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