Austria Table of Contents

Division and Rebellion

Ferdinand I died in 1564, and Habsburg territories in Central Europe were divided among his three sons, with the eldest, Maximilian III (r. 1564-76), becoming Holy Roman Emperor. Although Maximilian's sympathetic policies toward the Protestants contrasted with his brothers' efforts to reestablish Catholicism as the sole religion in their lands, military policy, not religious doctrine, was to divide the dynasty in the final years of the sixteenth century and open the door to the religious wars of the seventeenth century.

Maximilian's son, Rudolf II (r. 1576-1612), succeeded his father as both king of Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor. After the Turks reopened the war in Hungary in 1593, Rudolf was blamed for the rebellion among Protestant nobles in Royal Hungary caused by his brutal conduct of the war. Backed by junior members of the dynasty, Rudolf's younger brother, Matthias (r. 1612-19), confiscated Rudolf's lands, restored order, and, after Rudolf's death, became Holy Roman Emperor. But the religious and political concessions that the two brothers had made to the nobility to win their support in this dynastic feud created new dangers for the Habsburgs.

The childless Matthias chose his cousin Ferdinand as his successor. To facilitate Ferdinand's eventual election as Holy Roman Emperor, Matthias secured his election as king of Bohemia in 1617. Before accepting Ferdinand as king, however, the Protestant nobility of Bohemia had required this strong proponent of the Catholic Counter-Reformation to confirm the religious charter granted them by Rudolf II. A dispute over the charter in 1618 triggered a rebellion by the Protestant nobles. Hopes for an arbitrated settlement were dashed when Matthias died in March 1619, and other areas under Habsburg control rebelled against Habsburg rule.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress