On 6 February 1810, the Austrian ambassador to France, 1 His position had become uncomfortable as he awaited news of a response from St. Petersburg to Emperor Napoleon’s requests for an imperial marriage. Schwarzenberg believed that Tsar Alexander I would accept the overtures, Napoleon would marry the tsar’s sister, the Russian Grand-Duchess Anna Pavlovna, and the Austrian ambassador would be forced to witness a strengthening of the alliance between the Habsburgs’ two greatest enemies. France and Russia, united by the marriage, would decide the fate of continental Europe. Contacts in the French government informed the prince that if the tsar declined Napoleon’s advances, the French emperor would turn next to him to negotiate for the hand of the Austrian Archduchess Marie-Louise. Schwarzenberg had permission from his sovereign to acknowledge inquiries if the French approached him, but he resigned himself to an inevitable positive response from St. Petersburg. To his surprise, a courier’s dispatch from the French foreign ministry interrupted his hunt with a request that the ambassador return to his residence to receive an important communication.
Unknown to Schwarzenberg, Napoleon had grown impatient after learning of the tsar’s dilatory messages. Fearing that further negotiations and arrangements for the marriage could take months to complete, Napoleon moved suddenly and forcefully. He ordered his representative in St. Petersburg to terminate further proposals to the Romanovs while he attempted to secure the hand of the Habsburg archduchess. In petitioning the Austrian imperial family, however, he observed none of the traditional etiquette and issued instead an ultimatum. Napoleon instructed Eugene de Beauharnais, his stepson and the Viceroy of Italy, to recall Schwarzenberg to Paris and determine if the Austrian ambassador would sign a marriage contract. He instructed Eugene to inform the prince that his hesitation would forfeit the Habsburgs’ opportunity for such an alliance. Accordingly, Eugene went to Schwarzenberg’s residence and later reported the prince’s “extraordinary confusion” when he heard the emperor’s demanding offer. “Never had an ambassador been placed in such a favorite cruel position,” the viceroy recalled. “He struggled, sweated profusely, and made useless arguments,” but he finally consented to the stipulations.2 The next day, 7 February, Schwarzenberg arrived at the French ministry and, although he declared that he did not have the authority for such an “ad hoc” contract, he signed the document which was forwarded immediately to Vienna. Schwarzenberg wrote a hasty letter to his foreign minister explaining what had transpired and noting his protests. He explained, “if the affair was brusque, it is that Napoleon does no other, and it appeared that we must seize this favorable moment…. if I have insulted my sovereign by what I have done without in the delaying, His Majesty can disavow me. In this case, I would request my instant recall.”3 Far from being reprimanded, the Austrian ambassador received praise from both the French and Austrian courts for his initiative and resolution in a dire predicament. The matrimonial union of the Habsburg and Bonaparte imperial houses took place by proxy in Vienna on 11 March and in Paris on 1 and 2 April.
While the marriage ceremonies, the honeymoon, and the eventual birth of the King of Rome illustrate the pageantry of Napoleonic Europe, Prince Schwarzenberg’s crisis of 6 and 7 February 1810 demands further investigation. Why did the prince behave in such an agitated manner before signing such a beneficial contract, one that ensured the security of the Austrian monarchy? This paper will examine the goals of the Austrian foreign minister, Count Clemens von Metternich, in his first great diplomatic bout with Napoleon, and the role of his ambassador with whom the fate of the Habsburg empire rested for a moment. A study of the evidence reveals that misdirected actions by an agent of the Austrian embassy compromised the ambassador’s position. As a result, Napoleon, rebuffed by Alexander’s response to the marriage proposal, took full advantage of his Austrian adversary and coerced the prince into forfeiting Metternich’s designs. Bonaparte secured the archduchess and forced Vienna to accept the fait accompli without the slightest concession.
