Ferdinand I, Roman Emperor
FERDINAND I, ROMAN EMPEROR. (1503-1564), Roman emperor, was born at Alcalá de Henares on the 10th of March 1503, his father being Philip the Handsome, son of the emperor Maximilian I., and his mother Joanna, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, king and queen of Castile and Aragon. Philip died in 1506 and Ferdinand, educated in Spain, was regarded with especial favour by his maternal grandfather who wished to form a Spanish-Italian kingdom for his namesake. This plan came to nothing, and the same fate attended a suggestion made after the death of Maximilian in 1519 that Ferdinand, and not his elder brother Charles, afterwards the emperor Charles V., should succeed to the imperial throne. Charles, however, secured the Empire and the whole of the lands of Maximilian and Ferdinand, while the younger brother was perforce content with a subordinate position. Yet some provision must be made for Ferdinand. In April 1521 the emperor granted to him the archduchies and duchies of upper and lower Austria, Carinthia, Styria and Carniola, adding soon afterwards the county of Tirol and the hereditary possessions of the Habsburgs in south-western Germany. About the same time the archduke was appointed to govern the duchy of Württemberg, which had come into the possession of Charles V.; and in May 1521 he was married at Linz to Anna (d. 1547), a daughter of Ladislaus, king of Hungary and Bohemia, a union which had been arranged some years before by the emperor Maximilian. In 1521 also he was made president of the council of regency (Reichsregiment), appointed to govern Germany during the emperor's absence, and the next five years were occupied with imperial business, in which he acted as his brother's representative, and in the government of the Austrian lands.
In Austria and the neighbouring duchies Ferdinand sought at first to suppress the reformers and their teaching, and this was possibly one reason why he had some difficulty in quelling risings in the districts under his rule after the Peasants' War broke out in 1524. But a new field was soon opened for his ambition. In August 1526 his childless brother-in-law, Louis II., king of Hungary and Bohemia, was killed at the battle of Mohacs, and the archduke at once claimed both kingdoms, both by treaty and by right of his wife. Taking advantage of the divisions among his opponents, he was chosen king of Bohemia in October 1526, and crowned at Prague in the following February, but in Hungary he was less successful. John Zapolya, supported by the national party and soon afterwards by the Turks, offered a sturdy resistance, and although Ferdinand was chosen king at Pressburg in December 1526, and after defeating Zapolya at Tokay was crowned at Stuhlweissenburg in November 1527, he was unable to take possession of the kingdom. The Bavarian Wittelsbachs, incensed at not securing the Bohemian throne, were secretly intriguing with his foes; the French, after assisting spasmodically, made a formal alliance with Turkey in 1535; and Zapolya was a very useful centre round which the enemies of the Habsburgs were not slow to gather. A truce made in 1533 was soon broken, and the war dragged on until 1538, when by the treaty of Grosswardein, Hungary was divided between the claimants. The kingly title was given to Zapolya, but Ferdinand was to follow him on the throne. Before this, in January 1531, he had been chosen king of the Romans, or German king, at Cologne, and his coronation took place a few days later at Aix-la-Chapelle. He had thoroughly earned this honour by his loyalty to his brother, whom he had represented at several diets. In religious matters the king was now inclined, probably owing to the Turkish danger, to steer a middle course between the contending parties, and in 1532 he agreed to the religious peace of Nuremberg, receiving in return from the Protestants some assistance for the war against the Turks. In 1534, however, his prestige suffered a severe rebuff. Philip, landgrave of Hesse, and his associates had succeeded in conquering Württemberg on behalf of its exiled duke, Ulrich (q.v.), and, otherwise engaged, neither Charles nor Ferdinand could send much help to their lieutenants. They were consequently obliged to consent to the treaty of Cadan, made in June 1534, by which the German king recognized Ulrich as duke of Württemberg, on condition that he held his duchy under Austrian suzerainty.
