Leopold I (Holy Roman Empire)

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LEOPOLD I (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (16401705; king of Hungary and of Bohemia from 1655; Holy Roman emperor from 1658)

LEOPOLD I (HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE) (16401705; king of Hungary and of Bohemia from 1655; Holy Roman emperor from 1658). The second surviving son of Emperor Ferdinand III (ruled 16371657), Archduke Leopold was destined by dynastic tradition to enter the church, where he could use the wealth and influence of high ecclesiastical office to further Habsburg dynastic interests in Europe. His older brother, the heir apparent, died in 1654, however, and Leopold, at age fourteen, had to take his brother's place and abandon clerical vows in order become the dynastic patriarch. The young archduke's education was overseen by tutors and aristocratic mentors who molded him for an ecclesiastical career. Leopold early adopted the intense Catholic piety expected of him and the gentle manners appropriate to a merely supporting role. He grew to manhood without the military ambition that characterized most of his fellow monarchs. From the beginning, his reign was defensive and profoundly conservative.

His first crisis concerned the Habsburg dynastic succession in the future, for in seven years death had reduced the living male Habsburgs to only two: Leopold and his sickly cousin Charles II of Spain. In 1666 Leopold married the younger daughter of Philip IV of Spain, the infanta Margareta (16511673); of their four children, only one, Maria Antonia (16691692) lived beyond the first year. A second marriage in 1673 to Claudia Felicitas of the Tyrol (16531676) brought two more daughters, both of whom died in their first year. In 1676 his third marriage to Eleanora Magdalena of Neuburg (16551720) finally produced a male heir in Joseph I (ruled 17051711) and then another son, Charles VI (ruled 17111740).

Two decades of dynastic crisis encouraged Leopold's neighbors to contemplate the Habsburg lands should Leopold fail to provide a male heir. France coveted the Spanish territories along the Rhenish frontier; in the east the Turks seized control of Transylvania in 1663 and invaded Hungary the next year. A coalition of imperial and Hungarian forces defeated the invaders at St. Gotthard in 1664. Leopold then surprised and disgusted his generals by concluding a hasty treaty at Vasvár accepting Turkish occupation of most of what they held and paying a large tribute to the Sublime Porte, the Ottoman government in Turkey. Leopold defended the treaty by pointing to French threats against the Low Countries. The immediate consequence, however, was the emergence of a conspiracy among Hungarian magnates who accused Leopold of wasting their blood. Leaders formed armed bands that moved about Hungary attacking both imperial and Turkish units, leading to renewed Turkish incursions. When the plot developed into a plan to murder Leopold, the court struck back, rounded up all the leaders, and executed them. Characteristically, Leopold himself favored clemency for the plotters, several of whom had been childhood friends, but sterner voices prevailed in his councils.

The imperial court at Vienna was a multilingual assembly of some two thousand persons, only about a hundred of whom participated in decision making through the judicial, financial, and military councils. Around them were small swarms of secretaries, copyists, investigators, bodyguards, lawyers, and others who were gradually coalescing into a primitive bureaucracy. Beyond them was a larger swarm of laborers, janitors, kitchen help, grooms, stable hands, laundresses, and court purveyors. All of these enjoyed the privilege of being subject to a special judiciary under the court marshall.

The aristocratic elite that dominated the governing councils generally split into two distinct factions: "westerners," who followed Leopold's own preference for appeasing the Turks in order to concentrate on the French threat, and on the other side the "easterners," who insisted that the Turks were the greater threat. That group included most of the military leaders, courtiers with great properties in Hungary or Croatia, and above all the church hierarchy, which followed the papacy's lead in the crusade against militant Islam.

It was clear that Leopold's territories could not provide the resources to allow major military campaigns in both Hungary and the Low Countries. Unrest in the east and French invasions into the Netherlands forced Leopold to enter into an alliance with the Calvinist Dutch Republic. This move unsettled his conscience for years, but the commercial wealth of the Protestant sea powers combined with the human and material resources of central Europe formed the basis on which subsequent Habsburgs built their Danubian empire. The war with France, which began in 1673, lasted beyond the end of his reign with only two brief periods of armed peace.

