Childhood & Early Years
Ferdinand II was born on July 9, 1578, in Graz, Styria (present-day Austria), to Charles II, the archduke of Austria, and Maria of Bavaria.
Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, was his paternal grandfather. Ferdinand II’s father, Charles II, ruled Inner Austria (Styria, Carniola, and Carinthia). His mother, Maria of Bavaria, was his father’s niece. She was the daughter of Albert (or Albrecht) V, the duke of Bavaria, and Charles II's sister Anna.
Ferdinand II was mostly educated by his mother. He initially attended the Jesuits' school in Graz and matriculated at the tender age of 8. Three years later, a separate place was arranged for his stay.
His parents did not want him to be associated with the Lutheran Styrian nobles. He was thus sent to Ingolstadt to study at the Jesuits' college in Bavaria. Thus, in early 1590, he left Graz. Following this, his maternal uncle, William V, Duke of Bavaria, became in-charge of his education.
He studied at the ‘University of Ingolstadt’ from 1590 to 1595 and was trained to turn into a rigid Catholic ruler. In 1596, he assumed power over his hereditary lands.
Following a pilgrimage to Loreto and Rome, he decided to crush Protestantism by forcing his subjects to convert to Roman Catholicism. In 1602, he expelled Protestant preachers from Styria and destroyed most of their churches.
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Ferdinand II stayed away from the conflict between his cousins, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and his brother Matthias.
He, however, managed to get the approval of the Spanish Habsburg rulers to succeed Matthias, who was childless. In exchange, he signed a secret treaty in 1617, which promised to give away Alsace and the fiefs in Italy to them. The same year, Ferdinand II became the king of Bohemia.
In 1618, he became the king of Hungary. However, on May 23 (22, according to some sources), 1618, Jindřich Matyáš Thurn, one of the two Czech rebels who had refused to accept Ferdinand II's succession, led his forces to the ‘Prague Castle.’
They held two governors and a secretary captive and threw them out of the window of the castle. This was the ‘Second Defenestration of Prague,’ which gave rise to a new revolt. Soon, the Protestants decided to form a provisional government.
The following year, the mostly Protestant diet of Bohemia dethroned Ferdinand II and elected Frederick V as their king. This spelled the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. Though Ferdinand II was made the Holy Roman Emperor on August 28, 1619, he only received support from Poland, Spain, and a few German princes.
The Thirty Years' War
On November 8, 1620, his troops, headed by Flemish general Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, with the help of Maximilian I, duke of Bavaria, crushed Frederick V’s rebel forces at the White Mountain, close to Prague.
Initially, the war was confined to Germany but later, the French intervened and made it a European issue. Frederick V escaped to the Netherlands. The Protestants of both Upper and Lower Austria were forced to covert.
In 1625, in spite of receiving financial help from Spain and the Pope, Ferdinand II was financially drained. He still decided to strengthen his army and appealed to Albrecht von Wallenstein, who was one Bohemia’s wealthiest men. Wallenstein accepted his appeal on the condition that he should be allowed to control the direction of the war and should have authority over the wealth looted during the war. Wallenstein gathered around 30,000 men (which later increased to 100,000) and was able to crush the Protestants in Silesia, Anhalt, and Denmark.
In 1629, Ferdinand II’s ‘Edict of Restitution’ forced Protestants to return all property acquired since the ‘Peace of Passau’ of 1552 to the Roman Catholic church.
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His military aggressiveness made the Protestants seek the support of the king of Sweden, Gustavus II Adolphus. Some of Ferdinand II's allies started expressing their concerns about the rising powers of Wallenstein and the cruel and unethical methods he employed to fund his forces.
In 1630, Ferdinand II ousted Wallenstein and handed over the leadership of the war to the Count of Tilly. Tilly, however, could not prevent the Swedish army from advancing from northern Germany to Austria.
Some historians feel Ferdinand II was majorly responsible for the large loss of civilian life in the 1631 Sack of Magdeburg. Apparently, he had ordered Tilly to apply the ‘Edict of Restitution’ to the Electorate of Saxony. Tilly thus led the Catholic forces east, advancing to Leipzig, where they were badly defeated in First Battle of Breitenfeld (1631), by the Adolphus's Swedish forces.
Tilly died fighting in 1632. Following this, Wallenstein was recalled. He formed his own army within a week and ousted the Swedish forces from Bohemia. However, in November 1632, at the Battle of Lützen, the Catholic forces were crushed. Adolphus was killed in the same battle. Following this, Wallenstein's ambiguous conduct led to him being assassinated in 1634.
However, in spite of minor setbacks, the Catholic forces reclaimed Regensburg and won the Battle of Nördlingen (1634).
The Swedish army was drained. The fear of the overwhelming power of the Habsburgs caused France, under the leadership of Louis XIII of France and Cardinal Richelieu, to join the war on the Protestant side.
In 1635, Ferdinand II signed the ‘Peace of Prague,’ but the war did not end there. In 1636, he got his son, Ferdinand III, elected as his successor.
Family, Personal Life, & Death
In 1600, Ferdinand II got married to Maria Anna of Bavaria. She was the daughter of William V, the duke of Bavaria.
The couple had seven children: Archduchess Christine (born in 1601), Archduke Charles (born in 1603), Archduke John-Charles (born in 1605), Ferdinand III (born in 1608), Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria (born in 1610), Archduchess Cecilia Renata of Austria (born in 1611), and Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria (born in 1614).
Maria Anna died in 1616, just 3 years before Ferdinand II’s coronation. In 1622, Ferdinand II married Eleonore of Mantua (Gonzaga) at Innsbruck. She was the daughter of Vincenzo I, the duke of Mantua, and Eleonora de' Medici.
Ferdinand II breathed his last in 1637, leaving his kingdom to his son Ferdinand III. He was buried in Graz, while his heart was buried separately in the ‘Herzgruft’ (the “heart crypt”) of the ‘Augustinian Church’ in Vienna.