As early as 1807, when Napoleon’s empire approached its zenith, rumors began to circulate that the emperor might annul his childless marriage with Josephine. Austria, like the rest of Europe, held a keen interest in the emperor’s plans for a new wife. The Austrian ambassador to France at that time, Metternich, cultivated an extensive network of contacts who sought advantages in the foundation of a Bonaparte-Habsburg marriage alliance. These machinations were checked, however, when Austria declared war on France in the spring of 1809. Metternich was escorted back to Vienna but his wife, Florel, who had founded favorable connections in Napoleon’s imperial court, remained in Paris. The Austrians began the war with great enthusiasm to break Napoleon’s influence over the German states, but it became a disastrous struggle for the survival of the Habsburg monarchy. Russian armies aided the French effort, but despite Napoleon’s decisive victory at Wagram in July 1809, Austria hoped to secure an honorable peace. Metternich attended the farcical peace negotiations at Altenberg which dragged on until 14 October. Once Russia agreed to his plans, Napoleon demanded Austria’s immediate capitulation. Powerless against armies from the west and east, Emperor Francis I had little choice but to accept the terms Napoleon presented. The Treaty of Schönbrunn deprived the Habsburg monarchy of 3.5 million subjects and 50,000 square miles of territory: Galicia, Salzburg, and the entire Illyrian coast. An onerous indemnity increased the government’s already monstrous debt while the Austrian military was limited to 150,000 troops. The remaining Habsburg domains lay demoralized, landlocked, bankrupt, and defenseless.
Metternich wisely avoided any connection with the despised treaty, and waited for its ratification before accepting the post of Austrian foreign minister. He determined that Austria must consider an alliance with Napoleon while creating tension between France and Russia. He rationalized that although France’s policies were contrary to all sound principles of Habsburg diplomacy, by necessity Austria must yield and accommodate herself to the triumphant French. On the other hand, Tsar Alexander and his court, despised for allying with France and attacking Austria, must be isolated and threatened in hopes that they might “awaken more quickly when they find that nothing more is to be gained by their miserable policy.” Metternich confided to his sovereign, “We must confine our methods to tacking, turning, and flattering … to preserve our existence until the day of our deliverance.”4
To help achieve his designs, Metternich called Schwarzenberg to help “save the sinking ship” by succeeding him at the vitally important embassy in Paris.5 The prince, well-mannered, conservative, and of the highest Bohemian nobility, was an ideal candidate to represent Austria at Napoleon’s court. As a cavalry officer of unquestioned bravery, he had served since 1792 in numerous campaigns against the French and attained the rank of General of the Cavalry after the 1809 war. On important diplomatic missions, to Bavaria in 1805 and Russia earlier in 1809, he had proven to be loyal, reliable, serious, and immune to potential court intrigues. As ambassador to the tsar, he had coordinated Austrian stratagems with Metternich in Paris. While the count had tried to persuade Napoleon of Francis’ pacific intentions, Schwarzenberg entreated Alexander not to intervene on behalf of his French ally. Neither man was successful, but the prince earned Metternich’s trust. Following the war, its humiliating treaty, and the minister’s summons, Schwarzenberg appeared before Francis who, “with tears in his eyes,” asked his prince to serve the unfortunate fatherland.6
Metternich’s initial instructions to the ambassador emphasized Austria’s bleak outlook and the necessity to gain time for his country to heal its wounds and eventually regain its independence. In Paris, Schwarzenberg was to promote Austria’s desire for peace with France, but he was not to reveal Vienna’s ardent desire for an alliance with Napoleon. Metternich concluded that at that juncture it would be difficult to determine Napoleon’s reaction to his conquered foe. The ambassador must wait for the French to mention an alliance before intimating that Austria desired such a union. However, Metternich cautioned Schwarzenberg to avoid making unconsidered remarks since French representatives sometimes held such remarks as diplomatically binding by forwarding them to the press. The prince was to determine France’s motivation for desiring a partnership with Austria, and the possible concessions Napoleon might offer Francis.7 Metternich hoped for a softening of the calamitous Schönbrunn treaty obligations, specifically, those regarding the indemnity and the cession of the Illyrian coast. Furthermore, Metternich’s instructions also included a contingency concerning Napoleon’s reception of the Austrian ambassador. If Schwarzenberg were ignored or poorly received at court, as the Prussian embassy had been received after Tilsit, he was to assert that he was merely delivering a letter from Francis to the French emperor and not acting as an official ambassador.8 The disgrace of such an embarrassing audience would indicate that Napoleon regarded Austria as an inconsequential entity, and Schwarzenberg would have no hope of attaining any of his minister’s goals.
