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Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II

Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor

Rudolf II (July 18, 1552, Vienna, Austria - January 20, 1612, Prague, Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic) was King of Hungary (as Rudolf, 1572-1608), King of Bohemia (as Rudolf II, 1575-1608/1611), Archduke of Austria (as Rudolf V, 1576-1608), and Holy Roman Emperor (as Rudolf II, 1576-1612). He was a member of the Habsburg family.

Rudolf's legacy has traditionally been viewed in three ways: an ineffectual ruler whose mistakes led directly to the Thirty Years' War; a great patron of Renaissance art; and a devotee of occult arts and learning which helped seed the scientific revolution.

Biography

Rudolf was born in Vienna on July 18, 1552. He was the eldest son and successor of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia, and King of Hungary; his mother was Maria of Spain, a daughter of Charles V and Isabella of Portugal.

Rudolf spent eight formative years, from age 11 to 19 (1563-1571), in Spain, at the court of his maternal uncle Phillip II. After his return to Vienna, his father was concerned about Rudolf's aloof and stiff manner, typical of the more conservative Spanish court, rather than the more relaxed and open Austrian court; but his Spanish mother saw in him courtliness and refinement. Rudolf would remain for the rest of his life reserved, secretive, and largely a homebody who did not like to travel or even partake in the daily affairs of state. He was more intrigued by occult learning such as astrology and alchemy, which was mainstream in the Renaissance period, and had a wide variety of personal hobbies such as horses, clocks, collecting rarities, and being a patron of the arts. He suffered from periodic bouts of "melancholy" (depression), which was common in the Habsburg line. These became worse with age, and were manifested by a withdrawal from the world and its affairs into his private interests. Rudolf never married, and it has been claimed that he was a homosexual. During his periods of self-imposed isolation, he reportedly had affairs with his court chamberlain, Wolfgang von Rumpf, and a series of valets, one of whom, Philip Lang, ruled him for years and was as a result hated by those seeking favor with the emperor. Others, however, claim more conventionally that Rudolph had many mistresses and children with a retinue of 'imperial women'.

Historians have traditionally blamed Rudolf's preoccupation with the arts, occult sciences, and other personal interests as the reason for the political disasters of his reign. More recently historians have re-evaluated this view and see his patronage of the arts and occult sciences as a triumph and key part of the Renaissance, while his political failures are seen as a legitimate attempt to create a unified Christian empire, which was undermined by the realities of religious, political and intellectual disintegrations of the time.

Although raised in his uncle's Catholic court in Spain, Rudolf was tolerant of Protestantism and other religions including Judaism. He largely withdrew from Catholic observances, even in death denying last sacramental rites. He had little attachment to Protestants either, except as counter-weight to repressive Papal policies. He put his primary support behind conciliarists, irenicists and humanists. When the papacy instigated the Counter-Reformation, using agents sent to his court, Rudolf backed those who he thought were the most neutral in the debate, not taking a side or trying to effect restraint, thus leading to political chaos and threatening to provoke civil war.

His conflict with the Ottoman Turks was the final cause of his undoing. Unwilling to compromise with the Turks, and stubbornly determined that he could unify all of Christendom with a new Crusade, he started a long and indecisive war with the Turks in 1593. This war lasted till 1606, and was known as "The Long War". By 1604 his Hungarian subjects were exhausted by the war and revolted, led by Stephen Bocskay. In 1605 Rudolf was forced by his other family members to cede control of Hungarian affairs to his younger brother Archduke Matthias. Matthias by 1606 forged a difficult peace with the Hungarian rebels (Peace of Vienna) and the Turks (Peace of Zsitvatorok). Rudolf was angry with his brother's concessions, which he saw as giving away too much in order to further Matthias' hold on power. So Rudolf prepared to start a new war with the Turks. But Matthias rallied support from the disaffected Hungarians and forced Rudolf to give up the crowns of Hungary, Austria, and Moravia to him. At the same time, seeing a moment of royal weakness, Bohemian Protestants demanded greater religious liberty, which Rudolf granted in the Letter of Majesty in 1609. However the Bohemians continued to press for further freedoms and Rudolf used his army to repress them. The Bohemian Protestants appealed to Matthias for help, whose army then held Rudolf prisoner in his castle in Prague, until 1611, when Rudolf was forced to cede the crown of Bohemia to his brother.

Rudolf died in 1612, nine months after he had been stripped of all effective power by his younger brother, except the empty title of Holy Roman Emperor, which Matthias inherited five months later. He died unmarried. In May 1618 at an event known as the Defenestration of Prague, the Protestant Bohemians, in defense of the rights granted them in the Letter of Majesty, began the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648).

Patron of arts

Rudolf moved the Habsburg capital from Vienna to Prague in 1583. Rudolf loved collecting paintings, and was often reported to sit and stare in rapture at a new work for hours on end. He spared no expense in acquiring great past masterworks, such as those of Durer and Brueghel. He was also patron to some of the best contemporary artists, who mainly produced new works in the mannerist style, such as Bartholomeus Spranger, Hans Mont, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Hans von Aachen, and Adrian de Vries. Rudolf's galleries were the most impressive in Europe at the time, and the greatest collection of mannerism to this day.

