Rudolf II (1552-1612) was Holy Roman Emperor (1576-1612), King of Hungary and Croatia (as Rudolf I, 1572-1608), King of Bohemia (1575-1608/1611) and Archduke of Austria (1576-1608). He was a member of the House of Habsburg.
Rudolf was born in Vienna on 18 July 1552. He was the eldest son and successor of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia, and King of Hungary and Croatia; his mother was Maria of Spain, a daughter of Charles V and Isabella of Portugal.
Rudolf spent eight formative years, from age 11 to 19 (1563-1571), in Spain, at the court of his maternal uncle Phillip II. After his return to Vienna, his father was concerned about Rudolf's aloof and stiff manner, typical of the more conservative Spanish court, rather than the more relaxed and open Austrian court; but his Spanish mother saw in him courtliness and refinement. Rudolf would remain for the rest of his life reserved, secretive, and largely a homebody who did not like to travel or even partake in the daily affairs of state. He was more intrigued by occult learning such as astrology and alchemy, which was mainstream in the Renaissance period, and had a wide variety of personal hobbies such as horses, clocks, collecting rarities, and being a patron of the arts. He suffered from periodic bouts of "melancholy" (depression), which was common in the Habsburg line. These became worse with age, and were manifested by a withdrawal from the world and its affairs into his private interests.
Like his contemporary, Elizabeth I of England, Rudolf dangled himself as a prize in a string of diplomatic negotiations for marriages, but never in fact married. It has been proposed by A. L. Rowse that he was homosexual. During his periods of self-imposed isolation, Rudolf reportedly had affairs with his court chamberlain, Wolfgang von Rumpf, and a series of valets. One of these, Philip Lang, ruled him for years and was hated by those seeking favour with the emperor. Rudolf was known, in addition, to have had a succession of affairs with women, some of whom claimed to have been impregnated by him. He had several illegitimate children with his mistress Catherina Strada.
Their eldest son, don Julius Caesar d'Austria, was likely born between 1584 and 1586 and received an education and opportunities for political and social prominence from his father. In 1607, Rudolf sent Julius to live at the Bohemian Český Krumlov (in the modern-day Czech Republic) castle, which Rudolf purchased from the last of the House of Rosenberg (Peter Vok/Wok von Rosenberg) after he fell into financial ruin. Julius lived at Český Krumlov when in 1608 he reportedly abused and murdered a local barber's daughter, who had been living in the castle, and then disfigured her body. Rudolf condemned his son's act and suggested that he should be imprisoned for the rest of his life. However, Julius died in 1609 after showing signs of schizophrenia, refusing to bathe, and living in squalor; his death was apparently caused by an ulcer that ruptured.
Many artworks commissioned by Rudolf are unusually erotic. The emperor was the subject of a whispering campaign by his enemies in his family and the Church in the years before he was deposed. Sexual allegations may well have formed a part of the campaign against him.
Historians have traditionally blamed Rudolf's preoccupation with the arts, occult sciences, and other personal interests as the reason for the political disasters of his reign. More recently historians have re-evaluated this view and see his patronage of the arts and occult sciences as a triumph and key part of the Renaissance, while his political failures are seen as a legitimate attempt to create a unified Christian empire, which was undermined by the realities of religious, political and intellectual disintegrations of the time.
Although raised in his uncle's Catholic court in Spain, Rudolf was tolerant of Protestantism and other religions including Judaism. He largely withdrew from Catholic observances, even in death denying last sacramental rites. He had little attachment to Protestants either, except as counter-weight to repressive Papal policies. He put his primary support behind conciliarists, irenicists and humanists. When the papacy instigated the Counter-Reformation, using agents sent to his court, Rudolf backed those who he thought were the most neutral in the debate, not taking a side or trying to effect restraint, thus leading to political chaos and threatening to provoke civil war.
His conflict with the Ottoman Turks was the final cause of his undoing. Unwilling to compromise with the Turks, and stubbornly determined that he could unify all of Christendom with a new Crusade, he started a long and indecisive war with the Turks in 1593. This war lasted till 1606, and was known as "The Long War". By 1604 his Hungarian subjects were exhausted by the war and revolted, led by Stephen Bocskay. In 1605 Rudolf was forced by his other family members to cede control of Hungarian affairs to his younger brother Archduke Matthias. Matthias by 1606 forged a difficult peace with the Hungarian rebels (Peace of Vienna) and the Turks (Peace of Zsitvatorok). Rudolf was angry with his brother's concessions, which he saw as giving away too much in order to further Matthias' hold on power. So Rudolf prepared to start a new war with the Turks. But Matthias rallied support from the disaffected Hungarians and forced Rudolf to give up the crowns of Hungary, Austria, and Moravia to him. Matthias imprisoned Georg Keglević who was the Commander-in-chief, General, Vice-Ban of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia and since 1602 Baron in Transylvania, but soon left him free again. At that time the Principality of Transylvania was a fully autonomous, but only semi-independent state under the nominal suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, where it was the time of the Sultanate of Women. At the same time, seeing a moment of royal weakness, Bohemian Protestants demanded greater religious liberty, which Rudolf granted in the Letter of Majesty in 1609. However the Bohemians continued to press for further freedoms and Rudolf used his army to repress them. The Bohemian Protestants appealed to Matthias for help, whose army then held Rudolf prisoner in his castle in Prague, until 1611, when Rudolf was forced to cede the crown of Bohemia to his brother.
Rudolf died in 1612, nine months after he had been stripped of all effective power by his younger brother, except the empty title of Holy Roman Emperor, to which Matthias was elected five months later. He died unmarried.
Housed in a modern black wooden frame and has been mounted under UV glass by Pure & Applied conservation framers of London.
Frame Size: 50 x 56.5 cm approx