Maximilian II (Holy Roman Empire) (1527–1576; Ruled 1564–1576)

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MAXIMILIAN II (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (15271576; ruled 15641576)

MAXIMILIAN II (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (15271576; ruled 15641576), Holy Roman emperor. Maximilian II, who was born on 31 July 1527 in Vienna and died on 12 October 1576 in Regensburg, was king of Bohemia (ruled 15621576), king of the Romans (1562), and king of Hungary (ruled 15631576). He became Holy Roman emperor in 1564. In 1548 he married María of Habsburg (15281603), coregent of Spain (15481550). Maximilian is buried in Saint Vitus Cathedral in Prague.

Son of the new king and queen of Bohemia and Hungary, Ferdinand I (ruled 15581564) of Habsburg and Anna of Jagiellon (died 1547), Maximilian grew up as a rival to his cousin Philip of Spain, the future King Philip II (ruled 15561598). Ultimately Maximilian gained the imperial title and fathered two Holy Roman emperors, Rudolf II (ruled 15761612) and Matthias (ruled 16121619). Philip gained the Iberian lands, the Low Countries, parts of Italy, and the Habsburg overseas empire in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

Maximilian is often portrayed as having hadmuch to the dismay of his more orthodox fathera lively curiosity when it came to religious matters. This curiosity led many of his time (and later) to speculate that he may have believed some of the theological points presented by the followers of Martin Luther (14831546). Some scholars believe that, to restrain the young archduke, some of his inheritance was given away to his brothers Ferdinand and Charles, and Maximilian was sent to Spain to act as coregent with his bride María, the sister of the later Spanish king Philip II.

Nonetheless Maximilian's father eventually entrusted the newly acquired kingdoms of Bohemia and Hungary, together with some of the Habsburg hereditary lands, to Maximilian and María. At the death of Ferdinand in 1564, Maximilian assumed the title of elected emperor and proceeded to organize the defense of Christendom against new Hungarian campaigns undertaken by the Ottomans in the 1560s. The defense, however, was less than spectacular. Maximilian, apparently shaken by the experience, retreated to a more intellectual and legally circumscribed sphere of cultural pursuits and limited political engagement.

Keeping an eye on the possibilities in Iberia (his cousin Philip was having difficulties producing a viable heir), Maximilian and María produced numerous children, including Anna, the future wife of Philip. A second daughter, Elizabeth, became Queen of France as the wife of King Charles IX (ruled 15601574).

Intelligent and open-minded, Maximilian supported research on historical and botanical subjects, and he continued to import styles and ideas from Italy, a process his father had actively supported. Outside of his residence city of Vienna, Maximilian oversaw the building of an impressive garden residence known simply as the "New Construction" (Neugebäude). Situated on a rise overlooking the Danube River, this construction provided an orderly alternative to an oft-chaotic political landscape over which the emperor had little clear control.

Maximilian lost influence in imperial Italy over such matters as what title was to be granted to the Medici in Florence. Nevertheless he transferred the crowns of Bohemia and Hungary as well as the imperial title to his son Rudolf, partly by allowing an ill-defined amount of religious toleration to the important nobles in various of his lands.

In lands distant from the Ottoman front in Hungary, Maximilian's policies were marked by a clear respect for the provisions of the religious peace set at Augsburg in 1555 by his father. Maximilian staked much on the support of the Saxon electors newly tied to the imperial constitution. He also reached out to the usually inimical Valois in France, as representatives of that dynasty struggled with religious and civil chaos in their kingdom. Maximilian even entertained cordial relations with the Tudor queen of England, Elizabeth I (ruled 15581603). His wife María and Elizabeth of England shared godparental responsibilities for Maximilian and María's granddaughter Marie-Isabelle, the daughter of Charles IX and Elizabeth.

Maximilian II was plagued with health problems. His heart and constitution failed him, and he died at the age of forty-nine. Various stories of his deathbed behavior circulated around Europe, and all tried to divine what his demeanor meant for the cloudy future of the (Christian) religious settlement of 1555. His sons Rudolf and Matthias took the imperial office, but their successive reigns did not continue their father's conciliatory project.

