Leopold II (HRR)

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Leopold II as Grand Master of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Signature Leopold II. (HRR) .PNG

Leopold II (born May 5, 1747 in Vienna ; † March 1, 1792 ibid) was Archduke of Austria from the House of Habsburg-Lothringen , Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1765 to 1790 (as Peter Leopold) and Emperor of the Holy from 1790 to 1792 Roman Empire and King of Bohemia , Croatia and Hungary .

With an Enlightenment policy, he made the Grand Duchy of Tuscany a model state. In the short time as emperor and ruler of the Habsburg monarchy , he endeavored to end the unrest as a result of his predecessor's hasty reform policies. He also tried to balance things out in foreign policy. The war with the Ottomans was ended and a compromise with Prussia was found. His attitude towards the French Revolution was ambivalent. On the one hand he welcomed the constitutional monarchy , on the other hand he underestimated the dynamism of the movement and unintentionally contributed to the outbreak of the First Coalition War with the Pillnitz Declaration .


Early years

Franz I. Stephan and Maria Theresa with eleven children

Leopold was born as the ninth child of Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria and the Roman-German Emperor Franz Stephan von Lothringen and was baptized with the name Petrus Leopoldus Ioannes Antonius Joachim Pius Gotthardus . The first name Peter, which is unusual for the Habsburgs, goes back to the wish of his godmother Elisabeth of Russia . Leopold had two older and two younger brothers, including his predecessor as Emperor, Joseph II , and Maximilian Franz , who later became Elector of Cologne . Five of his eleven sisters died early. Leopold's youngest sister was Marie Antoinette , born in 1755 , who later became Queen of France.

Leopold received an excellent education , dedicated to the education. The Ajo Franz Graf Thurn-Valsassina was influential . This later served Leopold as Chamberlain and advisor in Tuscany. His brother Anton Graf Thurn-Valsassina was also one of Leopold's confidants and later served as chief steward. The most important of his teachers was the legal scholar and university professor Carl Anton Martini . From this he was also introduced to the theory of natural law . His philosophical reading worried his pious mother so much that, when he was already ruling Tuscany, she advised him to consult his confessor in choosing which one to read. Leopold was particularly interested in natural sciences and technology. In addition to German, he also spoke French and a little Czech and mastered Latin. He also learned Italian, which later became his preferred colloquial language. He also showed good skills in the other subjects with the exception of written expression. From his mother he inherited a "good, generous and compassionate heart," from his father sobriety to pedantry, but also strong sensuality. From him he also inherited an interest in new techniques and sciences.

He was a factor in the marriage policy of the imperial couple from an early age. At the age of six he was intended to be the husband of Maria Beatrice d'Este , the heir to the Duchy of Modena . After the early death of his older brother Karl (1745–1761), he was to succeed him in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and marry his brother Ferdinand, the heiress of Modena.

Together with his father and brother he took part in the coronation of Joseph II in 1764. As a result, he also got to know the Bohemian and Hungarian parts of the Habsburg Empire while traveling .

In 1765 Leopold and his parents traveled to Innsbruck to meet his bride, the Spanish Princess Maria Ludovica . The official marriage had already taken place on February 16, 1764 in Madrid . The wedding took place on August 5, 1765 in Innsbruck. Shortly afterwards, on August 18th, the emperor died in Innsbruck and Leopold took over rule in Tuscany, which thus became the Habsburg secondary school . The Triumphal Gate in the city commemorates both the wedding and the death of the father. The marriage had sixteen children.

Grand Duke of Tuscany

Orsini-Rosenberg era

The young Archduke Leopold (left) and his brother Emperor Joseph II.

The economic situation in the Grand Duchy was extremely difficult when Leopold took power. One reason for this was the last great famine that struck Italy and which was gradually ending at that time. However, the problems were also structural. Development stagnated under the last rulers of the Medici family. Leopold's father hadn't really taken care of the land either and had it administered by agents. For this reason, Joseph II's demand for the “Tuscan reserve fund” to be handed over to Leopold came very inconveniently. In the following conflict with the emperor he was defeated, which permanently worsened the relationship between the brothers.

As Grand Duke, Leopold made a name for himself as the initiator of many reforms in the Enlightenment sense, but more cautious and moderate than his brother, Emperor Joseph II. The leadership of the Tuscan government passed from Marchese Antoniotto Botta Adorno to Franz Xaver Wolfgang von Orsini-Rosenberg . With him began the period of great reforms in the Grand Duchy. Orsini-Rosenberg worked closely with local personalities. A systematic statistical survey of the country's economy should provide the basis for future decisions. The previously regulated trade in grain, flour and bread was legally released in 1766. This attracted attention abroad, especially among the Physiocrats .

