Rudolf II 1552–1612 King of Hungary and Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperor
1552–1612 King of Hungary and Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperor
Although a great patron* of the arts and learning, Rudolf II was an incompetent ruler who suffered from periods of severe depression. Holy Roman Emperor* from 1576 to 1612, he focused more on artistic than on political matters and exercised little control over the religious conflicts that threatened the stability of his empire.
The son of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II, Rudolf spent eight years of his youth at the court of his uncle, Philip II of Spain. In 1572 Rudolf became king of Hungary. By 1576 he was also ruler of Bohemia, Austria, and the Holy Roman Empire.
Rudolf moved the imperial capital from Vienna to Prague, which became a center of Renaissance culture. His personal collections were the wonder of the age and included paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, musical instruments, natural objects, and scientific devices. A patron of leading philosophers, mathematicians, and astronomers, Rudolf also had a strong interest in the occult—the study of mysterious forces believed to affect the world.
Like other Habsburg emperors, Rudolf hoped to unite Christian Europe. However, rather than give full support to the Roman Catholic Church, he backed individuals who were not tied to either Catholic or Protestant organizations. This policy led to political chaos. Rudolf's most disastrous plan, however, was his attempt to lead a crusade against the Ottoman Turks* in the 1590s. The project resulted in a war, which lasted until 1606, and the revolt of his Hungarian subjects. Increasingly alarmed by Rudolf's incompetence, other members of the Habsburg family eventually forced him to yield most of his titles to his younger brother Matthias. Rudolf died in 1612, but his misguided actions led to the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648).
- * patron
supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer
- * Holy Roman Emperor
ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806
see color plate 15, vol. 3