Cardinal, Austrian statesman (1552-1630)
Klesl, MELCHIOR, cardinal and Austrian statesman,. b. at Vienna, February 19, 1552; d. at Wiener-Neustadt, September 18, 1630. While France was governed by Cardinal Richelieu, Austria also had her cardinal minister of State; but whereas the former had but one journee des dupes, the latter lamented his downfall for years. Klesl's parents were Protestants, and his father was a baker. He studied philosophy at the University of Vienna, and was with his parents brought into the fold of the Church by the court chaplain, Father Georg Scherer, S.J. He received minor orders in 1577, when he was assigned a canonry, and, even while in minor orders, he preached and held conferences at Korneuburg and in the vicinity, making many conversions. In 1579 he became doctor of philosophy and provost of St. Stephen's at Vienna, which dignity carried with it the chancellorship of the university, and was finally ordained to the priesthood. As early as the following year he was appointed councilor of the Bishop of Passau for Lower Austria. Rudolf II, impressed by the vigor and success of his campaign against Protestantism, entrusted him with the work of the counter-Reformation, which became his life-work. He brought back into the fold the cities of Baden, Krems, and Stein, though not without great difficulty, nor indeed without actual risk of his life. In 1585 he was made imperial councilor by Rudolf II, who three years later appointed him court chaplain and administrator of the Diocese of Wiener-Neustadt. It took him but a very short time to restore the Catholic rule in this thoroughly disorganized bishopric. He was compelled in doing so to be constantly on his guard against the monastic council, which, in a memorial on the subject, he calls, "the cause of all evil, the champion of godless prelates and priests against their bishop, a parasite".
In 1598 Klesl was named Bishop of the Diocese of Vienna, which was spiritually and materially in a state of degradation. He was not consecrated until 1614, and received the purple from Paul V in 1616. In 1611 Matthias placed Klesl at the head of his privy council. As such he held full sway in the Government. He himself admits that he "spoke, wrote, and negotiated" for the emperor. It was the question of the succession to the throne which caused his downfall. Klesl had every reason to fear that his influence would wane, if Archduke Ferdinand were once formally declared to be the heir apparent. For this reason he delayed the settlement of this question. When the Bohemians, having thrown their governor out of the window of the palace at Prague for the second time, broke out into open rebellion, and Klesl could not be induced to take energetic measures against them, the Archdukes Max of Tyrol and Ferdinand of Steiermark caused the cardinal (July 20, 1618) to be seized in an antechamber of the undecided emperor, and had him conveyed to the fortress of Ambra. A few days later he was brought to the castle of Innsbruck. whence he was transferred after a year to the monastery of Georgenberg. In November, 1622, the Castle of Sant' Angelo in Rome became his place of confinement. He was granted his freedom by the emperor in June of the following year, but was to remain in Rome. He lived to enjoy the satisfaction of seeing himself solemnly brought back to Vienna on January 25, 1628, and reinstated as bishop. He decreed that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 be henceforth observed in his dioceses "in the same manner as Sundays and other prescribed holy days", and in spite of the nuncio's protestation, he strove to maintain the peculiarly Viennese custom whereby Holy Communion was distributed on Good Friday. His heart reposes before the high altar of the cathedral of Wiener-Neustadt, while his body rests in the cathedral of St. Stephen's.