FERDINAND II. (1578-1637), Roman emperor, was the eldest son of Charles, archduke of Styria (d. 1590), and his wife Maria, daughter of Albert IV., duke of Bavaria and a grandson of the emperor Ferdinand I.' Born at Gratz on the 9th of July 1578, he was trained by the Jesuits, finishing his education at the university of Ingolstadt, and became the pattern prince of the counterreformation. In 1596 he undertook the government of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola, and after a visit to Italy began an organized attack on Protestantism which under his father's rule had made great progress in these archduchies; and although hampered by the inroads of the Turks, he showed his indifference to the material welfare of his dominions by compelling many of his Protestant subjects to choose between exile and conversion, and by entirely suppressing Protestant worship. He was not, however, unmindful of the larger interest of his family, or of the Empire which the Habsburgs regarded as belonging to them by hereditary right. In 1606 he joined his kinsmen in recognizing his cousin Matthias as the head of the family in place of the lethargic Rudolph II.; but he shrank from any proceedings which might lead to the deposition of the emperor, whom he represented at the diet of Regensburg in 1608; and his conduct was somewhat ambiguous during the subsequent quarrel between Rudolph and Matthias.
In the first decade of the 17th century the house of Habsburg seemed overtaken by senile decay, and the great inheritance of Charles V. and Ferdinand I. to be threatened with disintegration and collapse. The reigning emperor, Rudolph II., was inert and childless; his surviving brothers, the archduke Matthias (afterwards emperor), Maximilian (1558-1618) and Albert (1559-162r), all men of mature age, were also without direct heirs; the racial differences among its subjects were increased by their religious animosities; and it appeared probable that the numerous enemies of the Habsburgs had only to wait a few years and then to divide the spoil. In spite of the recent murder of Henry IV. of France, this issue seemed still more likely when Matthias succeeded Rudolph as emperor in 1612. The Habsburgs, however, were not indifferent to the danger, and about 1615 it was agreed that Ferdinand, who already had two sons by his marriage with his cousin Maria Anna (d. 1616), daughter of William V., duke of Bavaria, should be the next emperor, and should succeed Matthias in the elective kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia. The obstacles which impeded the progress of the scheme were gradually overcome by the energy of the archduke Maximilian. The elder archdukes renounced their rights in the succession; the claims of Philip III. and the Spanish Habsburgs were bought off by a promise of Alsace; and the emperor consented to his supercession in Hungary and Bohemia. In 1617 Ferdinand, who was just concluding a war with Venice, was chosen king of Bohemia, and in 1618 king of Hungary; but his election as German king, or king of the Romans, delayed owing to the anxiety of Melchior Klesl to conciliate the protestant princes, had not been accomplished when Matthias died in March 1619. Before this event, however, an important movement had begun in Bohemia. Having been surprised into choosing a devoted Roman Catholic as their king, the Bohemian Protestants suddenly realized that their religious, and possibly their civil liberties, were seriously menaced, and deeds of aggression on the part of Ferdinand's representatives showed that this was no idle fear. Gaining the upper hand they declared Ferdinand deposed, and elected the elector palatine of the Rhine, Frederick V., in his stead; and the struggle between the rivals was the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. At the same time other difficulties confronted Ferdinand, who had not yet secured the imperial throne. Bethlen Gabor, prince of Transylvania, invaded Hungary, while the Austrians rose and joined the Bohemians; but having seen his foes retreat from Vienna, Ferdinand hurried to Frankfort, where he was chosen emperor on the 28th of August 1619.
To deal with the elector palatine and his allies the new emperor allied himself with Maximilian I., duke of Bavaria, and the Catholic League, who drove Frederick from Bohemia in 1620, while Ferdinand's Spanish allies devastated the Palatinate. Peace having been made with Bethlen Gabor in December 1621, the first period of the war ended in a satisfactory fashion for the emperor, and he could turn his attention to completing the work of crushing the Protestants, which had already begun in his archduchies and in Bohemia. In 1623 the Protestant clergy were expelled from Bohemia; in 1624 all worship save that of the Roman Catholic church was forbidden; and in 1627 an order of banishment against all Protestants was issued. A new constitution made the kingdom hereditary in the house of Habsburg, gave larger powers to the sovereign, and aimed at destroying the nationality of the Bohemians. Similar measures in Austria led to a fresh rising which was put down by the aid of the Bavarians in 1627, and Ferdinand could fairly claim that in his hereditary lands at least he had rendered Protestantism innocuous.
