Emperor Joseph II

Joseph II

Joseph Benedikt Anton Michael Adam was born on the 13th March 1741 and died on the 20th February 1790.
Joseph was the eldest son of Maria Theresia and Francis Stephan of Lorraine. Maria Theresia had already given birth to three daughters, two of which had died very early.

The birth of a son and heir was celebrated exuberantly by the Imperial Family.


Maria Theresia’s eldest son Joseph had experienced a very strict education and had been involved in the politics of his mother but, although he had exhibited an intense interest in affairs of State, he was seen as being very indecisive. After the death of his father in 1765, he was elected Holy Roman Emperor but his mother still maintained her influence in affairs of State and other important decision making.
His first wife, Isabella of Parma, whom he loved passionately, died of smallpox about three years after the marriage and in 1765 he married Maria Josepha of Bavaria, this being more of a political marriage than much else. Once again that marriage ended with his wife’s death during an outbreak of smallpox in 1767.

During the co-regency and after Maria Theresa’s death, Joseph continued the reforms along the lines pursued by his mother. Joseph was, in comparison to his mother, more ideological, less flexible and pragmatic and often less successful.

His religious policies became known as “Josephism”, these being a continuation of his mother’s policies and did not exempt the church from reforms designed to strengthen state authority and power. The main difference was his greater religious tolerance and the suppression of religious institutions and customs. Joseph decided to dissolve Catholic monasteries that were dedicated solely to contemplative religious life and granted Protestants almost equal status with Catholics.

Joseph lifted restrictions on Jews by giving them equal opportunities in such things as trade and education, but at the same time suppressed various traditional Jewish customs, which he conceived to be a hindrance to the Germanisation of the Jewish population.

Joseph deprived the bishops of their authority and limited their contact with the Pope. The dissolution of more than 700 monasteries led to 36,000 monks being forced to leave their Orders.

The conflict between Joseph and the Catholic Church caused Pope Pius VI to visit the Emperor in Vienna but this was to make little difference to the situation.

Joseph’s later visit to Rome met with embittered resistance to his planned reforms.

As a result of centralisation, Vienna grew from being merely the sovereign’s place of residence into the political and administrative capital of the empire. Austria‘s finances were balanced and the reorganisation of the army was to make secure Austria’s position in Europe.

The abolition of serfdom, religious equality and freedom of the press together with new laws regarding the emancipation of the Jews led to problems and revidition in later years.

The civil war made Poland completely dependent on Russia. Austria and Prussia made plans regarding the partition of Poland. Prussia was to take “West Prussia”. Austria gained Galicia and in a later treaty with Ottoman Empire, annexed the Bukovina.

In 1784, Joseph attempted to force the Dutch to lift their blockade and to secure a passage to the sea for the Austrian Netherlands but failed to establish peace in the Austrian Netherlands and Hungary, which were outraged over the reforms Joseph had introduced.

Russia proposed a sharing of power in the east and south-east, Austria signing an alliance giving Russia a free hand for plans regarding the conquest of Constantinople and the Dardanelles, this assuring Austria of substantial territorial gains.

Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire earlier than expected, Austria quickly raising an army of some 250,000 men. At the same time the unrest in the Austrian Netherlands and Hungary grew from day to day.

The introduction of German as the official language was to drive the Hungarian gentry into opposition and the Austrian Netherlands rose against Austria.

The wedding of Maria Theresia's eldest son Joseph, to Isabella of Parma.
The painting is by the School of Martin van Meytens and shows the magnificent wedding procession with its 95 coaches
in the centre of Vienna
passing toward the Augustinerstrasse in the centre of Vienna, which looks much the same today.

The artists were obliged to leave all of the buildings out as to allow the observer to appreciate the procession.

Isabella of Parma



Emperor Joseph II and his generals at a maneuver in Minkendorf, Austria.
From right to left: Prince Liechtenstein, Count Lacy, Emperor Joseph,
behind him Laudon, Hadik and Archduke Franz, later Emperor Franz II/I.



The Farmer showing the Emperor how to plough….

This event took place in 1769 in the Moravian village of Slavikowitz.
The Emperor’s carriage had a broken axel and was being repaired on the roadside.
The Emperor passed his time by helping the local farmer Andreas Trnka
and his farm labourer Jan Kartoš by ploughing the field.


Joseph entering Frankfurt for his coronation in 1764


The Romer, Frankfurt in 1764
The coronation of Joseph as King of the Romans was followed by a banquet that took place in the city hall (the Römer).

Meeting between Frederick II of Prussia and Emperor Joseph II on the 25th August 1769 in the town of Nysa in Silesia.