Here lies Emperor Ferdinand II, scourge of the Protestants, protector of the faith, and – to be honest – a Class A twit.
Born in Graz in 1578, Ferdinand II was educated by Jesuits. At that time, Protestantism was the dominant religion in his homeland:
“According to later estimates, no less than nine-tenths of the population, including most of the nobility, had turned to Protestantism by the time of Luther’s death… In Graz, capital of Styria, for example, the number of Catholics taking Mass had shrunk by the mid-sixteenth century to a paltry two hundred.”*
Ferdinand II was determined to obliterate Protestantism. He ignored the religious liberties granted by his predecessor, Rudolph II, ran roughshod over old privileges, and tried to compel Bohemian nobles in Prague to come to heel. They responded by throwing his emissaries out the window.
The end result of his actions was the 30 Years’ War – a vicious, blood-spattered conflict that resulted in plague, famine, and economic disaster. Cities lay in ruins and countries were left bankrupt. If you’ve seen the play Mother Courage and Her Children, by Bertolt Brecht (highly recommended), you’ll have some idea of the situation.
Unfortunately, Ferdinand II got his way. Thanks to his ruthlessness, Austria became a Catholic stronghold and has remained so ever since.
Body Bonus: Ferdinand II’s body may lie in Graz, but his heart is in the Augustinian Church in Vienna.
* The Austrians: A Thousand-Year Odyssey by Gordon Brook-Shepherd. Although he spends too much time in the 20th century, he’s a good writer with some fascinating facts.