KLESL (or KHLESL), MELCHIOR (1552-1630), Austrian statesman and ecclesiastic, was the son of a Protestant baker, and was born in Vienna. Under the influence of the Jesuits he was converted to Roman Catholicism, and having finished his education at the universities of Vienna and Ingolstadt, he was made chancellor of the university of Vienna; and as official and vicargeneral of the bishop of Passau he exhibited the zeal of a convert in forwarding the progress of the counter-reformation in Austria. He became bishop of Vienna in 1598; but more important was his association with the archduke Matthias which began about the same time. Both before and after 1612, when Matthias succeeded his brother Rudolph II. as emperor, Klesl was the originator and director of his policy, although he stoutly opposed the concessions to the Hungarian Protestants in 1606. Heassiste'd to secure the election of Matthias to the imperial throne, and sought, but without success, to strengthen the new emperor's position by making peace between the Catholics and the Protestants. When during the short reign of Matthias the question of the imperial succession demanded prompt attention, the bishop, although quite as anxious as his opponents to retain the empire in the house of Habsburg and to preserve the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, advised that this question should be shelved until some arrangement with the Protestant princes had been reached. This counsel was displeasing to the archduke Maximilian and to Ferdinand, afterwards the emperor Ferdinand II. who believed that Klesl was hostile to the candidature of the latter prince. It was, however, impossible to shake his influence with the emperor; and in June 1618, a few months before the death of Matthias, he was seized by order of the archdukes and imprisoned at Ambras in Tirol. In 1622 Klesl, who had been a cardinal since 1615, was transferred to Rome by order of Pope Gregory XV., and was released from imprisonment. In 1627 Ferdinand II. allowed him to return to his episcopal duties in Vienna, where he died on the 18th of September 1630.
See J. Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall, Khlesls Leben (Vienna, 1847-1851); A. Kerschbaumer, Kardinal Klesl (Vienna, 1865); and Klesls Brief e an Rudolfs II. Obersthofmeister A. Freiherr von Dietrichstein, edited by V. Bibl. (Vienna, 1900).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)