Rudolf II

*1552 (Vienna, Austria), †1612 (Prague)

A Bohemian monarch of the Habsburg dynasty; son of Maxmilian II of Habsburg and brother to Matthias I. He was crowned King of Hungary in 1572, King of Bohemia in 1575, King of Germany in 1575 and Holy Roman Emperor in 1576. He was brought up in Spain where he acquired an extensive education. In 1581 he surprisingly chose Prague as his capital and only left it on rare occasions. Symptoms of mental derangements had already begun to appear at that time and in later years these were to turn into a mental disease, probably schizophrenia. He became more and more withdrawn and was psychologically unstable, a situation that was played upon by intriguers among his entourage. In 1608 Rudolf was forced to relinquish the Hungarian crown, the Austrian lands and the Moravian margravate to Matthias. In order to ensure support from at least the Czech lands, Rudolf issued the Letter of Majesty in 1609, ensuring religious freedom for the Czech estates, but after the religious uprisings in 1611, he was forced to cede the crown of Bohemia to Matthias as well. He retained his imperial title and his court at Prague until his death. As the last of the Habsburgs, he was laid to rest in the royal crypt under St. Vitus’ Cathedral at Prague Castle. During Rudolf’s reign, Prague became the centre of European science and art: artists such as H. von Aachen, B. Spranger, A. de Vries and G. Arcimboldo, the astronomers Tycho Brahe and J. Kepler, the alchemist E. Kelly, the doctor J. Jesenský and many others carried out their work here. After his death, the emperor’s priceless collection of works of art and products of nature was parcelled out and much of it was taken by the Swedes as bounty of war.


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