Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor

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Joseph II reigned as Holy Roman Emperor from 1765 to 1790. After his father’s death, he co-ruled with his mother until 1780, when he became sole ruler. During his reign, Joseph II implemented many policies that were rejected by many because they contradicted long-held practices and beliefs. Joseph was known as a ‘enlightened dictator’ for his reforms. The reforms, albeit unprejudiced and liberal in structure, did not go over well with the population and met with strong criticism. So, towards the conclusion of his reign, he failed to accomplish his plans. The Josephinism policies attempted to equalize society on all levels – religion, education, administration, and law. Joseph II was one of the three great enlightenment monarchs. His brother Leopold II succeeded him as he had no children.

Early Childhood of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor

Joseph II was born in Vienna, Austria, on March 13, 1741, to Francis I and Maria Theresa of Austria. His parents had two additional children, Marie Antoinette and Leopold II.

Joseph was educated by Voltaire and the Encyclopédistes. Officials from the Austrian dominions and the Holy Roman Empire also instructed him in state administration.

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Joseph began his career in the established state council. Unlike his mother, Joseph favored religious tolerance and limiting church power. He wanted to free the peasants from feudal oppression and open up trade and education.

After his father’s death in 1765, Joseph became Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. His mother’s co-regent, he handled military and foreign affairs. His mother, however, retained the major power and sovereign control over the dominions. This hampered his decision-making.

Due to the death of his mother in 1780, Joseph II ruled alone. He reformed the administration immediately after becoming Holy Roman Emperor, but not before completing his mother’s reform work.

His main task as Emperor was to establish a universal education system. He made elementary education mandatory for all kids. He established scholarship programs for needy students to equalize educational opportunities. He chose the top scholars and scientists for Vienna University.

Joseph II also quickly secularized church lands and reduced the monastic order and clergy. He curbed the Catholic Church’s dominance. His religious reform was opposed by the masses who despised modernism.
Joseph’s religious tolerance led to the Patent of Tolerance in 1781, which granted minorities including Greeks, Protestants, and Jews restricted freedom of worship.

The struggle with the Roman Catholic Church hampered Joseph II’s tenure. He built a priest training institution and took away tithes. He also stripped bishops of their powers. Joseph closed almost 700 monasteries and reduced the monk population from 65000 to 27000. In contrast, he favored more bishoprics, parishes, and secular clergy. He lowered the number of holy days and modified the Mass rhythm.

Joseph aspired to create a centralized, uniform government headed by himself. The recruitment of government personnel was based on their zeal to serve their country and fellow citizens, and promotion was purely by merit. To foster a sense of unification, he made German the official state language.

He created a standard method for controlling public expenditures and revenues by combining all governmental revenues, expenses, and debts of the Austrian crown lands.

Joseph II abolished the death penalty and cruel punishment. He also built a system that treated all offenders equally. He ended serfdom and granted press freedom. He also increased the land’s value to impose a single, fair land tax. But both landlords and peasants revolted against this program.

Joseph II was an expansionist in foreign policy. During his decade-long rule, he sought to make Habsburg the greatest European kingdom. He wanted to take Bavaria, but the Prussian King objected.
Joseph II’s governing policies caused turmoil in the realm as they conflicted with age-old practices. His egalitarian and autocratic attitude outraged the nobility and the masses on religious, administrative, and legal concerns.

By 1790, reforms in Belgium and Hungary were in revolt. His struggle with the Ottomans caused unrest throughout the realm. The fear of disintegration made him abandon several changes.

Grandiose of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor

Joseph II was an enlightened dictator who instituted Josephinism, a set of reforms, between 1780 and 1790. Josephinism aimed to transform the Habsburg dominion’s administration, law, education, economy, and ecclesiastical structures. His reforms were met with mixed success and severe opposition from government officials, Catholic priests, and the general people.

Personal Legacy of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor

Joseph married Isabella of Parma in 1760. They adored each other. Maria Theresa was born to the couple.
Isabella conceived twice following Maria Theresa’s birth, both of which ended in miscarriage. In 1763, she became pregnant again.

Isabella had a premature daughter after six months of pregnancy due to smallpox. However, due to an early birth, the baby died. Isabella died a week later, unable to handle the shock and terrible health. Both deaths devastated Joseph. He vowed never to remarry.

He was forced to marry his second cousin, Princess Maria Josephs of Bavaria, in 1765. Josepha adored her husband, but he was cold and uncaring towards her. The marriage lasted about two years. Smallpox killed Josepha. He never married again after she died.

Maria Theresa, his only child, contracted pleurisy in 1770. Her death made him heartbroken and distraught.
Joseph II’s health began to deteriorate in the late 1780s. Having made more enemies than friends throughout his reign, he died alone, with neither his ministers nor his brother present.

On February 20, 1790, he died. His death was not mourned by the people due to his extreme reforms and choices. He was interred in Vienna’s Imperial Crypt at tomb 42.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor is unknown.

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