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Rudolf II
Portrait by Hans von Aachen
Holy Roman Emperor
Reign12 October 1576 – 20 January 1612
Proclamation1 November 1576, Regensburg
PredecessorMaximilian II
Born18 July 1552
Vienna, Archduchy of Austria, Holy Roman Empire
Died20 January 1612(1612-01-20) (aged 59)
Prague, Kingdom of Bohemia, Holy Roman Empire
Don Julius Caesar d'Austria (ill.)
FatherMaximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor
MotherMaria of Austria
ReligionCatholic Church
SignatureRudolf II's signature

Rudolf II (18 July 1552 – 20 January 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 an intellectual devotee of occult arts and learning which helped seed what would be called the Scientific Revolution. Determined to unify Christendom, he initiated the Long Turkish War (1593–1606) with the Ottoman Empire. Exhausted by war, his citizens in Hungary revolted in the Bocskai Uprising, which led to more authority given to his brother Matthias. Under his reign, there was a policy of toleration towards Judaism.

Early life

Archduke Rudolf, aged 15, painted by Alonso Sánchez Coello

Rudolf was born in Vienna on 18 July 1552.[2] 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 the Spanish Princess Maria, a daughter of Charles V[2] and Isabella of Portugal. He was the elder brother of Matthias who was to succeed him as King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor.

A portrait bust of Rudolf II in the collection of the Antwerp City Hall, Belgium

Rudolf spent eight formative years, from age 11 to 19 (1563–1571), in Spain, at the court of his maternal uncle Philip II, together with his younger brother Ernest, future governor of the Low Countries.[3]

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.[4] In the years following his return to Vienna, Rudolf was crowned King of Hungary (1572), King of Bohemia and King of the Romans (1575)[5] when his father was still alive.

For the rest of his life, Rudolf would remain reserved, secretive, and largely a recluse who did not like to travel or even partake in the daily affairs of the state.[4]

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.

Personal life

Portrait of Rudolf II by Lucas van Valckenborch, c. 1580

Like Elizabeth I of England, whose birth was 19 years before his, Rudolf dangled himself as a prize in a string of diplomatic negotiations for marriages but never in fact married. Rudolf was known to have had a succession of affairs with women, some of whom claimed to have been impregnated by him.[4] He had several illegitimate children by 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.[6] Another famous child was Caroline (1591–1662), Princess of Cantecroix, mother-in-law of Beatrice de Cusance, later Duchess of Lorraine as the second wife of Charles IV of Lorraine.

During his periods of self-imposed isolation, Rudolf reportedly had affairs with his Obersthofmeister, Wolfgang Siegmund Rumpf vom Wullroß (1536–1606), and a series of valets. One of them, Philipp Lang von Langenfels (1560–1609), influenced him for years and was hated by those seeking favours with the emperor.[7][8]

Rudolf succeeded his father, Maximilian II, on 12 October 1576.[5] In 1583, he moved the court to Prague.[9]

In 1607, Rudolf sent Julius to live at Český Krumlov, in Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic, a castle that Rudolf had purchased from Peter Vok of Rosenberg, the last member of the House of Rosenberg, who had fallen into financial ruin. Julius lived at Český Krumlov in 1608, when he reportedly abused and murdered the daughter of a local barber, 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.[6]

However, Julius died in 1609 after he had shown signs of schizophrenia, refused to bathe and lived in squalor. His death was apparently caused by an ulcer that ruptured.[6]

Many artworks commissioned by Rudolf are unusually erotic.[10] The emperor was the subject of a whispering campaign by his enemies in his family and the Catholic Church in the years before he was deposed. Sexual allegations may well have formed a part of the campaign against him.[11]


Engraving by Aegidius Sadeler (1603)

Historians have traditionally blamed Rudolf's preoccupation with the arts, occult sciences, and other personal interests for the political disasters of his reign.[1] More recently historians have re-evaluated that view and see his patronage of the arts and occult sciences as a triumph and key part of the Renaissance, and his political failures are seen as a legitimate attempt to create a unified Christian empire that 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.[4] The tolerant policy by the empire towards the Jews would see Jewish cultural life flourishing, and their population increased under Rudolf's reign.[12]

Portrait of Rudolf II as a young man by Martino Rota

He largely withdrew from Catholic observances and even in death refused the last sacramental rites. He had little attachment to Protestants either, except as a counter-weight to papal policies. He put his primary support behind conciliarists, irenicists and humanists. When the papacy instigated the Counter-Reformation by using agents sent to his court, Rudolf backed those who he thought were the most neutral in the debate, were not taking a side or trying to effect restraint. That led to political chaos and threatened to provoke civil war.[1]

