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Rechtsfolgen - Regenten (20/25)
Reformationsfest Regau

Reformationszeitalter 1522-1620


Reformation Era 1522-1620: Considerable territorial changes occurred during this epoch in the Habsburg Empire: In 1493, after the death of Friedrich III, his son Maximilian I, who had received Tirol and the Vorlande from his cousin Sigmund in 1490, united under his rule all of the Habsburg possessions. Owing to his son Philipp's marriage to Joan of Castile the realm of the Habsburgs comprised after 1516 not only large parts of western Europe (Netherlands, Burgundy, Spain) but also the gradually acquired American continent and the significance of the German-speaking lands diminished in relation to this territorial expansion. Maximilian's grandson Karl V shared these vast possessions with his brother Ferdinand. Karl retained Spain and Burgundy and the emperorship, while Ferdinand I received the German hereditary lands and the Vorlande. Ferdinand's marriage to Anna of Hungary (d. 1547) was of decisive importance to the further development of this part of the realm, since he became heir apparent to the crowns of Bohemia and Hungary, so that Central Europe became the focal area of his rule. However, the death of King Ludwig II in 1526 at the same time marked the beginning of the centuries-long conflict with the Ottoman Empire, which had extended its realm to Hungary. From then on, wars with the Turks and the apprehension of further Ottoman inroads tied down the Austrian Habsburg' military potential; at first they merely succeeded in holding western Hungary and Slovakia but had to resign themselves to the establishment of a Turkish pashalik in central Hungary and of an Ottoman satellite state in Transylvania.

This situation not only influenced the development of the Reformation, which also gained considerable momentum in the Austrian lands, but also favoured efforts of the Estates to gain autonomy.

Since the princes of the realm had to rely on the aristocracy for financing defence efforts, the politics of these decades was characterised by the need to make a large number of concessions, often with negative results. Ferdinand I earnestly but unsuccessfully tried to overcome denominational barriers, and his son Maximilian II was even said to have Protestant leanings. Maximilian remained, however, faithful to Catholicism and even laid the foundation for the emerging Counter-Reformation by granting the nobility and their subjects freedom of religion (1568-1571). As a condition for this, however, the Catholic Church had to be reformed, and a number of measures were taken to this end, in particular by inviting the Jesuits, into the country.

The situation varied considerably in the different lands of the Habsburgs that were divided among his sons after Ferdinand's death. Maximilian II was made Emperor and retained, alongside Austria, the Bohemian lands and Hungary. Karl II received Innerösterreich and access to the Mediterranean and was entrusted with the defence of the Croat border against the Turks. He took residence at Graz, where his court and governmental institutions were established. He was pressured by the Protestants to grant religious freedom, but sought to work for a renewal of the Catholic Church. In 1572 he invited the Jesuits into the country, to whom he entrusted the University of Graz (founded in 1585), but was forced in 1578 by the Brucker Pazifikation (Peace Agreement of Bruck) to make major concessions to the Protestants. Archduke Ferdinand II was marginalised in the family on account of his morganatic marriage to Philippine Welser; he received Tirol and the Vorlande and led the life of a Renaissance prince, to whose cultural interests and achievements Ambras Palace and its collection of works of art and curiosities (wunderkammer) bear witness. Since his offspring were excluded from succession, Tirol was ruled by Duke Maximilian III from 1602 to 1618. He was followed in 1619 by Leopold V, who founded a collateral line of the Habsburgs in Tirol which existed until 1665.

However, the 16th century was also fraught with economic problems. Apart from the feudal system, whose exploitative policies caused a number of peasants' revolts (1525 in Tirol and Salzburg, 1595-1597 in Upper and Lower Austria), crafts and trades and the early capitalist enterprises of the Gewerke were steadily gaining importance. The latter processed the iron mined in various places and in particular on Erzberg mountain in Styria. This required large-scale organisation in order to ensure the supply of foodstuffs to the mining and metallurgical region and the distribution and sale of iron and iron products. The area around Leoben, the city of Steyr and the area of Kirchdorf in Upper Austria and the region of Waidhofen an der Ybbs in Lower Austria became the chief areas of iron processing. Other important activities were livestock and wine transport and trading along the Danube and the transport of salt from the mines at Dürrnberg in Salzburg and the Salzkammergut region to Lower Austria and Bohemia.

16th century architecture was increasingly marked by Renaissance influences. The new style was in particular adopted for the construction of palaces, of which the arcaded court of Schallaburg Castle near Melk, Lower Austria, is an outstanding example. The Renaissance has also left its mark in various cities (town halls, façades decorated with sgrafitti).

Even though hostilities continued in relations with the Turkish Empire, decorative plants such as tulips and lilac were introduced from countries under its rule; under Maximilian II an elephant was for the first time brought from Spain to Vienna, where it was displayed in the menagerie of Kaiserebersdorf.

Under Ferdinand I the fortifications of Vienna were renovated to fend off a possible Turkish attack. His grandson Rudolf II, who moved his residence to Hradčany Castle in Prague, brought the cultural development of the city to unprecedented heights, but was not as successful at the political level. He sought to enforce the Counter-Reformation in the Austrian lands by violent means; demolished and damaged Catholic institutions were restored. In the Austrian regions along the Danube, Cardinal Melchior Klesl was the chief helpmate of Duke Ernst and later adviser to Emperor Matthias. When a new Turkish War broke out in 1593 and threatened to involve the hereditary lands after 1600, Rudolf II in Prague failed to react. Accordingly the other Archdukes recognised Matthias as head of the family, and Matthias proceeded to systematically deprive Rudolf II of his power ("Habsburg Brothers' Conflict"). When Rudolf died in 1612, Matthias succeeded him but in turn failed to take action in the interest of the country. Hopes focused on his successor, Ferdinand II from the Styrian line. Ferdinand was a strict Catholic who forcefully promoted the Counter-Reformation in Innerösterreich. Maximilian III then intervened in Austrian affairs from Tirol. He is remembered as the donor of the Austrian Erzherzogshut, the archducal crown which is now kept in Klosterneuburg Abbey.).

Even before Emperor Matthias' death the defenestration of Prague on May 23, 1618 triggered the Thirty Years' War. Initially, Ferdinand II had to ward off massive demands on the part of the Protestant Estates of Lower Austria. They refused to swear allegiance unless he conceded them religious freedom. He kept his promise, but when he also asserted himself in Austria after his victory in the Battle of the White Mountain on November 8, 1620, he seized the possessions of the leading Protestants, even though their expropriation was carried through less relentlessly than they were in Bohemia and Moravia. The Estates lost their political influence, and the year 1620 marked the beginning of the era of the absolute rule of princes (Absolutism) and thus a new historical era.


Literature: A. Novotny and B. Sutter (eds.), Innerösterreich 1564-1619, 1967; Renaissance in Österreich, 1974; G. Heiß, Reformation und Gegenreformation (1519-1620), Die Quellen der Geschichte Österreichs, Schriften des Instituts für Österreich-Kunde 40, 1982; R. J. Evans, Das Werden der Habsburgermonarchie, 21989; K. Vocelka, Kaiser Rudolf II. und seine Zeit, 1985.


References to other albums:
History of Music: Andreas Gigler: Aus tiefer Not aus der Gesangspostille

 
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