Thursday, March 30, 2017
Monarch Profile: Emperor Leopold II
After taking power into his own hands, Grand Duke Leopold lowered taxes, enacted a public works program, streamlined the bureaucracy, cut government regulations, abolished the death penalty and tried to appropriate the property of the Church, which he did not succeed at but which was illustrative of his problems with the Catholic hierarchy and the source of considerable tensions between himself and the Pope. He was not very popular with his Italian subjects, however, as his entire personality was very much at odds with the culture of Tuscany. He was austere, private, preferred to live simply and, like his brother, wanted rationality in all things. His people rather liked displays of pageantry, grandeur and had become used to the way things had been since the days of the Medici. There were corruptions, but they were corruptions the people had become comfortable with and the tension with the Church also caused problems. All in all, Leopold was simply too German or Austrian for his very Italian subjects. His improvements of public health, provision for the mentally ill and abolition of corporal punishment were things most people approved of, but he simply did not act like a typical Italian prince was expected to. Where he was expected to be grand, lavish and vibrant, he was plain, not very sociable and rather reclusive.
Once he became Emperor-Elect Leopold II of the Holy Roman Empire/First German Reich, Leopold became one of those monarchs who falls between the two larger personalities. Historians tend to give little attention to his reign, Leopold II serving as little more than a temporary bridge between the reigns of Emperor Joseph II and Emperor Francis II (later Francis I of Austria). Yet, Leopold II came along at a critical time in the history of Europe and western civilization in general. The French Revolution was building steam, and without France, Austria had no support against the growing powers of Prussia to the north and Russia to the east. The Ottoman Turks were also a constant irritant to the south. Within the empire, there was also unrest among the Hungarians, Bohemians, Belgians, the clergy and the nobility. Emperor Leopold II tried to steer a middle course, repealing just enough of the policies of his autocratic brother to gain support but holding to most of the same principles.
Naturally, the growing French Revolution increasingly occupied the mind of the crowned heads of Europe. Emperor Leopold II had taken no action against the revolutionaries, at times seemed to think the situation had resolved itself with King Louis’ forced acceptance of a constitutional monarchy, yet later Leopold called for monarchist solidarity in opposing the Revolution after the arrest of the French King and Queen. However, again, he took no action, refusing to break his scheduled priorities and focusing on his peace negotiations with the Turks. The situation in France was worsening by the day when Emperor Leopold II suddenly dropped dead in Vienna in March of 1792 after only two years on the imperial throne, passing the Habsburg dominions to his son who became Emperor Francis II, later Emperor Francis I of Austria. It would be left to him to be the primary continental opposition to the forces of the French Revolution, the empire of Napoleon and to lead the forces of counterrevolution in Europe in the Nineteenth Century.