Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor

Orfeas Katsoulis | Jun 14, 2024

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Matthias († March 20, 1619 ibid.) was Archduke of Austria, 1612-1619 Holy Roman Emperor and already since 1608 King of Hungary (as Mátyás II) and Croatia (as Matija II), since 1611 also King of Bohemia (likewise as Matyáš II). His motto was Concordia lumine maior ("Concord is stronger than light").

He played a decisive role in the Habsburgs' internal family opposition to his brother Emperor Rudolf. After gaining power, he showed little political initiative of his own. The course of politics was determined by Cardinal Khlesl until his fall. With the Bohemian Revolt, the Thirty Years' War began in the final phase of Matthias' reign.

Matthias was the fourth son of Emperor Maximilian II and Mary of Spain. His brothers were Rudolf (the future emperor), Ernst of Austria (governor in the Netherlands), Maximilian (Grand Master of the Teutonic Order), Albrecht (Archbishop of Toledo, later governor of the Netherlands) and Wenceslas (Grand Prior of the Order of Saint John in Castile). He also had six sisters. Through the marriage of his sister Anna he was related by marriage to Philip II of Spain and through Elizabeth to King Charles IX of France.

Almost nothing is known about his education. One of his teachers was the Oriental traveler and polyhistor Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq. Since the paternal estates passed completely to Rudolf, his brothers - including Matthias - were compensated with monetary pensions, were assigned to church or state positions.

In some ways he was politically influenced by his father. This included the anti-Spanish attitude and the rejection of Spanish policy in the Netherlands. There, Philip II tried to put down the Dutch uprising by force. Matthias had come into contact with the envoy of some rebellious provinces, Gautier von der Gracht, at the Imperial Diet of Regensburg in 1576. Philippe III de Croÿ, Duke of Aarschot and other representatives of a more moderate party agreed with Matthias to make him governor of the Netherlands against the will of Philip II and without the knowledge of Emperor Rudolf II.

In early October 1577, Matthias left for the Netherlands. Secretly, he hoped to establish his own power base in the Netherlands. However, Matthias had neither the necessary political experience nor skill. In addition, the Duke of Aarschot had been arrested. Matthias therefore had to place himself under the protection of William of Orange, the leader of the staunch opponents of Spain. Thus the goal of a third way had already failed in the beginning. Matthias became de jure governor on January 20, 1578, but a state council and William of Orange were in charge. Matthias was unable to prevent the Catholic southern and Protestant northern provinces from drifting apart. Rudolf II intervened in the conflict as a mediator. His efforts led to the Cologne Pacification Day in 1579, which was soon broken off. This had further worsened the position for Matthias. The Dutch stopped making payments to his court. However, he did not officially resign the office of governor until two years later, shortly before the official declaration of independence. His departure from Antwerp, however, was delayed by five months because he had to stay until his immense debts were paid.

He returned to Austria in 1583, where he settled in Linz with a small court. He made several unsuccessful efforts to be elected bishop, for example in Münster, Liège or Speyer. In 1586 his negotiations for the succession of the Polish king Stefan Báthory were just as futile. He also applied for the regency in Tyrol and the Vorlanden. Only when his brother Ernst became Spanish governor-general in the Netherlands in 1593 (in 1594) did Matthias receive the governorship in Austria.

He was immediately confronted with the energetic lobbying of the majority Protestant estates against the governor. The problems were exacerbated by the high taxes and troop deployments as a result of the Long Turkish War. In 1595 and 1597, the peasants in Lower and Upper Austria revolted. While the peasants pinned their hopes on negotiations with the emperor, Matthias took violent action against the rebels with mercenary troops.

