The second son of the Grand Duke Ferdinando III of Tuscany and Luisa Maria Amalia of Bourbon-Naples, Leopold lived his early youth in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire, where his father had taken refuge after the Napoleonic invasion. He became hereditary prince "in pectore" of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1800, at the death of his elder brother Francesco Leopoldo. He followed the exiled parent first in Vienna and then, in 1803, in Salzburg, where Ferdinando obtained compensation for the lost territories of the former archiepiscopal area. Leopoldo in March of 1805 was forced to abandon this city too because of the pressing of the new war between Austria and revolutionary France and for this he moved to Würzburg, where the family settled in what was the ancient bishop's palace. During these tormented years, Leopoldo was able to study a lot with German and Italian tutors, showing a particular fondness for literary subjects.
He returned to Florence on September 15, 1814, after Napoleon's first abdication, well received by his subjects also for his father's policy, which did not carry out purges or revenge against those who had collaborated with the French government. The young heir to the throne became loved by the Tuscans also for the mild character and informal behavior, so that was nicely nicknamed "Broncio" because of the slightly protruding lower lip that gave him a perennial sad air (while in reality the young prince does not lacked the witty) and "Canapone" for the faded color of her blond hair.
Meanwhile, he completed his studies already started abroad following lessons in jurisprudence, art and literature, even dealing with agriculture for which he will always show great attention. He set as his personal objective the collection, study and reorganization of all the writings of Galileo Galilei and published an edition of Lorenzo de 'Medici's poems personally edited by him, which earned him the appointment as a member of the Accademia della Crusca .
In 1817 Leopold married Maria Anna Carolina of Saxony, to whom he was particularly attached and from whom he had three daughters. With his wife starting in 1819 he embarked on a long journey in Europe touching stages such as Munich, Dresden, Prague, Vienna and Venice. His first contact with the affairs of state occurred in October 1822 when he was called to Verona to take part with his father in the work for the Congress of the Holy Alliance.
On the death of his father on June 18, 1824, Leopold II assumed power and immediately showed he wanted to be an independent ruler, supported in this by the minister Vittorio Fossombroni, who was able to foil a maneuver of the Austrian ambassador Count of Bombelles to influence the inexperienced Grand Duke . These not only confirmed the ministers who had appointed the father, but immediately gave evidence of his sincere desire to engage with a reduction of the tax on meat and a plan of public works that provided for the continuation of the remediation of the Maremma (much to be remembered by the Grossetani with a sculptural monument located in Piazza Dante), the expansion of the port of Livorno, the construction of new roads, a first development of tourist activities (then called "foreign industry") and the exploitation of the mines of the grand duchy.
From a political point of view, the government of Leopold II was in those years the mildest and most tolerant in the Italian states: the censorship, entrusted to the learned and mild Father Mauro Bernardini from Cutigliano, did not have many opportunities to operate and many exponents of Italian culture of time, persecuted or who did not find the ideal environment at home, they could find asylum in Tuscany, as happened to Giacomo Leopardi, Alessandro Manzoni, Guglielmo Pepe, Niccolò Tommaseo. Some Tuscan writers and intellectuals such as Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi, Giovan Pietro Vieusseux and Giuseppe Giusti, who in other Italian states would surely have been in trouble, could work in peace. The grand-duke's reply to the Austrian ambassador who complained that "censorship does not do his duty in Tuscany", to which he replied with annoyance "but his duty is not to do it!". The only drawback in so much tolerance and meekness was the suppression of the magazine "L'Antologia" by Giovan Pietro Vieusseux, which took place in 1833 due to the Austrian pressures and in any case without further civil or criminal results for the founder.
The mild Grand Ducal government meant that in Tuscany there were no motions or seditions in those years and the conspiratorial activities were limited only to the city of Livorno and of minimal importance: the only repressive acts were in 1830 the suppression of the newspaper "L'Indicatore Livornese" "and the condemnation of the Guerrazzi to six months of confinement in Montepulciano for having delivered an oration in memory of Cosimo Del Fante. The tranquility of the Grand Duchy was also underlined by intellectuals such as Niccolò Tommaseo and Giuseppe Giusti, who dedicated a nice satire to the Grand Duke ("Il re travicello") who at first infuriated the recipient, but who was then taken nicely by the interested party.
The uprisings of 1831, which shocked the two Emilian ducats and the legations of the Papal State, were not followed in Tuscany, despite the fact that some patriots tried to provoke them: the only public order concern was to better guard the northern border to avoid trespassing of troublemakers.
In 1832 the grand duchess Maria Anna Carolina died, leaving the Grand Duke in despair who, to ensure succession, remarried the following year with Princess Marie Antoinette of Bourbon, a marriage from which Ferdinand, the long-awaited heir to the throne was born in 1835.
In 1839 and 1841 Leopold II gave permission for the "Congress of Italian Scientists" to be held in Pisa and Florence, despite the threats of the Austrian government and the protests of the pontifical government; in the meantime the Grand Ducal government planned a strong development of the railway network, which in the following years would have seen the birth of the "Leopolda Railway" (Florence-Pisa-Livorno, with the branch from Empoli to Siena) and the "Maria Antonia Railway" (Florence -Prato-Pistoia-Lucca), while the "Ferdinanda Railway" (Florence-Arezzo) and the "Maremmana Railway" (Livorno-Chiarone border) remained at the planning level.