In the following decades Leopold turned Tuscany into a model state with a constant policy of reform. Although he always had the Habsburg interests in Italy and the Mediterranean in mind, he tried to play an independent role with Maria Theresa and the emperor. Inside, the general lease was canceled in 1768 and tax collection was nationalized. Long leases were introduced for farm property. The government also interfered with church rights. Measures were taken to prevent the unproductive wealth at the dead from growing further , church asylum was lifted and church prisons were made subject to the state. In church politics there were definitely similarities between Leopold and Joseph II. Both demonstratively visited the conclave of 1769 together. In 1770 Leopold traveled to Vienna with his wife. Orsini-Rosenberg ended his service in the Grand Duchy at the same time.


Leopold II and Maria Ludovica of Spain with their family in Florence in 1776

Since then, politics has been largely determined by Leopold himself. During this period of autocracy, the guilds were abolished, a chamber of commerce was founded, freedom of trade and a new municipal code were introduced. In addition, the old administrative structures were gradually modernized and the country transformed into a unitary state. The reform of the health system and the police should also be included in this context. The army was disbanded and replaced by a citizen militia.

This reform policy naturally interfered with numerous interests and old habits. It is noteworthy that Leopold first tested the measures for their practicability in parts of the country before they were introduced throughout the Grand Duchy.

Basically, Leopold was an even more determined supporter of Reformed Catholicism than his brother Joseph. But especially because of the proximity of the Papal States , he initially proceeded much more cautiously in the implementation. The pace of reform only increased from 1778/79. The parish districts were redesigned and Leopold took action against various aspects of popular piety . In 1786 Leopold sent the draft for a comprehensive anti-curial church reform to the country's bishops. However, he and his followers suffered a clear defeat at a bishops' meeting in 1787 against the representatives of the status quo. There were also protests among the population. This led to Leopold becoming more cautious in the field of church reform.

Through longer stays in Vienna in the 1770s, he got to know the government and the work of the authorities of the Habsburg monarchy, but also the state of the family even better. In his private notes there are clear reservations about the centralistic absolutism of his brother. Instead of extending the bureaucracy pleaded Leopold for an expansion of corporative self-government, for emancipation, religious tolerance, freedom of trade and the abolition of censorship. Immediately after his return to Tuscany he planned to introduce a representative constitution, despite the concerns of his colleagues. On the one hand, he was guided by existing corporate structures such as those in Hungary, the Austrian Netherlands and Tyrol . On the other hand, role models like Switzerland and Pennsylvania played a role. Leopold presented a first draft to his confidante Francesco Maria Gianni in 1779. In the following years, both continued to work on it, before a small group of other advisors and experts were called in in 1782. However, various circumstances, primarily foreign policy, and conflicts with the emperor prevented implementation.

Later Leopold even expressed his intention to make the Grand Duchy a constitutional monarchy . He declared in 1789: “The idea of ​​letting the sovereign of the nation give an account of the state and administration of its finances seems to me praiseworthy, just and useful, for finances belong to the people like everything else, and the sovereign is only the administrator, thus obliged to account ” and added, probably under the impression of the French Revolution and the American Declaration of Independence , in the following year: “ I believe that every country should have a constitution or a treaty between people and sovereign which limits the power of the latter ; that if the sovereign does not keep this law, [...] one is no longer obliged to obey him. I believe that the exercising power belongs to the sovereign, but the legislative power belongs to the people and their representatives ... Because the only purpose of societies and governments is the happiness of individuals. "

Joseph II, on the other hand, planned to join Tuscany directly to the Habsburg monarchy. He also forced Leopold to send his son Franz to Vienna so that he could be prepared to take over the rule.

In the last few years as Grand Duke, Leopold once again set standards with his judicial reform that were recognized throughout Europe. In 1786 he abolished the death penalty and torture , making Tuscany the first state without the death penalty. In addition, guilty custody was abolished and crimes and misdemeanors were only punished mildly compared to other states. A comprehensive reform of the education system was planned, but this never happened.


Coronation coin Frankfurt am Main 9 October1790. It shows Leopold's motto "pietate et concordia" over the imperial regalia .
Portrait of Leopold II in coronation regalia 1790
Leopold Column in Frankfurt am Main - Seckbach , erected on the occasion of the coronation in 1790
Silver cut of 2 ducats from the city of Frankfurt on the election of Leopold II, 1790
Head portrait of Leopold II on silver strike

After Joseph's unexpected death, Leopold took control of the Habsburg hereditary lands. He chose Pietate et concordia as his motto , "through piety and unity".

The political situation at the beginning of his rule was extremely difficult. In addition to the current war against the Ottoman Empire , a war with Prussia and Poland threatened . The Austrian Netherlands had also fallen away with Prussian help in the Brabant Revolution . There was a threat of uprisings in Hungary and perhaps even in Tyrol. There was also dissatisfaction among the Bohemian and Austrian nobility as a result of Joseph II's reform policy. Domestically, Leopold tried to defuse the situation by accommodating or playing off various actors against one another. He partially withdrew his brother's hasty reforms. On the other hand, as in the case of the Austrian Netherlands, he also proceeded militarily.