His conflict with the Ottoman Empire was the final cause of his undoing. Unwilling to compromise with the Ottomans and stubbornly determined that he could unify all of Christendom with a new crusade, he started a long and indecisive war against the Ottomans in 1593.[13] The war lasted until 1606 and is known as the "Long Turkish War".[1]

By 1604, his Hungarian subjects were exhausted by the war and revolted, led by Stephen Bocskai (Bocskai uprising). In 1605, Rudolf was forced by his other family members to cede control of Hungarian affairs to his younger brother Archduke Matthias. By 1606, Matthias had forged a difficult peace with the Hungarian rebels (Peace of Vienna) and the Ottomans (Peace of Zsitvatorok).

Rudolf was angry with Matthias's concessions and saw them as giving away too much to further his hold on power. That made Rudolf prepare to start a new war against the Ottomans, but Matthias rallied support from the disaffected Hungarians and forced Rudolf to cede the crowns of Hungary, Austria and Moravia to him. Meanwhile, the Bohemian Protestants demanded greater religious liberty, which Rudolf granted in the Letter of Majesty in 1609. Bohemians continued to press for further freedoms, and Rudolf used his army to repress them.[14]

Bohemian Protestants then appealed to Matthias for help. His army held Rudolf prisoner in his castle in Prague until 1611, when Rudolf ceded the crown of Bohemia, as well, to his brother.[citation needed]


Globus cruciger, crown and scepter of Rudolf II

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. 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, threw imperial officials out of the window and thus the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) started.[15]

Art collecting and patronage

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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.[4] 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, Joris Hoefnagel and Adrian de Vries, as well as commissioning works from Italians like Paolo Veronese.

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

Rudolf's collections were the most impressive in the Europe of his day and the greatest collection of Northern Mannerist art ever to be assembled.[1] The adjective Rudolfine, as in "Rudolfine Mannerism" is often used in art history to describe the style of the art that he patronised.

His 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, waterworks, 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 Rudolphine Tables (finished by Kepler after Brahe's death), the first comprehensive table of data on the movements of the planets. As mentioned earlier, Rudolf also attracted some of the best scientific instrument makers of the time, such as Jost Bürgi, Erasmus Habermel and Hans Christoph Schissler. They had direct contact with the court astronomers and through the financial support of the court were economically independent to develop scientific instruments and manufacturing techniques.[16]

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

Rudolf painted as Vertumnus, Roman God of the seasons, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1590–91). Rudolf greatly appreciated the work.

Rudolf kept a menagerie of exotic animals, botanical gardens, and Europe's most extensive "cabinet of curiosities"[4] (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.[17] A lion and a tiger were allowed to roam the castle, as is documented by the account books, which record compensation paid to survivors of attacks or to family members of victims.[18]

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. The Codex Gigas was also in his possessions.

As was typical of the time, Rudolf II had a portrait painted in the studio of the renowned Alonso Sánchez Coello. Completed in 1567, the portrait depicted Rudolf II at the age of 15. This painting can be seen at the Lobkowicz Palace in the Rozmberk room.

Richly ornamented celestial globe with clockwork, made for the Kunstkammer of Rudolf II, 1579

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 m wide by 3 m high and 60 m long, connected to a main chamber 33 m long. Large uncut gemstones were held in strong boxes.[19]

Apart from the fantastic nature of the objects, it is also the aesthetics of their arrangement and presentation which attracts the visitor's attention. Without, however, there being a desire for purely scientific systematization on the part of the sovereign, it is necessary to detect the harmonious expression of the order of God and discern in the micro-macrocosm the analogy of a mimetic dependence on human arts towards nature and the world. [20]

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 employed his court gemologist and physician Anselmus Boetius de Boodt (1550–1632),[21] to curate the collection. Anselmus was an avid mineral collector and 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, Anselmus catalogued the Kunstkammer and in 1609 published Gemmarum et Lapidum, the finest gemological treatise and encyclopedia ever written for this time.[19]

Prague Castle in 1595 by Joris Hoefnagel

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.

