Maximilian III regarded his plan dangerous and sent envoys to Rome to convince the Pope about the importance of a pure Catholic alliance,[79] although the Catholic League was renewed, it declared, in accordance with Klesl's proposal, the defense of the imperial constitution as its principal purpose instead of the protection of Catholicism.[79] Philip III of Spain announced his claim to succeed Matthias in Bohemia and Hungary, emphasizing that his mother, Anna, who was Matthias' sister, had never renounced her right to the two realms.[78][81] Matthias and Ferdinand discussed the issue with Zúñiga in Linz in June and July 1613, but they did not reach an agreement.[82] Maximilian III and Albert VII who preferred Ferdinand to Philip III renounced their claims in favor of him in August 1614, but Klesl made several efforts to delay the decision.[82]

Uskok War and royal elections[edit]

Ferdinand sent troops against the Uskoks' principal center at Senj to put an end to their piratical raids in 1614.[46] Dozens of Uskok commanders were captured and beheaded, but his action did not satisfy the Venetians who invaded Istria and captured Habsburg territories in 1615,[83] they besieged Gradisca from 12 February to 30 March, but they could not capture it.[84] Ferdinand sought assistance from Spain and the Venetians received support from the Dutch and English, but neither side could achieve a decisive victory in the Uskok War.[81][84]

Matthias adopted Ferdinand as his son in 1615, but without proposing Ferdinand's election as king of the Romans, because he feared that he would be forced to abdicate after the election.[85] To abate Matthias' concerns, Ferdinand pledged that he would not interfere in state administration in Matthias' realms in early 1616.[85] Klesl remained Ferdinand's opponent because he regarded Ferdinand the Jesuits' puppet,[81] on 31 October 1616, Ferdinand and Maximilian III agreed to achieve the removal of Klesl of his offices, but Ferdinand insisted that they would only make further steps after he concluded an agreement with Philip III about Matthias' succession.[85] Philip III was willing to abdicate his claims to Bohemia and Hungary in exchange for territorial concessions in Germany and Italy,[86] his new envoy at Vienna, Íñigo Vélez de Guevara, 7th Count of Oñate, and Ferdinand signed a secret treaty on 20 March 1617.[86] According to the treaty, Philip acknowledged Ferdinand's right to inherit Matthias' all realms, while Ferdinand promised to cede territories in Alsace, along with Finale Ligure and the Principality of Piombino in Italy to Philip after he succeeded Matthias as the new Holy Roman Emperor.[87][88] Philip also granted 1 million tallers to Ferdinand to finance the war against the Venetians,[88][89] the Venetians again laid siege to Gradisca in March 1617, but the Estates of Inner Austria were reluctant to vote the taxes that Ferdinand demanded to finance the war.[84]

Matthias fell seriously ill in late April 1617.[90] Ignoring Klesl's advice, he convoked the Diet of Bohemia and invited Ferdinand to attend it in Prague in June,[90] at the Diet, Matthias announced that his two brothers had abdicated in favor of Ferdinand, but the majority of the Bohemian delegates initially denied the Habsburgs' hereditary right to Bohemia and insisted on their claim to elect Matthias' successor.[90] After some negotiations, all delegates but two noblemen and two burghers agreed to "accept" Ferdinand as king on 6 June,[91][92] he promised to respect the Letter of Majesty—a royal diploma that guaranteed religious freedom in the Lands of the Bohemian Crown—only after consulting with the local Jesuits.[93] Ferdinand was crowned king in the St. Vitus Cathedral on 29 June.[94] Ten regents (seven Catholics and three Protestants) were appointed and Ferdinand instructed them to introduce strict measures,[95] the regency council established a censor office in Prague.[95]