The decisive problem, however, was the relationship with Prussia. On July 27, 1790, Leopold concluded the Reichenbacher Convention with Prussia . This averted the danger of war. At the same time, this meant the recognition of Prussia as an equal power. The European balance of power was thus decisively changed. If Prussia and Austria were in agreement, they could also shape conditions in the empire according to their will. Also, Hungary and the Austrian Netherlands could no longer count on Prussian support for their independence efforts.

With the agreement, Leopold secured the election of emperor in particular. If his predecessor had no longer pursued real imperial politics, Leopold wanted to change this. The choice was by no means automatic on him. However, there was no opponent. At least some princes tried to use the opportunity to weaken the imperial rights, which were already limited, and to make them a mere primus inter pares .

Leopold was elected emperor on September 30th and was crowned Leopold II on October 9th, 1790 in Frankfurt am Main . The coronation as King of Hungary in Pressburg took place on November 15, 1790 and the coronation as King of Bohemia in Prague on September 6, 1791. It was hoped for a long period of peace under a capable ruler transfigured as Titus . Mozart composed the opera La clemenza di Tito on the occasion of the coronation in Prague .

The uprising in the Netherlands collapsed and the imperial troops were able to reoccupy the country without any problems. However, the emperor promised to restore the freedoms as they had existed at the time of Maria Theresa. An armistice was signed with the Ottoman Empire, and the Peace of Sistowa followed in 1791 . In this regard, Leopold made considerable concessions to the Ottoman Empire: Belgrade was returned to the Ottomans and, apart from small border changes, there were no territorial gains for the Habsburg Empire. Leopold had persuaded the Hungarian Reichstag to give in and he appeased the nobility in Bohemia and Austria by withdrawing various reform measures taken by his predecessor. Without changing anything in his brother's fundamental reforms, he also accommodated the critics in church politics. The transfer of Tuscan institutions to the larger plain proved difficult. After all, a police constitution for Vienna was based on the Tuscan model.

However, Leopold also set up a secret police to keep up to date with developments. He also tried, with the help of the secret police, to win over public opinion for a reform policy similar to that in Tuscany. He made use of supporters and employees who, like Ignaz Joseph Martinovics under Franz II, became the core of the “ Jacobins ” in Vienna.

At the beginning, Leopold was positive about the French Revolution , but also about the Polish constitution of 1791, as he saw in it a spirit comparable to that in his politics in Tuscany. However, he underestimated the revolutionary dynamic. At the insistence of the French emigrants, he wrote the circular from Padua of July 6, 1791 in favor of the French royal couple. In August 1791 he proclaimed the Pillnitz Declaration together with King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia and some noble emigrants . This emphasized the interest in a complete restoration of the monarchy in France. Military intervention was also announced, provided that all other European powers would participate. Despite all the rhetoric, this meant a de facto rejection of an intervention, since it was clear that by no means all powers would participate. The Pillnitz Declaration was intended to intimidate revolutionary France and move it to a moderate policy. The opposite was true, however. The declaration increased the French readiness for war and worsened the position of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette. It thus became one of the triggers for the first coalition war . In view of the fact that the danger of war with Prussia and peace with the Ottomans had just been overcome, Leopold did not want war with revolutionary France. Shortly before his death, however, he recognized the danger that France posed. He concluded a defensive alliance with Prussia on February 7, 1792, but continued to refuse to intervene in France itself.

Death and succession

Sarcophagus of Emperor Leopold II in the Capuchin Crypt

Leopold II died unexpectedly on March 1, 1792. His unexpected death fueled rumors of a poisoning. Freemasons, Jesuits or French agents were suspected of being the authors. Another rumor was that the emperor died from taking a self-made aphrodisiac . These rumors probably have no real background, rather the emperor died of natural causes. However, he was bled four times in the last three days of his life . His successor was his son Franz as Franz II , who turned away from the reform policy of his two predecessors.

Leopold II was buried in the "Tuscany crypt" of the Capuchin Crypt in Vienna. His heart is in the Habsburgs ' heart crypt , while his entrails were buried in the ducal crypt of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. He is one of those 41 people who received a “ separate burial ” with the body being divided between all three traditional Viennese burial sites of the Habsburgs (Imperial Crypt, Heart Crypt, Ducal Crypt). In the St. George's Chapel of the Augustinian Church there is a magnificent sarcophagus made for him by Franz Anton Zauner , which, however, was never used.


