Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria, 1598-1622, Elector of Bavaria and Lord High Steward of the Holy Roman Empire, 1623-1651; b. at Munich, April 17, 1573; d. at Ingolstadt, September 27, 1651. The lasting services he rendered his country and the Catholic Church justly entitle him to the surname of “Great”. He was the son of zealous Catholic parents, William V, the Pious, of Bavaria, and Renate of Lorraine. Mentally well endowed, Maximilian received a strict Catholic training from private tutors and later (1587-91) studied law, history, and mathematics at the University of Ingolstadt. He further increased his knowledge by visits to foreign courts, as Prague and Naples, and to places of pilgrimage including Rome, Loretto, and Einsiedeln. Thus equipped Maximilian assumed (October 15, 1597) the government of the small, thinly populated country at his father’s wish during the latter’s lifetime. Owing to the over-lenient rule of the two preceding rulers the land was burdened with a heavy debt. By curtailing expenditure and enlarging the revenues, chiefly by working the salt-mines himself and by increasing the taxes without regard to the complaints of the powerless estates, the finances were not only brought into a better condition but it was also possible to collect a reserve fund which, in spite of the unusually difficult conditions of the age, was never quite exhausted. At the same time internal order was maintained by a series of laws issued in 1616. Maximilian gave great attention to military matters. No other German prince of that time possessed an army so well organized and equipped. Its commander was the veteran soldier from the Netherlands Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, who, austere himself, knew how to maintain discipline among his troops. The fortifications at Ingolstadt on the Danube were greatly strengthened, and Munich and other towns were surrounded by walls and moats.
Well-filled arsenals were established in different places as preparation for time of need. Opportunity for the use of this armament soon offered itself.
The small free city of Donauworth fell under the imperial ban for violating the religious peace. In executing the imperial decree Maximilian not only succeeded in bringing this city into subjection to Bavaria but also in reestablishing the Catholic Church as the one and only religion in it. This led to the forming (1608) of the Protestant Union, an offensive and defensive confederation of Protestant princes, in opposition to which arose in 1609 the Catholic League organized by Maximilian. Oddly enough, both coalitions were headed by princes of the Wittelsbach line: Maximilian I as head of the League, Frederick IV of the Palatinate, of the Union. The Thirty Years’ War, during which Bavaria suffered terribly, broke out in 1619. Under Tilly’s leadership the Bohemian revolt was crushed at the battle of the White Mountain (Weissen Berg) near Prague, November 8, 1620, and the newly elected King of Bohemia, Frederick V, forced to flee. His allies, the Margrave of Baden and the Duke of Brunswick, were defeated by the forces of Bavaria and the League at Wimpfen and Hochst (1622), as was also at a later date (1626) King Christian of Denmark. Conditions, however, changed when Maximilian, through jealousy of the House of Hapsburgh, was led in 1630 to seek the dismissal of the head of the imperial army, Wallenstein. The youthful Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, defeated Tilly, the veteran leader of the army of the League, at Breitenfeld (1631), and in a battle with Gustavus Adolphus near the Lech, April 16, 1632, Tilly was again vanquished, receiving a wound from which he died two weeks later at Ingolstadt. Although the siege of this city by the Swedes was unsuccessful, Gustavus plundered the Bavarian towns and villages, laid waste the country and pillaged Munich.
Maximilian, who since 1623 had been both Elector and ruler of the Upper Palatinate, implored Wallenstein, now once more the head of the imperial forces, for help in vain until he agreed to place himself and his army under Wallenstein’s command. The united forces under Wallenstein took up an entrenched position near Nuremberg where Wallenstein repulsed the Swedish attacks; by advancing towards Saxony he even forced them to evacuate Maximilian‘s territories. The relief to Bavaria, however, was not of long duration. After the death of Gustavus Adolphus at the battle of Lutzen (1632) Bernhard of Weimar, unmolested by Wallenstein, ravaged Bavaria until he received a crushing defeat at the battle of Nordlingen(September 6, 1634). Even in the last ten years of the warthe country was not spared from hostile attacks. Consequently Maximilian sought by means of a trucewith the enemy (1647) to gain for Bavaria an opportunity to recover. The desired result, however, not being attained, he united his forces to those of the imperial army, but the allied troops were not sufficient to overthrow the confederated French and Swedes, and Bavaria once more suffered all the terrors of a pitiless invasion. The fighting ended with the capture of the Swedish generals, October 6, 1648, and the Peace of Westphalia was signed at Munster, October 24 of the same year. The material benefits derived by Maximilian from his attitude in politics were meagre: the Electoral dignity, the office of Lord High Steward, and the Upper Palatinate. The abstract gains, on the other hand, appear far greater. Not only since then has Bavaria had the second place among the Catholic principalities of Germany, ranking next to Austria, but for centuries a strong bulwark was opposed to the advance of Protestantism, and the latter was, at times, even driven back. A few years after the Peace of Westphalia and eighteen months after the administration of Bavaria had been transferred to his still minor son Ferdinand Maria, Maximilian‘s eventful and toilsome life closed. He was buried in the church of St. Michael at Munich. A fine equestrian statue, designed by Thorwaldsen and cast by Stiglmayer, was erected at Munich by King Louis I in 1839.
Although there was almost incessant war during his reign, and Bavaria in the middle of the seventeenth century was like a desert, nevertheless Maximilian did much for the arts, e.g. by building the palace, the Mariensaule (Mary’s Column), etc. Learning also, especially at the University of Ingolstadt, had in this era distinguished representatives. The Jesuit Balde was a brilliant writer both of Latin and German verse, and Father Scheirer, another member of the same order, was the first to discover the spots on the sun; historians also, such as Heinrich Canisius, Matthaus Rader, etc., produced important works of lasting merit.
Maximilian, however, gave far more attention to the advancement of religion among the people than to art and learning. He founded five Jesuit colleges: Amberg, Burghausen, Landshut, Mindelheim, and Straubing. Besides establishing a monastery for the Minims and one for the Carmelites at Munich, he founded nine monasteries for Franciscans and fourteen for Capuchins who venerate him as one of their greatest benefactors. He also founded at Munich a home for aged and infirm Court officials, and gave 30,000 guldens for the Chinese missions, as well as large sums to the Scotch-English college of the Jesuits at Liege.
His private charities among the poor and needy of all descriptions were unlimited.
Maximilian was endowed with an uncommon ability for work. He was also sincerely religious and rigidly moral in conduct; he even went beyond the permissible in his efforts to uphold and spread the faith. Maintaining like all princes of his time the axiom “Cujus regio ejus religio”, he not only put down every movement in opposition to the Church in his own country but also exterminated Calvinism and Lutheranism root and branch in the territories he had acquired. Where admonition and instruction were not sufficient the soldier stepped in, and the poor people, who had already been obliged to change their faith several times with change of ruler, had now no choice but return to the Church or exile. Maximilian, in addition, never lost sight of secular advantage, as is shown by his numerous acquisitions of territory. Especially valuable was the purchase of two-thirds of the countship of Helfenstein, now a part of Wurtemberg, which as a Bavarian dependence was preserved to the Church and has remained Catholic up to the present time, notwithstanding its Protestant surroundings. Maximilian was twice married. The first marriage was childless. By his second wife Maria, daughter of the Emperor Ferdinand II, whom he married July 15, 1635, he had two sons; the elder of these, Ferdinand Maria, as already mentioned, succeeded him.