RUDOLPH II. (1552-1612), Roman emperor, son of the emperor Maximilian II. by his wife Maria, daughter of the emperor Charles V., was born in Vienna on the 18th of July 1552. In 1563 he was sent to Spain, where his natural abilities were improved by a good education, but he lacked the frank and tolerant spirit of his father, resembling rather his uncle Philip II. of Spain. In 1572 he was crowned king of Hungary, three years later king of Bohemia; and in October 1575 he was chosen king of the Romans, or German king, at Regensburg, becoming emperor on his father's death in October 1576. The importance of Rudolph's reign is negative rather than positive, consisting more in what he did not do than in what he did; although it is questionable whether any ruler could have prevented the religious struggles of Germany and the Thirty Years' War.
The more active part of the emperor's life was the period from his accession to about 1597. During that time he attended the infrequent imperial diets, and took an interest in the struggle in the Netherlands and the defence of the empire against the Turks. He was at times suspicious of the papal policy, while his relations with Spain were somewhat inharmonious. As a convinced Roman Catholic he forwarded the progress of the counter-reformation, and in general the tolerant policy of Maximilian II. was reversed. Political as well as religious privileges were attacked; the administration was conducted by Germans; and the result was a considerable amount of discontent which became very pronounced about the opening of the 17th century. Concurrently with the growth of this unrest Rudolph had become increasingly subject to attacks of depression and eccentricity, which were so serious as to amount almost to insanity. In 1604, after a war with Turkey had been in progress since 1593, many of the Hungarians rebelled against Rudolph and chose Stephen Bocskay as their prince. By this time the members of the Habsburg family were thoroughly alarmed at the indifference or incompetence of the emperor; and their anxieties were not diminished by the knowledge that he was in feeble health, was unmarried, and had refused to take any steps towards securing the election of a successor. In April 1606 they declared Rudolph incapable of ruling, and recognized one of his younger brothers, the archduke Matthias, afterwards emperor, as their head; and in the following June Matthias, having already with the emperor's reluctant consent taken the conduct of affairs into his own hands, made peace by granting extensive concessions to the rebellious Hungarians, and concluded a treaty with the sultan in November of the same year. Then shaking off his lethargy Rudolph prepared to renew the war with the Turks; a move which Matthias met by throwing himself upon the support of the national party in Hungary. Matthias also found adherents in other parts of his brother's dominions, with the result that in June 1608 the emperor was compelled to cede to him the kingdom of Hungary together with the government of Austria and Moravia. Rudolph now sought the aid of the princes of the empire, and even of the Protestants; but he had met with no success in this direction when trouble arose in Bohemia. Having at first rejected the demand of the Bohemians for greater religious liberty, the emperor was soon obliged to yield to superior force, and in 1609 he acceded to the popular wishes by issuing the Letter of Majesty (Majestdtsbrief), and then made similar concessions to his subjects in Silesia and elsewhere. A short reconciliation with Matthias was followed by further disorder in Bohemia, which was invaded by Rudolph's cousin, the archduke Leopold (1586-1632). The Bohemians invoked the aid of Matthias, who gathered an army; and in 1611 the emperor, practically a prisoner at Prague, was again forced to cede a kingdom to his brother. Rudolph died at Prague, his usual place of residence, on the 20th of January 1612, and was succeeded as emperor by Matthias.
Rudolph was a clever and cultured man, greatly interested in chemistry, alchemy, astronomy and astrology; he was a patron of Tycho Brahe and Kepler, and was himself something of a scholar and an artist. He was the greatest collector of his age, his agents ransacking Europe to fill his museums with rare works of art. His education at the Spanish court and an hereditary tendency to insanity, however, made him haughty, suspicious and consequently very unpopular, while even in his best days the temper of his_mind was that of a recluse rather than of a ruler.
The sources for the life and times of Rudolph II. are somewhat scanty, as many of the official documents of the reign, which were kept at Prague and not at Vienna, were destroyed, probably during the Thirty Years' War. The best authorities, however, are: Rudolphi II. epislolae ineditae, edited by B. Comte de Pace (Vienna. 1 77 1 ) ; M . Ritter, Quellenbeitrdge zur Geschichte des Kaisers Rudolf II (Munich, 1872); and Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Gegenreformation und des dreissigjdhrigen Krieges (Stuttgart, 1887 fol.) ; L. von Ranke, Zur deutschen Geschichte: Vom ReUgionsfrieden bis sum 30-jdhrigen Kriege (Leipzig, 1868); A. Gindely, Rudolf 11. und seine Zeit (Prague, 1862-68); F. Stieve, Die Verhandlungen uber die Nachfolge Kaiser Rudolfs II. (Munich, 1880); in the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Band xxix. (Leipzig, 1889); and Der Ursprung des dreissigjdhrigen Krieges (Munich, 1875); F. von Bezold, Kaiser Rudolf II. und die heilige Liga (Munich, 1886) ; J. Janssen, Geschichte des Deutschen Volks seit dent Ausgang des Mittelalters (Freiburg, 1878 fol.), of which there is an English translation by M. A. Mitchell and A. M. Christie (London, 1896 fol.) ; and H. Montz, Die Wahl Rudolfs II. (Marburg, 1895).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)