Leopold II (October 3, 1797 - January 29, 1870), of Habsburg-Lorraine, grand-duke of Tuscany.
Leopold II was the son of the grand-duke Ferdinand III of Tuscany, whom he succeeded in 1824. During the first twenty years of his reign he devoted himself to the internal development of the state. His was the mildest and least reactionary of all the Italian despotisms of the day, and although always subject to Austrian influence he refused to adopt the Austrian methods of government, allowed a fair measure of liberty to the press, and permitted many political exiles from other states to dwell in Tuscany undisturbed.
But when in the early 1840s a feeling of unrest spread throughout Italy, even in Tuscany demands for a constitution and other political reforms were advanced; in 1845 and 1846 riots broke out in various parts of the country, and Leopold granted a number of administrative reforms. But Austrian influence prevented him from going further, even had he wished to do so. The election of Pope Pius IX gave fresh impulse to the Liberal movement, and on the September 4, 1847 Leopold instituted the National Guard - a first step towards the constitution; shortly after the marchese Cosimo Ridolfi was appointed prime minister. The granting of the Neapolitan and Piedmontese constitutions was followed (February 17, 1848) by that of Tuscany, drawn up by Gino Capponi.
The revolution in Milan and Vienna aroused a fever of patriotic enthusiasm in Tuscany, where war against Austria was demanded; Leopold, giving way to popular pressure, sent a force of regulars and volunteers to co-operate with Piedmont in the Lombard campaign. His speech on their departure was uncompromisingly Italian and Liberal. "Soldiers," he said, " the holy cause of Italian freedom is being decided to-day on the fields of Lombardy. Already the citizens of Milan have purchased their liberty with their blood and with a heroism of which history offers few examples. . . . Honour to the arms of Italy! Long live Italian independence!" The Tuscan contingent fought bravely, if unsuccessfully, at Curtatone and Montanara.
On June 26 the first Tuscan parliament assembled but 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.
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 sull'Italia (Turin, 1853); FD Guerrazzi, Memorie (Leghorn, 1848); Zobi, Storia civile della Toscana, vols. iv.-v. (Florence, 1850-1852); A von Reumont, Geschichte Toscanas (2 vols., Gotha, 1876-1877); M Bartolommei-Gioli, Il Rivoleimento Toscano e l'azione popolare (Florence, 1905); C Tivaroni, L'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 Encyclopaedia Britannica.