In Hungary the peace of 1538 was not permanent. When Zapolya died in July 1540 a powerful faction refused to admit the right of Ferdinand to succeed him, and put forward his young son John Sigismund as a candidate for the throne. The cause of John Sigismund was espoused by the Turks and by Ferdinand's other enemies, and, unable to get any serious assistance from the imperial diet, the king repeatedly sought to make peace with the sultan, but his envoys were haughtily repulsed. In 1544, however, a short truce was made. This was followed by others, and in 1547 one was concluded for five years, but only on condition that Ferdinand paid tribute for the small part of Hungary which remained in his hands. The struggle was renewed in 1551 and was continued in the same desultory fashion until 1562, when a truce was made which lasted during the remainder of Ferdinand's lifetime. During the war of the league of Schmalkalden in 1546 and 1547 the king had taken the field primarily to protect Bohemia, and after the conclusion of the war he put down a rising in this country with some rigour. He appears during these years to have governed his lands with vigour and success, but in imperial politics he was merely the representative and spokesman of the emperor. About 1546, however, he began to take up a more independent position. Although Charles had crushed the league of Schmalkalden he had refused to restore Württemberg to Ferdinand; and he gave further offence by seeking to secure the succession of his son Philip, afterwards king of Spain, to the imperial throne. Ferdinand naturally objected, but in 1551 his reluctant consent was obtained to the plan that, on the proposed abdication of Charles, Philip should be chosen king of the Romans, and should succeed Ferdinand himself as emperor. Subsequent events caused the scheme to be dropped, but it had a somewhat unfortunate sequel for Charles, as during the short war between the emperor and Maurice, elector of Saxony, in 1552 Ferdinand's attitude was rather that of a spectator and mediator than of a partisan. There seems, however, to be no truth in the suggestion that he acted treacherously towards his brother, and was in alliance with his foes. On behalf of Charles he negotiated the treaty of Passau with Maurice in 1552, and in 1555 after the conduct of imperial business had virtually been made over to him, and harmony had been restored between the brothers, he was responsible for the religious peace of Augsburg. Early in 1558 Charles carried out his intention to abdicate the imperial throne, and on the 24th of March Ferdinand was crowned as his successor at Frankfort. Pope Paul IV. would not recognize the new emperor, but his successor Pius IV. did so in 1559 through the mediation of Philip of Spain. The emperor's short reign was mainly spent in seeking to settle the religious differences of Germany, and in efforts to prosecute the Turkish war more vigorously. His hopes at one time centred round the council of Trent which resumed its sittings in 1562, but he was unable to induce the Protestants to be represented. Although he held firmly to the Roman Catholic Church he sought to obtain tangible concessions to her opponents; but he refused to conciliate the Protestants by abrogating the clause concerning ecclesiastical reservation in the peace of Augsburg, and all his efforts to bring about reunion were futile. He did indeed secure the privilege of communion in both kinds from Pius IV. for the laity in Bohemia and in various parts of Germany, but the hearty support which he gave the Jesuits shows that he had no sympathy with Protestantism, and was only anxious to restore union in the Church. In November 1562 he obtained the election of his son Maximilian as king of the Romans, and having arranged a partition of his lands among his three surviving sons, died in Vienna on the 25th of July 1564. His family had consisted of six sons and nine daughters.
In spite of constant and harassing engagements Ferdinand was fairly successful both as king and emperor. He sought to consolidate his Austrian lands, reformed the monetary system in Germany, and reorganized the Aulic council (Reichshofrat). Less masterful but more popular than his brother, whose character overshadows his own, he was just and tolerant, a good Catholic and a conscientious ruler.
See the article on Charles V. and the bibliography appended thereto. Also, A. Ulloa, Vita del potentissimo e christianissimo imperatore Ferdinando primo (Venice, 1565); S. Schard, Epitome rerum in variis orbis partibus a confirmatione Ferdinandi I. (Basel, 1574); F.B. von Bucholtz, Geschichte der Regierung Ferdinands des Ersten (Vienna, 1831-1838); K. Oberleitner, Osterreichs Finanzen und Kriegswesen unter Ferdinand I. (Vienna, 1859); A. Rezek, Geschichte der Regierung Ferdinands I. in Böhmen (Prague, 1878); E. Rosenthal, Die Behördenorganisation Kaiser Ferdinands I. (Vienna, 1887); and W. Bauer, Die Anfänge Ferdinands I. (Vienna, 1907).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)