Major Player: Emperor Ferdinand III

ferdinand_iii_holy_roman_emperorWhile the Emperor Ferdinand II played a big part in kicking off the Thirty Years War, he died in 1637, eleven years before its end. By then, his son and heir, Ferdinand III had long been active in both fighting and politics.

As a child, Ferdinand received a Jesuit education, became Archduke in 1621, then ascended to the thrones of Bohemia and Hungary as a teenager. In his twenties, his father appointed him head of the imperial armies in the Thirty Years War. This happened while the emperor and Wallenstein were at odds, and Wallenstein was in temporary retirement. Once the general returned to active duty, he sidelined the young archduke.

After Wallenstein’s assassination, Ferdinand resumed his place as titular head of his father’s armies. During this time, he racked up some significant military successes. The most famous of these was the Battle of Nordlingen, where he and his cousin, the Cardinal-Infant Ferdinand (did the Habsburgs have a shortage of first names or something?) dealt the Swedes a nearly fatal defeat.

In spite of his extensive military involvement, Ferdinand III was very interested in ending the war. Prior to his father’s death, he headed the peace party at court and helped negotiate the Peace of Prague in 1635, the first significant attempt to bring an end to the war. The peace did not succeed, and Ferdinand II died in 1637.

Ferdinand III never stopped trying to end the war, though it went on another eleven years as Austria, France and Sweden jockeyed for influence in Germany. Peace negotiations were ongoing through the last five years of the war, and finally succeeded, partly due to the efforts of Ferdinand’s chief envoy, von Trautmansdorff.

In 1644, Ferdinand granted the rulers of the German states the right to conduct their own foreign policy. In doing so, he severely weakened the long-term power of the Holy Roman Empire, but his actions had short-term benefits. Mostly, they gave him allies against France and Sweden who presented a formidable united (but noisily squabbling) front against the empire.

Once peace was finally accomplished in 1648, Ferdinand spent much of the rest of his reign demobilizing the vast armies that had become a permanent fixture of central Europe. He died nine years later, leaving behind a somewhat weakened, but still intact empire.

Compared to some of the other figures of the time period, Ferdinand is a somewhat stolid, unglamorous character. For an emperor, he was dealt a pretty awful hand, and did a decent job salvaging what he could from the mess his father helped create. Unlike many other leaders of the time, he was a constructive force, willing to sacrifice some of his own power to finally bring about peace.

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2 comments on “Major Player: Emperor Ferdinand III
  1. calensariel says:

    So which character was based on Ferdinand III?

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