Ferdinand and Matthias meet with the Lutheran John George I, Elector of Saxony in Dresden who promised to support Ferdinand at the imperial elections.[88][96] John George I also agreed to convince the two other Protestant electors, Frederick V of the Palatinate and John Sigismund of Brandenburg, to vote for Ferdinand.[96] Ferdinand hired new troops against the Venetians and volunteers also joined his army,[84] the Catholic Bohemian nobleman, Albrecht von Wallenstein, recruited 260 soldiers at own expense.[84] The Venetians abandoned the siege of Gradisca on 22 September.[84] Peace was restored only in early 1618, after Ferdinand agreed to resettle the Uskoks from the coastline and ordered the destruction of their ships,[88][84] the Venetians abandoned the territories that he had occupied in Istria and a permanent Austrian garrison was placed at Senj.[88][84]

Matthias convoked the Diet of Hungary to Pressburg (now Bratislava in Slovakia) to secure Ferdinand's succession in early 1618,[97] the delegates demanded the appointment of a new palatine (or royal lieutenant) and the confirmation of the privileges of the Hungarian Estates before electing Ferdinand king.[97] The Diet proclaimed Ferdinand king only after lengthy negotiations, on 16 May 1618,[97] he appointed the Catholic magnate, Zsigmond Forgách, as the new palatine.[97]

Thirty Years' War[edit]

Bohemian revolt[edit]

Religious situation in the Holy Roman Empire at the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War in 1618

The application of the Letter of Majesty gave rise to new conflicts in Bohemia,[98] the Protestants argued that it allowed the erection of Protestant churches on the lands of Catholic prelates, but the Catholics did not accept this interpretation.[98] Royal officials arrested Protestant burghers who wanted to build a church in Broumov and destroyed a newly built Protestant church in Hrob,[99][91] the Protestants blamed two of the four Catholic royal governors, Jaroslav Bořita of Martinice and Vilém Slavata of Chlum, for the violent acts.[100] On 23 May 1618, Count Jindřich Matyáš Thurn—one of the two Czech noblemen who had refuted to accept Ferdinand's succession—led a group of armed Protestant noblemen to the Prague Castle,[100] they captured the two governors and one of their secretary and threw them out of the window.[91][100] The Second Defenestration of Prague was the start of an anti-Habsburg uprising.[91] Two days later, the Protestant Estates elected directors to form a provisional government and started to raise an army.[99][101]

Ferdinand was staying in Pressburg when he was informed of the Bohemian events on 27 May,[99] he urged Matthias to send an envoy to Prague, but Matthias' envoy could not reach a compromise.[102] Ferdinand was crowned king of Hungary in Pressburg on 1 July, and he returned to Vienna two years later.[103] Ferdinand and Maximilian III decided to get rid of Klesl, although the cardinal supported their demand for a more determined policy against the Bohemian rebels,[104] after a meeting with Klesl at his home, they invited him to the Hofburg, but Ferdinand ordered his arrest at the entrance of the palace on 20 July.[98] Ferdinand was automically excommunicated for the imprisonment of a cardinal, but Pope Paul V absolved him before the end of the year.[105] Ferdinand started negotiations with the rebels with the mediation of John George I of Saxony,[105] he demanded the dissolution of the provisional government and the rebels' army.[105] Instead of obeying his orders, the rebels concluded an alliance with the Estates of Silesia, Upper and Lower Lusatia, and Upper Austria.[106][107] Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy hired Ernst von Mansfeld to assist the Bohemians.[108] Mansfeld and his mercenaries captured Plzeň, which was an important center of the Bohemian Catholics, and the rebels made raids into Lower Austria,[107][108] from September 1618, Pope Paul V paid a monthly subsidy to Ferdinand to contribute to the costs of the war and Philipp III of Spain also promised support to him.[108]

