‘Türkenpoldl’ and the Austrian Heroic Age

Gerard Hoet: Allegory on the reign of Emperor Leopold I, c. 1672

Although Leopold did not personally take part in the battle before the walls of Vienna in 1683, his reign profited from the ensuing offensive against the Ottoman Empire which had been seriously weakened by this defeat.

Gerard Hoet: Allegory on the reign of Emperor Leopold I, c. 1672

Spurred on by this victory, the Habsburg army rapidly conquered the Turkish-controlled parts of Hungary. In 1686 the ancient royal city of Buda was captured, and by 1688 the army was at the gates of Belgrade. The most outstanding military commander in imperial service was Prince Eugene of Savoy (1664–1736), who would become a highly influential figure at the Viennese court and was celebrated across Europe as a strategist of genius.

The threat posed by the Turks was banished once and for all by victory at the Battle of Zenta in 1697 and the following Peace of Karlowitz in 1699, which was concluded on very advantageous terms for Austria. Ottoman plans for expansion had been stopped. In addition to Hungary Leopold was able to secure dominion over Slavonia and Transylvania. The Habsburg Monarchy had significantly extended its territory towards the south-east. The dynasty’s rule in Hungary was now consolidated and the heritability of the Hungarian crown by the House of Habsburg confirmed by the Hungarian Estates.

There now followed decades of reconstruction in Hungary, which had been devastated and depopulated by the Turkish Wars, a conflict that had lasted for generations. From 1689 a planned programme of re-colonization called the ‘Einrichtungswerk’ took place in central and southern Hungary. Settlers from all parts of Central Europe were enlisted and an ethnically diverse mixture of Magyars, Germans, Southern Slavs, Romanians and Slovaks now re-populated the newly acquired territories in the south-east.

Leopold’s reputation as a ruler benefited considerably from the successful campaign to repel the Turkish threat, seen by many as a justification for the existence of the Habsburg Monarchy. The expansion of the Monarchy on the back of the military successes against the Ottomans is regarded as the key event of his reign, which was solemnly stylized in the patriotic historiography of the nineteenth century as Austria’s ‘heroic age’. The wholly un-warlike Leopold is today still referred to in common parlance as ‘Türkenpoldl’. 

Martin Mutschlechner