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Ferdinand I (10 March 1503 – 25 July 1564) was a Central European monarch from the House of Habsburg. He was Holy Roman Emperor from 1558, king of Bohemia and Hungarymarker from 1526. Also king of Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavoniamarker, Galicia, Lodomeria, etc. He ruled the Austrian hereditary lands of the Habsburgs most of his public life, at the behest of his elder brother, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Ferdinand was Archduke of Austriamarker from 1521 to 1564. After the death of his brother–in–law Louis II, Ferdinand ruled as King of Bohemia, Hungary (1526–1564). When Charles retired in 1556, Ferdinand became his de facto successor as Holy Roman Emperor, and de jure in 1558, while Spain, the Spanish Empire, Naples, Sicily, Milanmarker, the Netherlands, and Franche-Comtémarker went to Philip, son of Charles.

Ferdinand's motto was Fiat justitia et pereat mundus: "Let justice be done, though the world perish".


Early years

Ferdinand was born in Alcala de Henaresmarker, 40 km from Madridmarker, the son of the Infanta Joanna of Castile, the future Queen of Castile known as Joanna the Mad, and Habsburg Archduke Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and future King of Castile, who was heir to Emperor Maximilian I. Ferdinand shared his birthday with his maternal grandfather Ferdinand II of Aragon.

Charles entrusted Ferdinand with the government of the Austrian hereditary lands, roughly modern-day Austriamarker and Sloveniamarker. Ferdinand also served as his brother's deputy in the Holy Roman Empire during his brother's many absences and in 1531 was elected King of the Romans, making him Charles's designated heir in the Empire. Charles abdicated in 1556 and Ferdinand succeeded him, assuming the title of Emperor elect in 1558.

Hungary and the Ottomans

After Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent killed Ferdinand's brother-in-law Louis II, King of Bohemia and of Hungarymarker at the battle of Mohácsmarker on 29 August 1526, Ferdinand was elected King of Bohemia in his place.

The Croatian nobles at Cetinmarker unanimously elected Ferdinand I as their king on 1 January 1527, and confirmed the succession to him and his heirs. In return for the throne Archduke Ferdinand at Parliament on Cetin ( ) promised to respect the historic rights, freedoms, laws and customs the Croats had when united with the Hungarian kingdom and to defend Croatiamarker from Ottoman invasion.

In Hungary, Nicolaus Olahus, secretary of Louis, attached himself to the party of King Ferdinand, but retained his position with the queen-dowager Mary of Habsburg. Ferdinand was elected King of Hungary by a rump diet in Pozsonymarker in December 1526. The throne of Hungary became the subject of a dynastic dispute between Ferdinand and John Zápolya, voivode of Transylvania. Each was supported by different factions of the nobility in the Hungarian kingdom; Ferdinand also had the support of Charles V. After defeat by Ferdinand at the Battle of Tokaj in 1527, Zápolya gained the support of Suleiman. Ferdinand was able to win control only of western Hungary because Zápolya clung to the east and the Ottomans to the conquered south. Zápolya's widow, Isabella Jagiełło, ceded Royal Hungary and Transylvania to Ferdinand in the Treaty of Weissenburg of 1551. In 1554 Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq was sent to Istanbulmarker by Ferdinand to discuss a border treaty over disputed land with Suleiman.

The most dangerous moment of Ferdinand's career came in 1529 when he took refuge in Bohemia from a massive but ultimately unsuccessful assault on his capital by Suleiman and the Ottoman armies at the Siege of Vienna. A further Ottoman attack on Viennamarker was repelled in 1533. In that year Ferdinand signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire, splitting the Kingdom of Hungary into a Habsburg sector in the west and John Zápolya's domain in the east, the latter effectively a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1538, by the Treaty of Nagyvárad, Ferdinand became Zápolya's successor. He was unable to enforce this agreement during his lifetime because John II Sigismund Zápolya, infant son of John Zápolya and Isabella Jagiełło, was elected King of Hungary in 1540. Zápolya was initially supported by King Sigismund of Polandmarker, his mother's father, but in 1543 a treaty was signed between the Habsburgs and the Polish ruler as a result of which Poland became neutral in the conflict. Prince Sigismund Augustus married Elisabeth of Austria, Ferdinand's daughter.

