Matthias (HRR)

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Emperor Matthias

Matthias (born February 24, 1557 in Vienna ; † March 20, 1619 ibid) was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and Archduke of Austria 1612-1619 and had been King of Hungary (as Mátyás II.) And Croatia (as Matija II. ), since 1611 also King of Bohemia (also as Matyáš II). His motto was Concordia lumine maior ("Unity is stronger than light").

He played a decisive role in the internal family opposition of the Habsburgs against his brother Emperor Rudolf . After gaining power he showed little political initiative of his own. The course of politics determined until his overthrow Cardinal Khlesl . The Thirty Years War began with the Bohemian Uprising in the final phase of Matthias's reign .


Matthias was the fourth son of Emperor Maximilian II and Maria 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 Wenzel (Grand Prior of the Order of St. John in Castile ). He also had six sisters. Through the marriage of his sister Anna he was with Philip II of Spain and through Elizabeth with King Charles IX. related by marriage to France .

Almost nothing is known about his upbringing. One of his teachers was the Orient traveler and polyhistor Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq . Since the father's possessions were completely transferred to Rudolf, his brothers - including Matthias - were compensated with cash pensions and were assigned church or state positions.

Governor in the Netherlands

Portrait of Archduke Matthias, painted by Lucas van Valckenborch (1579)

In a way, he was politically influenced by his father. This included the anti-Spanish stance and the rejection of Spanish politics in the Netherlands. There Philip II tried to suppress the uprising of the Dutch by force. At the Regensburg Diet of 1576, Matthias had come into contact with the envoy from some rebellious provinces, Gautier von der Gracht. 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.

At the beginning of October 1577 Matthias left for the Netherlands. Secretly he hoped to build 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 determined opponents of Spain. With that the goal of a third way had already failed. Matthias became de jure governor on January 20, 1578, but a council of state and William of Orange had the say. Matthias could not prevent the Catholic southern and Protestant northern provinces from drifting apart. Rudolf II intervened as a mediator in the conflict. As a result of his efforts, the Cologne Pacification Day came about in 1579, but it was soon canceled. This meant that Matthias's position had deteriorated further. The Dutch stopped paying for his court. However, he did not officially resign from the governor's office until two years later, shortly before the official declaration of independence. The departure from Antwerp was delayed by five months because he had to stay until his immense debts were paid off.

Governor of Austria

He returned to Austria in 1583, where he settled with a small court in Linz . He tried several times in vain to be elected bishop , for example in Munster , Liège or Speyer . Negotiations about the successor to the Polish king Stefan Báthory were also in vain in 1586 . He also applied for the reign in Tyrol and the foreland . It was not until his brother Ernst became the Spanish governor general in the Netherlands in 1593 (as of 1594) that Matthias became governor in Austria.

He was immediately confronted with the energetic representation of the interests of the majority Protestant estates vis-à-vis the governor. The problems were exacerbated by the high taxes and the raising of troops as a result of the Long Turkish War . In the years 1595 and 1597 there were uprisings of the farmers in Lower and Upper Austria. While the peasants were hoping to negotiate with the emperor, Matthias and mercenary troops took violent action against the rebels.

After the suppression of the uprising, Matthias' attitude to the question of religion began to change. If there had been Protestants at his court before, he now followed a strictly counter-Reformation course . Since 1599, his chancellor was Melchior Khlesl , bishop administrator of Wiener Neustadt , and an essential promoter of the Counter Reformation. Above all, this urged Matthias to take a sharper course towards the Protestants. In 1594/95 and again in 1598/1600 the emperor appointed him nominal commander-in-chief in the Turkish war and his representative to the Hungarian Reichstag.

Brotherly dispute in the House of Habsburg

Emperor Rudolf and Archduke Matthias met in 1608 near Prague
Archduke Matthias around 1580

Among the members of the House of Habsburg, the increasing psychological problems of Emperor Rudolf II were observed with concern. After the death of Ernst in 1595, Matthias was at the head of the archdukes. From 1599 onwards he urged the emperor, who was without legitimate descendants, to settle the succession in vain. Matthias thus incurred his rejection. The situation worsened when there was an uprising in Hungary under Stephan Bocskai in 1604 . Matthias himself initially shied away from an argument with the emperor. But Bishop Khlesl and others urged him to lead the conflict between the Habsburg family and Rudolf II. In November 1600 in Schottwien a treaty between the Archdukes Matthias and Maximilian and Ferdinand against the emperor came about. In 1606, the archdukes declared the emperor to be mentally ill (document of April 25, 1606), appointed Matthias as head of the family and began to depose Rudolf. It was then also Matthias and not the emperor who concluded the peace of Zsitvatorok with the Ottomans in 1606 and ended the conflict in Hungary by assuring the freedom to practice religion. Rudolf tried in vain to thwart the contracts. He was even forced to transfer Matthias the position of governor in Hungary.

In Hungary the unrest emerged again, and in Moravia and Austria too the estates began to revolt. Matthias tried to use this opposition for himself in the power struggle with the emperor. In 1608 he allied himself in Pressburg with the rebellious Hungarian Diet and the Lower and Upper Austrian estates. Moravia was added later. In April 1608 Matthias marched on Prague. However, since it had not been possible to win the Bohemian classes, he was forced to sign the Treaty of Lieben from June 1608 with the emperor. Power was then divided. Rudolf kept Bohemia, Silesia and Lusatia. Matthias received Hungary, Austria and Moravia.

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

Emperor Rudolf did not give up in an argument with his brother. With the Passau war people , he seemed to have military power. When the unpaid troops marched into Bohemia, disputes broke out and the Bohemian estates also transferred to Matthias' camp. The emperor had lost the rest of his power and lived in isolation in Prague until his death.