Mettemich’s fears were relieved when the French received Schwarzenberg with full honors at the frontier and escorted the Austrian entourage to the capital. The ambassador arrived in Paris on 21 November 1809 and sent his counsellor, Peter von Floret, to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Baptiste de Champagny, to request an introduction to the imperial court. Champagny was very courteous and initiated pleasant conversation with Floret, which also included apparently innocuous curiosity about Marie-Louise’s health and education. He scheduled Schwarzenberg’s formal audience much sooner than expected, Sunday 26 November. While waiting for the audience, Schwarzenberg was invited to functions hosted by the Parisian aristocracy.
Schwarzenberg’s introduction to Napoleon and the imperial court took place as scheduled with all requisite pomp and honor. Napoleon greeted the ambassador warmly, stating that he hoped the prince represented Francis’ sincere desire to end finally the seventeen years of antagonism and develop an amicable relationship between the two nations. Schwarzenberg assured the emperor of his sovereign’s benevolent policy, but Napoleon indicated his continued suspicions of Habsburg machinations. He closed the audience by reminding the ambassador that France had grown tired of receiving Austrian emissaries bearing insincere tidings of peace. “You realize that this is the fourth time?” he asked. Schwarzenberg bowed and responded, “Sire, it is the last time.”9 Vienna received reports of the audience with relief while the ambassador confided to his wife, “In spite of ail my expectations, I performed my duty very well, but I would still rather head a good cavalry charge than repeat that farce.”10
Shortly after the audience, the reluctant ambassador’s mission took on new importance. He had noted Josephine’s absence at court and he learned that on 25 November, Napoleon had informed her of his plans to annul the imperial marriage. Now, Schwarzenberg and ail of Europe were anxious to discover which new empress Napoleon would choose. The prince judged by the happiness of the Russian ambassador, Prince Alexander Kurakin, that Napoleon had extended a proposal to St. Petersburg and that the negotiations were well advanced.11 He was incorrect, however; Napoleon’s overtures to St. Petersburg for a marriage had only recently begun. On 22 November Champagny instructed the French ambassador to Russia, Armand Caulaincourt, to approach the tsar about Grand-Duchess Anna as a prospective bride. Correspondence and negotiations between the two courts would require months to complete. In the meantime, a lobby of French politicians, diplomats, and businessmen who favored closer ties to Austria tried to draw the French emperor’s attention to the benefits of a Habsburg alliance. Napoleon pursued the union with the Romanovs, but he desired to determine the inclinations of the Habsburgs as an alternate choice should the Russian proposal fail.