Ferdinand and the Augsburg Peace 1555

After decades of religious and political unrest in the German states, Charles V ordered a general Diet in Augsburg at which the various states would discuss the religious problem and its solution. Charles himself did not attend, and delegated authority to his brother, Ferdinand, to "act and settle" disputes of territory, religion and local power. At the conference, Ferdinand cajoled, persuaded and threatened the various representatives into agreement on three important principles. The principle of cuius regio, eius religio provided for internal religious unity within a state: The religion of the prince became the religion of the state and all its inhabitants. Those inhabitants who could not conform to the prince's religion were allowed to leave, an innovative idea in the sixteenth century; this principle was discussed at length by the various delegates, who finally reached agreement on the specifics of its wording after examining the problem and the proposed solution from every possible angle. The second principle covered the special status of the ecclesiastical states, called the ecclesiastical reservation, or reservatum ecclesiasticum. If the prelate of an ecclesiastic state changed his religion, the men and women living in that state did not have to do so. Instead, the prelate was expected to resign from his post, although this was not spelled out in the agreement. The third principle, known as Ferdinand's Declaration, exempted knights and some of the cities from the requirement of religious uniformity, if the reformed religion had been practiced there since the mid-1520s, allowing for a few mixed cities and towns where Catholics and Lutherans had lived together. It also protected the authority of the princely families, the knights and some of the cities to determine what religious uniformity meant in their territories. Ferdinand inserted this at the last minute, on his own authority.

Problems with the Augsburg settlement

After 1555, the Peace of Augsburg became the legitimating legal document governing the co-existence of the Lutheran and Catholic faiths in the German lands of the Holy Roman Empire, and it served to ameliorate many of the tensions between followers of the so-called Old Faith and the followers of Luther, but it had two fundamental flaws. First, Ferdinand had rushed the article on ecclesiastical reservation through the debate; it had not undergone the scrutiny and discussion that attended the wide-spread acceptance and support of cuius regio, eius religio. Consequently, its wording did not cover all, or even most, potential legal scenarios. The Declaratio Ferdinandei was not debated in plenary session at all; using his authority to "act and settle," Ferdinand had added it at the last minute, responding to lobbying by princely families and knights.

While these specific failings came back to haunt the Empire in subsequent decades, perhaps the greatest weakness of the Peace of Augsburg was its failure to take into account the growing diversity of religious expression emerging in the so-called evangelical and reformed traditions. Other confessions had acquired popular, if not legal, legitimacy in the intervening decades and by 1555, the reforms proposed by Luther were no longer the only possibilities of religious expression: Anabaptists, such as the Frisian Menno Simons (1492–1559) and his followers; the followers of John Calvin, who were particularly strong in the southwest and the northwest; and the followers of Huldrych Zwingli were excluded from considerations and protections under the Peace of Augsburg. According to the Augsburg agreement, their religious beliefs remained heretical.

Charles V's abdication and Ferdinand's Emperorship

In 1556, amid great pomp, and leaning on the shoulder of one of his favorites (the 24-year-old William, Count of Nassau and Orange), Charles gave away his lands and his offices. The Spanish empire, which included Spainmarker, the Netherlandsmarker, Naplesmarker, Milanmarker and Spain's possessions in the Americas, went to his son, Philip. His brother, Ferdinand, who had negotiated the treaty in the previous year, was already in possession of the Austrian lands and was also the obvious candidate to succeed Charles as Holy Roman Emperor.

Charles' choices were appropriate. Philip was culturally Spanish: he was born in Valladolidmarker and raised in the Spanish court, his native tongue was Spanish, and he preferred to live in Spain. Ferdinand was familiar with, and to, the other princes of the Holy Roman Empire. Although he too had been born in Spain, he had administered his brother's affairs in the Empire since 1531. Some historians maintain Ferdinand had also been touched by the reformed philosophies, and was probably the closest the Holy Roman Empire ever came to a Protestant emperor; he remained nominally a Catholic throughout his life, although reportedly he refused last rites on his deathbed. Other historians maintain he was as Catholic as his brother, but tended to see religion as outside the political sphere.

Charles' abdication had far-reaching consequences in imperial diplomatic relations with France and the Netherlands, particularly in his allotment of the Spanish kingdom to Philip. In France, the kings and their ministers grew increasingly uneasy about Habsburg encirclement and sought allies against Habsburg hegemony from among the border German territories, and even from some of the Protestant kings. In the Netherlands, Philip's ascension in Spain raised particular problems; for the sake of harmony, order, and prosperity Charles had not blocked the Reformation, and had tolerated a high level of local autonomy. An ardent Catholic and rigidly autocratic prince, Philip pursued an aggressive political, economic and religious policy toward the Dutch, resulting in a Dutch rebellion shortly after he became king. Philip's militant response meant the occupation of much of the upper provinces by troops of, or hired by, Habsburg Spain and the constant ebb and flow of Spanish men and provisions on the so-called Spanish road from northern Italy, through the Burgundian lands, to and from Flanders.

The abdication did not automatically make Ferdinand the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles abdicated as Emperor in January, 1556 in favor of his brother Ferdinand; however, due to lengthy debate and bureacratic procedure, the Imperial Diet did not accept the abdication (and thus make it legally valid) until May 3, 1558. Up to that date, Charles continued to use the title of Emperor.


