Ferdinand II (1578-1637) was Holy Roman emperor from 1619 to 1637. He attempted to revive imperial authority in Germany and to restore Catholicism in his domain.
Born in Graz in Styria on July 9, 1578, Ferdinand of Hapsburg was the son of Archduke Charles of inner Austria and Maria of Bavaria. His father, a devout Catholic, ruled a province which had been strongly influenced by the Protestant Reformation. To protect his heir from Lutheran influences, Charles in 1590 sent Ferdinand to school at Ingolstadt in Catholic Bavaria. Archduke Charles died shortly thereafter, and Ferdinand ruled Styria under a regency until he was declared of age in 1596.
His Jesuit teachers, militant missionaries of the Catholic restoration, were enormously influential in forming Ferdinand's conception of his duties as a Christian prince, and from the beginning he dedicated himself to restoring the Roman faith in his lands. In 1602 he expelled Protestant teachers and preachers from Styria, closed or destroyed their churches, and gave his nonnoble Protestant subjects the choice of conversion or exile.
When his cousins the emperors Rudolf II and Matthias died childless, Ferdinand fell heir to the Hapsburg dominions in Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary. In 1617 he was elected king of Bohemia and in 1618 king of Hungary, intimidating the noble assemblies in both instances. In 1619 he succeeded Matthias as Holy Roman emperor. His Protestant subjects, fearing an attack on their right to worship, refused the oath of homage, and in May 1618 the Bohemian nobility rose in revolt. With the support of Maximilian of Bavaria and the forces of the Catholic League under Count Tilly, he bloodily suppressed the Protestant rebels in Austria and Bohemia in 1620.
His efforts to restore Catholicism precipitated the Thirty Years War, a European conflict in which the religious issue ultimately became submerged in a conflict for domination of the Continent. In 1629 and again in 1635 Ferdinand II was in a position to dictate a favorable peace in Germany. But both times he refused to make reasonable compromises with the Protestant princes and their powerful foreign protectors, France and Sweden.
Ferdinand II has been judged harshly for his religious fanaticism and his lack of political realism. In an age of brutal power politics he persisted in subordinating his political goals to his religious convictions. He was easily outwitted in a bargain and naive about issues that went beyond the uplifting religious tracts that made up his only reading. By dynastic accident he reunited the main Hapsburg domains in central Europe, but in pursuing the chimera of Catholic restoration he widened the rift between imperial authority and the German princes. He died in Vienna on Feb. 15, 1637.
The only major source for the reign of Ferdinand II is in German. In English the best references are in general works on the period. The most important are C. V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (1939); S. H. Steinberg, The "Thirty Years War" and the Conflict for European Hegemony, 1600-1660 (1966); and H. G. Koenigsberger, The Habsburgs and Europe, 1516-1660 (1971). □
Ferdinand II (1810-1859) was king of the Two Sicilies from 1830 to 1859. He stoutly resisted Italian liberalism and independence movements. His bombardment of Sicilian cities earned him the nickname of King Bomba.
Born in Palermo on Jan. 12, 1810, Ferdinand II was the son of the future Francis I and the grandson of the violently anti-revolutionary Ferdinand I, both of the Bourbon line of Naples. His mother was the Spanish Infanta Maria Isabel. When Ferdinand ascended the throne of the Southern Kingdom in 1830, it was hoped that he might head up an attack on reaction from within Italy and the domination of Austria from without Italy. His first marriage was to Christina of Savoy, daughter of Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont, the only other Italian monarch capable of resisting Austrian pressure. His reign began with an amnesty of political prisoners. He refused to sign a treaty of alliance with Austria, and he worked out a foreign-policy orientation toward France. However, Christina died in 1836 (having given birth to the last of the Bourbon line, Francis II), and with his marriage to the Austrian archduchess Theresa, Ferdinand instituted a new policy of repression at home and of friendship with the Hapsburgs.
Ferdinand put down insurrections in Sicily and Calabria in 1844; but with the revolutionary movement of 1848 the former province declared its independence. In Naples, Ferdinand instituted a constitutional monarchy, patterned on that of the 1830 July Monarchy in France. According to the constitution of January 29, there was to be a bicameral legislature and civil liberties. The constitutional movement spread to the rest of Italy and, spearheaded by Piedmont, the Italians launched their First War of Independence against Austria.
Ferdinand had contributed troops to the war effort. They were recalled after further radical activity at Naples, which resulted in the revocation of the new constitution. On May 15 the new Parliament convened, only to be immediately dispersed. (The constitution was formally discontinued on March 13, 1849.) Sicily was reconquered, and Ferdinand contributed troops to the crushing of the last Roman Republic. The savage repression which followed the defeat of the liberals had by 1850 earned Ferdinand the condemnation of the British liberal statesman William Gladstone, who described Ferdinand's regime as "the negation of God erected into a system of government."
The restoration of the old regime in the south by no means put an end to conspiracies and uprisings against Ferdinand, and there was an assassination attempt on the King's life in 1856. However, by the time Ferdinand died at Caserta on May 22, 1859, the Risorgimento (Italian unification movement) was well under way.
Background on Ferdinand II is in Harold Acton, The Last Bourbons of Naples, 1825-1861 (1961), and Denis Mack Smith, A History of Sicily: Modern Sicily after 1713 (1968). □