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Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor

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Title: Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor  
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Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor

Rudolf II
King in Germany
Reign 27 October 1575–1612
Coronation 1 November 1575, Regensburg
Predecessor Maximilian II
Successor Matthias
King of Hungary and Croatia
Reign 1572–1608
Coronation 25 September 1572, Pressburg
Predecessor Maximilian II
Successor Matthias
King of Bohemia
Reign 1576–1611
Coronation 22 September 1575, Prague
Predecessor Maximilian II
Successor Matthias
Holy Roman Emperor;
Archduke of Austria
Reign 12 October 1576 – 20 January 1612
Predecessor Maximilian II
Successor Matthias
House House of Habsburg
Father Maximilian II
Mother Maria of Spain
Born 18 July 1552
Vienna, Austria
Died 20 January 1612(1612-01-20) (aged 59)
Prague, Bohemia
Burial St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague
Religion Roman Catholicism

Rudolf II (July 18, 1552 – January 20, 1612) was Holy Roman Emperor (1576–1612), King of Hungary and Croatia (as Rudolf I, 1572–1608), King of Bohemia (1575–1608/1611) and Archduke of Austria (1576–1608). He was a member of the House of Habsburg.

Rudolf's legacy has traditionally been viewed in three ways:[1] an ineffectual ruler whose mistakes led directly to the Thirty Years' War; a great and influential patron of Northern Mannerist art; and a devotee of occult arts and learning which helped seed the scientific revolution.


  • Biography 1
  • Patron of arts 2
  • Occult sciences 3
  • Ancestors 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Archduke Rudolf

Rudolf was born in Vienna on 18 July 1552. He was the eldest son and successor of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia, and King of Hungary and Croatia; 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.[2] 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.[2] 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.

Like his contemporary, Elizabeth I of England, Rudolf dangled himself as a prize in a string of diplomatic negotiations for marriages, but never in fact married. It has been proposed by A. L. Rowse that he was homosexual. During his periods of self-imposed isolation, Rudolf reportedly had affairs with his court chamberlain, Wolfgang von Rumpf, and a series of valets. One of these, Philip Lang, ruled him for years and was hated by those seeking favour with the emperor.[3] Rudolf was known, in addition, to have had a succession of affairs with women, some of whom claimed to have been impregnated by him.[2] He had several illegitimate children with his mistress Catherina Strada. Their eldest son, don Julius Caesar d'Austria, was likely born between 1584 and 1586 and received an education and opportunities for political and social prominence from his father.[4] In 1607, Rudolf sent Julius to live at the Bohemian Český Krumlov (in the modern-day Czech Republic) castle, which Rudolf purchased from the last of the House of Rosenberg (Peter Vok/Wok von Rosenberg) after he fell into financial ruin. Julius lived at Český Krumlov when in 1608 he reportedly abused and murdered a local barber's daughter, who had been living in the castle, and then disfigured her body. Rudolf condemned his son's act and suggested that he should be imprisoned for the rest of his life. However, Julius died in 1609 after showing signs of schizophrenia, refusing to bathe, and living in squalor; his death was apparently caused by an ulcer that ruptured.[4]

Many artworks commissioned by Rudolf are unusually erotic.[5] The emperor was the subject of a whispering campaign by his enemies in his family and the Church in the years before he was deposed. Sexual allegations may well have formed a part of the campaign against him.[6]

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.[1] 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.[1]

Although raised in his uncle's Catholic court in Spain, Rudolf was tolerant of Protestantism and other religions including Judaism.[2] 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.[1] He put his primary support behind conciliarists, irenicists and humanists.[1] 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.[1]

His conflict with the Keglević who was the Commander-in-chief, General, Vice-Ban of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia and since 1602 Baron in Transylvania, but soon left him free again. At that time the Principality of Transylvania was a fully autonomous, but only semi-independent state under the nominal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, where it was the time of the Sultanate of Women. 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.

The Crown of Rudolf II later became the imperial crown of the Austrian Empire.

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, to which Matthias was elected five months later. He died unmarried. In May 1618 with the event known as the Defenestration of Prague, the Protestant Bohemians, in defence 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.[2] He spared no expense in acquiring great past masterworks, such as those of Dürer and Brueghel. He was also patron to some of the best contemporary artists, who mainly produced new works in the Northern Mannerist style, such as Bartholomeus Spranger, Hans von Aachen, Giambologna, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Aegidius Sadeler, Roelant Savery, and Adrian de Vries, as well as commissioning works from Italians like Veronese. Rudolf's collections were the most impressive in the Europe of his day, and the greatest collection of Northern Mannerist art ever assembled.[1] The adjective Rudolfine, as in "Rudolfine Mannerism" is often used in art history to describe the style of the art he patronized.

