Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor
FERDINAND II, HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR
Reigned from 1619 to 1637; b. Graz, Styria, July 9, 1578; d. Vienna, Feb. 15, 1637. He was the oldest son of Archduke Charles of the Inner Austrian line of the Hapsburgs (ruling in Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, etc., since 1576) and Maria, the daughter of Duke Albert V of Bavaria. As a youth he was much influenced by his Bavarian relatives and their policy of aggressive Catholic restoration combined with a weakening of the power (often exerted in the Protestant cause) of the estates. His studies with the Jesuits at Ingolstadt only strengthened his resolve to undo his father's concessions to the Protestants—in the course of a pilgrimage to Rome and to Loreto he took a vow to give up his life and his lands before sacrificing his religious principles. In 1598 he began to carry this program into practice in Styria: Protestants were faced with a choice between conversion and exile; their schools were closed and their churches confiscated for Catholic use. His desire to see such a policy extend to the remaining Hapsburg lands in the area made it difficult for him to find his way through the complexities of the "Brother's Quarrel," when Emperor Rudolf II was faced with a virtual family insurrection against his feeble leadership at a critical time.
When the childless Matthias became emperor (1612), Ferdinand was recognized as his heir (the claims of Philip III of Spain were settled amicably) and was duly elected king of Bohemia (1617) and king of Hungary (1618). It was only a matter of time before his known sympathies and policies led to conflict with the Protestants. The defenestration of Prague (May 23, 1618) was an attack on his program and his representatives in Bohemia; in August 1619 the Bohemians elected Frederick V, elector palatine, as their king in Ferdinand's place. The death of Matthias (1619) helped to make the conflict a general one in the Hapsburg lands: Bohemia, Hungary, Upper Austria, and the Protestants in Lower Austria began to plan for a general confederation of estates and an aristocratic commonwealth favorable to the Protestant cause. Ferdinand's election as emperor (1619) and his agreement with Maximilian I of Bavaria and the Catholic League strengthened his position. On Nov. 8, 1620, the battle of the White Mountain (near Prague) was a triumph for his cause and for the Counter Reformation Catholicism and moderate absolutism he represented. The victory made it possible for him to declare Bohemia a hereditary monarchy, to weaken the power of its estates, and to give vast holdings there to his Catholic supporters.
As the conflict moved into Germany itself, there were signs that Ferdinand would apply to the empire the same policies that had been successful in the Austrian lands and Bohemia. In the first years of the thirty years' war his armies were victorious over a number of German Protestant princes and their Danish allies; by 1628 his gifted military leader, Count Albrecht von Wallenstein, had reached the shores of the Baltic. In the German courts, Catholic as well as Protestant, there was apprehension now that Ferdinand's victories would establish an absolute monarchy in Germany. His Edict of restitution (1629) revealed Ferdinand in a most uncompromising mood: the effort to recapture ground lost by the Catholic Church since the Religious Peace of augsburg (1555) could not fail to strengthen the hand of the opposition. At the Diet of Regensburg (1630) it was clear that the high point of his predominance in German affairs had been passed; the princes (Maximilian of Bavaria among them) forced him to dispense with Wallenstein's services.
The entry of Sweden into the war forced him to recall Wallenstein, but he could no longer depend on his loyalty; there was soon plentiful evidence of his treachery, and Ferdinand gave the order to execute him without a formal trial (1634). He was able to conclude the favorable Treaty of Prague (1635) and to ensure that the imperial crown would remain in the possession of his family, when his son Ferdinand was elected king of the Romans (1636) shortly before his death.
Ferdinand, for all his attractive human traits, did not possess the elements of royal greatness. Reluctant to make decisions and much influenced by his advisers, especially his Jesuit confessors, he sought to pursue a policy largely dominated by religious considerations at a time when a more secular approach to politics (raison d'état ) was making itself felt. Yet with all these limitations, Ferdinand had a large measure of success: he made certain that the great majority of the inhabitants of the Hapsburg dominions would be Catholic in their religious belief and that the future of the Austrian monarchy, thanks to his system of moderate absolutism, would be assured for generations to come.
Bibliography: k. eder, Neue Deutsche Biographie (Berlin 1953–) 5:83–85. h. sturmberger, Kaiser Ferdinand II und das Problem des Absolutismus (Munich 1957). c. v. wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (New Haven 1939). a. duch, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 4:80–81. b. chudoba, Spain and the Empire, 1519–1643 (Chicago 1952).
[w. b. slottman]