Ferdinand II (Holy Roman Empire) (1578–1637; Holy Roman Emperor 1619–1637; king of Bohemia 1617–1619 and 1620

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FERDINAND II (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (15781637; Holy Roman Emperor 16191637; king of Bohemia 16171619 and 16201627; king of Hungary 16181625)

FERDINAND II (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (15781637; Holy Roman Emperor 16191637; king of Bohemia 16171619 and 16201627; king of Hungary 16181625). Ferdinand was born in Graz to the Habsburg archduke Charles of Inner Austria (and was thus the grandson of Emperor Ferdinand I) and the Wittelsbach duchess Maria of Bavaria. More than any other individual, Ferdinand merits being called the founder of the Habsburg Monarchy in central Europe, and he, along with his cousin, Duke and then Elector Maximilian I of Bavaria (15731651), stands out as the leading prince of the Counter-Reformation in Germany. Ferdinand grew up in a strongly Catholic household under the watchful eye of his devout mother, and in 1590, shortly before the death of his father, he journeyed to Ingolstadt in Bavaria to study with the Jesuits at the university at which for a time Maximilian was a fellow student. Back in Graz in early 1595, Ferdinand was formally recognized as ruler of Inner Austria by the estates in late 1596, after reaching his majority. In the spring of 1598 he undertook an Italian journey that included a visit with Pope Clement VIII, then in Ferrara, and a stay with the Jesuits in Rome. Both his marriages, to Maria Anna of Bavaria from 1600 to 1616 and to Eleanor of Gonzaga from 1622 to 1637, turned out happily. Ferdinand was deeply religious, affable personally, and a conscientious and hardworking ruler who found his relaxation chiefly in the hunt and in music, which he supported lavishly and with rich results. He sought to combine reason of state with the advancement of religion. Shortly after assuming power in Graz, he embarked on a rigorous, often harsh reformation of religion in Inner Austria that brought thousands back from Protestantism to the Catholic faith and at the same time strengthened Ferdinand politically in his contest with the Estates. From early on in his rule, Ferdinand felt called to restore Catholicism in his lands, a mission encouraged by the Jesuits and confirmed in Ferdinand's mind by the success of his efforts in Inner Austria against formidable odds and the advice of many councillors.

Ferdinand emerged as the natural Habsburg candidate to succeed the childless Emperor Matthias, and in 1619 he was elected Holy Roman Emperor, a year after the Bohemian rebellion sparked the Thirty Years' War. Ferdinand's testament of 1621 indicated his realization that if he was to triumph over his confessional adversaries in the empire and hold the line against the Turks to the east, he would need to create tighter unity among his many territories. He succeeded in establishing his inheritance as a single entity that included Upper and Lower Austria as well as Inner Austria, the lands of the Bohemian crown, and a portion of Hungary. After the dust cleared following the Bohemian rebellion, Ferdinand gradually established a relatively mild absolutism in his territories, with the exception of Hungary, and he generally succeeded in winning over the support of the aristocracy represented in the various estates. He also initiated further Counter-Reformation measures in the Austrian territories and Bohemian lands that would in the long run lead to their recatholicization. Thus he sustained and strengthened what R. J. W. Evans has called the three pillars of the Habsburg Monarchy: the dynasty, the aristocracy, and the church.

Meanwhile, Ferdinand was drawn increasingly into the conflict in Germany. His forces, combined with those of Maximilian's Catholic League, controlled much of north and central Germany by late 1627, where his advance seems to have been dictated by a desire to foster the interests of Catholicism rather than to set up a form of absolutism in the empire, as some have contended. Supported by the Catholic electors and urged on by his Jesuit confessor, William Lamormaini, Ferdinand issued in 1629 the fateful Edict of Restitution, which reclaimed for the Catholics all the church lands that, they asserted, had been seized illegally by the Protestants since the Religious Peace of Augsburg of 1555. This extreme measure alienated Protestant states hitherto loyal to the emperor, especially Saxony and Brandenburg, and helped provoke the successful invasion of the Swedish king, Gustavus II Adolphus, whose victory at Breitenfeld near Leipzig in 1631 reversed the whole course of the war. Ferdinand withdrew from his militant program in the empire with the Peace of Prague of 1635, in which he backtracked on the edict and so won back to his side Saxony and other Protestant states. At the electoral convention of Regensburg in 1636, he secured the election of his son, Ferdinand III, as king of the Romans, which prepared the way for his succession as Holy Roman emperor. Ferdinand II died in Vienna on 15 February 1637 after returning from Regensburg.

See also Augsburg, Religious Peace of (1555) ; Austria ; Gustavus II Adolphus (Sweden) ; Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Habsburg Territories ; Holy Roman Empire ; Mantuan Succession, War of the (16271631) ; Reformation, Catholic ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) ; Wallenstein, A. W. E. von .


Bireley, Robert. "Ferdinand II: Founder of the Habsburg Monarchy." In Crown, Church, and Estates: Central European Politics in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Edited by R. J. W. Evans and T. V. Thomas. New York, 1991.

. Religion and Politics in the Age of the Counterreformation: Emperor Ferdinand II, William Lamormaini, S.J., and the Formation of Imperial Policy. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1981.

Evans, R. J. W. The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 15501700: An Interpretation. Oxford and New York, 1979. A classic account.

Saunders, Steven. Cross, Sword, and Lyre: Sacred Music at the Imperial Court of Ferdinand II of Habsburg (16151637). Oxford and New York, 1995. Valuable for the general culture of the court as well as for music.

Robert Bireley

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Ferdinand II (Holy Roman Empire)

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