Emperor Joseph Hapsburg II of Austria
Oldest son of Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, progressive ruler while the Enlightenment swept through Europe and the diverse, tumultuous Austrian Empire. Lived 1741-90, Holy Roman Emperor 1765-90. When his father, died, co-ruled with his mother, a very popular uniter and idol for the nation who began Enlightenment reforms and took care of diversity of Hapsburg empire while Joseph dealt with foreign affairs. Expanded power, annexed territories and peoples in eastern europe, and battled with Frederick II of Prussia. When his mother died, became the singular emperor in the VERY absolute monarchy throne of Austria. Due to his protection by his mother, and exposure to Western Europe sweeping through change, and the very arrogant position of Austrian rulers, and his own personality, became a very liberal, reforming autocrat. The ultimate Enlightened Despot both in power, and liberalism (for the seventeenth century).
Began reforms by finishing freeing all serfs, giving all peasants land, encouraging development of middle class, Enlightenement philosophers to immigrate, raising Jews and minorites into higher positions (like the nobility), weakening the reactionary nobility and dismissing their advice, attacking the Catholic Church with total hatred, making a more centralized government, and in order to carry this all out and make allies of the new middle-class, developed a massive development of bureaucracies (including a secret police). This was in eighteenth century Europe remember! Used the complete autocratic power of that absolute throne against all the power groups who resisted this liberalism, and made much progress in his time, but it was too forced on an unwilling populace and structure. It wore him out, he died early, and the nobles were able to convince his younger brother Emperor Leopold II to repeal almost all of them.
Joseph II was the ultimate in liberal reformers. Unliked many dictators, he truly believed in what he was making, for the betterment of the people, because of the influence of the Enlightenment on him. However, even with his absolute power, he proved too stretched for his country, and ultimately failed much more than his more centrist and pragmatic mother and brother. Could have taken a lesson from the other great German ruler, Otto van Bismarck.
Meaningful, that I choose this write up as my first node.