Leopold I
King of Poland
Reign 14 November 1918 – 28 September 1930
Coronation 11 December 1922
Predecessor Vistula Land
Nicholas II, Tsar of Poland
Successor Konrad II
Spouse Archduchess Gisela of Austria
House House of Wittelsbach
Father Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria
Mother Archduchess Auguste Ferdinande of Austria
Born 9 February 1846
Munich, Bavaria Flag of Bavaria (striped).svg
Died 28 September 1930 (aged 84)
Warsaw, Poland Flag of Poland (1928-1980).svg
Religion Roman Catholicism

Leopold I (Polish: Leopold I Bawarski; 9 February 1846 in Munich – 28 September 1930 in Warsaw) was a German prince who became the first King of Poland following Polish independence in 1916. He reigned between March 1921 and September 1930. He was a Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) who commanded German and Austro-Hungarian forces on the Eastern Front in the World War.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Born as Prince Leopold of Bavaria, the second son of Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria and his wife Archduchess Augusta of Austria.

Military career[edit | edit source]

Leopold entered the Bavarian Army at the age of 15, and received his patent as a lieutenant dated 28 November 1861. He saw first combat during the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, where he commanded an artillery battery at Kissingen and Rossbrunn.

In 1870, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, sent Leopold to the battlefields of France, where the Bavarian Army was fighting alongside the Prussian Army in the Franco-Prussian War. He served with the 3rd Bavarian Artillery Regiment and saw action at Sedan and Beauvert. He was promoted to major in December 1870. For his bravery against the enemy he received both the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Classes, the Bavarian Military Merit Order Knight 1st Class, the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph, Bavaria's highest military decoration, and decorations from several other German states.

In the post-war years, Leopold spent most of his time travelling, visiting Africa, Asia and countries of Europe. He was married on 20 April 1873 at Vienna to his second cousin Archduchess Gisela of Austria, daughter of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and the Empress Elisabeth. He remained in the Bavarian army and was finally promoted to the rank of field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) on 1 January 1905. He retired from active duty in 1913.

World War[edit | edit source]

Leopold's retirement, however, did not last long. On 16 April 1915, he was given command of the German 9th Army, replacing General August von Mackensen. Leopold quickly proved himself an able commander as he took Warsaw on 4 August 1915. Following this success, he was put in command of Army Group Prince Leopold of Bavaria (Heeresgruppe Prinz Leopold von Bayern), which was a combined German/Austro-Hungarian force in the central sector of the Eastern Front. He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph on 5 August 1915, the prestigious Pour le Mérite, Prussia's highest military decoration, on 9 August 1915 and the oak leaves to the Pour le Mérite on 25 July 1917.

On 29 August 1916, after the brutal summer campaigns succeeded in reversing the Brusilov Offensive against the Austrians, Leopold became the Supreme Commander of the German forces on the Eastern front (Oberbefehlshaber Ost), succeeding Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg. Leopold held this post for the rest of the war. Because of his position, Leopold became the German candidate for the throne of the Kingdom of Poland.

On 4 March 1918, Leopold received yet another high honor, the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, awarded only five times during the World War. Leopold retired again in 1918 after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which had ended the war on the Eastern Front. This treaty was highly favorable to Germany, and Leopold ended his career with success.

King of Poland[edit | edit source]

Leopold was once again brought out of retirement when he was offered to become King of the new Poland. Early in the Great War it was descided by the Central Powers to restore Poland as an independent puppet regime. The "Austro-Polish" solution called for Archduke Charles Stephen of Austria and his son Charles Albert, who resided in Saybusch in Galicia and spoke Polish fluently, to assume the throne while Germany controlled the Polish economy and raw materials, as well as any Polish army. However by 1918 all hopes for the Austro-Polish solution had failed and Germany assumed total control of the Central Powers plans for Poland. The German candidates for the throne were disputed between claims from Saxony and Bavaria, and the Bavarian demand presented Leopold who was the Supreme Commander of the German forces on the Eastern front as the future ruler of Poland.

In the end Saxon King Frederick Augustus III renounced all claims to the Polish crown and Leopold was elected king. He arrived in Warsaw as king on 5 March 1921 to formally assume the throne and sign the new Polish constitution into law.

Meanwhile Poland's economy was in shambles. Hyperinflation fueled public unrest, and the government was unable to find a quick solution to the mounting unemployment and economic crisis. Leopold repeatedly asked Józef Piłsudski be returned to Poland from his confinement in Germany. Piłsudski began to create a new power base, centered around former members of the Polish Legions and the Polish Military Organization as well as some left-wing and intelligentsia parties. In 1925, after several governments had resigned in short order and the political scene was becoming increasingly chaotic, Piłsudski became more and more critical of the government, eventually issuing statements demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister Witos cabinet. In 1926 the third Witos government was overthrown by the May coup d'état. The coup made the elderly Leopold a shadow figure with real power being left in the hands of Piłsudski.

Leopold died on 28 September 1930 in the Wilanów Palace just outside of Warsaw. He was succeeded by his youngest son who became Konrad II. Although he did not live to see the war with the Soviet Union Leopold's rule over Poland did set the early ground work Poland would need to slow and help defeat the Red Army.

Family[edit | edit source]

King Leopold and his wife Gisela had four children:

Titles, styles, honours, and arms[edit | edit source]

Titles and styles[edit | edit source]

Monarchical styles of
Leopold I
Grand Coat of Arms of the Polish Kingdom.png
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir
  • 9 February 1846 – 5 March 1921: His Royal Highness Prince Leopold of Bavaria
  • 14 November 1918 – 28 September 1930: His Majesty The King of Poland
Leopold of Poland
Born: 9 February 1846 Died: 28 September 1930
Polish royalty
Preceded by
Nicholas II of Russia
as Tsar of Poland
King of Poland
1921 – 1930
Succeeded by
Konrad II
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