Leopold II married the Infanta Maria Ludovica (1745–1792), daughter of King Charles III, in Innsbruck on August 5, 1765 . of Spain from the house of Bourbon and his wife Princess Maria Amalia of Saxony . The couple had 16 children:

  1. ⚭ 1788 Elisabeth of Württemberg (1767–1790)
  2. ⚭ 1790 Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily (1772–1807)
  3. ⚭ 1808 Maria Ludovika Beatrix of Austria-Este (1787–1816)
  4. ⚭ 1816 Karoline Auguste of Bavaria (1792–1873)
  1. ⚭ 1790 Maria Louisa of Naples and Sicily (1773–1802)
  2. ⚭ 1821 Maria Anna of Saxony (1796–1865), daughter of Maximilian of Saxony (1759–1838)
  1. ⚭ 1799 Alexandra Pavlovna Romanowa (1783–1801)
  2. ⚭ 1815 Hermine von Anhalt-Bernburg-Schaumburg-Hoym (1797–1817)
  3. ⚭ 1819 Maria Dorothea of ​​Württemberg (1797–1855)


Pedigree of Leopold II.

Nikolaus Franz von Vaudémont (1609–1670)
⚭ 1634
Claudia of Lorraine (1612–1648)

Ferdinand III. (1608–1657)
⚭ 1651
Eleonora of Mantua (1630–1686)

Louis XIII (1601–1643)
⚭ 1615
Anna of Austria (1601–1666)

Karl I. Ludwig (1617–1680)
⚭ 1650
Charlotte von Hessen-Kassel (1627–1686)

Ferdinand III. (1608–1657)
⚭ 1631
Maria Anna of Spain (1606–1646)

Philipp Wilhelm (1615–1690)
⚭ 1653
Elisabeth Amalia of Hessen-Darmstadt (1635–1709)

Anton Ulrich von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (1633–1714)
⚭ 1656
Elisabeth Juliane von Holstein-Norburg (1634–1704)

Albrecht Ernst I. zu Oettingen (1642–1683)

Christine Friederike von Württemberg (1644–1674)

Great grandparents

Duke Karl V. Leopold (1643–1690)
⚭ 1678
Eleanor of Austria (1653–1697)

Philip I of Bourbon (1640–1701)
⚭ 1671
Elisabeth of the Palatinate (1652–1722)

Emperor Leopold I (1640–1705)
⚭ 1676
Eleonore Magdalene von der Pfalz (1655–1720)

Duke Ludwig Rudolf of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (1671–1735)
⚭ 1690
Christine Luise von Oettingen (1671–1747)


Duke Leopold Joseph of Lorraine (1679–1729)
⚭ 1698
Élisabeth Charlotte de Bourbon-Orléans (1676–1744)

Emperor Charles VI. (1685–1740)
⚭ 1708
Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel (1691–1750)


Emperor Franz I Stephan (1708–1765)
⚭ 1736
Maria Theresia (1717–1780)

Leopold II.


Web links

Commons : Leopold II.  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Leopold II.  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Adam Wandruszka : Leopold II. Volume I: 1747-1780. Vienna, Munich 1963, p. 16.
  2. a b Brigitte Vacha (Ed.): The Habsburgs. A European family story . Vienna 1992, p. 337.
  3. Lorenz Mikoletzky: Leopold II. In: Die Kaiser der Neuzeit, 1519–1918: Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Germany. Munich 1990, pp. 277-278.
  4. Brigitte Vacha (ed.): The Habsburgs. A European family story. Vienna 1992, p. 338.
  5. Quoted from Herre, Maria Theresia, p. 319.
  6. ^ A b Lorenz Mikoletzky: Leopold II. In: Die Kaiser der Neuzeit, 1519–1918: Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Germany. Munich 1990, p. 283.
  7. a b c Lorenz Mikoletzky: Leopold II. In: Die Kaiser der Neuzeit, 1519–1918: Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Germany. Munich 1990, p. 284.
  8. Brigitte Vacha (ed.): The Habsburgs. A European family story. Vienna 1992, p. 340.
  9. ^ Elisabeth Fehrenbach : From the Ancien Regime to the Congress of Vienna . Munich 2001, pp. 45-46.
  10. Helga Peham: Leopold II. Ruler with a wise hand. Styria, Graz 1987, ISBN 3-222-11738-1 , p. 300.
  11. Magdalena Hawlik-van de Water, The Capuchin Crypt. Burial place of the Habsburgs in Vienna , 2nd edition Vienna 1993, p. 234.
predecessor Office successor
Franz II. Stephan Grand Duke of Tuscany
Ferdinand III.
Joseph II Roman-German Emperor
King of Bohemia , Hungary , Croatia, Slavonia , Dalmatia , Galicia and Lodomeria
Archduke of Austria
Duke of Milan , Luxembourg , Steyer , Carniola , Carinthia , etc.
Francis II