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Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor

Leopold II (1747-1792), Roman emperor, and grand-duke of Tuscany, son of the empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, was born in Vienna on May 5, 1747.

He was a third son, and was at first educated for the priesthood, but the theological studies to which he was forced to apply himself are believed to have influenced his mind in a way unfavourable to the Church. On the death of his elder brother Charles in 1761 it was decided that he should succeed to his father's grand duchy of Tuscany, which was erected into a "secundogeniture" or apanage for a second son. This settlement was the condition of his marriage on August 5, 1764 with Maria Louisa, daughter of Charles III of Spain, and on the death of his father Francis I (August 13, 1765) he succeeded to the grand duchy.

For five years he exercised little more than nominal authority under the supervision of counsellors appointed by his mother. In 1770 he made a journey to Vienna to secure the removal of this vexatious guardianship, and returned to Florence with a free hand. During the twenty years which elapsed between his return to Florence and the death of his eldest brother Joseph II in 1790 he was employed in reforming the administration of his small state. The reformation was carried out by the removal of the ruinous restrictions on industry and personal freedom imposed by his predecessors of the house of Medici, and left untouched during his father's life; by the introduction of a rational system of taxation; and by the execution of profitable public works, such as the drainage of the Val di Chiana.

As he had no army to maintain, and as he suppressed the small naval force kept up by the Medici, the whole of his revenue was left free for the improvement of his state. Leopold was never popular with his Italian subjects. His disposition was cold and retiring. His habits were simple to the verge of sordidness, though he could display splendour on occasion, and he could not help offending those of his subjects who had profited by the abuses of the Medicean régime. But his steady, consistent and intelligent administration, which advanced step by step, making the second only when the first had been justified by results, brought the grand duchy to a high level of material prosperity. His ecclesiastical policy, which disturbed the deeply rooted convictions of his,people, and brought him into collision with the pope, was not successful. He was unable to secularize the property of the religious houses, or to put the clergy entirely under the control of the lay power.

During the last few years of his rule in Tuscany Leopold had begun to be frightened by the increasing disorders in the German and Hungarian dominions of his family, which were the direct result of his brother's headlong methods. He and Joseph II were tenderly attached to one another, and met frequently both before and after the death of their mother, while the portrait by Pompeo Baltoni[?] in which they appear together shows that they bore a strong personal resemblance to one another. But it may be said of Leopold, as of Fontenelle[?], that his heart was made of brains. He knew that he must succeed his childless eldest brother in Austria, and he was unwilling to inherit his unpopularity. When, therefore, in 1789 Joseph, who knew himself to be dying, asked him to come to Vienna, and become co-regent, Leopold coldly evaded the request. He was still in Florence when Joseph II died at Vienna on February 20, 1790, and he did not leave his Italian capital till the disturbances consequent on the failure of the campaign in Lombardy led to the resignation of the Ridolfi ministry, which was succeeded by that of Gino Capponi. The riots continued, especially at Leghorn, which was a prey to actual civil war, and the democratic party of which FD Guerrazzi and G Montanelli were leading lights became every day more influential. Capponi resigned, and Leopold reluctantly agreed to a Montanelli-Guerrazzi ministry, which in its turn had to fight against the extreme republican party.

New elections in the autumn of 1848 returned a constitutional majority, but it ended by voting in favour of a constituent assembly. There was talk of instituting a central Italian kingdom with Leopold as king, to form part of a larger Italian federation, but in the meanwhile the grand-duke, alarmed at the revolutionary and republican agitations in Tuscany and encouraged by the success of the Austrian arms, was, according to Montanelli, negotiating with Field-Marshal Radetzky and with Pius IX, who had now abandoned his Liberal tendencies, and fled to Gaeta[?]. Leopold had left Florence for Siena, and eventually for Porto San Stefano[?], leaving a letter to Guerrazzi in which, on account of a protest from the pope, he declared that he could not agree to the proposed constituent assembly. The utmost confusion prevailed in Florence and other parts of Tuscany.

