Leopold II (Holy Roman Empire)

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Leopold II

Leopold II (1747-1792) was Holy Roman emperor from 1790 to 1792. He used his outstanding talents as a diplomat and administrator to strengthen the empire by pacifying the Netherlands and Hungary and making agreements with Prussia and Turkey.

Born in Vienna on May 5, 1747, Leopold was the third son of Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. In 1765 he succeeded his father as grand duke of Tuscany, ruling as Leopold I but known by his full name, Peter Leopold. His 25-year rule made Florence a citadel of the Enlightenment.

Leopold's reforms, although no less radical than those of his brother Joseph II in Austria and just as distinguished by an institutionalized anticlericalism, met less opposition. Because Leopold discussed them beforehand with representatives of the local nobility and bourgeoisie, they went less against the grain.

Joseph considered Leopold his only friend, confided in him, and frequently asked his opinion. Leopold always replied with the utmost courtesy and respect, although, as can be learned from his secret journal, he actively disliked his brother. Leopold thought Joseph had brought the monarchy to the brink of ruin by impetuous and unwise policies. In 1790 Joseph lay dying and summoned Leopold, his heir. Leopold, to avoid association in the popular mind with his unpopular brother, made excuses. Joseph died, deprived of this last consolation.

Having become emperor, Leopold put down the revolt in the Austrian Netherlands, came to terms with Hungarian rebels, and negotiated the Convention of Reichenbach (1790) with Prussia, preventing that state from profiting from Austria's troubles by acquiring part of its territories. In 1791 he ended the war with the Turks on favorable terms, reacquiring Belgrade and Walachia.

Leopold's attention was increasingly drawn to the perilous situation of his sister Marie Antoinette in France, and in February 1792 he signed the Treaty of Pillnitz with Prussia, which provided for possible common action by these two powers against France and so made war extremely likely.

Internally, while ostensibly retaining what was viable in Joseph's program, Leopold canceled or ignored most reforms to which there was vocal opposition, thus sacrificing the heart of the program. At the same time he secretly encouraged Hungarian liberals to agitate for reform. What might have resulted from his convoluted and contradictory policies remains an enigma, as he died suddenly in Vienna on March 1, 1792, before either his domestic or foreign policies had come to fruition. His son Francis II succeeded him as emperor.

Further Reading

Leopold is discussed in C. A. Macartney, The Habsburg Empire, 1790-1918 (1968). □

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Leopold II, 1747–92, Holy Roman emperor (1790–92), king of Bohemia and Hungary (1790–92), as Leopold I grand duke of Tuscany (1765–90), third son of Maria Theresa. Succeeding his father, Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, in Tuscany, Leopold reorganized the Tuscan government, abolished torture and the death penalty, equalized taxation, and sought to gain control over the church. When Leopold succeeded (1790) his brother Joseph II as emperor and as ruler of the Hapsburg lands, he took over a nearly disrupted state. To pacify his subjects in the Austrian Netherlands (see Netherlands, Austrian and Spanish), in Hungary, and in Bohemia, he repealed most of Joseph's reforms. Unlike Joseph, he had himself crowned king at Pozsony in Hungary (now Bratislava) and at Prague in Bohemia; he was the last crowned king of Bohemia. Having reached an agreement (1790) with Frederick William II of Prussia, who wished to prevent Austrian expansion in the east and was about to side with the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) in its war against Russia and Austria, Leopold abandoned his alliance with the Russian czarina, Catherine II. He concluded a separate peace treaty at Sistova (1791) with Turkey by which the pre-war borders were substantially restored. Leopold's troops marched into the Austrian Netherlands and suppressed the Belgian insurrection in 1790. Although he hoped to avoid war with revolutionary France, Leopold instigated (1791) the Declaration of Pillnitz, by which the emperor and the king of Prussia stated that if all other European powers would join them, they were prepared to restore Louis XVI to his lawful powers by force. Contrary to his expectations, this declaration was a basic cause of the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars a few weeks after Leopold's death. Leopold was succeeded by his son, Francis II. Leopold II is generally considered a ruler of outstanding diplomatic and administrative abilities.

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Leopold II (b Vienna, 1747; d Vienna, 1792). Emperor of Austria who reigned 1790–2. Grand Duke of Tuscany 1765–90, influencing mus. life there and in Vienna. Paid for perfs. of several innovatory operas by Traetta. On succeeding his brother Joseph II, he began a major reform of Viennese court opera, introducing singers from Florence.

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Leopold II, 1797–1870, grand duke of Tuscany (1824–59). Liberally inclined at first, he granted some reforms and undertook public works. In 1848 he approved a constitution and joined Sardinia in its war against Austria (see Risorgimento). Refusing the demands of the extremists, however, Leopold left Tuscany in Feb., 1849, and returned several months later in the wake of Austrian troops. In 1852 he repealed the constitution, and in 1859 he was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Ferdinand IV, who was deposed in 1860.