Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Empire) (1503–1564)

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FERDINAND I (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (15031564), king of Bohemia, Hungary, and Croatia, 1526; king of the Romans 1531; Holy Roman emperor, 1558. The young Archduke Ferdinand was born on 10 March 1503 in Alcaláde Henares, Spain, and grew up under the supervision of his grandfather, King Ferdinand of Aragón and Castile. After the accession of his older brother Charles to the thrones of these Iberian kingdoms and election as Holy Roman emperor in 1519, Ferdinand was awarded the Habsburg Dynasty's holdings in central Europe via family treaties of 15211522.

The situation of these holdings when Ferdinand arrived in the early 1520s was challenging. The locals who had developed a historical relationship with the Habsburgs of earlier generations were now challenged to accept a Spanish-speaking ruler with more ties to his grandfather Ferdinand's Iberia than to his grandfather Maximilian's Austria. The spread and popularity of various Lutheran and Anabaptist ideas among the hereditary lands' population further complicated matters for the young ruler.

Ferdinand was also confronted with the Ottoman Dynasty's claims and influences in the neighboring kingdom of Hungary. Hungary had become a prize target of the neighboring ruling families' influence, and Ferdinand was able to stake out some claim to the Hungarian crown of St. Stephen because of negotiations with his wife's family, the Jagiellonians (the rulers of Poland-Lithuania, Bohemia, and Hungary), which had resulted in 1515 in a complicated set of marriage alliances. As a partial result of these negotiations, Archduke Ferdinand married Anne of Jagiełłon in the Austrian city of Linz in 1521.

Eager to build up his power and prestige, Archduke Ferdinand contributed substantially to the imperial campaigns in Italy against the French under King Francis I in 1525. His troops outnumbered those of his brother Charles V and played a major role in the imperial victory at Pavia that year. Charles recognized his younger brother's aid and importance by delegating increased authority to him in the empire, authority that would become publicly confirmed in 1531 with Ferdinand's election as king of the Romans (the title usually granted to the designated successor as emperor).

In 1526, Ferdinand's brother-in-law, the Bohemian and Hungarian King Louis II Jagiełłon, was killed on the battlefield at Mohács leading an army against the Ottomans. This led to the regency of Louis's widow (and Archduke Ferdinand's sister), Archduchess Mary, followed by the election of Ferdinand as king of Bohemia and then king of Hungary later the same year. (The last title was in dispute for much of the early sixteenth century.) Ferdinand was the last Hungarian ruler to be crowned at the medieval coronation and burial site of Székesfehérvár.

As king of the Romans, king of Bohemia, king of Hungary, and hereditary ruler of the various Habsburg dynastic lands of central Europe, Ferdinand was a substantial political power in early Reformation Europe. He is also credited with reorganizing the Habsburgs' administration of these territories along Burgundian lines and introducing elements of Italianate culture into the Austrian lands and Bohemia. The Belvedere summer palace in Prague, for example, is usually considered an expression of architectural styles and forms taken from sunnier Italian (and perhaps Spanish?) climes.

Handicapped by the ever-present threat of the Ottomans to the east as well as the disputes over the crown of St. Stephen in Hungary, Ferdinand was in a difficult position vis-à-vis the Lutheran princes in the empire from whom he wished (and needed) financial support. An Ottoman army unsuccessfully besieged the city of Vienna in 1529, and Ottoman cavalry forays into Habsburg territories continued into the early 1530s. Ultimately, Ferdinand rather unwillingly played a key role in negotiating the famous Religious Peace of Augsburg of 1555, which substantially established the legal framework of (Christian) religious cooperation in the Holy Roman Empire for the next sixty years.

When Ferdinand's brother Charles began laying down his imperial and other ruling responsibilities in the 1550s, Ferdinand was willing and able to pick many of them up, defending his and his sons' claims against those of his nephew, the future King Philip II of Spain (ruled 15561598), and taking over the empire as Ferdinand I in 1558. The House of Austria was now split between an Iberian and a central European branch. This oft-overestimated division would continue until the early eighteenth century. As emperor, Ferdinand participated (via representatives) in the frenzied final stages of the important Council of Trent, which ended in December 1563.

During his lifetime, Ferdinand engineered the election of his eldest son Maximilian to the thrones of Bohemia and Hungary, as well as his election as king of the Romans and heir to the imperial title. Ferdinand followed the example of his grandfather Emperor Maximilian I and not that of his brother Emperor Charles V in forgoing papal coronation, ruling instead as elected emperor. This precedent was followed by all his successors to the imperial title until the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.

