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Maximilian II (July 13, 1527 – October 12, 1576), a member of the Austrian House of Habsburg, was Holy Roman Emperor from 1564 until his death. He was crowned King of Bohemia in Prague on May 14, 1562 and elected King of Germany (King of the Romans) on November 24, 1562. On September 8, 1563 he was crowned King of Hungary and Croatia in the Hungarian capital Pressburg (Pozsony in Hungarian; now Bratislava, Slovakia). On July 25, 1564 he succeeded his father Ferdinand I as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.

Maximilian was born in Vienna, Austria, the eldest son of the Habsburg archduke Ferdinand I, younger brother of Emperor Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and the Jagiellonian Princess Anne of Bohemia and Hungary (1503–1547). Maximilian’s mother, Princess Anne of Bohemia and Hungary was the elder child and only daughter of King Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary (1456–1516) and his third wife Anne of Foix-Candale.

King Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia was her younger brother. Her paternal grandparents were King Casimir IV of Poland (of the Jagiellon dynasty) and Elisabeth of Austria (Habsburg), one of the heiresses of the Kingdom of Bohemia, the Duchy of Luxembourg and the Duchy of Kujavia. Her maternal grandparents were Gaston de Foix, Count of Candale, and Catherine de Foix, an Infanta of the Kingdom of Navarre.

Maximilian was named after his great-grandfather, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. At the time of his birth in 1527, his father Ferdinand succeeded his brother-in-law King Louis II in the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Kingdom of Hungary, and in 1556 Ferdinand succeeded his brother as the Holy Roman Emperor, laying the grounds for the global Habsburg Monarchy.

Having spent his childhood years at his father’s court in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Maximilian was educated principally in Italy. Among his teachers were humanist scholars like Kaspar Ursinus Velius and Georg Tannstetter. He also came in contact with the Lutheran teaching and early on corresponded with the Protestant Prince-Elector August of Saxony, suspiciously eyed by his Habsburg relatives.

From the age of 17, he gained some experience of warfare during the Italian War campaign of his uncle Charles V against King François I of France in 1544, and also during the Schmalkaldic War. Upon Charles’ victory in the 1547 Battle of Mühlberg, Maximilian put in a good word for the Schmalkaldic leaders, Johann Friedrich I of Saxony and Philipp I, Landgrave of Hesse, and soon began to take part in Imperial business.

On September 13, 1548 Emperor Charles V married Maximilian to his daughter (Maximilian’s cousin) Infanta Maria of Spain in the Castile residence of Valladolid. By the marriage his uncle intended to strengthen the ties with the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs, but also to consolidate his nephew’s Catholic faith.

Maximilian temporarily acted as the emperor’s representative in Spain, however not as stadtholder of the Habsburg Netherlands as he had hoped for. To his indignation, King Ferdinand appointed his younger brother Ferdinand II administrator in the Kingdom of Bohemia, nevertheless Maximilian’s right of succession as the future king was recognised in 1549. He returned to the Empire in December 1550 in order to take part in the discussion over the Imperial succession.

Maximilian’s relations with his uncle worsened, as Charles V, again embattled by rebellious Protestant princes led by Elector Maurice of Saxony, wished his son, the future King Felipe II of Spain, to succeed him as emperor. However, Charles’ brother Ferdinand, who had already been designated as the next occupant of the imperial throne, and his son Maximilian objected to this proposal. Maximilian sought the support of the German princes such as Duke Albert V of Bavaria and even contacted Protestant leaders like Maurice of Saxony and Duke Christoph of Württemberg.

At length a compromise was reached: Felipe was to succeed Ferdinand, but during the former’s reign Maximilian, as King of the Romans, was to govern Germany. This arrangement was not carried out, and is only important because the insistence of the emperor seriously disturbed the harmonious relations that had hitherto existed between the two branches of the Habsburg family; an illness that befell Maximilian in 1552 was attributed to poison given to him in the interests of his cousin and brother-in-law, Felipe II of Spain.

The relationship between the two cousins was uneasy. While Felipe had been raised a Spaniard and barely travelled out of the kingdom during his life, Maximilian identified himself as the quintessential German prince and often displayed a strong dislike of Spaniards, whom he considered as intolerant and arrogant. While his cousin was reserved and shy, Maximilian was outgoing and charismatic. His adherence to humanism and religious tolerance put him at odds with Felipe who was more committed to the defence of the Catholic faith.