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Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor (July 9, 1578February 15, 1637), of the house of Habsburg, ruled 1620-1637. Originally Archduke of Styria, his appointment as King of Bohemia was one of the causes of the Thirty Years' War. He was also the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire during most of the Thirty Years' War.

He was the son of Charles II of Austria (1540-1590) and his wife Maria Anna of Bavaria (1551-1608) . His first wife was Maria Anna of Bavaria (1574-1616) , daughter of William V, Duke of Bavaria. They had four children:

His second wife was Eleonore Gonzaga (1598-1655), whom he married in Innsbruck in 1622.

Reign as King of Bohemia

Ferdinand was elected King of Bohemia by the Bohemian Diet in 1617. Many of the Bohemian nobles, who were largely protestant, soon regretted the decision and participated in the Bohemian Revolt . He proved to be an impassioned Catholic and did not respect the religious freedoms granted in the Majestät (or "Majestic Letter") signed by Rudolph II to end the Brothers' War . Ferdinand was also an absolutist and did not endear himself to the nobles, who were quite jealous of their privileges. Despite a warning from Mathias, Holy Roman Emperor, they gathered in Prague. There, they stormed the royal castle on May 22, 1618, and threw two loyal Catholic officials out a second-story window into a ditch. They received only minor injuries despite falling 17 meters because of the incline of the ditch and the underbrush into which they fell.

This act spiraled into a full-blown rebellion in which the Estates deposed Ferdinand as King of Bohemia in favor of the protestant Frederick V, Elector Palatine, known to Czechs as "the Winter King." His reign was brief, however, because Ferdinand joined forces with the Catholic League and sent troops to quell the rebellion. The decisive battle took place at White Mountain on November 8, 1620 and lasted only two hours. The Catholics enjoyed a decisive victory, and Frederick had to flee to Holland. Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria, the leader of the Catholic League, moved to confiscate Frederick's lands in the Palatine.

Reign as Holy Roman Emperor

In the meantime, Mathias had died in 1619, and Ferdinand was elected to take his place as Holy Roman Emperor. He showed himself to be a worthy champion of the Catholic cause. He rallied the Catholic forces to put down the Bohemian Revolt, securing funds and support from Poland and Spain and troups from Bavaria. Following the decisive Battle of White Mountain, he pursued the rebellious protestant nobles, executing at least 27 of them the following year. He set about making Bohemia Catholic again, and many protestants were forced to flee to more hospitable states. No other than a Hapsburg would ever sit on the throne of Bohemia after Ferdinand.

During the next phase of the conflict, Ferdinand's commander was Albrecht von Wallenstein, a Czech who agreed to fight for nothing but the booty he could take from the conquered territories. He defeated the Danes, and Ferdinand issued the Edict of Restitution (1629), ordering the restitution of all ecclesiastical properties secularized since 1552. At this point, Gustav II Adolf of Sweden, a protestant, came into the war.

The nobles of the Holy Roman Empire had pressured Ferdinand into releasing Wallenstein in 1630 for fear of his growing power, but with this new threat, he was called back after Tilly was defeated at the Battle of Breitenfeld and killed on the Lech (1632). The Swedish forces advanced to Munich and occupied Bohemia.

In the spring of 1632, Wallenstein raised a fresh army in a matter of weeks and drove the protestant army out of Bohemia. In November came the great Battle of Lützen, at which the Catholics were defeated, but Gustav Adolf was killed. Wallenstein withdrew to winter quarters in Bohemia. Although he had lost strategically and been forced out of Saxony, the protestants had suffered much greater casualties.

The campaigning of 1633 was indecisive, partly because Wallenstein was negotiating with the enemy, thinking that the army would be loyal to him, rather than Ferdinand, and follow him if he switched sides. In early 1634, he was openly accused of treason and assassinated, probably at Ferdinand's instigation.

Despite the loss of Wallenstein, Imperial forces took Regensburg and won a victory at the Battle of Nördlingen. This marked the end of Swedish involvement in the war, but for fear of German domination, France stepped in. Although it was Catholic, France feared both the Germans and the Spanish, so Cardinal Richelieu convinced Louis XIV of France to ally himself with the Dutch and the Swedes.

The French were highly dissatisfied with the terms of the Peace of Prague concluded in 1635, the last important act of Ferdinand. Therefore, although a treaty was signed, peace did not come. So, at Ferdinand's death in 1637, his son Ferdinand III inherited an embattled empire.

Last updated: 06-02-2005 05:40:40
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46