See also Austria ; Bohemia ; Elizabeth I (England) ; Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Florence ; Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Holy Roman Empire ; Hungary ; Matthias (Holy Roman Empire) ; Ottoman Empire ; Philip II (Spain) ; Rudolf II (Holy Roman Empire) ; Vienna .


Primary Source

Maximilian II. Die Korrespondenz Maximilians II. Edited by Viktor Bibl. Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Neuere Geschichte Ö sterreichs, vols. 14, 16. Vienna, 19161921.

Secondary Sources

Edelmayer, Friedrich, and Alfred Kohler, eds. Kaiser Maximilian II: Kultur und Politik im 16. Jahrhundert. Vienna, 1992.

Fichtner, Paula Sutter. Emperor Maximilian II. New Haven, 2001.

Louthan, Howard. The Quest for Compromise: Peace-Makers in Counter-Reformation Vienna. Cambridge, U.K., 1997.

Joseph F. Patrouch

Maximilian II

views updated May 17 2018

Maximilian II

Maximilian II (1527-1576) was Holy Roman emperor from 1564 to 1576. Although Protestant, he was not successful in uniting Protestants in the empire.

Maximilian was the son of Ferdinand I, who succeeded as Holy Roman emperor after the abdication of Charles V. In 1548 Maximilian married his cousin Maria, daughter of Charles V. Although Charles V had to give the imperial succession of Ferdinand I, he had tried to reserve the succession of Ferdinand for his own son Philip II of Spain rather than Maximilian. This created a deep division between the two main branches of the Hapsburg family; in 1551 Ferdinand and Maximilian had to yield to Charles V's wishes, although they did not plan to keep the agreement. A complicating factor was that Maximilian's Catholicism was suspect; he was on very good terms with the German princes who had defeated Charles V in 1552.

After Ferdinand succeeded Charles V in 1555, he tried to bring Maximilian back to the Catholic Church. In spite of his insistence and threats from Pope Paul IV, Maximilian kept his Lutheran chaplain. In 1560 relations with his father were near a rupture, and he canvassed the Protestant princes for their support against his father. When he found this support lacking, Maximilian gave in and nominally returned to Catholicism. Maximilian's behavior remained ambiguous, and it was anticipated that he would favor Protestantism if he ever became emperor. In 1562 Ferdinand had Maximilian elected king of the Romans, thus securing his succession and overriding the earlier settlement in favor of Philip II.

In 1564 Maximilian succeeded his father as emperor. He was now in a unique position to help Protestantism win in the empire. But his was a peaceful and vacillating character, and he was not up to the historical role he might have played. All he did was to work for a piecemeal reform of the Church, favoring the lay cup and priestly marriage; in his own Austrian lands he introduced a large measure of religious freedom in 1568.

Maximilian II's dealings with the German Protestants were made more difficult by the ferocious dogmatic hostilities between the several Lutheran sects and between the Lutherans and Calvinists. His continued wavering was certainly influenced by political interests as well; as emperor, he did not want to include in the Augsburg Peace of Religion ecclesiastical princes turned Lutheran, as he had promised the princes before. He also attended vigilantly to dynastic interests. In order to placate the Spanish family, and with an eye on the Spanish succession, he sent his oldest son, Rudolph, to Spain for a solid Catholic education.

As was the case with all the emperors of the period, the Turkish threat in Hungary determined much of Maximilian's policy toward the German princes and foreign powers. He tried to remain at peace with the Sultan and abandoned all attempts to roll back the Turkish inroads. In 1575 Maximilian became involved in intrigues to win the Polish crown for his house, but he died before he could prepare the military campaign to unseat another pretender. The year before, however, he had yielded to Spanish demands and had obtained the designation of his Catholic son Rudolph II as his successor, thus securing the Catholic future of the Hapsburg lands and of the imperial office.

Further Reading

For material on Maximilian see Adam Wandruszka, The House of Habsburg: Six Hundred Years of a European Dynasty (trans. 1964), and Friedrich Heer, The Holy Roman Empire (1967; trans. 1968). □

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