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Emperor Maximilian II. (Reviews).

Paula Sutter Fichtner, Emperor Maximilian II

New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. xii + 12 ill. + 344 pp. $35. ISBN: 0- 300-08527-3.

Almost twenty years after the appearance of her biography of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I, Paula Sutter Fichtner has completed a study of his son and successor, the little-known Maximilian II (born 1527, Emperor from 1564-76). Her new study argues that Maximilian was a failure, by his own and others' standards.

It is a challenge to present failure and lack of achievement. Fichtner does a thorough job of laying out the framework of this Elabsburg's political undertakings. Based on sources from archives and libraries in five countries as well as the published primary evidence available, Fichtner's work helps open up a relatively little-studied phase of Imperial history, the decades immediately following the Peace of Augsburg, to an English-reading audience.

The fact that Fichtner has been able to so clearly describe this emperor goes against many interpretations of him by his contemporaries and later biographers. As Fichtner points out, Maximilian, like many rulers of his time, was a dissembler (3) whose religious leanings were the subject of much discussion and debate. Viktor Bibl, a biographer writing early last century, characterized this emperor as "baffling" (Maximilian II.: Der Ratselhafte Kaiser, Hellerau b. Dresden, n.d.). In condensing and ironing out a life into 225 pages, Fichtner may have solved a few too many of the riddles associated with Maximilian. However, with her thorough bibliography and source references, scholars wishing to enter into the labyrinthine world of late-sixteenth-century Imperial politics have been provided with the necessary guideposts.

Born in 1527 to the King and Queen of Bohemia and Hungary, Ferdinand of Habsburg and his wife Anne of Jagiellon, Maximilian was named after his great-grandfather, Emperor Maximilian I. He grew up in the central European lands of the Habsburg Dynasty. A rebellious teenager whose mother died when he was twenty, Maximilian served in the army of his uncle Emperor Charles V as a cavalry division commander in the 1540s before briefly ruling as co-regent in Spain with his wife, Charles V's daughter Marfa. (Empress Marfa has been one of the subjects of a recent book by Magdalena Sanchez The Empress, the Queen, and the Nun, Baltimore, 1998.) Tensions between his devoutly Roman Catholic wife, her courtiers, and Maximilian would mark life at Maximilian's court, though the couple seems to have gotten along well enough: together they had nine offspring who survived childhood, including the Emperors Rudolf II and Matthias as well as Anne, Queen of Spain, and Elizabeth, Queen of France.

Fichtner organizes the book into fifteen chapters, of which nine center on the twelve years of Maximilian's reign as Holy Roman Emperor. After ascending to the thrones of the Empire, Bohemia, and Hungary on the death of his domineering father, Maximilian attempted to reorganize the administration of his holdings, maintain the tenuous Peace of Augsburg, and combat the Ottomans in the Kingdom of Hungary. As Fichtner describes in detail, he had little long-term success in any of these endeavors. She places particular emphasis on Maximilian's failure in the Hungarian military campaign of 1566 which ended chaotically before Szekesfehervar. His military reputation tarnished, Maximilian's political influence suffered.

Other themes touched upon by Fichtner include the difficulties Maximilian had finding qualified administrators (and the administrative competition represented by his brothers, the archdukes Ferdinand and Charles to whom Emperor Ferdinand had given substantial administrative autonomy), Maximilian's cultural projects and patronage of musicians, architects, and scholars (for more on this theme see Howard Louthan's The Quest for Compromise: Peacemakers in Counter-Reformation Vienna, Cambridge, 1997), his oft-contentious relations with his Iberian relatives (particularly King Phillip II of Spain), his attempts to maintain Imperial influence on the Italian peninsula, and his difficulties maintaining the confessional equilibrium in the Empire, particularly after the start of the revolts in the Netherlands. Fichtner's project is ambitious and the scope necessarily broad, but she sketches our elements of all of these themes and ties them together with her close focus on the person of Maximilian and her general theme o f failure and disillusionment.

Readers interested in Italy and the Italian influences at the Imperial court may feel a bit shortchanged, but it must be remembered that Fichtner's perspective is clearly from (east) central Europe, not from the better-known angle tied to the story of the spread of Italianate influences over the Alps and across the continent. The details of Maximilian's rule and political positions in Bohemia and Hungary are also not main areas of Fichtner's analysis. She seems most at home utilizing the often complex administrative and financial records found in Vienna's Haus-, Hofund Staatsarchiv and Hofkammerarchiv, so her analysis tends in the administrative direction. Scholars following footnotes and reviewing translations of sources may at times be confronted with occasional inconsistencies in providing the original texts for English translations and -- more occasionally -- find references to secondary works as sources when primary evidence may have been expected, but this latter aspect of the work is perhaps understand able given the scope of the books subjects. Taking that scope into account, Fichtner's study of failure has to be considered a success.
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Author:Patrouch, Joseph F.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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