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 planets. As mentioned before, Rudolf also attracted some of the best scientific instrument makers of the time, such as Jost Buergi, Erasmus Habermel and Hans Christoph Schissler. They had direct contact with the court astronomers and, through the financial support of the court, they were economically independent to develop scientific instruments and manufacturing techniques.[8]

Rudolf painted as Vertumnus, Roman God of the seasons, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1590–1). Rudolf greatly appreciated the work.

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"[2] (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.[9]

Rudolf was even alleged by one person to have owned the Voynich manuscript, a codex whose author and purpose, as well as the language and script and posited cipher remain unidentified to this day. According to hearsay passed on in a letter written by Johannes Marcus Marci in 1665, Rudolf was said to have acquired the manuscript at some unspecified time for 600 gold ducats. No evidence in support of this single piece of hearsay has ever been discovered.

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 metres wide by 3 metres high and 60 metres long, connected to a main chamber 33 metres long. Large uncut gemstones were held in strong boxes.[10]

Rudolf'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.[10]

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 troops who sacked Prague Castle on 26 July 1648, also taking the best of the paintings, many of which later passed to the Orléans Collection after the death of Christina of Sweden. In 1782, the remainder of the collection was sold piecemeal to private parties by Joseph II. One of the 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, United Kingdom;[11] others survive in museums.[12][13]

Occult sciences

Holy Roman Emperor
Coats of arms

Astrology and alchemy were regarded as mainstream scientific fields 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.[2] 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 and tourist attraction.

Rudolf is also the ruler in many of the legends of the Golem of Prague, either because of, or simply adding to, his occult reputation.


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Hotson, 1999.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Marshall, 2006.
  3. ^ Rouse, 1977.
  4. ^ a b "Don Julius D'Austria and his Fate". State Castle and Chateau Český Krumlov. Retrieved 4 January 2013. 
  5. ^ Trevor-Roper, 116-120
  6. ^ Trevor-Roper, 121-123. Trevor-Roper mentions many stories and rumours, but not those of Rudolf's homosexuality
  7. ^ Kimberly L. Craft, The Private Letters of Countess Erzsébet Báthory (The United States of America: Kimberly L. Craft, 2011), 73-74.
  8. ^ Kern, Ralf (2010). Wissenschaftliche Instrumente in ihrer Zeit/Volume 1: Vom Astrolab zum mathematischen Besteck. Cologne. pp. 366 and 370. 
  9. ^ Wendell E. Wilson, Joel A. Bartsch & Mark Mauthner, Masterpieces of the Mineral World: Treasures from the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston Museum of Natural Science Harry N. Abrams/New York, 2004. ISBN 0-8109-6751-0
  10. ^ a b Wilson, Wendell (1994). Wilson, Wendell, ed. The History of Mineral Collecting, 1530–1799. Mineralogical Record. 
  11. ^ Hayward, J. F., 1980. A Chair from the 'Kunstkammer' of the Emperor Rudolf II. The Burlington Magazine, 122(927), 428 to 432. [1]
  12. ^
  13. ^$0040:277


  • 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 0-02-605620-8
  • Hotson, Howard (1999). "Rudolf II", in Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, ed. Paul Grendler. Vol. 5. ISBN 0-684-80514-6
  • Marshall, Peter (2006). The Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague. ISBN 0-8027-1551-6. Also published as The Theatre of the World: Alchemy, Astrology and Magic in Renaissance Prague (in the UK, ISBN 0-436-20521-1; in Canada, ISBN 0-7710-5690-7); and in paperback as The Mercurial Emperor: The Magic Circle of Rudolf II in Renaissance Prague (2007) ISBN 978-1-84413-537-0. Biography, focusing on the many artists and scientists Rudolf patronized.
  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh; Princes and Artists, Patronage and Ideology at Four Habsburg Courts 1517–1633, Thames & Hudson, London, 1976, ISBN 0-500-23232-6

External links

  • Rudolf II, from Encyclopædia Britannica, latest edition online, full-article.
  • Rudolf II and Prague, 1997 official exhibition.
  • Prague during the reign of Rudolf II, by Jacob Wisse, in Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.
  • Rudolf II, by Edward Einhorn, tells the story of the latter part of Rudolf II's life.
Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor
Born: 18 July 1552 Died: 20 January 1612
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Maximilian II
King of Bohemia
Succeeded by
King of Hungary and Croatia
Archduke of Austria
Margrave of Moravia

King in Germany
Holy Roman Emperor
Preceded by
Jacob VII
Prince of Piombino
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Sigismund Báthory
Prince of Transylvania
Succeeded by
Stephen Bocskay
Prince of Transylvania
Succeeded by
Sigismund Báthory
Preceded by
Michael the Brave
Prince of Transylvania
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