The Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations - Vol. 2

By Cathal J. Nolan | Go to book overview

Suggested Reading:
Richard Nyrop, Jordan, 3rd ed. (1980).
Joseph II (1741–1790). Austrian and Holy Roman Emperor, 1765–1790. He ruled the Habsburg lands as an enlightened despot, but also as a quirky martinet, in cooperation with his mother Maria Theresa and in opposition to Frederick the Great. Until his mother died he was commander of the armed forces and set much diplomacy, but otherwise ruled in name only. After her death he immediately declared himself fully independent of the papacy and forbade publication of papal bulls within his jurisdiction. He finally abolished serfdom within all his wide domain. He met with Catherine the Great in 1780 and secretly agreed to partition Turkey with Russia. He repressed Catholic nunneries and reduced the state pay of clerics, anticipating some of the reforms of the French Revolution. In 1781 he proclaimed an Edict of Toleration of Protestants and Orthodox, and to a lesser extent also of Jews, within the Austrian Empire, while still maintaining Catholicism as a preferred religion. His

was a limited radicalism that aimed to suppress ultramontane sentiments and supplant them with a clergy trained and controlled by the state, as was the case in Orthodox lands and some other Catholic countries. Yet this greatly alarmed the Catholic hierarchy and led to an unprecedented papal visit and attempted intervention in 1782. When he also sought to intervene in daily Catholic practice, he touched a nerve among the population as well. He attempted centralizing and modernizing reforms, but he saw these fall victim to reaction against the burgeoning French Revolution, which would witness a truly savage attack on Catholicism from 1792, and against Catholic peasants in the Vendée from 1793. In the end, his failed reforms and unsuccessful wars with Turkey further weakened Austria, just before the fateful coming of Napoleon. In 1789 the Catholic population of the Austrian Netherlands rebelled against his rationalist reforms and deposed him.

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