Joseph II

*1741 (Vienna, Austria), †20. 2. 1790 (Vienna, Austria)

Joseph was King of Bohemia, member of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty; son of Maria Theresa and brother to Leopold II. From 1765 he was Holy Roman Emperor and ruled the Habsburg lands together with his mother. From 1780 he was also the (uncrowned) ruler of Hungary and Bohemia and Archduke of Austria. He was the driving force behind the reform of the monarchy and his most important achievements included the abolition of censorship, the issue of a Patent of Tolerance and the abolition of serfdom (all this in 1781). A number of Joseph’s reforms aimed to curb the power of the Catholic church. These resulted in economic advancement, the strengthening of the army and the enforcement of religious tolerance, but also to the centralization of power and the consolidation of an absolute monarchy. He was a great traveller, often journeying incognito in order to see how life really was in the country; he visited poorhouses, went down mines, allowed himself to be shut up in prison and experienced a famine in Bohemia. Although he enforced the use of the German language throughout the empire, he was the first of the Habsburgs to speak good Czech. He was much loved by his people, a fact demonstrated by the popularity of the name Joseph in the Czech lands to this day. At the end of his life he entered into an alliance with Russia and was immediately involved in fighting the Turks, which entailed huge losses of both men and property. He is buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.


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