Major Player: Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor

Since the majority of my main characters are based on historical figures, I thought I’d profile some of them, and then let you figure out who’s who. No, actually I’ll totally hit you over the head with the who’s who. It’s already begun, since obviously, Kendryk and Gwynneth are based on Frederick and Elizabeth. Of course, one of the joys of writing fantasy is I can use the historical figure as a point of departure, then slander them with impunity. Or in Kendryk’s case, make them really cute.

So, while Kendryk is for all practical purposes the protagonist of this first book (oh yes, there will be several more, even if it takes me the rest of my life), there will be a pretty major antagonist. Her character profile will be next, but in the meantime, here’s the real guy she’s based on. Ferdinand II was Holy Roman Emperor for nearly two-thirds of the Thirty Years War, and in the view of many scholars, contributed a fair amount to starting and perpetuating it.

ferdinand iiAs a cousin to Emperor Matthias, Ferdinand wasn’t directly in line for the throne- but since Matthias hadn’t had children, no one was. Ferdinand got the Spanish side of the Habsburg family to back his claim by making a secret treaty with them. In a nutshell, when the Habsburgs split into Austrian and Spanish branches, some territory along the “Spanish Road,” a route that Spain used to get its troops to the Netherlands, where it had been fighting for many decades, remained in dispute. Ferdinand ended that dispute by giving those territories to Spain. In exchange, Spain backed Ferdinand as the only family member who would become King of Bohemia and Hungary.

As we already know, the Bohemians didn’t like this development at all, and quickly made their displeasure known. Ferdinand had been educated by Jesuits and made no secret of the fact that he wished to “re-Catholicize” any and all territories where he held power. On top of his religious extremism, Ferdinand believed in being an absolute monarch. This didn’t go over well in areas where the nobility had become accustomed to considerable independence, which was like, all of Germany. The Bohemians revolted and elected Frederick V as their king. This state of affairs didn’t last long and Frederick was soundly defeated at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620.

This might have been the end of it except for Ferdinand’s extremely harsh dealings with Frederick and the Bohemian Protestant nobility. He greatly reduced the power of the Bohemians to govern themselves and introduced an aggressive program of religious conversion that was ultimately pretty successful. Unfortunately, this ticked off a lot of people who decided to keep fighting. Strapped for cash, Ferdinand agreed to let Wallenstein, a wealthy Bohemian general,  run military operations in exchange for his considerable resources.

albrecht von wallensteinWallenstein then went on to trounce Protestants all over Germany, including Christian IV, King of Denmark who invaded Germany, but was forced to withdraw after several catastrophic defeats. After so many decisive victories, Ferdinand added insult to injury by implementing the Edict of Restitution, which returned lands to Catholics which had been taken from them via a treaty all the way back in 1552. This upset the Protestant applecart to an intolerable degree, and they appealed to the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus for help.

Ferdinand was forced to fire Wallenstein, who had grown big for his britches- and britches back then were pretty big- and let his old general Tilly take over. Tilly won a few and lost a few, but died after two years, so Ferdinand was forced to call Wallenstein back. He at least was successful in slowing the Swedes down a little bit. It helped that Gustavus Adolphus died in battle. Ferdinand continued to have trouble with Wallenstein and ordered his assassination in 1634. Even without Wallenstein, Imperial forces were able to go on to some significant victories, which worried the French, who then entered the war on the side of the Protestants.

In 1635, Ferdinand signed the Peace of Prague, a pretty serious attempt to end the war which ultimately failed to do so. He died in 1637, leaving behind a seriously weakened empire and with no end to the war in sight. He was succeeded by his son Ferdinand III, one of the seven children he had with Maria Anna of Bavaria, his first wife.

Clearly, even though there were a lot of factors at play in the beginnings of the war, Ferdinand II’s actions made it very difficult for his opponents to let bygones be bygones. And as bad as it was to be his enemy, it was possibly even worse to be his ally, as Wallenstein learned when he came to a Red Wedding-esque end. Maybe I’m overreaching myself by turning him into a villain, but he does provide me with some great raw material!

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