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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

The brother of the Duke of Bavaria


But in the year 1617 and 1618 a question arose which no longer allowed this state of things to continue. It concerned the imperial dignity of Germany, but it exercised so powerful a secondary influence upon affairs most thoroughly English that even in a history of England a short discussion must be devoted to it.

The increasing weakness of the Emperor Matthias rendered his speedy end probable; and all preparations were already being made in the house of Austria to secure the succession of the Archduke Ferdinand of Styria to the imperial throne, as well as to his own hereditary kingdoms and provinces. No arrangement could in itself have been more suitable in the nature of things. Ferdinand was the most vigorous scion of his house; and both the German Archdukes laid their own well-founded claims at his feet. A resignation on the part of Philip III of the claims which he inherited from his mother was thought indispensable: but even this created no difficulty. It was merely stipulated that Ferdinand should indemnify him for resigning them; and this he was willing to do. It only remained that the crown of the German Empire should also be assured to him. The Archdukes were eager for an immediate negotiation on the subject, and were already certain of the support of the spiritual electors.

It is clear however that the succession was not merely a change of persons. The place of the peaceable and moderate Matthias would be filled by one of the most devoted pupils of the Jesuits in the person of Ferdinand, who had made himself terrible to the Protestants by an unsparing restoration of Catholicism in his own country. Moreover the alliance between the German and Spanish line, which had been loosened in the last few years, was to be consolidated into a union resting on common interests: so that it seemed likely that Austria would enjoy a supremacy like that which had been established in the time of Charles V. The letters which passed between the members of that house, and which had accidentally been divulged, excited surprise by the note of general hostility which they struck, while the share of the Palatinate and of Brandenburg in the election was treated in them as a formality which could be dispensed with in case of necessity.[400]

It is quite intelligible that the Protestants should be agitated by this discovery, and should entertain the idea of opposing the election of Ferdinand. Not that one of them thought of acquiring the throne for himself; they did not resist the election of a Catholic emperor as such, but they wished to guard against the resumption of the combination between the Austro-Spanish power and the prerogatives of the imperial crown. At first their eyes fell upon Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, whom they would by this means have for ever detached from that power. The Elector Frederick controlled the jealousy which, as Elector Palatine, he felt for a branch of the same house, and went to Munich in order to prevail on his cousin to consent to this arrangement; for, according to the plea advanced on grounds of imperial right, the imperial crown could not be allowed to become hereditary in the house of Austria. He hoped that the Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne, the brother of the Duke of Bavaria, would support him, and that his influence would win over the other spiritual electors also. The Union and the League would then have combined to oppose the house of Austria.


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