Anastazja Maria Grudnicka

I am a Wolfson Postgraduate Scholar in the Humanities and my doctoral dissertation studies the religious formation of Matthias Habsburg (1557-1619). An heir to one of Europe’s most prominent dynasties, Matthias lived an extraordinary life. At the age of twenty, he disobeyed his dynastic superiors and joined the Dutch Revolt, as a result of which he was effectively exiled from the imperial court for over a decade. But in the early 1590s, Matthias’s spectacular political rise began. Having challenged his brother and Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, Matthias took over the leadership of the dynasty and its lands, and, at the age of fifty-five, won the imperial throne for himself. He ruled only for seven years, between 1612 and 1619, and his brief imperial reign concluded with the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War. For all its riveting twists and turns, the story of Matthias remains untold. My dissertation brings to life an important, albeit forgotten, figure and sheds light on a fascinating moment in the Habsburg and Central European past. For the first time, it gathers a mass of primary material connected to Matthias from archives, libraries, museums, and private collections scattered across Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. 

My interest in Matthias, however, goes beyond the specificities of the Habsburg and Central European history. By studying Matthias’s religious formation, I address more fundamental questions about what it meant to be a believer in Europe in the aftermath of the religious reformations. Like the rest of his family, Matthias remained faithful to Catholicism. Yet against the rising tendency within his dynasty and across Europe to embrace an increasingly exclusive — confessional — mode of piety, Matthias was reluctant to conform to these models. In examining Matthias’s religious journey, my research considers how early modern believers formulated their religious identities, the extent to which these identities were defined by the emergent confessional categories, and what the eschewal of confessionalism by individuals, such as Matthias, can tell us about the nature of early modern Christianity. My research weds cultural, social, and intellectual histories and examines Matthias’s piety through the lens of language, symbolic communication, policymaking, liturgy, patronage, collecting, religious materiality and soundscapes. 

More broadly, I’m interested in the intersections of religion, culture, and identity in early modern Central Europe and beyond.


Supervisor: Ben Kaplan (primary) and Martyn Rady (secondary)
Working title: ‘Being a Catholic in the House of Austria: The Religious Formation of Matthias Habsburg, 1557-1612’ 
Expected completion date: 2021

Conference papers and presentations

  • ‘Dynastic Catholicism Contested: The Munich Agreement of 1579 and Its Afterlife at the Court of Archduke Matthias Habsburg in Linz (1582-1590)’, German History Society Annual Conference, King’s College London, London, September 2019
  • ‘Fine Dining: Performance, Perception, and Politics of the Archducal Table at the Habsburg Court in Vienna in the 1590s’, Performance, Royalty, and the Court, 1500-1800, Society for Court Studies, London, April 2019 
  • ‘Memory, Space, and Authority in Late Reformation Linz (1582-1593)’, Postgraduate Symposium ‘Remembering the Reformation’, AHRC and Ecclesiastical History Society, Lambeth Palace Library, October 2018 
  • 'The (Un)Making of the Habsburg Dynasty: The Self-Fashioning of the Archduke Matthias Habsburg in the Low Countries (1577-1581)', The Art of the Network, Courtauld Institute Postgraduate Symposium, Courtauld Institute of Art, April 2017
  • 'The Ideal of the Christian Prince in the Self-Fashioning of Matthias Habsburg (1577-1619)', Religious History workshop, University of Cambridge, February 2016

Conference organisation

  • Organising committee, Nature's Past: Historical Perspectives on a Contested Concept, UCL History postgraduate conference, June 2017
  • Organising committee, The State of the State of Nature, 9th conference in Political Thought and Intellectual History, University of Cambridge, 2016