Biography of Leopoldo II
Leopoldo II (3 October 1797 – 29 January 1870), was Grand Duke of Tuscany (1824–1859). He married twice; first to Maria Anna of Saxony, and after her death in 1832, to Maria Antonia of the Two-Sicilies. By the latter, he begat his eventual successor, Ferdinando IV. Leopoldo was recognised contemporarily as a liberal monarch, authorising the Tuscan Constitution of 1848, and allowing a degree of free press.
The Grand Duke was deposed briefly by a provisional government in 1849, only to be restored the same year with the assistance of Austrian troops, who occupied the state until 1855. Leopoldo attempted a policy of neutrality with regard to the Second Italian War of Independence, but was expelled by a bloodless coup on 27 April 1859, just before the beginning of the war. The Grand Ducal family left for Bologna, in Papal territory. Tuscany was occupied by soldiers of Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia for the duration of the conflict. The preliminary peace of Villafranca, agreed to between Napoleon III of France and Franz Joseph of Austria on 11 July, provided for the return of the Lorraines to Florence, but Leopoldo himself was considered too unpopular to be accepted, so on 21 July 1859 he abdicated the throne in favor of his son, Ferdinand. Ferdinand was not, however, any more acceptable to the revolutionaries in control of Florence, and his accession was not proclaimed. Instead, the provisional government proclaimed the deposition of the House of Habsburg (16 August)..
Born in Florence, Leopoldo II was the son of Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Princess Luisa Maria Amelia Teresa of the Two Sicilies, who were double first cousins. His maternal grandparents were Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Marie Caroline of Austria.
He succeeded his father on 18 June 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 during the early 1840s unrest spread throughout Italy, even in Tuscany demands for a constitution and other political reforms were advanced; in 1845 and 1846 riots occurred in various parts of the country, and Leopoldo granted a number of administrative reforms. But Austrian influence prevented him from doing more, even had he wished to do so. The election of Pope Pius IX gave fresh encouragement to Liberalism, and on 4 September 1847 Leopoldo instituted the National Guard – a preparation for a constitution; soon afterward the marchese Cosimo Ridolfi was appointed prime minister. The granting of the Neapolitan and Piedmontese constitutions was followed (17 February 1848) by that of Tuscany, composed by Gino Capponi.
The uprisings in Milan and in Vienna aroused patriotic enthusiasm in Tuscany, where war against Austria was demanded; Leopoldo, yielding 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... Honor to the arms of Italy! Long live Italian independence!" The Tuscan contingent fought bravely, though unsuccessfully, at Curtatone and Montanara.
On 26 June, the first Tuscan parliament assembled but the disturbances consequent on the failure of the campaign in Lombardy resulted in the resignation of the Ridolfi ministry, which was succeeded by that of Gino Capponi. The riots continued, especially at Livorno, which was prey to actual civil war, and the democratic party of which Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi and Giuseppe Montanelli were organizers became every day more influential. Capponi resigned, and Leopoldo agreed reluctantly 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 favor of a constituent assembly. There was talk of instituting a central Italian kingdom with Leopoldo 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 troops, was, according to Montanelli, negotiating with Field-Marshal Radetzky and with Pius IX, who had now abandoned his liberal tendencies, and fled to Gaeta. Leopoldo had left Florence for Siena, and eventually for Porto Santo 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 18 February 1849 a republic was proclaimed and on that same day Leopoldo 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." Leopoldo accepted, although he said nothing about the foreign invasion, and on 1 May sent Count Luigi Serristori to Tuscany with full powers.
But at the same time the Austrians occupied Lucca and Livorno, and although Leopoldo 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 24 May the latter appointed G Baldasseroni prime minister, on the 25th the Austrians entered Florence and on 28 July Leopoldo 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 next 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 Felix of 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, Leopoldo's popularity was gone. Some 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 Ferdinando Bartolommei and Giuseppe Dolfi realised that only by the expulsion of Leopoldo could the national aspirations be realied. When in 1859 France and Piedmont made war on Austria, Leopoldo'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.
Leopoldo 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 Leopoldo in favor of his son, an alliance with Piedmont and the reorganization of Tuscany in accordance with the eventual and definite reorganization of Italy. Leopoldo hesitated and finally rejected the proposals as derogatory to his dignity. On 27 April there was great excitement in Florence, Italian colors appeared everywhere, but order was maintained, and the grand-duke and his family departed for Bologna undisturbed. Thus the revolution was accomplished without blood being shed, and after a period of provisional government Tuscany was incorporated in the kingdom of Italy. On 21 July Leopoldo abdicated in favor of his son Ferdinand IV of Tuscany, who never reigned, but issued a protest from Dresden (26 March 1860).
Leopoldo 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 course of Italian history. At the same time his rule, if not harsh, was demoralizing.
Along with his wife he was the founding patron of L'Istituto Statale della Ss. Annunziata, the first female boarding school in Florence established to educate aristocratic and noble young ladies. Leopoldo ordered the construction of La Botte, a water tunnel under the Arno River, which allowed for the final drainage of the Lago di Bientina, which had previously been the largest lake in Tuscany. Completed in 1859, La Botte remains an integral part of the Tuscan water management system.
He spent his last years in Austria, and died in Rome.