Emperor Matthias died on 20 March 1619.[108] Maximilian of Bavaria encouraged Ferdinand to adopt an agressive policy against the Bohemian rebels, but Ferdinand again confirmed the Letter of Majesty and urged the Bohemians to sent delegates to Vienna,[108] the directors ignored Ferdinand's acts and made further preparations for an armed conflict.[109] Wallenstein stormed into Olomouc and seized 96,000 tallers from the Moravian treasury on 30 April.[110] Wallenstein gave the booty to Ferdinand, but the king returned it to the Moravian Estates,[111] the Protestant Estates of Upper Austria demanded the confirmation of their their religious and political demands before recognizing Ferdinand as Matthias' successor.[110] Thurn and his 15,000 troops invaded Lower Austria and laid siege to Vienna on 5 June,[107][112] since only 300 soldiers were staying in the town, Ferdinand sent envoys to his commander at Krems, Count Henri Dampierre and entered into negotiations with the Upper Austrian Protestants about their demands.[110] Dampierre and his troops reached Vienna on boat and forced the Protestant delegates to flee from the Hofburg,[110] after Ferdinand's general, Count Bucquoy, defeated the Bohemian rebels in the Battle of Sablat, Thurn was forced to lift the siege on 12 June.[110]

Johann Schweikhard von Kronberg, Archbishop of Mainz, convoked the electors' meeting to Frankfurt on 20 July 1619.[113] Ferdinand approached the town through Salzburg and Münich, because he wanted to avoid Upper Austria,[113] the Bohemians sent envoys to the conference who denied Ferdinand's right to vote as their king, but the electors ignored their demand.[113] The Estates of all Lands of the Bohemian Crown formed a confederation on 31 July,[107][114] they deposed Ferdinand on 22 August, and four days later, they offered the crown to Frederick V of the Palatinate.[107][114] Frederick had tried to convince the electors to elect Maximilian I of Bavaria emperor.[115] Maximilian did not accept the candidacy and Ferdinand was unanimously elected Holy Roman Emperor on 28 August,[116] the news about his deposition in Bohemia reached Frankfurt on the same day, but Ferdinand stayed in the town where he was crowned on 9 September.[116] Gabriel Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania, made an alliance with the Bohemians and invaded Hungary in September.[117][118] After learning of Bethlen's success, Frederick V accepted the Bohemian crown on 28 September.[117]

Ferdinand went to Munich and concluded a treaty with Maxilimian I on 8 October 1619.[119] Maximilian became the head of a renewed Catholic League and Ferdinand promised to compensate him for the costs of the war,[119][120] he was still in Munich when Bethlen and Thurn united their forces and laid siege to Vienna in November.[120] Ferdinand sought assistance from his brother-in-law, Sigismund III of Poland.[121] Sigismund did not intervene, but allowed the Cossacks to invade Upper Hungary, which forced Bethlen to hurry back to Transylvania in late January 1620.[122][123] Ferdinand and Bethlen concluded a 9-month truce, which temporarily acknowledged Bethlen's conquests in Hungary.[123] Abandoned by Bethlen, Thurn was forced to lift the siege.[122][123] Ferdinand ordered Frederick to abandon Bohemia before 1 July, threatening him with an imperial ban.[124] John George I of Saxony promised support against the Bohemian rebels in exchange for Lusatia,[125] but Bethlen made a new alliance with the Bohemian Confederation and they sent envoys to Constantinople to seek the sultan's assistance.[126]

Ferdinand continued the negotiations with the Estates of Lower and Upper Austria about his recognition as Matthias' successor in both provinces,[121] after his new confessor, the Jesuit Martin Becanus, assured him that he could grant concessions to the Protestants to secure their loyalty, Ferdinand confirmed the Lutherans' right to practise their religion in whole Lower Austria, save the towns on 8 July 1620.[127] Five days later, the vast majority of the Lower Austrian nobles swore fealty to him.[128] Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, the commander of the army of the Catholic League occupied Upper Austria, Bucquoy defeated the last rebels in Lower Austria and John George invaded Lusatia.[125][129] The Diet of Hungary dethroned Ferdinand and elected Bethlen king on 23 August,[126][130] the envoy of Louis XIII of France, Charles de Valois, Duke of Angoulême, tried to mediate a compromise between Ferdinand and his opponents, but Ferdinand was determined to force his rebellious subjects into obedience.[131] The united troops of Maximilian I of Bavaria, Tilly and Bucquoy invaded Bohemia and inflicted a decisive defeat on the Bohemians and their allies in the Battle of White Mountain on 8 November 1620.[129][132]


