I once glanced into a history book (which I don't own -- perhaps I was browsing in a library, years ago) and saw a reference to the following:

  1. Once upon a time, there was a Hapsburg boy who grew up to become the Austrian Emperor. I have a vague idea that he ruled in the 17th and/or early 18th centuries. (But this could be wrong.)

  2. He was powerfully influenced by his mother's ideas. It seems that she told him that it was best not to be too generous, too quickly, because people would start to take his generosity for granted instead of trying to earn it by showing him all due obedience and respect.

  3. The upshot of this was that after he was ruling as Emperor, he would often promise big rewards to noblemen who had served him well . . . and then take his own sweet time about actually following through on those promises. He believed, apparently thanks to his mother, that this would make people more inclined to keep giving him lots of respect and obedience in order to keep on his good side.

  4. It didn't quite work out that way. Powerful men (such as the Prince of This or the Duke of That) would come to notice that, years after their sovereign had "promised" something, he still hadn't delivered, and in any other man this would have been regarded as the mark of a useless deadbeat who had no intention of ever paying his bills! So they became less and less inclined to meekly go along with the Emperor's ideas, because they came to regard him as an unreliable child who talked big and then failed to deliver on his bargains.

I don't know much about Austrian history, and a while back, doing a little Googling, I failed to determine which Emperor this would have been. Does anyone think it sounds familiar? (I can't remember anything about the book in which I ran across the above summary, beyond the fact that it was written in the English language.)

  • 1
    This sounds more like a parable than a specific historical event.
    – SPavel
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 0:49
  • I fear you may have been misled by the way I whimsically started my summary of the circumstances with the words "once upon a time there was a Hapsburg boy." Please understand that those words were not a quote or near-quote from the source material; they were just my colorful way of paraphrasing what I only vaguely recall. I am sure the author mentioned a specific Austrian Emperor, by name, in the text of the book -- but since I cannot remember that name, I had to find some other choice of words for starting my summary of the bits and pieces that I think I do remember.
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 0:55

1 Answer 1


This was Joseph II, the son of Empress Maria Theresa. The mother was considered an "enlightened" monarch for her time, and the son was a well-meaning reformer, who proved that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." He ruled in the second half of the 18th century, jointly with his mother in the earlier years.

For instance, he set the serfs free, and then insisted that they pay their bills with "money," except that there was too little money available in the kingdom for them to actually do so. (Everyone had been functioning on a "barter economy.") Laws like that made people want to go back to being serfs. More to the point, the lack of money in the kingdom prevented him from properly compensating the nobles for their services and losses, which earned him his "deadbeat" reputation.

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