Rudolf II (Holy Roman Empire) (1552–1612; Ruled 1576–1612)
RUDOLF II (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (1552–1612; ruled 1576–1612)
RUDOLF II (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (1552–1612; ruled 1576–1612), Holy Roman emperor and Habsburg monarch. Rudolf II was a controversial figure during his lifetime and has remained one for historians since. He has many claims to fame and infamy. His political and religious policies led to his ouster as ruler by members of his own family and contributed to the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), one of the most destructive wars in European history. He became a believer in and practitioner of the occult, promoting alchemy, pursuing research into the Cabala, and seeking truth in various mysteries and superstitions. And he was one of the great patrons of the arts and letters, financing the work of scientists such as Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) and Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), commissioning artists and engravers of remarkable skill, and collecting fine works throughout Europe.
Rudolf possessed an unstable personality and suffered serious physical and psychological upheavals in 1578–1580 and 1599–1600. In response to the latter, Rudolf retreated to his castle in Prague and became somewhat of a recluse, focusing his attention on the occult. In some ways his breakdowns and his internal struggles can be attributed to the two heavy burdens that tormented his reign—the increasingly divisive struggle between Catholics and Protestants and the threat to his lands posed by the Ottoman Empire.
Regarding the first, Rudolf and his brothers were educated at the leading Roman Catholic center of power in Europe, the court of Philip II (ruled 1556–1598) of Spain, who was the cousin of their father, Emperor Maximilian II (ruled 1564–1576). In Spain they observed the implementation of Philip's belief that political and social strength can only come through religious conformity—in this case Catholicism—and likewise observed the destructive impact sectarian violence could have in the war in the Netherlands. Their father, unlike Philip, was perfectly willing to tolerate Protestantism, and some historians have argued that he was in fact a closet Lutheran. By the time Maximilian died, a majority of Habsburg subjects had adopted Lutheranism, and some had converted to Calvinism or one of the other Protestant movements. Likewise the Estates of most of the Habsburg lands had become strongholds of Protestantism.
Scholars have argued that, given his upbringing, Rudolf believed it his task to restore Catholicism to his patrimony. He invited the Jesuits into his lands, and they worked hard to reconvert Protestants. That action got him into trouble with the Protestant Estates. In 1606 the Estates of Hungary, Austria, and Moravia voted to turn him out and recognized his brother, Matthias (ruled 1612–1619), as ruler. That in turn prompted Rudolf to issue in 1609 what became the famous Letter of Majesty to the Estates of Bohemia, promising them religious toleration if they would retain him as sovereign. That did not work, and just before Rudolf's death in 1612 the Bohemian Estates themselves recognized Matthias. The perceived infringement of the Letter of Majesty in 1618 inspired the Bohemian Estates to reject Habsburg rule altogether and to engage in those events that precipitated the Thirty Years' War.
Rudolf's foremost biographer, R. J. W. Evans, has argued that Rudolf's religious beliefs were by no means so solid. In fact he did not like Catholicism because of the power of its clergy, and he particularly distrusted the papacy. Yet he also had no affinity for Protestants because of their tendency to divide endlessly into sects and squabbles. In the end he was uncertain about religion and whether or not it did any good. Evans has argued that in many ways Rudolf reflected doubts about religion found elsewhere in Bohemia and has compared him to his distant successor Joseph II (ruled 1765–1790), who was a tolerant Catholic but suspicious of the church. Rudolf's doubts about religion encouraged his forays into the occult and the mysterious in hopes of finding a different truth that underlay life. Thus the Catholic-Protestant divide deepened not because of his actions but because of his inability to take action.
Rudolf's other deep concern was the threat from the Turks. In large part because of that threat, Rudolf moved the capital of the Habsburg lands from Vienna to Prague, which became under his aegis a cultural capital of Europe. Brahe and Kepler did their work there, and Rudolf employed many of Europe's brilliant architects and artists there. He brought much art to the city. His wars with the Turks lasted until 1606, ending with the Treaty of Sitvatorok, an obscure treaty but the first in which the Turks acknowledged the Habsburgs as their equals in international diplomacy. By that time the radicalizing of the Catholic-Protestant split, Rudolf's seclusion, the growing opposition to him among the Estates, and the discontent of his family members had created an atmosphere that would no longer tolerate him as ruler. Stripped of power, Rudolf died in 1612.
Evans, R. J. W. Rudolf II and His World: A Study in Intellectual History, 1576–1612. Oxford, 1973.
Fučíková, Eliška, et al., eds. Rudolf II and Prague: The Court and the City. London, 1997.
Kaufmann, Thomas DaCosta. The School of Prague: Painting at the Court of Rudolf II. Chicago, 1988.
Karl A. Roider
Rudolf II (1552–1612)
Rudolf II (1552–1612)
Holy Roman Emperor of the Habsburg dynasty from 1576 until his death in 1612, and who also reigned as the king of Bohemia and of Hungary. The son of Emperor Maximilian II and Maria of Spain, Rudolf was educated at the court of King Philip II of Spain, Maximilian's cousin. Philip inspired him with devotion to Catholicism and a determination to stamp out Protestantism in Habsburg lands—a policy that ran counter to the religious tolerance of Maximilian.
On the death of Maximilian in 1576, Rudolf as the eldest son inherited the Habsburg throne. He brought members of the Jesuit sect to Germany, seeking to convert his Protestant subjects. Rather than returning Habsburg territories to Catholicism, however, this policy inspired widespread opposition and outright revolt.
In 1604, a rebellion against Rudolf's policies broke out in Hungary, where the opponents of the Habsburgs, under the leadership of Istvan Bocskay, allied themselves with the Ottoman Turks. After this event Rudolf's brother Matthias seized control of Hungary, Austria, and Moravia, at the invitation of nobles in those lands who sought a more tolerant sovereign. In response, Rudolf offered the Letter of Majesty to the Estates of Bohemia, a promise of religious freedom, in 1609, but two years later he was also forced to surrender this kingdom to Matthias. The conflict between the Catholic Habsburgs and the Protestants in Bohemia was the spark that eventually set off the Thirty Years' War.
Rudolf suffered from fits of depression and insanity, and several times during his reign he was unable to fulfill the duties of his office. After one such bout in 1600 he became a recluse in the city of Prague, the capital of Bohemia, which he had made the Habsburg seat of power. He was an avid student of alchemy and the magical arts, but also a generous patron to the leading scientists of his time, including Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe. After moving the Habsburg capital to Prague, in order to evade the assaults of the Turks, Rudolf invited architects and artists to his court and made the Bohemian capital an important cultural center.
See Also: Bohemia; Brahe, Tycho; Thirty Years' War