See also Augsburg, Religious Peace of (1555) ; Austria ; Bohemia ; Habsburg Dynasty ; Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Holy Roman Empire ; Hungary ; Jagiellon Dynasty ; Maximilian I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Maximilian II (Holy Roman Empire) ; Vienna .


Primary Source

Bauer, Wilhelm, et al., eds. Die Korrespondenz Ferdinands I. Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für neuere Geschichte Österreichs, vols. 11, 3031, 58. Vienna, 19122000. Covers years 15141534.

Secondary Sources

Bucholtz, Franz Bernhard von. Geschichte der Regierung Ferdinand des Ersten. 9 vols. Graz, 19681971. Reprint of 18311838 edition.

Fichtner, Paula Sutter. Ferdinand I of Austria: The Politics of Dynasticism in the Age of the Reformation. Boulder, Colo., 1982.

Ranke, Leopold von. Ferdinand I and Maximilian II of Austria: An Essay on the Political and Religious State of Germany Immediately after the Reformation. Translated by Lady Duff Gordon. New York, 1975. Reprint of 1856 edition.

Joseph F. Patrouch

Ferdinand I

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FERDINAND I (1793–1875), emperor of Austria (1835–1848).

Ferdinand I was born 19 April 1793 in Vienna and died 29 June 1875 in Prague. Ferdinand's significance consists largely of the effect that his poor physical and mental condition (he developed epilepsy early in life) had on the legitimist, divine-right absolutist system by which the Habsburg dynasty and its advisers sought to rule the Austrian Empire. While the principle of legitimacy persuaded Francis I (emperor of Austria, 1804–1835) to designate Ferdinand, his eldest son, as his crown prince and heir, the consequences of Ferdinand's incapacity after his succession in March 1835 were deleterious to the proper functioning of the absolutist regime, and the disarray caused in the Habsburg authorities' ranks played a major role in the initial success of the 1848 revolutions. It was the perceived failure of Ferdinand to resist, or adequately cope with, the revolutionary demands in that year that led to his forced abdication on 2 December 1848, in favor of his nephew, Francis Joseph (r. 1848–1916).

Evident soon after his birth, Ferdinand's medical condition made him a constant embarrassment and problem for a dynasty based on the legitimacy of birthright. Ferdinand was evidently much brighter as a child than his relatives and their advisors gave him credit for. He learned to speak four languages and showed a great interest in the natural sciences. The inadequate contemporary understanding of his ailments, however, led him to receive an education that was inappropriately coercive and hence in many respects unsuccessful. Once Ferdinand had reached his majority, his father, Francis I, still kept him at arm's length from the exercise of power. After 1818 Ferdinand undertook some representative duties, but only in 1829, at the age of thirty-six, was he allowed to sit on the state council.

Married to Maria Anna of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1831, Ferdinand succeeded to his father's empire in 1835, but he never was allowed to exercise the power that his position as absolute monarch suggested. Instead, based on his father's will, Ferdinand's power was in reality wielded by a Privy State Conference that first met in December 1836. Ferdinand was officially president of this body and was occasionally present, but in practice it was headed by Archduke Louis, Ferdinand's brother, and the other permanent members—Archduke Francis Charles (another brother and the father of Francis Joseph), Count Clemens Metternich, and Count Franz Anton Kolowrat-Liebsteinsky—were the major deciders of policy. The rivalry between Metternich and Kolowrat, however, meant that many vital policy decisions were not made, and Austrian policy stagnated, leading to the period of societal unrest known as Vormärz (Before March), to which the authorities reacted with most unimaginative, and inefficient, repression.

Economic distress in the mid-1840s exacerbated unrest in the rural and urban lower classes, and the unwillingness of the authorities to co-opt into the political system the growing numbers in the educated middle-classes led to unrest there as well. The nationalist revolt of the Galician Polish nobility in 1846 was suppressed successfully, with the aid of a revolt by the peasantry against their lords. However the revolts in March 1848, in Vienna and Budapest and elsewhere, saw lower and middle classes in temporary solidarity. The collapse of the Habsburg family's willpower in the face of these revolts transformed them into revolutions. On 13 March 1848, Metternich was sacked on the advice of the most liberal Habsburg, Archduke John, and in the turmoil that followed Ferdinand was forced to accede to many of the demands of the revolutionaries. In April he even acceded to the flying of the German black-red-gold national flag over the Hofburg.