The renewal of the Thirty Years' War in 1625 was caused mainly by the emperor's vigorous championship of the cause of the counter-reformation in northern and north-eastern Germany. Again the imperial forces were victorious, chiefly owing to the genius of Wallenstein, who raised and led an army in this service, although the great scheme of securing the southern coast of the Baltic for the Habsburgs was foiled partly by the resistance of Stralsund. In March 1629 Ferdinand and his advisers felt themselves strong enough to take the important step towards which their policy in the Empire had been steadily tending. Issuing the famous edict of restitution, the emperor ordered that all lands which had been secularized since 1552, the date of the peace of Passau, should be restored to the church, and prompt measures were taken to enforce this decree. Many and powerful interests were vitally affected by this proceeding, and' the result was the outbreak of the third period of the war, which was less favourable to the imperial arms than the preceding ones. This comparative failure was due, in the initial stages of the campaign, to Ferdinand's weakness in assenting in 1630 to the demand of Maximilian of Bavaria that Wallenstein should be deprived of his command, and also to the genius of Gustavus Adolphus; and in its later stages to his insistence on the second removal of Wallenstein, and to his complicity in the assassination of the general. This deed was followed by the peace of Prague, concluded in 1635, primarily with John George I., elector of Saxony, but soon assented to by other princes; and this treaty, which made extensive concessions to the Protestants, marks the definite failure of Ferdinand to crush Protestantism in the Empire, as he had already done in Austria and Bohemia. It is noteworthy, however, that the emperor refused to allow the inhabitants of his hereditary dominions to share in the benefits of the peace. During these years Ferdinand had also been menaced by the secret or open hostility of France. A dispute over the duchies of Mantua and Monferrato way ended by the treaty of Cherasco in 1631, but the influence of France was employed at the imperial diets and elsewhere in thwarting the plans of Ferdinand and in weakening the power of the Habsburgs. The last important act of the emperor was to secure the election of his son Ferdinand as king of the Romans. An attempt in 1630 to attain this end had failed, but in December 1636 the princes, meeting at Regensburg, bestowed the coveted dignity upon the younger Ferdinand. A few weeks afterwards, on the 15th of February 1637, the emperor died at Vienna, leaving, in addition to the king of the Romans, a son Leopold William (1614-1662), bishop of Passau and Strassburg. Ferdinand's reign was so occupied with the Thirty Years' War and the struggle with the Protestants that he had little time or inclination for other business. It is interesting to note, however, that this orthodox and Catholic emperor was constantly at variance with Pope Urban VIII. The quarrel was due principally, but not entirely, to events in Italy, where the pope sided with France in the dispute over the succession to Mantua and Monferrato. The succession question was settled, but the enmity remained; Urban showing his hostility by preventing the election of the younger Ferdinand as king of the Romans in 1630, and by turning a deaf ear to the emperor's repeated requests for assistance to prosecute the war against the heretics. Ferdinand's character has neither individuality nor interest, but he ruled the Empire during a critical and important period. Kind and generous to his dependents, his private life was simple and blameless, but he was to a great extent under the influence of his confessors.
The chief authorities for Ferdinand's life and reign are F. C. Khevenhiller, Annales Ferdinandei (Regensburg, 1640-1646); F. van Hurter, Geschichte Kaiser Ferdinands II. (Schaffhausen, 1850-1855); Korrespondenz Kaiser Ferdinands II. mit P. Becanus and P. W. Lamormaini, edited by B. Dudik (Vienna, 1848 fol.); and F. Stieve, in the Allegmeine deutsche Biographie, Band vi. (Leipzig, 1877). See also the elaborate bibliography in the Cambridge Modern History, vol. iv. (Cambridge, 1906).
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