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 and took 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" that was looted by the Swedes in 1648 and now owned by the Earl of Radnor at Longford Castle in England,[22] and others survive in museums.[23][24]

Occult sciences

Great coat of arms, 1605

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.[4] When Rudolf was a prince, Nostradamus prepared a horoscope, which was dedicated to him as 'Prince and King'. In the 1590s, Michael Sendivogius was active at Rudolph's court.[25]

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

Rudolf was a patron of the occult sciences. That and his practice of tolerance towards Jews caused during his reign the legend of the Golem of Prague to be established.[12]


Male-line family tree

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Hotson, 1999.
  2. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Rudolph II." . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 817.
  3. ^ Ferri, Edgarda (2007). Rodolfo II. Un imperatore nella Praga dell'arte, della scienza e dell'alchimia. Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Marshall, 2006.
  5. ^ a b "Rodòlfo II Imperatore nell'Enciclopedia Treccani". Archived from the original on 7 November 2019. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  6. ^ a b c "Don Julius D'Austria and his Fate". State Castle and Chateau Český Krumlov. Archived from the original on 19 December 2017. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  7. ^ Rowse, 1977.
  8. ^ Philipp Lang, Kammerdiener Kaiser Rudolphs II. Eine Criminal-Geschichte aus dem Anfang des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts
  9. ^ Frucht, Richard C., ed. (2005). Eastern Europe. ABC-CLIO. p. 252. ISBN 978-1-57607-800-6.
  10. ^ Trevor-Roper, pp. 116–120
  11. ^ Trevor-Roper, pp. 121–123.
    Trevor-Roper mentions many stories and rumours but not those of Rudolf's homosexuality.
  12. ^ a b Kieval, Hillel J. (1997). "Pursuing the Golem of Prague: Jewish Culture and the Invention of a Tradition". Modern Judaism. 17 (1): 5. doi:10.1093/mj/17.1.1. ISSN 0276-1114. JSTOR 1396572.
  13. ^ Craft, Kimberly L. (2011) The Private Letters of Countess Erzsébet Báthory, pp. 73–74.
  14. ^ "GHDI – Document". Retrieved 12 October 2022.
  15. ^ "Defenestration of Prague". Encyclopædia Britannica. 16 May 2023. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
  16. ^ Kern, Ralf (2010). Wissenschaftliche Instrumente in ihrer Zeit/Volume 1: Vom Astrolab zum mathematischen Besteck. Cologne. pp. 366 and 370.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ Simon Winder. Danubia. pp 129–130. Picador, Pan Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-330-52279-3. 2014.
  19. ^ a b Wilson, Wendell (1994). Wilson, Wendell (ed.). The History of Mineral Collecting, 1530–1799. Mineralogical Record. Archived from the original on 26 March 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  20. ^ Zylberman, Nicolas (April 2022). "Anselme Boece de Boodt, 1550–1632, gemmologue praticien. 2ème partie". Ikuska (54): 25–44.
  21. ^ Zylberman, Nicolas (January 2022). "Anselme Boece de Boodt, 1550–1632, gemmologue praticien. De Bruges à Prague, itinéraire européen d'un humaniste – 1ère partie". Ikuska (in French) (53): 41–62.
  22. ^ Hayward, J. F., 1980. A Chair from the 'Kunstkammer' of the Emperor Rudolf II. The Burlington Magazine, 122(927), 428–432. [1] Archived 2020-03-11 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "Prague during the Rule of Rudolf II (1583–1612)". Archived from the original on 2 December 2008. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  24. ^ "Wisdom and Strength". Archived from the original on 10 August 2020. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  25. ^ Ivo Purš; Vladimír Karpenko (2016). Alchemy and Rudolf II. Searching for the secrets of nature in Central Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Artefactum. ISBN 978-80-86890-33-3. Archived from the original on 3 September 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  26. ^ a b Press, Volker (1990), "Maximilian II.", Neue Deutsche Biographie (in German), vol. 16, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 471–475; (full text online)
  27. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Maria von Spanien" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). Vol. 7. p. 19 – via Wikisource.
  28. ^ Wurzbach, Constantin von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Philipp I. der Schöne von Oesterreich" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). Vol. 7. p. 112 – via Wikisource.
  29. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Joanna" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  30. ^ a b Priebatsch, Felix (1908), "Wladislaw II.", Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (in German), vol. 54, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 688–696
  31. ^ a b Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  32. ^ a b Stephens, Henry Morse (1903). The story of Portugal. G.P. Putnam's Sons. pp. 125, 139, 279. ISBN 978-0722224731. Archived from the original on 2 May 2020. Retrieved 11 July 2018.


Regnal titles

Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor House of HabsburgBorn: 18 July 1552 Died: 20 January 1612 Regnal titles Preceded byMaximilian II King of Bohemia 1576–1611 Succeeded byMatthias King of Hungary and CroatiaArchduke of AustriaMargrave of Moravia 1576–1608 King in Germany 1575–1612 Holy Roman Emperor 1576–1612 Preceded byJacob VII Prince of Piombino 1603–1611 Succeeded byIsabella