Ferdinand was at all times during the events of 1848 the official embodiment of the Habsburg cause, and his concessions made him a popular figure among the more moderate revolutionaries. Yet he was hardly ever actually in charge of Habsburg decision making, and as over the summer the more reactionary course of Prince Alfred Windischgrätz took hold, Habsburg policymakers came to oppose, and regret, the concessions made in Ferdinand's name. After October, therefore, once the revolution in Vienna was crushed, and the Hungarian revolutionary forces put on the defensive, the Habsburg family and its advisors decided that Ferdinand would have to go. Although he initially resisted, Ferdinand eventually abdicated on 2 December 1848 in favor of his nephew, Francis Joseph.

Ferdinand spent the rest of his life in the Hradschin Palace in Prague.

See alsoCongress of Vienna; French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars; Metternich, Clemens von; Napoleonic Empire; Prussia; Restoration.


Holler, Gerd. Gerechtigkeit für Ferdinand. Vienna and Munich, 1986.

Okey, Robin. The Habsburg Monarchy: From Enlightenment to Eclipse. New York, 2001.

Sked, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815–1918. London and New York, 1989

Steven Beller

Ferdinand I

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Ferdinand I

Ferdinand I (1503-1564) was Holy Roman emperor from 1555 to 1564. Before his accession and during his reign he pursued conciliatory policies toward the Protestants and the powerful German princes.

Born at Alcalá de Henares, Spain, on March 10, 1503, Ferdinand was the second son of Philip the Fair, Duke of Burgundy, and Joanna the Mad of Aragon and Castile. He lived for a long time in the shadow of his older brother, Charles, who was heir to the Hapsburg holdings in Germany and the Netherlands as well as to Spain and its Italian and South American possessions. In 1517 Charles went to Spain to take over the government, and the brothers met for the first time. Ferdinand was sent to the Netherlands to complete his education; there contact with Erasmian ideas had a lasting effect upon his attitude toward the Reformation.

On the death of their grandfather Emperor Maximilian I in 1519, Ferdinand's brother became Emperor Charles V, but Ferdinand received only the Hapsburg possessions of Upper and Lower Austria, Carinthia, Carniola, and, until 1534, Württemburg. In 1526, on the death of his brother-in-law Louis, Ferdinand became king of Bohemia and Hungary. His political position became rather ambiguous, for he had to combine the roles of German representative of imperial policy, German territorial prince, and independent king of Hungary, constantly harassed by the Turks. The necessity of finding support against the Turkish threat dictated much of his conciliatory attitude toward the Protestants.

The dangerous opposition of the Lutheran princes forced Charles V to secure Ferdinand's support. In 1531 Charles had Ferdinand elected king of the Romans, that is, designated successor to the imperial dignity. Later (1548-1551) Charles tried to dissuade Ferdinand from the imperial succession in order to preserve the empire for his own son Philip II. In 1551 a compromise was reached securing Philip's succession after Ferdinand's death. The agreement was not executed, however, and the imperial office remained in the hands of Ferdinand's direct descendants.

In German politics, which were closely connected to the religious issue, Ferdinand acted as a mediator between his brother and the Protestant princes. Although he remained a Catholic, Ferdinand supported efforts to reunite the confessions and to refer the disputed points to a general council. After Charles suffered a humiliating defeat by the Protestant princes in 1552, Ferdinand arranged the Treaty of Passau (1552), the first step toward the granting of religious freedom for the Lutheran princes (Treaty of Augsburg, 1555). Charles, however, refused to accept the decisions of the Augsburg Diet and abdicated. As emperor, Ferdinand continued his efforts toward reunion of the confessions with important concessions to the Protestants. He died in Vienna on July 25, 1564.

Further Reading

The life of Ferdinand I is recounted in Johannes Janssen, History of the German People at the Close of the Middle Ages (8 vols., 1883-1894; trans., 16 vols., 1896-1925). For additional information see Karl Brandi, The Emperor Charles V (1937; trans. 1939), and Friedrich Heer, The Holy Roman Empire (1967; trans. 1968). □

Ferdinand I

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Ferdinand I (1503–64) Holy Roman Emperor (1558–64), King of Bohemia and of Hungary (1526–64). His rule in Hungary was contested by John I, then by John II, both of whom were aided by the Ottoman Sultan. In Bohemia, Ferdinand secured the absolute rule of his Habsburg dynasty. In Germany, he helped to defeat the Protestant Schmalkaldic League (1546–47). Although a devout Catholic, Ferdinand negotiated the Peace of Augsburg (1555).

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