Metternich had previously declined to accept a marriage between Lucien Bonaparte and an Austrian archduchess when it first emerged during the failed peace negotiations at Altenberg. When he learned later that Napoleon acted to annul his marriage to Josephine, the count initiated a course to found a “family alliance” with the French Emperor which would allow Austria much-needed security. In Vienna, Metternich discussed the prospect with Count Alexander de Laborde, a French representative of the pro-Austrian faction in Paris. He voiced his support of a Habsburg bride for Napoleon, and declared, “This idea is my own. I have not mentioned it to the Emperor (Francis) but I am sure he will be in favor of it…I would regard it as truly good fortune for us and a glory for the period of my ministry.”12 Laborde reported the conversation to Paris where Hugues Maret, the Duke of Bassano, brought the revelation to Napoleon’s attention. When Laborde, who had once been employed in the Austrian état major under Schwarzenberg, returned from his mission in Vienna, Maret selected him to “unofficially” query the Habsburg ambassador.13
Each with contrasting designs for achieving a common goal, Laborde and Schwarzenberg enjoyed a series of verbal jousts throughout December 1809. The count tried to gain the ambassador’s trust and convince him to reveal Metternich’s schemes. Schwarzenberg, who as yet had no instructions from Vienna on the matter, remained suspicious of Laborde and revealed only that such a marriage would conform to Francis’ desire for peaceful relations with France. He confided to Metternich, however, “I meticulously handle my relations with Laborde, who allows me the possibility to influence the emperor (Napoleon) by way of Maret…However, I am always distrustful …because a man of bonor should serve faithfully the cause he embraces.”14
Furthermore, with guarded speech and apparent pessimism towards the prospect of a Romanov marriage, the prince learned more of Napoleon’s enterprises and Laborde’s contrivances. The prince protested to his adversary that if Napoleon had made a proposal to Alexander, there was little doubt that it would succeed. He drew upon his experiences at the Winter Palace where he witnessed Russian court politics and Caulaincourt’s influence over the tsar to assure the Frenchman of the project’s inevitable success. He added, however, that France would not benefit by an alliance to Russia, “a land of a mix of insolent, barbarian, ignorant men for whom this sensible course would be of little effect, whereas another people (the Austrians) would be most grateful for it.” Changing to a more hopeful tone, he spoke of the marriage Choiseul and Kaunitz had forged in 1756 and consummated in 1770, which had brought twenty years of peace between Austria and France. He even described an image of the power of the Austrian army under Napoleon’s command, then he hesitated before adding, “All these hopes will only lead to regret as things are too far advanced.” Laborde tried desperately to reassure him by reiterating that Napoleon had only made inquiries concerning the grand-duchess, while he still considered Marie-Louise or a Saxon princess. Furthermore, Laborde hinted that Austria could regain a lost province if the archduchess were chosen and he urged the ambassador to request counsel from Vienna.15 Schwarzenberg reported these conversations to Metternich, commenting, “We are at the brink of a great event,…it does not appear probable to me that these were vague suggestions about Marie-Louise…I must be instructed of His Majesty’s (Francis) views.”16
By the beginning of 1810, intrigue surrounding the marriage intensified. Napoleon grew daily more suspicious of Alexander’s hesitant behavior and he sought to secure alternatives in case of the tsar’s refusal. Before making future proposals, enduring prolonged negotiations, and facing the possibility of another embarrassing rebuff, he wanted assurances of a positive response. Accordingly, members of the pro-Austrian court faction attempted to determine through the “unofficial” channels of the Austrian embassy if Francis and Marie-Louise would accept a proposal. To this end, furtive discourses filled the salons of Paris and Vienna. 17
Napoleon hoped that Schwarzenberg might give an indication of Habsburg policy and the wills of Francis and Marie-Louise. However, the ambassador’s pessimistic and reticent behavior foiled the French Emperor’s schemes and it disturbed those who fervently desired his firm commitment. Despite his associates’ efforts to prove the contrary, the prince maintained that the tsar would offer his sister to Napoleon. In a meeting with Schwarzenberg on 12 January, Champagny presented the ambassador with a “circular” that had been sent to the courts of Europe. The document, which in reality had not been sent to Russia, indicated that Napoleon had not yet decided which European princess to marry. Schwarzenberg gave a very evasive reply to the French minister and informed Metternich, “I measured my responses (to Champagny)…and the minister was content this time to grope without more explicitly approaching the question.”18