On February 9, 1849 the republic was proclaimed, largely as a result of Mazzini's exhortations, and on the 18th Leopold sailed for Gaeta. A third parliament was elected and Guerrazzi[?] appointed dictator. But there was great discontent, and the defeat of Charles Albert at Novara caused consternation among the Liberals. The majority, while fearing an Austrian invasion, desired the return of the grand-duke who had never been unpopular, and in April 1849 the municipal council usurped the powers of the assembly and invited him to return, "to save us by means of the restoration of the constitutional monarchy surrounded by popular institutions, from the shame and ruin of a foreign invasion." Leopold accepted, although he said nothing about the foreign invasion, and on May 1 sent Count Luigi Serristori[?] to Tuscany with full powers.

But at the same time the Austrians occupied Lucca and Leghorn, and although Leopold simulated surprise at their action it has since been proved, as the Austrian general d'Aspre declared at the time, that Austrian intervention was due to the request of the grand-duke. On May 24 the latter appointed G Baldasseroni prime minister, on the 25th the Austrians entered Florence and on July 28 Leopold himself returned. In April 1850 he concluded a treaty with Austria sanctioning the continuation for an indefinite period of the Austrian occupation with 10,000 men; in September he dismissed parliament, and the following year established a concordat with the Church of a very clerical character. He feebly asked Austria if he might maintain the constitution, and the Austrian premier, Prince Schwarzenberg, advised him to consult the pope, the king of Naples and the dukes of Parma and Modena.

On their advice he formally revoked the constitution (1852). Political trials were held, Guerrazzi and many others being condemned to long terms of imprisonment, and although in 1855 the Austrian troops left Tuscany, Leopold's popularity was gone. A part of the Liberals, however, still believed in the possibility of a constitutional grand-duke who could be induced for a second time to join Piedmont in a war against Austria, whereas the popular party headed by F Bartolommei and G Dolfi realized that only by the expulsion of Leopold could the national aspirations be realized. When in 1859 France and Piedmont made war on Austria, Leopold's government failed to prevent numbers of young Tuscan volunteers from joining the Franco-Piedmontese forces. Finally an agreement was arrived at between the aristocratic constitutionalists and the popular party, as a result of which the grand-duke's participation in the war was formally demanded.

Leopold at first gave way, and entrusted Don Neri Corsini with the formation of a ministry The popular demands presented by Corsini were for the abdication of Leopold in favour of his son, an alliance with Piedmonl and the reorganization of Tuscany in accordance with the eventual and definite reorganization of Italy. Leopold hesitated and finally rejected the proposals as derogatory to his dignity. On April 27 there was great excitement in Florence, Italian colours appeared everywhere, but order was maintained, and the grand-duke and his family departed for Bologna undisturbed. Thus the revolution was accomplished without a drop of blood being shed, and after a period of provisional government Tuscany was incorporated in the kingdom of Italy. On July 21 Leopold abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand IV, who never reigned, but issued a protest from Dresden (March 26, 1860). He spent his last years in Austria, and died in Rome on January 29 1870.

Leopold of Tuscany was a well-meaning, not unkindly man, and fonder of his subjects than were the other Italian despots, but he was weak, and too closely bound by family ties and Habsburg traditions ever to become a real Liberal. Had he not joined the conclave of autocrats at Gaeta, and, above all, had he not summoned Austrian assistance while denying that he had done so, in 1849, he might yet have preserved his throne, and even changed the whole course of Italian history. At the same time his rule, if not harsh, was enervating and demoralizing.

See G Baldasseroni, Leopoldo II (Florence, 1871), useful but reactionary in tendency, the author having been Leopold's minister, G Montanelli, Memorie suit' Italia (Turin, 1853); FD Guerrazzi, Memorie (Leghorn, 1848); Zobi, Storia civile delta Toscana, vols. iv.-v. (Florence, 1850-1852); A von Reumont, Geschichte Toscanas (2 vols., Gotha, 1876-1877); M Bartolommei-Gioli, Il Rivoleimento Toscano e I'azione popolare (Florence, 1905); C Tivaroni, U Italia durante il dominio Austriaco, vol. i. (Turin, 1892), and L' Italia degli Italiani, vol. i. (Turin, 1895).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

Preceded by:
Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor
List of German Kings and Emperors Succeeded by:
Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor

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