Duke Leopold V of Austria, also known as Leopold the Virtuous, or in German, Leopold der Tugendhafte, was said to be brazen and an astute risk taker, he was the son of Henry II, Duke of Austria and Theodore Komnene, a Byzantine Princess. Leopold married his wife, Helena of Hungary on the day of Pentecost, she was the daughter of Géza II of Hungary. Together the couple had two children: Frederick, the future Frederick I of Austria and Leopold, the future Leopold VI of Austria, who originally succeeded his father first as Duke of Styria.
Leopold elevated to the title of Duke of Austria on the death of his father on 13 January 1177 at the age of 20. At the age of 25 in 1182 he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land where he was greeted with honour at the courts of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios II Komnenos, his brother in law and Béla III of Hungary, a past enemy who had tried to take the title of Duke of Austria for himself. In 1182, Leopold earned the title of Duke of Styria after coming to an agreement with the Duke of Styria, Ottokar IV, through the Georgenberg Pact which brought Styria, Upper Austria, Wels and Steyr into the duchy of Austria. The pact was signed on 17 August 1186. English historians call this pact a “Styrian Magna Carta” as it brought about the right of Styrians.
Many historians believe this was the first step to a modern Austria. Historians also believe Leopold was the first to use some form of the Austrian banner. ‘Legend has it that King Henry VI granted him that shield because the duke’s tunic was drenched in blood, except for the white area beneath his belt, after the Battle of Ptolemais in 1191 in the Holy Land.’ On the 20 December 1192, Leopold captured Richard I of England and held him prisoner at Dürnstein Castle.‘Richard made the mistake of travelling (in disguise) through the duke’s lands on his way home.’ A year after capturing the King of England, Leopold handed him over to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, where he was then held at Trifels Castle. As punishment for taking a fellow crusader prisoner, both Leopold and Emperor Henry VI were excommunicated by Pope Celestine III. Eventually Richard was released at Henry VI’s demand for 35, 000 kilogrammes was paid, which today is equal to 150, 000 marks. As Leopold’s part of the ransom, it was agreed he would get the demanded marks which would he would spend on‘… the ransom money which the English paid built the road from Vienna to Styria and new walls for many cities, as well as providing new coinage.’ A second term was that his son, Frederick would marry Eleanor of England, sister to Richard I, this marriage would establish a competing claim to Brittany as well to other Plantagenet lands The terms were agreed to and Richard was released. However, Frederick never became able to marry Eleanor as his father died in Graz, Styria before the marriage could take place on 31 December 1194. Leopold had died from gangrene after a horse fell on him during a tournament and though surgeons told him to get his foot amputated, none were confident to do and so Leopold had servants to the dangerous task which eventually led to infection. Before his accident, Leopold had been trying to pay penance, most likely in the hopes of lifting his excommunication. Leopold was given a Christian burial at Heiligenkreuz Abbey.
- Steve Beller, A Concise History of Austria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
- John B. Freed, Noble Bondsmen Ministerial Marriages in the Archdiocese of Salzburg, 1100-1343 (New York: Cornwell University Press, 1995)
- Whitney Smith, Britanica,‘Flag of Austria’ [www.britanica.com/topic/flag-of-Austria#ref712520]
- B. Arnold, German Knighthood 1050-1300 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999)
- Andrew Wheatcroft, The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe(London: Pimlico, 2009)
- Belle S. Tuten, Feud, Violence and Practice: Essays in Medieval Studies in Honor of Stephen D. White (Burlngton: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2010)
- Roger Howden, William Stubbs ed. Chronica (1871)