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Matthias (Holy Roman Empire) (1557–1619; Ruled 1612–1619)

MATTHIAS (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (15571619; ruled 16121619)

MATTHIAS (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (15571619; ruled 16121619). The younger son of Maximilian II, Matthias served as governor-general of the Spanish Netherlands, 15781581, governor of Upper and Lower Austria (1593), king of Hungary (1608), and king of Bohemia (1611). He married Anna of Tyrol (15851618) in 1611.

In 1872, a play by the Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer, Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg, premiered in Vienna. This play immortalized the conflict between the Holy Roman emperor Rudolf II and his younger brother, Matthias, and in some ways marks the high point of the received significance of Matthias, who in 1612 followed Rudolf on the imperial throne.

Matthias was the seventh child of the archduke Maximilian and his wife, the Spanish infanta María. (Nine children followed.) Matthias's father Maximilian was elected emperor in 1564, and this imperial heritage seems to have marked Matthias as he grew up. Matthias's father had bequeathed all of his holdings to his eldest son, Rudolf, who reigned as emperor Rudolf II. This meant that the remaining male heirs had to be satisfied with modest cash settlements tied to residences in the Habsburgs' hereditary lands. Matthias was not satisfied with this legacy.

At twenty-one, Matthias was persuaded to participate in a scheme to replace the direct rule in the Netherlands of the Habsburg prince in Castile, King Philip II. This development was tied to the Habsburgs' attempts to reorganize the rule of their troublesome Burgundian inheritance. The constitutional position of these provinces, where armed rebellion began in earnest around 1568, was ambiguously situated between the unclear boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire and the dynastic claims of the Habsburgs and their local supporters.

The experiment of rule by Matthias in the Netherlands did not last long, for it had not been sanctioned by either his uncle, Phillip II, or his brother, Emperor Rudolf II. The political and religious conflicts in the Low Countries were beyond the means or abilities of the young archduke. In 1581 Matthias returned, disappointed as well as discredited, to central Europe and was awarded the Habsburg city of Linz and given its imposing castle as his residence. He vegetated there for quite some time, and was not given significant ruling responsibilities again for over a decade and a half.

In 1595, the older and now wiser Archduke Matthias was assigned responsibilities over Habsburg holdings along the Danube River. Two years previously, the sporadic violence on the Hungarian frontier with the troops of the Ottoman sultan had broken into open warfare, prompting Emperor Rudolf to name his younger brother Matthias to the command of the Habsburg and imperial forces parrying the Ottomans' forays in the Hungarian arena.

In the meantime, the emperor became increasingly withdrawn. The Habsburg family's male representatives met in 1606 and designated not Rudolf but Matthias as head of the family. Soon the conflicts erupted into armed confrontations between the supporters of Rudolf and Matthias, and Matthias was able to engineer his election as King of Hungary in 1608.

The events of the next few years were both confused and confusing. (Grillparzer recognized the dramatic possibilities.) Matthias married his cousin, the archduchess Anna, the daughter of his uncle, Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol and Ferdinand's second wife, Anna Catherine, from the house of Gonzaga. After Matthias's brother Rudolf died in Prague, Matthias and Anna ascended the imperial thrones in 1612. Matthias is often forgotten in the stories of this period, which rush to a description of the crises marked by disagreements over who should succeed him in the various lands over which he reigned. These disagreements are often given substantial influence in narratives about the origins of the Thirty Years' War, which would soon convulse the Holy Roman Empire.

Because Matthias and Anna were childless, the issue of the imperial successionas well as the succession to the various other Habsburg hereditary lands in central Europeremained a burning question. Matthias's younger brother Albert, who had left central Europe in 1570 with Matthias's older sister Anna when she became the bride of his uncle, Philip II of Spain, was still alive, and a possible heir. Albert, however, had tied his star to the brothers' mother's Iberian branch of the family, serving as viceroy of Portugal, for example, among other offices, and was now (jointly with his wife, Philip II's daughter Isabel [also Isabella] Clara Eugenia) ruling the Netherlands as Matthias had once hoped to do.

In a controversial and significant move, the Habsburg Dynasty's central European representatives decided to throw their support to the young archduke from Styria, Ferdinand, son of Matthias's other uncle, Charles. Matthias tried to organize his various holdings through a general assembly in Linz in 1614, but the disagreements among the various representatives led to no memorable outcome. Emperor Matthias is often tied to the activities of his adviser, the energetic counter-reformer Cardinal Khlesl, but because of the cataclysm to come, these efforts remain underresearched and underappreciated. In the end, Matthias and Anna seem destined to be best remembered for their role in creating the preferred burial site for succeeding generations of Habsburgs: the Capuchin friary on the new market in Vienna.

Originally interred in the church of the Poor Clares (the Queen's Cloister) founded by his older sister Elizabeth in Vienna in the 1580s, Matthias's and Anna's remains were transferred in the 1630s to the now famous imperial crypt at the Capuchin friary, which they had endowed in their wills. It is there where they and so many of their Habsburg relatives now repose, much to the fascination of endless busloads of tourists.

See also Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Holy Roman Empire ; Isabel Clara Eugenia and Albert of Habsburg ; Netherlands, Southern ; Philip II (Spain) ; Rudolf II (Holy Roman Empire) .


Meinert, Hermann. Von Wahl und Krönung der deutschen Kaiser zu Frankfurt am Main: mit dem Krönungsdiarium des Kaisers Matthias aus dem Jahre 1612. Frankfurt am Main, 1956.

Rill, Bernd. Kaiser Matthias: Bruderzwist und Glaubenskampf. Graz, 1999.

Wilzin, Leo. Die Wahl des Kaisers Matthias. Leipzig, 1911.

Joseph F. Patrouch

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"Matthias (Holy Roman Empire) (1557–1619; Ruled 1612–1619)." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . 13 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Matthias, 1557–1619, Holy Roman emperor (1612–19), king of Bohemia (1611–17) and of Hungary (1608–18), son of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II. He was appointed governor of Austria (1593) by his brother, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. He formed a close association there with the bishop of Vienna, Melchior Klesl, who later became his chief adviser. In 1605, Matthias forced the ailing emperor to allow him to deal with the Hungarian Protestant rebels. The result was the Peace of Vienna (1606), which guaranteed religious freedom in Hungary. In the same year Matthias was recognized as head of the house of Hapsburg and as future Holy Roman emperor, as a result of Rudolf's illness. Allying himself with the estates of Hungary, Austria, and Moravia, Matthias forced (1608) his brother to yield rule of these lands to him; Rudolf later ceded (1611) Bohemia. After Matthias's accession as Holy Roman emperor, his policy was dominated by Klesl, who hoped to bring about a compromise between Catholic and Protestant states within the empire in order to strengthen it. Matthias had already been forced to grant religious concessions to Protestants in Austria and Moravia, as well as in Hungary, when he had allied with them against Rudolf. His conciliatory policies were opposed by the more intransigent Catholic Hapsburgs, particularly Matthias's brother Archduke Maximilian, who hoped to secure the succession for the inflexible Catholic archduke Ferdinand (later Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II). The start of the Bohemian Protestant revolt in 1618 provoked Maximilian to imprison Klesl and revise his policies. Matthias, old and ailing, was unable to prevent a takeover by Maximilian's faction. Ferdinand, who had already been crowned king of Hungary (1617) and of Bohemia (1618), succeeded Matthias as Holy Roman emperor.

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"Matthias." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 13 Dec. 2017 <>.

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