Emperor Leopold I of Habsburg

Holy Roman Emperor, king of Hungary, king of Bohemia

1640-1705

Emperor Leopold's education

Leopold was not destined to become emperor, but became so by the death of his elder brother. This was significant because it meant he got a different education than that of a crown prince, probably influencing his character. Anyway he became emperor in 1658, a rennaisance ruler in a renaissance state.

Austria at the beginning of his reign

Leopold ascended to a state that consisted of nowadays Austria, Czechia, Silesia and a fringe of the Hungarian kingdom. Being emperor of Germany brought in some extra cash and troops, but also prestige and responsibilities. In 1658 the power of Austria would perhaps be a tenth or less of that of France, and rank well behind that of the United Provinces, England and Spain. At the end of his reign Austria had more than doubled in size and power, but had not kept up in modernization.

There are three aspects of Leopold's reign that need consideration:

Emperor Leopold's character

Leopold's character can be said to have been peaceful, timid, indecisive, very religious, musical, educated and nationalist. He was at war almost all of the time but never because of his own aggression. He was often shy to pronounce a clear yes or no to requests, or to take a clear decision, especially at the end of his reign. His religious believes were strongly Catholic. He was likely to insist on his rights in stead of waging an opportunistic policy; he e.g. had moral problems with recognizing his ally William III replacing a catholic as king of England. His musicality is shown by the great impulse he gave to music in Vienna, and he himself being a reasonable composer. His education is shown by the languages he spoke and his interest in books. He was of course not a true nationalist in the modern sense, but is known for banning French from his court.

Foreign policy of Leopold

Leopold's foreign policy can be considered his greatest success. He did not succeed in preventing Louis XIV from annexing areas of the western territories of the empire, but this was outweighed by other successes. His greatest achievement is no doubt that after the Turks had failed to take Vienna he founded the Holy League with the pope, Poland and Venice in 1684, for the purpose of liberating Hungary. Though the first attempt at Buda failed, money and even protestant soldiers soon flowed in from all over Europe, as did armies from Bavaria, Prussia and Saxony. With this support Buda was taken in 1686 and soon the rest of Hungary followed. Austria had become the same size as France, though only in acreage, not in wealth.

Emperor Leopold's domestic policy

Leopold's domestic policy was far less successful if not disastrous. It was influenced by his belief in his own duties and rights as emperor, and of the order of things being as ordained. He thus lacked the imagination or courage to change the old-fashioned inefficient laws of his empire or e.g. simply appoint the best men for a job. In stead he protected the rights of the nobility and the church and simply chose the highest ranking nobles to assist in government like Charles V had done. (Eugen's appointments were no doubt facilitated by being a prince.) When it came to his newly acquired power in Hungary the pious intolerant Catholic Leopold persecuted the Hungarian Protestants and antagonized the rest of his new subjects by standing on his 'rights'. This would soon bring about the Hungarian uprising that could only be quenched by his pragmatic son Josef.

Balance of Leopold's rule

All in all Leopold can be said to have been a monarch that failed to grasp the changing of the times. He thus failed to modernize the Austrian state, but laid the foundations for its great power status.