Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria as marshall, by David Teniers the Younger

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria (January 5, 1614 – November 20, 1662) was an Austrian military commander, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands from 1647 to 1656, and a patron of the arts.


Born at Wiener Neustadt, he was the youngest son of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II and Maria Anna of Bavaria (1574–1616), daughter of William V, Duke of Bavaria.

His elder brother became Emperor Ferdinand III (1608–1657). Leopold Wilhelm served as a general in the Thirty Years' War and the Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659). During the latter, the Spanish-Low Country forces under Leopold Wilhelm lost the Battle of Lens in an attempt to recover the city in 1648. Later in the war, he sallied forth from the Netherlands on two occasions. On the second, he successfully seized a number of northern French forts in February–March 1652, forcing the French to withdraw forces from Catalonia to reinforce their northern frontier. This assisted Spanish forces in Spain in recovering Catalonia from the French-backed Catalan rebellion.

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria at the Peace of Westphalia, engraving after a painting by Anselm van Hulle

Even though Leopold Wilhelm lacked the canonical qualifications, he was invested – with the help of his father – with a number of prince-bishoprics in order to provide him with an income. Unqualified as he was, he officially only held the title administrator—nevertheless realising the full episcopal revenues—of the prince-bishoprics of Halberstadt (1628–1648), Passau (1625–1662), Breslau (1656–1662), Olmütz (1637–1662) and Strasbourg (1626–1662). In 1635, Pope Urban VIII authorised him to become the prince-archbishop of Bremen, but due to its occupation by the Swedes he never gained de facto power.

He returned to Vienna after the situation in the Spanish Netherlands had deteriorated in 1656. In Vienna he was initially occupied with the administration of his various bishoprics, the Teutonic Order and the family affairs of the imperial house. After the death of his elder brother Emperor Ferdinand III several electors put him forward for the position of Emperor. However, he stalled to allow his nephew to reach the statutory age to ascend the imperial throne, which his nephew did as Leopold I on 22 July 1658 at the age of 18 years. After devoting himself to the affairs of state, Leopold Wilhelm retired in his final years and lived exclusively for the love of art.[1]

He died in Vienna in 1662.

Patron of the arts

Bust of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, by Francois Dieussart (1656). Kunsthistorisches Museum

When he assumed the government of the Spanish Netherlands, Leopold Wilhelm, being a great lover of art, employed several painters from the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke, including the great Flemish painter David Teniers the Younger, who he not only employed as a painter but as keeper of the collection of pictures he was then forming. With the rank and title of "ayuda de camara," Teniers took up his abode in Brussels shortly after 1647.

Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his Gallery in Brussels, by David Teniers the Younger, c. 1650

Immense sums were spent in the acquisition of paintings for the archduke, including paintings by Frans Snyders, Pieter Snayers, Daniel Seghers, Peter Franchoys, Frans Wouters, Jan van den Hoecke, Pieter Thijs, Jan van de Venne and others. A number of valuable works of the Italian masters, now in the Vienna Museum, came from Leopold's gallery after having belonged to Charles I and the duke of Buckingham. He commissioned the British painter John Michael Wright to travel to Cromwell's England, and acquire art and artifacts.

When Leopold returned to Vienna, his collection of paintings was relocated to the Stallburg gallery in Hofburg Palace. Jan Anton van der Baren, a Flemish priest, who was also a first-rate flower painter, became director of the archducal gallery. Leopold bequeathed his gallery to his nephew Leopold I, and it became imperial property. It is now part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

When the tomb of Childeric I, an early Merovingian king of the Salian Franks and father of Clovis I was discovered in 1653 (May 27) by a mason doing repairs in the church of Saint-Brice in Tournai, it was Leopold Wilhelm who had the find published in Latin.


Further reading


  1. Constantin von Wurzbach: Habsburg, Leopold Wilhelm. In: Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich. Band 6. Verlag L. C. Zamarski, Wien 1860, p. 444–446 (German)

External links

Media related to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria at Wikimedia Commons

Leopold William of Austria
Born: 5 January 1614 in Wiener Neustadt Died: 20 November 1662 in Vienna
Catholic Church titles
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Christian William of Brandenburg
as Lutheran Administrator
Prince-Archbishop of Magdeburg1
Succeeded by
Augustus, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels
as Lutheran Administrator
Prince-Bishop of Halberstadt1
Secularised to the
Principality of Halberstadt
Preceded by
Frederick II, Crown Prince of Denmark
as Lutheran Administrator
Prince-Archbishop of Bremen2
Succeeded by
Franz Wilhelm, Count of Wartenberg
as Vicar Apostolic
Preceded by
Leopold V, Archduke of Austria
Prince-Bishop of Strasbourg1
Succeeded by
Franz Egon of Fürstenberg
Prince-Bishop of Passau1
Succeeded by
Archduke Charles Joseph of Austria
Preceded by
John Ernest Plateis of Plattenstein
Prince-Bishop of Olmütz1
Preceded by
Karol Ferdynand Vasa
Prince-Bishop of Breslau1
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
John Caspar I,
Lord of Stadion
Grand Master of the Teutonic Order
Succeeded by
Archduke Charles Joseph of Austria
Government offices
Preceded by
Manuel de Moura,
Marquis of Castelo Rodrigo
Governor of the Spanish Netherlands
Succeeded by
John of Austria, the Younger
Notes and references
1. Catholic Administrator, due to lack of canonical qualification
2. De jure only; de facto he was barred by the Swedish occupants
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