History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Leopold II

Joseph II left no son, so he was succeeded by his brother Leopold II, who was chosen Emperor on September 20, 1790. Within the Empire the rivalry between Prussia and Austria still continued, but under the rule of Frederick William Prussia soon began to sink from the high place Frederick the Great had won for it. Frederick's rule had been stern and severe, the taxes heavy, but he left the country prosperous and free from debt, and his treasury full. Frederick William at once took away many of the taxes, and sent the French tax-collectors and coffee-smellers packing. And at the same time he scattered money, lands, and titles broadcast. The joy over all this was great. The people were so delighted with their new spendthrift King that they called him the Well-beloved, and they believed that a time of peace and contentment had begun.

But their joy did not last long, for Frederick William did not lead a good life; he allowed himself to be ruled by unworthy favourites. He spent far more money than he had, and soon the treasury was empty, and the country in debt.

Meanwhile Leopold II was using all his wisdom to strengthen the position of Austria. But now a great event was taking place in Europe, which was to have far more effect upon the Empire than any struggle for power within its borders. This was the French Revolution.

The French had rebelled against their King. He, with his Queen and family had been made prisoner, and many nobles had fled from the land. The French Queen, Marie Antoinette, was the sister of the Emperors Joseph II and Leopold II, and she naturally expected that her brothers would help her in her distress; but Leopold was cautious. Even although he was the brother of the unhappy Queen, he long hesitated to take any part against France.

In every court in Europe, however, there were French nobles who had fled from the violence of the people. And they constantly implored the rulers to help them and their King. So at length Leopold and Frederick William met together at Pillnitz in Saxony. Here they agreed together to help the French King, declaring that his cause was the cause of every ruler in Europe, and that they were ready to march against France with armed force. For a little time, however, nothing was done, and before war really broke out Leopold died. He had reigned as Emperor for less than two years.