After the suppression of the uprising, Matthias' attitude toward the religious question began to change. Whereas previously there had also been Protestants at his court, he now took a strictly counter-Reformation course. His chancellor since 1599 was Melchior Khlesl, bishop-adminstrator of Wiener Neustadt, a major promoter of the Counter-Reformation. The latter, in particular, urged Matthias to take a harsher course against the Protestants. The emperor appointed him in 1594

Among the members of the House of Habsburg, the increasing mental problems of Emperor Rudolf II were observed with concern. After the death of Ernst in 1595, Matthias headed the archdukes. He repeatedly urged the emperor, who was without legitimate descendants, in vain to settle the succession from 1599 onward. In doing so, Matthias incurred the latter's rejection. The situation worsened in 1604 when there was an uprising in Hungary under Stephen Bocskai. Matthias himself initially shied away from a confrontation with the emperor. Bishop Khlesl and others urged him to lead the conflict of the Habsburg family against Rudolf II. In November 1600, a treaty was reached in Schottwien between the archdukes Matthias and Maximilian and Ferdinand against the emperor. In 1606 the archdukes declared the emperor insane (deed of April 25, 1606), installed Matthias as head of the family and began to pursue the deposition of Rudolf. It was then Matthias and not the emperor who concluded the Peace of Zsitvatorok with the Ottomans in 1606 and also ended the conflict in Hungary by assuring the free practice of religion. Rudolf tried in vain to thwart the treaties. He was even forced to give Matthias the position of governor in Hungary.

In Hungary, unrest reemerged, and in Moravia and Austria, the estates also began to revolt. Matthias tried to use this opposition for himself in the power struggle with the emperor. In 1608, in Bratislava, he joined forces with the rebellious Hungarian Diet and the Lower and Upper Austrian Estates. Later, Moravia was added to the list. In April 1608 Matthias marched on Prague. However, having failed to win over the Bohemian estates, he concluded the Treaty of Lieben with the emperor on June 25, 1608. This resulted in the division of power: Rudolf retained Bohemia, Silesia and Lusatia; Matthias received Hungary, Austria and Moravia.

The takeover of power did not go smoothly. The usual procedure of homage in the Austrian lands was that the new sovereign first guaranteed the privileges of the estates before they officially paid homage to him. Matthias tried to reverse the order, which led to a tribute dispute with the majority Protestant estates. The nobles then formed a confederation called the Horner Bund, based on the Polish model, and paid homage only in return for a guarantee of their rights. The Horner Bund continued to exist and still played a role at the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. Matthias also had to grant religious freedom to the Austrian nobility.

Emperor Rudolf did not admit defeat in the dispute with his brother. With the Passau warband he seemed to have a military power. When the unpaid troops invaded Bohemia in 1611, disputes arose and the Bohemian estates also joined the camp of Matthias. Rudolf lost the rest of his power and lived isolated in Prague until his death on January 20, 1612.

Matthias was crowned King of Bohemia on May 23, 1611, and after Rudolf's death on January 20, 1612, he was also elected Emperor. On December 4, 1611, he married his cousin Anna of Tyrol. The couple remained childless. Allegedly, he fathered an illegitimate son named Matthias of Austria with an unknown mother.

The court, and with it the government offices, had been gradually moved from Prague to Vienna since 1612. The new emperor was less interested in art than Rudolf, and most court artists soon turned their backs on his court. A closer relationship remained with the painter Lucas van Valckenborch. He had the scepter and orb made for the private crown of his brother Rudolf II. The emperor's wife donated the Capuchin monastery with the Capuchin crypt as the future burial place of the House of Habsburg. He is said to have found the fountain in the area of today's Schönbrunn Palace and, by his exclamation "Ei, welch' schöner Brunn'!" became the eponym of the area and thus of today's palace.

The political challenges were immense. The determining factor was the worsening conflict between Protestants and Catholics. For the first time, no compromise was reached between the confessional camps at the Imperial Diet of 1608. The Catholic League and the Protestant Union were two opposing blocs in the empire.

