Happy Birthday to Ferdinand II of Aragon and His Grandson, Ferdinand I of Bohemia and Hungary

Ferdinand II of Aragon, husband and co-ruler with Isabella I of Castile, was born on 10 March 1452 and I don’t like him very much.

Ferdinand II of Aragon

For one thing, he and his wife were rabid Catholics who expressed the their religion less through Christ’s tenants of mercy and kindness and more along the lines of slaughtering Jews and Muslims in Iberian lands at the tail end of the Reconquista. For another thing, he was a lousy father who happily imprisoned his daughter Juana for “madness” to rule her kingdom as regent for her son in her place and withheld Katherina’s dowry from Henry VII with no regard for her suffering as part of an international pissing contest.

Juana’s second son was born on her father’s birthday, and like a dutiful daughter she named the baby Ferdinand. I like this Ferdinand much better.

Ferdinand of Bohemia Hans_Bocksberger_der_Aeltere_001

This Ferdinand was born in Spain and raised by his grandfather after his mother was locked in a convent. His older brother became Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, and Ferdinand was entrusted by his brother to govern the Austrian section of the Empire (approximately the territories of modern-day Austria and Slovenia). Furthermore, Ferdinand became Archduke of Austria in 1521. On 26 May of that same year he married Anna Jagellonica, the daughter of King Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary, consolidating power for the Hapsburgs in central Europe.

He and Anna appear to have had a happy marriage; it was certainly a fruitful one! They had 15 children, and 13 of those lived to adulthood.

Ferdinand unexpectedly became king of Bohemia and Hungary on 24 October 1526 shortly after his wife Anna’s brother, Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia, was killed in the Battle of Mohács by the forces of Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire. Bohemia welcomed Ferdinand with open arms, but Hungary was another kettle of fish altogether. Some nobles were quite happy to have Ferdinand as king, but a different group of nobles decided they wanted a local lad, John Zápolya, the Voivode of Transylvania, to be their king. John Zapolya’s son would eventually cede Hungary to Ferdinand’s oldest son in 1570.

In 1531, Ferdinand’s older brother Charles V decided to split up his territories, which were too large for the infrastructure of the time to rule well. Thus, Charles declared Ferdinand as his successor as Holy Roman Emperor, giving Ferdinand the title King of the Romans as well as King of Bohemia and (theoretically) Hungary. The whole of the Spanish empire, which included Spain, the Netherlands, Naples, Milan and huge tracts of land in the Americas, went to Charles’s son, Philip. Charles abdicated as Emperor in January 1556, but red tape meant that the Imperial Diet did not officially recognized Ferdinand as Emperor until 3 May 1558, after which he ruled as Ferdinand I.

Ferdinand’s legacy ultimately proved enduring. Though lacking resources, he managed to defend his land against the Ottomans with limited support from his brother, and even secured a part of Hungary that would later provide the basis for the conquest of the whole kingdom by the Habsburgs. In his own possessions, he built a tax system that, though imperfect, would continue to be used by his successors. His handling of the Protestant reformation proved more flexible and more effective than that of his brother and he played a key part in the settlement of 1555, which started an era of peace in Germany. His statesmanship, overall, was cautious and effective, well-suited to a medium-sized collection of territories facing dangerous threats.

Ferdinand died in Vienna on 25 July 1564 and was buried in St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. His eldest son became Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.


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