Austrian cardinal and statesman; b. Vienna, Feb. 19, 1552; d. Wiener-Neustadt, Sept. 18, 1630. Son of a Protestant banker, Klesl (Khlesl, Klesel) was 16 when, together with his family, he was converted to Catholicism by the Jesuit G. Scherer, one of the best known preachers of his time. He studied philosophy at the University of Vienna. In 1579 he received his doctorate, was ordained, and appointed provost of St. Stephen and chancellor of the University of Vienna. As such he became instrumental in carrying out the previous ordinance of Ferdinand I, when it was renewed by Emperor Rudolph II in 1581; this forbade Protestants either to teach or to take academic degrees in the University of Vienna. The following year Klesl was appointed councilor of the bishop of Passau for lower Austria. Thus began his lifetime work of bringing Catholicism back to Austria. In 1588 he was appointed administrator of the Diocese of Wiener-Neustadt, and in 1590 he was made the chairman of the Reformation Commission for all the towns and cities other than Vienna. He brought back to the Church, at least outwardly, a number of Austrian towns, among them Neustadt. The chief obstacle to his work was the lack of well-qualified priests. In 1598 he was made bishop of Vienna and in 1615 a cardinal. Chancellor to the Archduke Matthias (1599), he became in 1611 head of his privy council. When Matthias became emperor (1612), Klesl conducted most of the imperial business. At the beginning of the disorders in Bohemia, Klesl at first counseled against the concessions to the Protestants. It was upon his advice that Matthias, in a letter of March 21, 1618, rejected their complaints as unjustified, forbade their intended meetings, and threatened the originators with legal proceedings. Later, however, Klesl reversed himself and tried to reconcile the contending religious parties. In order to remove the chief obstacle to the war policy, the Archduke Ferdinand, who suspected Klesl of being opposed to his candidacy for the imperial throne, and the Archduke Maximilian of Tyrol, probably supported by the Spanish ambassador Oñate, had the cardinal arrested (July 20, 1618) and conveyed to Amras castle near Innsbruck. A few days later he was brought to the castle of Innsbruck, and from there to the monastery Georgenberg near Schwaz. Through the intercession of the pope he received permission to go to Rome (1622). He returned to Vienna in 1627.
Bibliography: j. von hammer-purgstall, Khlesls … Leben …, 4 v. (Vienna 1847–51). b. chudoba, Spain and the Empire, 1519–1643 (Chicago 1952). k. h. oelrich, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 6: 339–340, bibliog. m. ritter, Allgemeine deutsche Biographie (Leipzig 1875–1910) 16:167–178. g. mecenseffy Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 3:1664.