The western rump of Hungary over which Ferdinand retained dominion became known as Royal Hungary. As the ruler of Austria, Bohemia and Royal Hungary, Ferdinand adopted a policy of centralization and, in common with other monarchs of the time, the construction of an absolute monarchy. In 1527 he published a constitution for his hereditary domains (Hofstaatsordnung) and established Austrian-style institutions in Pressburgmarker for Hungary, in Praguemarker for Bohemia, and in Breslaumarker for Silesia. Opposition from the nobles in those realms forced him to concede the independence of these institutions from supervision by the Austrian government in Viennamarker in 1559.

In 1547 the Bohemian Estates rebelled against Ferdinand after he had ordered the Bohemian army to move against the German Protestants. After suppressing Prague with the help of his brother Charles V's Spanishmarker forces, he retaliated by limiting the privileges of Bohemian cities and inserting a new bureaucracy of royal officials to control urban authorities. Ferdinand was a supporter of the Counter-Reformation and helped lead the Catholic response against what he saw as the heretical tide of Protestantism. For example, in 1551 he invited the Jesuits to Vienna and in 1556 to Prague. Finally, in 1561 Ferdinand revived the Archdiocese of Prague, which had been previously liquidated due to the success of the Protestants.

Ferdinand died in Viennamarker and is buried in St. Vitus Cathedralmarker in Praguemarker.

Name in other languages

German, Czech, Slovak, ; ;

Marriage and children

On 25 May 1521 in Linzmarker, Austria, Ferdinand married Anna of Bohemia and Hungary (1503–1547), daughter of Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary and his wife Anne de Foix. They had fifteen children, all but two of whom reached adulthood:

Name Birth Death Notes
Elisabeth of Austria 9 July 1526 15 June 1545 In 1543 she was married to future King Sigismund II Augustus of Polandmarker and Lithuaniamarker.
Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor 31 July 1527 12 October 1576 Married to his first cousin Maria of Spain and had issue.
Anna of Austria 7 July 1528 16 October/17 October 1590 Married Albert V, Duke of Bavaria.
Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria 14 June 1529 24 January 1595 Married to Philippine Welser and then married his niece Anne Juliana Gonzaga.
Maria of Austria 15 May 1531 11 December 1581 Consort of Wilhelm, Duke of JĂĽlich-Cleves-Berg.
Magdalena of Austria 14 August 1532 10 September 1590 A nun.
Catharine of Austria 15 September 1533 28 February 1572 In 1553 she was married to king Sigismund II Augustus of Polandmarker and Grand Duke of Lithuaniamarker.
Eleonora of Austria 2 November 1534 5 August 1594 Married William I, Duke of Mantua.
Margaret of Austria 16 February 1536 12 March 1567 A nun.
Johann of Austria 10 April 1538 20 March 1539 Died in childhood.
Barbara of Austria 30 April 1539 19 September 1572 Married Alfonso II d'Este.
Charles II, Archduke of Austria 3 June 1540 10 July 1590 father of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor.
Ursula of Austria 24 July 1541 30 April 1543 Died in childhood.
Helen of Austria 7 January 1543 5 March 1574 A nun.
Johanna of Austria 24 January 1547 10 April 1578 Married Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Ancestress of Charles II of England and Louis XIII of France.



Ferdinand I has been the main motif for many collector coins and medals, the most recent one is the famous silver 20 euro Renaissance coin issued in 12 June 2002. A portrait of Ferdinand I is shown in the reverse of the coin, while in the obverse a view of the Swiss Gate of the Hofburg Palace can be seen.


Archduke of Austria, Infante of Castile, LeĂłnmarker, Aragonmarker and Navarre, King of Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria, etc.

See also

External links


  1. Britannica 2009
  3. R. W. SETON -WATSON:The southern Slav question and the Habsburg Monarchy page 18
  4. Milan Kruhek: Cetin, grad izbornog sabora Kraljevine Hrvatske 1527, Karlovačka Županija, 1997, Karlovac
  5. Holborn, p. 241.
  6. For a general discussion of the impact of the Reformation on the Holy Roman Empire, see Holborn, chapters 6–9 (pp. 123–248).
  7. Holborn, p. 241.
  8. Holborn, pp. 244–245.
  9. Holborn, pp. 243–246.
  10. Lisa Jardine, The Awful End of William the Silent: The First Assassination of a Head of State with A Handgun, London, HarperCollins, 2005, ISBN 0007192576, Chapter 1; Richard Bruce Wernham, The New Cambridge Modern History: The Counter Reformation and Price Revolution 1559–1610, (vol. 3), 1979, pp. 338–345.
  11. Holborn, pp. 249–250; Wernham, pp. 338–345.
  12. Holborn, pp. 243–246.
  13. See Parker, pp. 20–50.
  14. Holborn, pp. 250–251.
  15. Parker, p. 35.

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