To deal with the eastern problems, Leopold was advised to resort to a policy of repression, revoking the privileges and freedoms guaranteed by Hungary's constitution and occupying the country with German troops, who would be paid by the local counties and the magnates. Spontaneous uprisings produced a general revolt. Vienna responded with a program of violent repression, setting up special courts that prosecuted Protestant preachers, angering popular opinion in Protestant states. The repression lasted until 1676, when Leopold had to remove the imperial garrisons from Hungary to fight against France. Hungary again fell into civil war between Catholic magnates loyal to the emperor and Protestant nobles defending their freedom of religion as guaranteed in their constitution. Restoration of traditional liberties in 1681 merely intensified the rebellion.

A deadly plague spreading up the Danube hit the Austrian provinces in 1679, forcing the court to move to Prague. Vienna lost about a fifth of its population. That disaster alongside the diversion of war with France led the Turkish vizier Kara Mustafa to undertake a massive onslaught against the west. In 1683, moving unexpectedly quickly, a Turkish army of nearly a hundred thousand surrounded Vienna on 16 July. Leopold fled with his councils to Passau, where the government began organizing the city's relief. A relieving force gathered above Vienna attacked the besieging forces on 12 September. With the help of King John Sobieski III of Poland, the long battle ended with the Turks in full retreat down the Danube.

The triumph of 1683 turned Leopold's attention to the east. The shift of power in Hungary came slowly. Remaining rebel forces gradually accepted Leopold's offered amnesty. By 1686 Buda fell, the next year imperial forces occupied Transylvania, and in 1688 the great fortress of Belgrade fell. Vienna had just begun celebrating when France invaded the Palatinate. This forced Leopold once again to choose between allowing France to ravage the empire and concentrating on the east, or taking the great risk of fighting a two-front war. Leopold agreed to a greater war, which is known as the War of the League of Augsburg. For nearly a decade neither front produced clear results. In 1691 the Turks retook Belgrade. In 1697, with Prince Eugene of Savoy in command, imperial forces defeated the main Turkish army at Zenta. Two years later the Treaty of Karlowitz fixed the eastern boundary of the Habsburg empire where it remained largely unchanged until the twentieth century.

The treaty of Ryswick temporarily interrupted hostilities with France, but upon the death of Charles II in 1700, war broke out again over the Spanish succession. Leopold sent his forces into northern Italy to occupy what they could of Spanish possessions there. The war soon became global, involving struggles in Germany, Flanders, Italy, Spain, Canada, New England, and the West and East Indies. Leopold died in 1705 at the peak of its intensity. He left a monarchy strengthened by military success, but in much need of institutional reform. Leopold was not a forceful personality. He believed sincerely that his conscientious piety would be sustained by divine providence, which would produce the necessary miracles for survival. He was a master at the art of representing his sovereignty on an elaborate baroque stage, staging complex allegorical productions, performing in them, and composing oratorios and incidental music for them. Vienna's premier role in the development of western music owes much to this modest emperor's cultivation of the one art form that could bridge the many languages spoken by his subjects.

See also Habsburg Dynasty ; Holy Roman Empire ; Hungary ; League of Augsburg, War of the (16881697) ; Spanish Succession, War of the (17011714) ; Vienna ; Vienna, Sieges of .


Béranger. Jean. A History of the Habsburg Empire 12731700. Translated by C. A. Simpson. London and New York, 1994.

Evans, R. J. W. The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 15501700: An Interpretation. Oxford and New York, 1979.

Goloubeva, Maria. The Glorification of Emperor Leopold I in Image, Spectacle, and Text. Mainz, 2000.

Ingrao, Charles W. The Habsburg Monarchy 16181815. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1994.

. In Quest and Crisis: Emperor Joseph I and the Habsburg Monarchy. West Lafayette, Ind. 1979.

McKay, Derek. Prince Eugene of Savoy. London, 1977.

Redlich, Oswald. Weltmacht des Barock, Österreich in der Zeit Kaiser Leopolds I. 4th edn. Vienna, 1961.

Spielman, John P. Leopold I of Austria. London and New Brunswick, N.J., 1977.

John P. Spielman

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Leopold I (1640–1705) Holy Roman Emperor (1658–1705). Throughout his long reign, he was compelled to defend the extensive Habsburg dominions against foreign aggression. Leopold joined the European defensive alliances against Louis XIV of France in 1686, 1689 and 1701, but died before the end of the War of the Spanish Succession.

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Leopold I (b Vienna, 1640; d Vienna, 1705). Emperor of Austria who reigned 1658–1705. Patron of mus., esp. opera. Comp. instr. sonatas, etc.