Joseph II
(1741-1790)
   Joseph II was born in Vienna on 13 March 1741. Succeeding his mother Maria Theresa as emperor of Austria and ruler of the Austrian Netherlands in 1780, Joseph instituted far-reaching reforms that drew the ire of his Belgian subjects, who were wedded to traditional liberties or anxious to promote democracy. Embarking on a study tour, Joseph visited Brussels, arriving on 2 June 1781. Refusing to take part in public ceremonies, and accompanied only by an aide-de-camp, he visited hospitals and law courts and talked to the residents, many of whom found him cold and aloof.
   Appalled by the complex, apparently chaotic system of privileges and rights in existence in his Belgian lands and impatient for reform, he launched programs to abolish hereditary and ecclesiastical privileges in favor of creating a centralized, unified state. The Patent of Toleration (1781) guaranteed religious liberties for non-Roman Catholics, abolished contemplative religious orders and fraternal groups, and limited religious processions and carnivals. Edicts on 1 January 1787 revised the judicial and administrative system and decrees attacked the privileges of lawyers, a large and politically active group in Brussels. Opposition solidified among both Catholics and conservative leaders, as well as enlightened democrats. Joseph expressed astonishment at the level of resistance. He concentrated his wrath on "the insolent bourgeois, the Third Estate of Brussels." He threatened to move the capital to Ghent and authorized a military buildup in the city. Mounting discontent led to the Brabant Revolution in 1789. Joseph died on 20 February 1790, one month following the proclamation of an independent United States of Belgium.
   See also Austrian Regime.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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