Maximilian I of Bavaria urged Ferdinand to adopt strict measures against the rebellious Bohemians and their allies.[133] Ferdinand declared Frederick V an outlaw on 29 January 1621.[134] Ferdinand appointed Karl I, Prince of Liechtenstein to administer Bohemia and charged Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein with the government of Moravia.[135] The leaders of the rebellion were brought to trial at a special tribunal in Prague,[135] the Prague Blood Court sentenced more than 40 leading Bohemians to death and 27 of them were publicly executed on 21 June 1621.[135][136] The estates of more than 450 noblemen and burghers were fully or partially confiscated.[137] Ferdinand demanded further trials, but Liechtenstein convinced him to grant a general pardon, because Mansfeld's troops had not been expelled from western Bohemia and Bethlen continued the war in Upper Hungary.[136] Bethlen who did not receive support from the Ottomans had to seek a reconciliation,[138] he renounced the title of king of Hungary, but retained seven counties in northeastern Hungary and received two Silesian duchies in the Peace of Nikolsburg on 31 December 1621.[130]

Ferdinand married the 23-year-old Eleonora Gonzaga by proxy on 21 November 1621,[139] they first met in Innsbruck on 1 February 1622.[140] Ferdinand convoked the Diet of Hungary to Sopron and pledged that he would respect the Hungarian Estates' liberties,[130][141] the Diet elected a Lutheran aristocrat, Count Szaniszló Thurzó,[141] as the new palatine.[130]

Ferdinand wanted to unit the Habsburgs' hereditary lands—Inner Austria, Upper and Lower Austria and Tyrol—into a new kingdom,[141] he informed his brothers, Leopold and Charles, about his plan in a letter on 29 April 1623, but they rejected it.[141] Leopold wanted to establish his own principality,[141] he renounced the bishoprics of Passau and Strasbourg in favor of Ferdinand's younger son, Leopold Wilhelm, and retained Further Austria and Tyrol (that he had administered since 1619).[142]

His devout Catholicism and negative view of Protestantism caused immediate turmoil in his non-Catholic subjects, especially in Bohemia, he did not wish to uphold the religious liberties granted by the Letter of Majesty signed by the previous emperor, Rudolph II, which had guaranteed freedom of religion to the nobles and cities. Additionally, Ferdinand as an absolutist monarch infringed several historical privileges of the nobles.[citation needed] Given the great number of Protestants among the ordinary population in the kingdom, and some of the nobles, the king's unpopularity soon caused the Bohemian Revolt, the Second Defenestration of Prague of 22 May 1618 is considered the first step of the Thirty Years' War.

In the following events he remained a staunch backer of the Anti-Protestant Counter Reformation efforts as one of the heads of the German Catholic League. Ferdinand succeeded Matthias as Holy Roman Emperor in 1619. Supported by the Catholic League and the Kings of Spain and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Ferdinand decided to reclaim his possession in Bohemia and to quash the rebels, on 8 November 1620 his troops, led by the Flemish general Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, smashed the rebels of Frederick V, who had been elected as rival King in 1619. After Frederick's flight to the Netherlands, Ferdinand ordered a massive effort to bring about re-conversion to Catholicism in Bohemia and Austria, causing Protestantism there to nearly disappear in the following decades, and reducing the Diet's power.

In 1625, despite the subsidies received from Spain and the Pope, Ferdinand was in a bad financial situation; in order to muster an imperial army to continue the war, he applied to Albrecht von Wallenstein, one of the richest men in Bohemia: the latter accepted on condition that he could keep total control over the direction of the war, as well as over the booties taken during the operations. Wallenstein was able to recruit some 30,000 men (later expanded up to 100,000), with whom he was able to defeat the Protestants in Silesia, Anhalt and Denmark. In the wake of these Catholic military successes, in 1629 Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution, by which all the lands stripped from Catholics after the Peace of Passau of 1552 would be returned.