The new emperor, however, proved to be less than active. He was seriously ill with gout and preferred the distractions of court life to the tedious business of state. In essence, Khlesl determined policy. In contrast to the earlier years, when he had distinguished himself as a counter-Reformation zealot, in the face of growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants in the empire he opted for compromise ("composition policy"). In foreign policy, the result was an alliance with Poland and the multiple extension of peace with the Ottomans. Khlesl's balancing imperial policy met with opposition at the imperial court from strictly Catholic forces such as the president of the Imperial Council, Johann Georg von Hohenzollern, and the imperial vice chancellor, Hans Ludwig von Ulm. The Catholic imperial estates also distanced themselves from this policy. Likewise, the Protestants remained suspicious.

During his reign, the anti-Jewish Fettmilch Rebellion broke out in Frankfurt am Main in 1614. The uprising was bloodily put down by order of the emperor, and the ringleaders were brought to court and executed. The expelled Frankfurt Jews returned to Judengasse in a solemn procession. An imperial eagle with the inscription "Römisch kaiserlicher Majestät und des heiligen Reiches Schutz" (Roman imperial majesty and protection of the holy empire) was affixed to the gate.

As in the time of his brother Rudolf, the question of succession soon arose for Matthias, who had no legitimate heirs. Like Rudolf, Matthias tried to avoid a decision. Since 1612, the archdukes as well as Spain and the pope had urged him in vain to propose his cousin Ferdinand as successor. But it was not until 1617, in view of the emperor's illness, which was thought to be fatal, and at the insistence of the Spanish ambassador Oñate, that an agreement was reached with the Spanish king Philip III in the Oñate Treaty, named after him. In the treaty, the Spanish Habsburgs renounced claims in Austria, Hungary and Bohemia and also a bid for the imperial crown. As compensation, Spain received lands in Alsace and imperial fiefdoms in northern Italy. As a result, Matthias proposed Archduke Ferdinand as the future king of Bohemia. In fact, Ferdinand was elected by the Bohemian estates in the same year, although it was known that as an archduke he had pursued the Counter-Reformation in his Austrian lands. The electoral behavior of the Protestant Bohemian estates, which was difficult to understand, led to a massive curtailment of Protestant influence in Bohemia after the election, which further fueled the resentment of the Bohemian estates.

From Vienna, Matthias had little opportunity to influence developments in Bohemia. There, the Bohemian Estates Revolt broke out, which found its symbolic expression in the second Prague defenestration of May 23, 1618. Khlesl again reacted with efforts to achieve a settlement. Now Archduke Maximilian and King Ferdinand demanded Khlesl's replacement. The emperor refused, whereupon Maximilian and Ferdinand had Khlesl arrested. The emperor was finally forced to accept the deposition of his leading politician. Matthias subsequently played hardly any role until his death.

Since the Capuchin tomb had not yet been completed, he and his wife were initially buried in the Queen's Monastery. It was not until 1633 that they were transferred to the Capuchin Crypt. Emperor Matthias is one of those 41 persons who received a "Separate Burial" with division of their body among all three traditional Viennese Habsburg burial sites (Imperial Crypt, Herzgruft, Herzogsgruft).


  1. Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor
  2. Matthias (HRR)
  3. golo Mann: Wallenstein. S. Fischer Verlag GmbH Lizenzausgabe Deutscher Bücherbund, Frankfurt Main 1971, S. 151.
  4. Christian Pantle: Der Dreissigjährige Krieg. Propyläen-Verlag, Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-549-07443-5, S. 23.
  5. ^ "Habsburg family tree". Habsburg family website. 28 October 2023. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  6. Tolnai világtörténelme. Ujkor
  7. Szilágyi Sándor A Magyar Nemzet Története
  8. ^ non è chiaro con quale titolo Odoacre regnò in Italia ma gli storici concordano sull'attribuirgli quello di Re d'Italia, assegnatogli dal contemporaneo Vittore Vitense.
  9. ^ non da Imperatore, contese il trono ad Enrico II il Santo
  10. ^ non da Imperatore ma come Re di Sicilia e Italia

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