Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Emperor Maximilian II

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Emperor Maximilian II

Article excerpt

Emperor Maximilian II. By Paula Sutter Fichtner (New Haven: Yale University Press. 2001. Pp. xii, 344. $35.00.)

Paula Sutter Fichtner has followed up her biography, Ferdinand I of Austria (Boulder, Colorado: East European Monographs, 1982), Holy Roman Emperor from 1556 to 1654, with this careful, insightful, and elegantly written study of his son and successor, the often enigmatic Habsburg, Maximilian II, emperor from 1564 to 1576. Along with most historians, she judges him to have been, overall, a failure but also one whose inadequacies can teach us much about the intractable institutional, political, and religious issues that confronted him in the wake of the Reformation in Central Europe. His story was, she writes, an "abidingly human" and "strangely humbling"one (p. 4).

Maximilian was born in 1527 to Ferdinand, then territorial ruler of the Austrian lands and recently crowned king of Bohemia and Hungary, and his wife, Anna, through whom Ferdinand acquired the two kingdoms. From 1544 to 1548, Maximilian gathered experience traveling with the court of his uncle, Emperor Charles V, for whom he developed an intense dislike. The following three years found him serving as regent for Charles in Spain while his cousin, the future Philip II, garnered experience in Germany. In Spain he acquired a distaste for things Spanish except for his cousin Maria, sister of Philip II, whom he brought back to Vienna as wife and with whom he enjoyed a fundamentally happy marriage. In the following years he gradually secured for himself by 1562 the imperial succession in prolonged negotiations with his father, his uncle, and his cousin, assiduously cultivating the German imperial electors, Protestant and Catholic, who greatly feared the succession of a Spaniard. In 1562/63 he was also installed as king of Bohemia and Hungary and ruler of Lower and Upper Austria. Fichtner suggests that, always fragile of health, he may have expended so much energy in the effort to claim his inheritance that an adequate supply did not remain for his period of rule, especially after early setbacks.

During his long wait to acquire real power, Maximilian had been critical of his uncle's and his father's rule particularly in three areas, the organization of the government itself, defense against the advancing Turks, and relations between Protestants and Catholics. …

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