His military success caused the tottering Protestants to call in Gustavus II Adolphus, King of Sweden. Soon, some of Ferdinand's allies began to complain about the excessive power exercised by Wallenstein, as well as the ruthless methods he used to finance his vast army. Ferdinand replied by firing the Bohemian general in 1630, the leadership of the war thenceforth passed to Tilly, who was however unable to stop the Swedish march from northern Germany towards Austria. Some historians directly blame Ferdinand for the large civilian loss of life in the Sack of Magdeburg in 1631: he had instructed Tilly to enforce the edict of Restitution upon the Electorate of Saxony, his orders causing the Belgian general to move the Catholic armies east, ultimately to Leipzig, where they suffered their first substantial defeat at the hands of the Adolphus' Swedes in the First Battle of Breitenfeld (1631).

Tilly died in battle in 1632. Wallenstein was recalled, being able to muster an army in only a week, and expelled the Swedes from Bohemia. However, in November 1632 the Catholics were defeated in the Battle of Lützen (1632), where Gustavus Adolphus was himself killed. A period of minor operations followed, perhaps because of Wallenstein's ambiguous conduct, which ended with his assassination in 1634.

Despite Wallenstein's fall, the imperial forces recaptured Regensburg and were victorious in the Battle of Nördlingen (1634), the Swedish army was substantially weakened, and the fear that the Habsburg's power would become overwhelming caused France, led by Louis XIII of France and Cardinal Richelieu, to enter the war on the Protestant side. (Louis's father Henry IV of France had once been a Huguenot leader.) In 1635 Ferdinand signed his last important act, the Peace of Prague (1635), yet this did not end the war.

Ferdinand died in 1637, leaving to his son Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, an empire still engulfed in a war and whose fortunes seemed to be increasingly chaotic. Ferdinand II was buried in his Mausoleum in Graz, his heart was interred in the Herzgruft (heart crypt) of the Augustinian Church, Vienna.

Marriages and issue[edit]

In 1600, Ferdinand married Maria Anna of Bavaria (1574–1616), daughter of Duke William V of Bavaria. They had seven children:

In 1622, he married Eleonore of Mantua (Gonzaga) (1598–1655), the daughter of Duke Vincenzo I of Mantua and Eleonora de' Medici, at Innsbruck.



Coat of arms of Ferdinand II

Ferdinand II, by the grace of God elected Holy Roman Emperor, forever August, King in Germany, King of Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Rama, Serbia, Galicia, Lodomeria, Cumania, Bulgaria, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Margrave of Moravia, Duke of Luxemburg, of the Higher and Lower Silesia, of Württemberg and Teck, Prince of Swabia, Count of Habsburg, Tyrol, Kyburg and Goritia, Marquess of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgovia, the Higher and Lower Lusace, Lord of the Marquisate of Slavonia, of Port Naon and Salines, etc. etc.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Bireley, Robert. Religion and Politics in the Age of the Counterreformation: Emperor Ferdinand II, William Lamormaini, SJ, and the Formation of the Imperial Policy (U Press of North Carolina, 2012).
  • Saunders, Steven. Cross, sword, and lyre: sacred music at the imperial court of Ferdinand II of Habsburg (1619-1637) (Oxford UP, 1995).

External links[edit]

Media related to Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor at Wikimedia Commons

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor
Born: 9 July 1578 Died: 15 February 1637
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Albert VII
Archduke of Further Austria
Succeeded by
Leopold V
Archduke of Austria
Succeeded by
Ferdinand III
Preceded by
Charles II
Archduke of Inner Austria
Preceded by
King in Germany
King of Hungary and Croatia

Holy Roman Emperor
King of Bohemia
Succeeded by
Preceded by
King of Bohemia
Succeeded by
Ferdinand III