Particularly admirable and destined to remain in the heart of the Florentines (at least until 1849) was the behavior of the Grand Duke on the occasion of the great flood of November 3, 1844, when the sovereign did not miss his presence at the time of relief, opening the doors of the Palace Pitti to the displaced, personally committing to rescue on a boat and visiting even in the most remote areas affected by the disaster.
In 1847 the Grand Duke of Tuscany had to face a serious crisis with the sovereigns of the two Emilia ducats: in that year came into force some clauses of the Congress of Vienna of 1815 and the Treaty of Florence of 1844 that ensured the annexation of the Lorraine Grand Duke of almost all the former Duchy of Lucca, but at the same time established that some old Tuscan enclaves in Lunigiana pass under the Bourbons of Parma and the Asburg-Este of Modena. If in Lucca it was easy to quell the discontent of the citizens with a visit of the good-natured grand-duke, the same did not happen in the municipalities destined for the sale. In Tuscany we came to ask the war to the two neighboring states, unthinkable for the mild Leopoldo, who tried to avoid the sale by offering large sums of money to the two dukes. The offer was rejected and the transfers were made for Austrian pressure, as the Vienna government could not afford trouble spots in times that were already predicted to be calamitous.
In 1847, in the context of the reformist process aroused in Italy by the election of Pope Pius IX, Leopold II distinguished himself for his commitment to reform: on 6 May freedom of press was granted and on 4 September a Civic Guard was created. In the same period, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Papal States and the Kingdom of Sardinia signed the Preliminaries of the Customs League, which everyone hailed as a premise for future major additions.
On February 17, 1848, a few days before Charles Albert of Sardinia, Leopold II granted the Constitution, which was distinguished from the others by granting full rights to citizens of all religions and March 18 was born the first Tuscan constitutional government, chaired by Francis Cempini. A few days later, while the two Emilian dukes were forced to flee from the insurrections, Leopoldo II re-enacted to Tuscany the municipalities ceded in Lunigiana, the Upper Garfagnana Estense and the former Duchy of Massa and Carrara, whose populations had asked to be Tuscan , according to the principle that every people was free to decide their fate.
On March 21, the Grand Duke aroused popular enthusiasm by deciding to send the few regular Tuscan troops, flanked by volunteers, to fight in high Italy alongside the Sardinians against the Austrians. While the small grand-ducal army headed for Pietrasanta and San Marcello Pistoiese, Leopoldo II replaced the Lorraine flag with the Italian tricolor with overlapping the grand-ducal coat of arms and personally adhered to the war loan.
The patriotic attitude of the Grand Duke began to change towards the middle of the year, when the expansionist attitudes of the Kingdom of Sardinia and in August were clear, following violent riots in Livorno, when he was forced to dismiss the moderate government of Gino Capponi to entrust the task to the Democrats Guerrazzi and Giuseppe Montanelli who inaugurated an ultra-democratic politics.
On 30 January 1849 Leopold II left Florence to take refuge first in Siena (and to pretend to be ill, he had the idea of receiving the Florentine delegates in bed, in a shirt and a papal shirt) and then in Porto Santo Stefano. In this place he accepted and refused several times the offer of the Piedmontese ambassador Villamarina to regain power with the army of the Kingdom of Sardinia, until, convinced by his court to prefer Austria, he repaired to Gaeta, under the protection of Ferdinando II of the Two Sicilies.
The exile lasted until April, when after the defeat of Carlo Alberto in Novara, the moderate Tuscans overthrew the Guerrazzi government to avoid an Austrian invasion and recalled the Grand Duke, hoping that he would keep the reforms.
The hope was in vain: the lieutenant-field marshal of Aspre came down from Parma with 18,000 men, took and sacked Livorno and then occupied Florence.
A few months later Leopold II disembarked at Viareggio, but had the bad idea of being escorted by Austrian troops and in uniform as a Habsburg general: it was the end of the natural and heartfelt sympathy that the Tuscans had had for the mild sovereign.
In April 1859, in the imminence of the Franco-Piedmontese war against Austria, Leopold II proclaimed neutrality, but by now the grand-ducal government had its days counted: in Florence the population roared and troops showed signs of insubordination.
On April 27, 1859, about four o'clock, in front of a large crowd tumbling through the streets of Florence and the refusal of the army to obey his sovereign, Leopold II, to avoid worse trouble for himself and his State, he left in a carriage from Palazzo Pitti, exiting through the Boboli gate, towards the Bologna road.
The peaceful resignation to the course of history (the Grand Duke never thought of a solution of strength) and the modalities of the farewell, with few personal effects loaded in a few carriages and with sympathy to the court staff, made Leopoldo reacquire the ancient esteem by his now former subjects: the grand-ducal family was greeted by the Florentines, taking off his hat to the passage, with the cry "Farewell father Leopold!" and accompanied with all regards by an escort to the Filigare, now an ex-customs with the Papal State. At six o'clock that same day, the City of Florence noted the absence of any provision left by the sovereign and appointed a provisional government.
Refugees at the Viennese court, the former Grand Duke officially abdicated only the following 21 July; since then he lived in Bohemia, going to Rome in 1869, where he died on January 28, 1870, in Via delle Tre Cannelle. Buried initially in the church of the St. Apostles, in 1914 his body was then transported to Vienna to be buried in the mausoleum of the Habsburgs, the Capuchin Crypt.