Leopold I (Leopold Ignaz Joseph Balthasar Felician; June 9, 1640 – May 5, 1705) was Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia. The second son of Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, by his first wife, Infanta Maria Anna of Spain, Daughter of King Felipe III of Spain and Archduchess Margaret of Austria, prior to her Imperial marriage she was considered a possible wife for Charles, Prince of Wales; the event, later known in history as the “Spanish Match.”
Born on June 9, 1640 in Vienna, Leopold received the traditional program of education in the liberal arts, history, literature, natural science and astronomy. He was particularly interested in music, as his father emperor Ferdinand III had been. From an early age Leopold showed an inclination toward learning. He became fluent in Latin, Italian, German, French, and Spanish. In addition to German, Italian would be the most favored language at his court.
Leopold became heir apparent in 1654 after the death of his elder brother Ferdinand IV, King of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia (1633 – 1654).
Elected in 1658, Leopold I ruled the Holy Roman Empire until his death in 1705, becoming the longest-ruling Habsburg emperor (46 years and 9 months). He was both a composer and considerable patron of music.
Leopold’s reign is known for conflicts with the Ottoman Empire in the Great Turkish War (1683-1699) and rivalry with Louis XIV, a contemporary and first cousin (on the maternal side; fourth cousin on the paternal side), in the west. After more than a decade of warfare, Leopold emerged victorious in the east thanks to the military talents of Prince Eugene of Savoy. By the Treaty of Karlowitz, Leopold recovered almost all of the Kingdom of Hungary, which had fallen under Turkish power in the years after the 1526 Battle of Mohács.
Leopold fought three wars against France: the Franco-Dutch War, the Nine Years’ War, and the War of the Spanish Succession. In this last, Leopold sought to give his younger son Charles the entire Spanish inheritance, disregarding the will of the late Carlos II. Leopold started a war that soon engulfed much of Europe.
The early years of the war went fairly well for Austria, with victories at Schellenberg and Blenheim, but the war would drag on until 1714, nine years after Leopold’s death, which barely had an effect on the warring nations. When peace returned with the Treaty of Rastatt, Austria could not be said to have emerged as triumphant as it had from the war against the Turks.
The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 (8 years after the birth of Emperor Leopold) had been a political defeat for the Habsburgs. It ended the idea that Europe was a single Christian empire; governed spiritually by the Pope and temporally by the Holy Roman Emperor.
Moreover, the treaty was devoted to parceling out land and influence to the “winners”, the anti-Habsburg alliance led by France and Sweden. However, the Habsburgs did gain some benefits out of the wars; the Protestant aristocracy in Habsburg territories had been decimated, and the ties between Vienna and the Habsburg domains in Bohemia and elsewhere were greatly strengthened.
These changes would allow Leopold to initiate necessary political and institutional reforms during his reign to develop somewhat of an absolutist state along French lines. The most important consequences of the war was in retrospect to weaken the Habsburgs as Holy Roman Emperors but strengthen them in their own hereditary lands, such as Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia.
In 1692, the Duke Ernst August of Hanover was raised to the rank of an Imperial Elector, becoming the ninth member of the electoral college. In 1700, Leopold, greatly in need of help for the impending war with France, granted the title of King in Prussia to the Elector Friedrich III of Brandenburg. The net result of these and similar changes was to continue to weaken the authority of the emperor over the members of the Empire and to compel him to rely more and more upon his position as ruler of the Austrian Archduchy and of Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia.
In 1666, Leopard married his first cousin and niece Infanta Margaret Theresa of Spain (1651–1673), daughter and first child of King Felipe IV of Spain born from his second marriage with his niece Infanta Mariana of Austria.
His second wife was Archduchess Claudia Felicitas of Austria, the first child and eldest daughter of Ferdinand Charles, Archduke of Further Austria and Count of Tyrol, by his wife and first-cousin Anna de’ Medici. On her father’s side, her grandparents were Leopold V, Archduke of Further Austria and his wife Claudia de’ Medici (after which she received her first name); on her mother’s side, her grandparents were Cosimo II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and his wife Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria.
His third wife was Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg. She was the oldest of 17 children born from Philipp Wilhelm, Count Palatine of Neuburg and Duke of Jülich-Berg and his second wife, Landgravine Elisabeth Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. On her father’s side her grandparents were Wolfgang Wilhelm, Count Palatine of Neuburg and his first wife, Magdalene of Bavaria. On her mother’s side, her grandparents were Georg II, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt and Sophia Eleonore of Saxony.