EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN II
By Paula Sutter Fichtner
Yale University Press, $30, 344 pages, illus.
REVIEWED BY BRIDGET HEAL
"By virtually all standards, including his own, Emperor Maximilian II (1527-1576) was a failure." So begins Paula Sutter Fichtner's account of the life and times of one of 16th-century Europe's least effective rulers.
As a Hapsburg, Maximilian was a member of one of Europe's leading dynasties. His uncle, Charles V, had built up a massive empire, uniting the Netherlands, Spain, the New World, Naples, Sicily and Germany under his leadership. Charles' son, Philip, inherited the Spanish part of this empire and the Netherlands, while Germany passed to Charles' brother, Ferdinand, and thence, in 1562, to Ferdinand's son, Maximilian.
Charles V and Philip II are two of the great figures of European history and have been the subjects of numerous studies, but "Emperor Maximillian II" is the first full biography of Maximilian II in English. Perhaps not surprisingly, previous scholars have been deterred by Maximilian's inadequacies — his inability to achieve any of his stated aims and his failure to make any lasting impression on Europe's political and religious landscape. As the author points out, however, history is not just about great achievements. It is about the totality of past experience, in which failure and defeat have inevitably played a central role.