Emperor Leopold I

King Leopold (Lipót) I of Hungary (r. 1657-1705) and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was the second son of Emperor Ferdinand III (r. 1637-1657), who reigned for nearly half a century. He was perhaps the most hated Habsburg king wearing the Holy Crown of the Hungarians. Let us read a summary of his reign.

Emperor Leopold aka Lipót

As the youngest son, he was originally destined for the Church, but after the unexpected death of the heir apparent, the crowned Ferdinand IV, in 1654, he became the heir claimant. The future monarch was a devout Catholic by virtue of his religious upbringing, and during his reign, he refused to show the slightest religious tolerance towards Protestantism, which was spreading mainly in Hungary, and at one point even expelled the Jews from the city of Vienna.

Emperor Leopold I

Leopold gained supreme power at the age of 17 – a year later as emperor – and, as in his youth, remained throughout his reign under the influence of powerful ministers – such as Auersperg, then Prince Lobkowitz – and courtiers. During his lifetime, he faced two major problems: on the one hand, he sought to thwart France’s ambitions to become a great power, and on the other, he sought to abolish the independent Hungarian statehood. Since his great opponent, Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715), often used Hungarian dissatisfaction against Lipót, the two problems were very often interlinked.

Leopold’s 10-Ducat gold coin

At the time of the king’s accession to the throne, the war for the Polish throne was in full swing, started by the prince of Transylvania, Prince Rákóczi II György (reigned 1648-1660). The intervention of the Habsburg Empire in this struggle was most unfortunate, and it was partly to blame for the fact that in 1660 Várad Castle (Oradea) was transferred directly from the Turkish vassal Transylvania to the Ottoman conquest. Three years later, the Grand Vizier Köprülü Ahmed started a war against the Kingdom of Hungary, which ended with the triumph of the imperial general Montecuccoli in Szentgotthárd on August 1, 1664.

The Battle of Szentgotthárd

However, Lipót did not launch a counter-attack – although many aristocrats, such as Count Zrínyi Miklós (Nikola Zrinski), would have expected this – but concluded the Peace of Vasvár, which was favorable to the Ottomans and left the Turkish Empire in possession of Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky), which had fallen in 1663. This move caused discontent among the nobility of the country and led in the long run to the Wesselényi conspiracy, which again benefited Louis XIV since the nobles who had been plotting against the Habsburgs had expected success from him until the time of Prince Rákóczi II Ferenc.

The HRE of Leopold Photo: Astrokey44

Lipót’s overall handling of the situation was also wrong, as he mistakenly thought that he could put things right, as in the Czech example of 1620, by putting an end to the conspiracy, executing the main organizers – such as Zrínyi Péter (Petar Zrinski) and Frangepán – and depriving the country of its rights.

A map of the Kingdom of Hungary (1656-60) indicated the Hungarians’ claim of Ottoman Occupied Lands that was regarded as a temporary Turkish conquest

The absolutist experiment after 1671, the governorship of Gaspar Ampringen, the violent catholization, and the raids of imperial generals such as Caraffa and Strasoldo, led to the Kuruc movement of Count Thököly Imre in the eastern parts of the Kingdom of Hungary, which by 1682 had carved out a fourth part of the country. The failure of this violent government was marked by the convocation of the Diet of Sopron in 1681 and the appointment of Esterházy Pál as a Palatine.

Kollonich Lipót was Leopold’s servant against the Hungarians

The low point of Lipót’s reign, and also the turning point, was in 1683 when the Ottoman armies led by Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa besieged Vienna. The king fled to Passau, from where he watched the Christian armies led by Prince Charles of Lorraine and King John of Poland Sobieski (r. 1674-1696) liberate his capital and launch a counterattack against the Turks. Let me note, that it was Prince Thököly who had opened the path to the walls of Vienna for the Turks, and Thököly tried to convince Leopold to acknowledge him as the Prince of Hungary, offering 20,000 troops to fend off the Turks in Vienna but Leopold refused it. You can read more about the liberation of Buda here:


The Retaking of Buda, painting by Benczúr Gyula (1896)

Lipót considered this a favorable moment for the liberation of Hungary, and with the support of Pope Innocent XI, he founded the Holy League in 1684, which liberated the whole country, except for the Temes Bánság region, under the leadership of Louis of Baden, Eugene of Savoy and Charles of Lorraine, until the conclusion of the Peace of Karlóca in 1699.

Pozsony (Bratislava, Pressburg), 17th century

After the return of Buda to Christian hands in 1686, at the Diet of Pozsony (Presporok, Bratislava, Pressburg) in the following year, the Estates – as a sign of gratitude – renounced the right of resistance contained in Article 31 of the Golden Bull (issued in 1222), thus bringing the possibility of the annexation of Hungarian territories back within Lipót’s reach. Meanwhile, the Habsburg monarch was also successful against Louis XIV, who at the end of the War of the Palatinate Succession (1689-1697), fought in alliance with the Western European Coalition, succeeded in preventing France from expanding further north along the Rhine.

The Reconquest Wars of Hungary

While the operations to liberate Hungary were underway, Lipót made great efforts to create a centralized empire after the expulsion of the Turks: he again used increased violence to suppress Protestantism, while also ensuring that the new landlords of the liberated country would be his supporters through the Neoacquistica Commissio, or New Settlement Committee. The Commission was set up to adjudicate the claims of families who had once owned land in the former Ottoman conquered territories on the basis of existing donation letters, which of course involved a great deal of abuse and fraud.

A memorial coin was minted for the Battle of Nagyharsány, in 1687

Centralization was also served by the Diploma Leopoldinum of 1690, which introduced a political and religious regime for the Eastern Principality that was different from that of Hungary, and in many respects more favorable, and ordered that this part of the country be incorporated into the Habsburg Empire as a separate province. With this measure, as well as the creation of the Border Guard and the promise of Serbian Voivodina, Lipót aimed to dismember the Kingdom of Hungary, which was much larger than the hereditary provinces, in order to facilitate centralization. Transylvania came under Habsburg rule.

The Diploma Leopoldinum

Lipót’s old-new method of government, in the form of the Kuruc anti-Habsburg revolt of 1697 and the Kuruc War of Independence launched by Rákóczi II Ferenc II in 1703, again had negative results, which were aggravated by the outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession. When the last Habsburg in Spain, Charles II (r. 1665-1700), died without a successor, a rivalry immediately broke out between Lipót and Louis XIV, who were both related to the king, for the vacant throne.

The coronation of Leopold in 1655 in Pozsony

Charles’s last will and testament named Louis’s grandson Philip – later King Philip V of Spain – as his heir, against whom the Emperor-King wanted to put his younger son, Archduke Charles – later King Charles III of Hungary – in power, and so another Franco-Habsburg war broke out in 1701. Lipót did not live to see the end of the struggle against the Spanish and the Kuruc forces – although he did see the decisive victory at Höchstädt in the European War of 1704 – and died in Vienna on May 5, 1705, after 47 years of reign.

The thaler of Leopold I

/Source: Rubicon/

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