Today only traces of Habsburg buildings remain in Graz, providing little indication of the momentous events that took place here around 1600 and were to have a decisive effect on the development of the Monarchy as a whole.
After the death of Ferdinand I in 1564 a new line of the dynasty emerged: Archduke Charles, Ferdinand’s youngest son, was given Inner Austria, a group of territories comprising Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Gorizia and the regions on the northern Adriatic together with Trieste.
The capital of this part of the Habsburg lands was Graz. The old residence at the foot of the Schlossberg, originally a late Gothic palace dating from the time of Frederick III and Maximilian I, under whom Graz had already served as imperial residence for certain periods, was extended by Charles. Today Graz Castle is the seat of the Styrian provincial government.
The main task of the Styrian line of the dynasty was to defend their territory against the Turks. To pre-empt the threat, Inner Austria assumed the financing of the military border in Croatia and Slavonia. Graz became the military and logistical command centre, supplying troops with provisions and weapons. An idea of the dimensions of this operation can still be gained today from the huge collection of arms and armour in the Zeughaus (armoury). The Schlossberg in Graz was rebuilt as the main fortress. This massive fortified complex was never tested against the Turks but was later blown up by Napoleon’s troops – only the clock tower remained standing thanks to the initiative of Graz’s citizens.
Charles was confronted with another conflict in his own lands: the court at Graz was a Catholic enclave in a predominantly Protestant country but had strong links with Catholic powers. Charles’s bigoted wife, Maria of Bavaria from the House of Wittelsbach, the leading Catholic power of the Holy Roman Empire, played a leading role here.
Charles’s son and successor Ferdinand was steeped in the principles of religious absolutism: one faith, one ruler. As regent over Inner Austria from 1590, he set about putting this theory into practice. A ruthless and violent campaign drove Protestants into exile or underground. One such Protestant affected was Johannes Kepler, active as a scholar in the service of the Protestant Estates, who was banished from Graz.
In 1619 Ferdinand became head of the dynasty, thereby making the collateral Styrian branch of the family the principal Habsburg line. The militant Catholic Counter-Reformation that had initially been realized on a small scale in Inner Austria was now implemented across the entire Monarchy. Ferdinand moved to Vienna together with his court, and, Graz lost its status as residence.
It is no coincidence that the most visible signs of Habsburg presence in Graz are ecclesiastical buildings. Charles is commemorated in the mighty complex of the Jesuit College, which formed the nucleus of the University of Graz, founded in 1585. The most important monument is the mausoleum near the former court church, today the cathedral. A major work of Austrian Mannerism, the tomb contains the remains of the two main Habsburg figures of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Ferdinand and his mother Maria.