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Leopold V, Duke of Austria

Leopold V, Duke of Austria

Austrian duke
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro Austrian duke
A.K.A. Leopold V
Gender male
Death 31 December 1194 (Graz)
Mother: Theodora KomneneDuchess of Austria
Father: Henry IIDuke of Austria
Spouse: Helena of Hungary
Children: Frederick IDuke of AustriaLeopold VIDuke of Austria
The details

Leopold V (1157 – 31 December 1194), known as the Virtuous (German: der Tugendhafte), a member of the House of Babenberg, was Duke of Austria from 1177 and Duke of Styria from 1192 until his death.


Leopold was the son of the Austrian duke Henry II Jasomirgott from his second marriage with the Byzantine princess Theodora, a daughter of Andronikos Komnenos, the second eldest son of Emperor John II Komnenos. Just before his birth, his father had achieved the elevation of the Austrian margraviate to a duchy according to the 1156 Privilegium Minus, issued by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. As the eldest son of Henry II, Leopold was already enfeoffed with the Austrian duchy by the emperor in the summer of 1174 at Regensburg.

He succeeded his father as Duke of Austria upon his death on 13 January 1177. Soon after, Leopold lent his support to Duke Frederick of Bohemia stuck in a conflict with his Přemyslid cousin Soběslav II, who had campaigned in the Austrian duchy. In turn, Leopold reached a peace agreement with the neighbouring Duchy of Bohemia, determined by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at Eger in 1179. Two years later, he attended an Imperial Diet in Erfurt, where his first-born son Frederick was enfeoffed with the Austrian estate. In 1182 Leopold went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was received with honour at the courts of King Béla III of Hungary and of Emperor Alexios II Komnenos in Constantinople.

Back in Germany, he began negotiating the Georgenberg Pact with the last Otakar duke Ottokar IV of Styria, who had received the ducal title from Emperor Frederick in 1180. The agreement was concluded on 17 August 1186, whereafter Styria and the central part of Upper Austria with Wels and Steyr were amalgamated into the Duchy of Austria upon Ottokar's death in 1192. The next year Leopold was enfeoffed with Styria by the emperor; this was the first step towards the creation of modern Austria.

Leopold is mainly remembered outside Austria for his participation in the Third Crusade. Border disputes with King Béla III of Hungary had initially impeded the duke from accompanying Emperor Frederick on his departure in May 1189. When he heard about the emperor's death in 1190, he got up and went to Venice, where he embarked to the Holy Land. Autumn storms forced him to winter in Zadar on the Adriatic coast; he arrived in Palestine to take part in the final stage of the Siege of Acre in spring 1191. Leopold took over command of what remained of the Imperial forces after the death of the emperor's son Duke Frederick of Swabia in January. According to legend, his tunic was blood-soaked after the fights and when he doffed his belt, a white stripe appeared. The new emperor Henry VI granted him the privilege to adopt these colours as his new banner, that later would become the flag of Austria.

Acre surrendered on July 12, after the arrival of King Philip II of France and King Richard I of England. Duke Leopold, as commander of the German contingent, demanded rights equal to those of the two kings but was rejected. When the banners of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, England, France and Leopold's ducal flag were raised in the city by Leopold's cousin, Marquis Conrad of Montferrat, Richard removed Leopold's colours (see Siege of Acre) and the duke wrathfully left for his Austrian home, where he arrived by the end of 1191. In January 1192 he proceeded to the court of Emperor Henry VI and complained bitterly about Richard, who also was suspected of involvement in the murder of Conrad, shortly after his election as King of Jerusalem in April.

The emperor probably agreed with King Philip II of France, already in conflict with the English king, on Richard's capture. When Richard left the Holy Land in late October 1192, he found the French ports closed and sailed up the Adriatic Sea. He took the country road from Aquileia across Austria, to reach the Bavarian estates of his Welf brother-in-law Henry the Lion. Whilst travelling under a disguise, he had to stop at Vienna shortly before Christmas 1192, where he was recognized (supposedly because of his signet ring) and arrested in Erdberg (modern Landstraße district). Initially Duke Leopold had the king imprisoned in Dürnstein, and in March 1193 Richard was brought before Emperor Henry VI at Trifels Castle, accused of Conrad's murder. A ransome of 35,000 kilogrammes of silver was paid to release King Richard. Leopold's share became the foundation for the mint in Vienna, and was used to build new city walls for Vienna, as well as to found the towns of Wiener Neustadt and Friedberg in Styria. However, the duke was excommunicated by Pope Celestine III for having taken a fellow crusader prisoner.

To achieve absolution, Leopold prepared for another crusade, but his plans failed: in 1194, his foot was crushed when his horse fell on him at a tournament in Graz. While advised by his surgeons to have the foot amputated, none declared competence to do so. He ordered his servants to chop it off with an axe, after three swings succeeding. Nonetheless he succumbed to gangrene, with promises to do penance he gave to the rushed Archbishop Adalbert of Salzburg he received a Christian burial at Heiligenkreuz Abbey.

Taking the chance on the captivity of Richard, Leopold requested Eleanor niece of Richard to marry Frederick. But upon his own death, this marriage never occurred.

Marriage and children

At Pentecost 1174, Leopold married Helena (1158–1199), a daughter of late King Géza II of Hungary. By her, Leopold had at least two children:

  • Frederick I (c. 1175 – 1198), who succeeded his father as Duke of Austria
  • Leopold VI (1176–1230), succeeded his father as Duke of Styria (inconsistent with the Georgenberg Pact) and became Duke of Austria upon his brother's death in 1198.
  • Fastlinger 1920, p. 112.


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