Rudolf's love of collecting went far beyond paintings and sculptures. He commissioned decorative objects of all kinds and in particular mechanical moving devices. Ceremonial swords and musical instruments, clocks, water works, astrolabes, compasses, telescopes and other scientific instruments, were all produced for him by some of the best craftsmen in Europe.

He patronized natural philosophers such as the botanist Charles de l'Ecluse, and the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler both attended his court. Tycho Brahe developed the Rudolfine tables (finished by Kepler, after Brahe's death), the first comprehensive table of data of the movements of the stars.

The poetess Elizabeth Jane Weston, a writer of neo-Latin poetry, was also part of his court and wrote numerous odes to him.

Rudolf kept a menagerie of exotic animals, botanical gardens, and Europe's most extensive "cabinet of curiosities" (Kunstkammer) incorporating "the three kingdoms of nature and the works of man". It was housed at Prague Castle, where between 1587 and 1605 he built the northern wing to house his growing collections.

By 1597, the collection occupied three rooms of the incomplete northern wing. When building was completed in 1605, the collection was moved to the dedicated Kunstkammer. Naturalia (minerals and gemstones) were arranged in a 37 cabinet display that had three vaulted chambers in front, each about 5.5 meters wide by 3 meters high and 60 meters long, connected to a main chamber 33 meters long. Large uncut gemstones were held in strong boxes.

Rudolph's Kunstkammer was not a typical "cabinet of curiosities" - a haphazard collection of unrelated specimens. Rather, the Rudolfine Kunstkammer was systematically arranged in an encyclopaedic fashion. In addition, Rudolf II employed his polyglot court physician, Anselmus Boetius de Boodt (c. 1550-1632), to curate the collection. De Boodt was an avid mineral collector. He travelled widely on collecting trips to the mining regions of Germany, Bohemia and Silesia, often accompanied by his Bohemian naturalist friend, Thaddaeus Hagecius. Between 1607 and 1611, de Boodt catalogued the Kunstkammer, and in 1609 he published Gemmarum et Lapidum, one of the finest mineralogical treatises of the 17th century.

As was customary at the time, the collection was private, but friends of the Emperor, artists, and professional scholars were allowed to study it. The collection became an invaluable research tool during the flowering of 17th-century European philosophy, the "Age of Reason".

Rudolf's successors did not appreciate the collection and the Kunstkammer gradually fell into disarray. Some 50 years after its establishment, most of the collection was packed into wooden crates and moved to Vienna. The collection remaining at Prague was looted during the last year of the Thirty Years War, by Swedish soldiers who sacked Prague Castle on 26 July 1648. In 1782, the remainder of the collection was sold piecemeal to private parties by Joseph II, who was a lover of the Arts rather than the Sciences. One of the few surviving items from the Kunstkammer is a "fine chair" looted by the Swedes in 1648 and now owned by the Earl of Radnor at Longford Castle, UK.

Occult sciences

Astrology and alchemy were mainstream science in Renaissance Prague, and Rudolf was a firm devotee of both. His lifelong quest was to find the Philosopher's Stone and Rudolf spared no expense in bringing Europe's best alchemists to court, such as Edward Kelley and John Dee. Rudolf even performed his own experiments in a private alchemy laboratory. When Rudolf was a prince, Nostradamus prepared a horoscope which was dedicated to him as 'Prince and King'.

Rudolf gave Prague a mystical reputation that persists in part to this day, with Alchemists' Alley on the grounds of Prague Castle a popular visiting place.

See also

Notes

References

  • Bolton, Henry Carrington (1904). The Follies of Science at the Court of Rudolph II, 1576-1612, Milwaukee: Pharmaceutical Review Publishing Co., 1904. From Internet Archive Inaccurate and misleading
  • Evans, R. J. W. (1953). Rudolf II and his world: A study in intellectual history, 1576-1612. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd ed, 1984. Considered the fundamental re-evaluation of Rudolf.
  • Rowse, A. L. (1977). Homosexuals in History: Ambivalence in Society, Literature and the Arts. MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 0026056208
  • Hotson, Howard (1999). "Rudolf II", in Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, ed. Paul Grendler. Vol. 5. ISBN 0684805146
  • Marshall, Peter (2006). The Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague. ISBN 0802715516. Also published as The Theatre of the World: Alchemy, Astrology and Magic in Renaissance Prague (in the UK, ISBN 0436205211; in Canada, ISBN 0771756907); and in paperback as The Mercurial Emperor: The Magic Circle of Rudolf II in Renaissance Prague (2007) ISBN 978184413537. Biography, focusing on the many artists and "scientists" Rudolf patronized.

External links

Ancestors

Rudolf's ancestors in three generations
Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor Father:
Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor
Father's father:
Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor
Father's father's father:
Philip I of Castile
Father's father's mother:
Joanna of Castile
Father's mother:
Anna of Bohemia and Hungary
Father's mother's father:
Ladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary
Father's mother's mother:
Anne de Foix
Mother:
Maria of Spain
Mother's father:
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Mother's father's father:
Philip I of Castile
Mother's father's mother:
Joanna of Castile
Mother's mother:
Isabella of Portugal
Mother's mother's father:
Manuel I of Portugal
Mother's mother's mother:
Maria of Aragon

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