1583: Rudolf II moves the seat of the Habsburg monarchy from Vienna to Prague

Emperor Rudolf II

In 1583, Rudolf II, head of the Holy Roman Empire and king of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia, moved the seat of the Habsburg monarchy from Vienna to Prague turning the city into one of the leading centers of the arts and sciences on the Continent.

During his rule, Prague Castle was transformed into a sumptuous residence filled with rich décor, priceless paintings, sculptures and curiosities. Artists, architects, scientists, philosophers, and humanists from around Europe flocked to his court.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo,  'Vertumnus',  1591 | Photo: Erik Lernestål,  Skokloster Castle/Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

It was here that the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo created his famous Four Seasons series and the portrait of Rudolf II as Vertumnus. Also part of the emperor’s favoured circle were his court painter Hans von Aachen, renowned for his distinctive portrait style and the Antwerp-born painter Bartholomeus Spranger with his famous nudes, executed in the late-Mannerist style.

The leading astronomers of the time, Tycho de Brahe and Johannes Kepler worked here and sat at the emperor’s table.

Rudolf II enjoyed his life in Prague, but he was a dreamer by nature, with an avid interest in all things mysterious, and, as he aged, he gradually began to lose touch with reality. He paid scant attention to politics, refusing to deal with the war with the Ottoman Empire and the unrest in Hungary. His younger brother Matthias turned this to his advantage, winning the Hungarian nobility over to his side.

Tycho de Brahe and Johannes Kepler on Pohořelec in Prague | Photo: Eva Odstrčilová,  Czech Radio

Rudolf subsequently lost the support of even the Moravian Estates and warlords, who marched with Matthias on Prague in 1608. Eventually the Peace of Libeň was concluded. Matthias won Moravia, Austria and Hungary.

The Letter of Majesty | Photo: Jana Šustová,  Radio Prague International

In 1609, in an attempt to calm the whole situation between Catholics and Protestants, Rudolf II reluctantly signed The Letter of Majesty granting religious tolerance to both Protestant and Catholic citizens living in the estates of Bohemia. The letter also created a Bohemian Protestant State Church, run by said Estates.

The end of Rudolf’s reign was inevitable. In May 1611, he was forced to abdicate. Matthias allowed him to stay at Prague Castle, where he died on January 20, 1612.

Source: Český rozhlas