Ferdinand III (Ferdinand Ernest; July 13, 1608 – April 2, 1657) was Archduke of Austria from 1621, King of Hungary from 1625, King of Croatia and Bohemia from 1627 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1637 until his death in 1657.
Ferdinand was born in Graz as third son of Holy Emperor Ferdinand II and his first wife, Maria Anna of Bavaria, she was the fourth child and second (but eldest surviving) daughter of Wilhelm V, Duke of Bavaria and Renata of Lorraine.
Ferdinand was baptised as Ferdinand Ernst. He grew up in Carinthia with loving care from his parents and he developed great affection for his siblings and his father, with whom he always found a consensus in future disagreements. At his father’s court he received religious and scholarly training from Jesuits.
Ferdinand III was elected King of the Romans at the Diet of Regensburg on December 22, 1636. Upon the death of his father on February 15, 1637, Ferdinand became Emperor. His political adviser Trauttmansdorff advanced to the position of Prime Minister of Austria and Chief diplomat, but was replaced by Johann Ludwig von Nassau-Hadamar in 1647 as his health had begun to deteriorate.
When Ferdinand ascended the throne it was the beginning of the last decade of the Thirty Years’ War and introduced lenient policies to depart from old ideas of divine rights under his father, as he had wished to end the war quickly.
As the numerous battles had not resulted in sufficient military containment of the Protestant enemies and confronted with decaying Imperial power Ferdinand was compelled to abandon the political stances of his Habsburg predecessors in many respects in order to open the long road towards the much delayed peace treaty. Although his authority among the Imperial Princes was weakened after the war, in the Kingdoms of Bohemia, Hungary and the Archduchy Austria, however, Ferdinand’s position as sovereign was uncontested.
Further, Ferdinand III’s sovereign power in the Austrian hereditary lands, as well his royal power in Hungary and Bohemia was significantly greater than that of his predecessor before 1618. Princely power was strengthened, while the influence of the estates was massively reduced. The church reform towards the Counter-reformation continued.
Emperor Ferdinand III was the first Habsburg monarch to be recognized as a musical composer.
Emperor Ferdinand III first married the Spanish Infanta, his cousin Infanta Maria Anna of Spain, Daughter of King Felipe III of Spain and Margaret of Austria, the daughter of Archduke Charles II of Austria and Maria Anna of Bavaria and thus the paternal granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. They were first cousins as male-line grandchildren of Charles II, Archduke of Austria, and Maria Anna of Bavaria.
Prior to her Imperial marriage Infanta Maria Anna of Spain was considered a possible wife for Charles, Prince of Wales; the event, later known in history as the “Spanish Match”, provoked a domestic and political crisis in the Kingdoms of England and Scotland.
Although in the middle of the war, this elaborate wedding was celebrated over a period of fourteen months. The marriage produced six children, including his successors, Ferdinand IV, King of Hungary and Emperor Leopold I.
His loving and intelligent wife and her brother, the Spanish Cardinal Infant Ferdinand, had great influence on Ferdinand and formed the most important link between the Habsburg courts in Madrid, Brussels and Vienna in the difficult period of the war for Habsburg following the death of Wallenstein
The Empress Maria Anna of Spain had died giving birth to her last child on May 13, 1646. Emperor Ferdinand III remarried to another first cousin, Maria Leopoldine of Austria (1632-1649) on July 2, 1648. The wedding ceremony, held in Linz, was notably splendid. This marriage however lasted little more than a year, ending with Maria Leopoldine’s own premature death in childbirth.
Ferdinand III’s last marriage was to Eleonora Magdalena Gonzaga of Mantua-Nevers on April 30, 1651, Ferdinand III married Eleonora Gonzaga. She was a daughter of Charles IV Gonzaga, Duke of Rethel.
Empress Eleonora was very pious and donated, among other things, for the Ursuline monastery in Vienna and the Order of the Starry Cross for noble women. She was also well educated and interested in art. She also composed music and wrote poetry and together with Ferdinand was the centre of the Italian academy.
Emperor Ferdinand also brought about the royal election of his son, Ferdinand IV, King of Hungary as King of the Romans who, however died in 1654.
Because his second son Leopold was still too young to be elected as King of the Romans, Ferdinand delayed the opening as well as the conclusion of the Deputationstag following the Reichstag to gain time until the next election. After all, Leopold was crowned King of Hungary and Bohemia. In 1656, Ferdinand sent an army into Italy to assist Spain in her struggle with France.
Emperor Ferdinand III died on April 2, 1657, and rests in the Capuchin Crypt in Vienna. His interior organs were separately buried in the Ducal Crypt.