Takeover of government

Coronation and anointing in Frankfurt am Main

Matthias was crowned King of Bohemia on May 23, 1611 and after Rudolf's death on January 20, 1612 also elected Emperor. On December 4th, 1611 he married his cousin Anna von Tirol . 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 were gradually moved from Prague to Vienna from 1612 onwards. 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 . For the private crown of his brother Rudolf II, he had scepter and orb made. 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 is said to have given its name to the area and thus to today's palace through his exclamation "Eh, what a beautiful fountain "!


The political challenges were immense. What was decisive was the worsening contrast between Protestants and Catholics. At the Reichstag of 1608, for the first time, no compromise was reached between the denominational camps. With the Catholic League and the Protestant Union, two opposing blocs faced each other in the Reich.

Matthias in imperial robe (painting by Hans von Aachen )

The new emperor, however, proved to be little active. He was seriously ill with gout and preferred the diversions of court life to boring affairs of state. Essentially, Khlesl made politics. In contrast to the earlier years, when he had distinguished himself as a counter-Reformation zealot, he relied on compromises (“composition policy”) in view of the growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants in the empire. In terms of foreign policy, there was an alliance with Poland and the peace with the Ottomans was extended several times. The balancing imperial policy of Khlesl met the opposition of the strictly Catholic forces at the imperial court, such as the President of the Reichshofrat Johann Georg von Hohenzollern and the Reich Vice Chancellor Hans Ludwig von Ulm . The Catholic imperial estates also distanced themselves from this policy. The Protestants also remained suspicious.

During his reign in 1614 the anti-Jewish Fettmilch uprising broke out in Frankfurt am Main. The uprising was bloodily suppressed on the orders of the emperor, the ringleaders were brought to justice and executed. The expelled Frankfurt Jews returned to the Judengasse in a solemn procession . An imperial eagle was affixed to the gate with the inscription “Roman Imperial Majesty and the Protection of the Holy Empire”.

As in the time of his brother Rudolf, the question of a successor soon arose with Matthias, who had no legitimate heirs. Like Rudolf, Matthias tried to avoid a decision. Since 1612, the Archdukes, Spain and the Pope had urged him in vain to propose his cousin Ferdinand as his successor. But it was not until 1617, in view of the fatal illness of the emperor and at the urging 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 waived claims in Austria, Hungary and Bohemia and also waived an application for the imperial crown. In return, Spain received lands in Alsace and imperial fiefs in northern Italy. Thereupon 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 Archduke he had carried out the Counter-Reformation in his Austrian lands . The electoral behavior of the Protestant Bohemian estates, which is difficult to understand, meant that the influence of the Protestants in Bohemia was massively curtailed after the election, which further fueled the discontent of the Bohemian estates.

From Vienna, Matthias hardly had the opportunity to influence developments in Bohemia. There the Bohemian class uprising broke out, which found its symbolic expression in the second lintel in Prague on May 23, 1618. Khlesl reacted again with compensatory efforts. Archduke Maximilian and King Ferdinand now demanded that Khlesl be replaced. The emperor refused, whereupon Maximilian and Ferdinand Khlesl arrested. The emperor was finally forced to accept the removal of his senior politician. In the aftermath, Matthias hardly played a role until his death.


Since the Capuchin crypt was not yet finished, he and his wife were first buried in the queens' monastery. It was not until 1633 that they were transferred to the Capuchin Crypt. Kaiser Matthias one of those 41 those "a funeral Isolated " with allocation of her body on all three traditional burial sites Wiener Habsburg ( Kaisergruft , Herzgruft , Herzog crypt received).


  • Volker Press:  Matthias, Kaiser. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 16, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-428-00197-4 , pp. 403-405 ( digitized version ).
  • Brigitte Vacha (ed.): The Habsburgs. A European family story. Vienna 1992, pp. 189-192.
  • Rudolf John Schleich: Melchior Khlesl and the Habsburg brother conflict. 1605-1612 . New York 1968 (dissertation).
  • Bernd Rill: Emperor Matthias. Fraternal dispute and religious struggle . Graz 1999, ISBN 3-222-12446-9 .
  • Arno Paduch: Matthias I's coronation as emperor as an event in music history . In: Concerto . tape 210 , 2006, p. 20-21 .

Web links

Wikisource: Matthias  - sources and full texts
Commons : Kaiser Matthias  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Matthias, Römischer Kayser. In: Johann Heinrich Zedler : Large complete universal lexicon of all sciences and arts . Volume 19, Leipzig 1739, columns 2123-2126.
  2. ^ Illustration by Frans Hogenberg from 1611: Actual contrafacture of all different acts like your Kon. M #. in Hungarn on May 23rd, 1611 to the king in Bohmen was crowned. ( Digitized version )
  3. golo man: Wallenstein . S. Fischer Verlag GmbH Licensed edition of the German Book Association, Frankfurt Main 1971, p. 151 .
  4. ^ Christian Pantle: The Thirty Years' War . Propylaen-Verlag, Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-549-07443-5 , pp. 23 .
predecessor Office successor
Ernst (III.) Governor of Lower Austria
then reigning Archduke
Rudolf (V.) Archduke of Austria
Ferdinand II.
Rudolf King of Hungary , Croatia and Slavonia , etc.
Ferdinand II.
Rudolf (II). Margrave of Moravia
Ferdinand II.
Rudolf (II). King of Bohemia , etc.
Ferdinand II.
Rudolf (II). Roman-German Emperor
Ferdinand II.