Talleyrand and Laborde seconded Champagny’s efforts. Laborde, however, became more frantic in his meetings with Schwarzenberg and insisted that Napoleon regretted the “monstrosity” of his Russian alliance. He claimed that his emperor already wanted to escape the “understandings” made at Erfurt and instructed Caulaincourt to end negotiations with Alexander. Although he did not mention it in his official report, Laborde hinted again at compensation for Austria and questioned the ambassador about which of Francis’ lost provinces were most dear. Schwarzenberg replied that he dared not speculate, since all domains were of equal value to the ruler19 Laborde said that upon receiving Alexander’s replies, which could never be enough to satisfy Napoleon’s demands, the emperor would turn immediately to the prince. After the Frenchman admitted that he feared Schwarzenberg’s hesitations might ruin the project, the ambassador retorted “with an air of confidence” that he “was still lacking instructions for an affair which could not be foreseen.”20
Schwarzenberg’s deceit was in accordance with the instructions he had recently received from Metternich. The minister informed the ambassador, “You desire, my prince, to receive precise directions on the intentions of his Imperial Majesty,” who “far from rejecting the idea (of a marriage), authorizes you to follow it up and refuse no overtures which may be made on the subject…in a non-official character.” Metternich further instructed Schwarzenberg to hint that Francis desired the marriage but “he would never force a beloved daughter into a marriage which she abhors.” The ambassador was to use the archduchess’ reluctance as leverage to “try to determine as far as possible the advantages France would offer to Austria” for the alliance.21 Furthermore, Metternich warned that Laborde, “a man who has played a duplicitous role in the negotiations … cannot be trusted…and is actively opposing our interests,” was seeking merely to ingratiate himself with Napoleon.22 Schwarzenberg acknowledged these instructions, stating that if negotiations became official, “I will give definite answers to definite inquiries without compromising myself.” In spite of his assurances to Metternich, Schwarzenberg remained despondent. At imperial court functions throughout January 1810, he witnessed the favoritism shown to the Russian ambassador, which convinced him that Napoleon’s negotiations with Russia were progressing smoothly.23
In reality, French attempts to win the Grand-duchess Anna were stifled. Caulaincourt’s reports of the tsar’s delaying tactics arrived in Paris on 26 January and were kept very secret. Public knowledge of a humiliating refusal from St. Petersburg could make negotiating with Vienna more difficult. In an effort to conceal these reports, Napoleon told Laborde to inform Schwarzenberg of a “family conference” he had held on 28 January. Laborde claimed that the emperor’s overtures to the tsar were well-received, but Napoleon declared to his assembled family and advisors that he was free still to select any bride. After finding that a majority of his counsellors were in favor of union with the Habsburgs, Napoleon felt he should determine if Austria would be as receptive. According to Laborde, Maret assured the Emperor that Schwarzenberg would tell him whether Austria would accept such a union. Napoleon agreed, saying that he preferred to treat directly with Schwarzenberg, rather than have Otto make the overtures in Vienna.24
While these machinations were carried out in hopes that Schwarzenberg would match Russia’s apparently receptive stance, the Austrian ambassador admitted nothing to his contacts in Paris. Metternich responded to the prince’s report of Napoleon’s dexterous manoeuvers, that “the state of things allows us to wait with calmness until the official proposal” is made before “bringing forward questions of the highest importance.” He reminded his ambassador that “to obtain as much as possible…must be our first consideration” even though it might entail the sacrifice of Marie-Louise.25 Both men clearly understood the advantages that a marriage to Napoleon would bestow upon the weakened Austrian position, and they were enthusiastic for the union. Further more they recognized that if Napoleon received a definitive rebuff from the Winter Palace, his remaining options would be limited. Therefore, if one believed Laborde’s account of the recommendation from Napoleon’s family and trusted advisors, the French Emperor might bargain with Francis rather than risk another rejection.
It was through Countess Mettemich, despite Schwarzenberg’s shrewd conduct, that Napoleon derived the information he needed to foil Metternich’s agenda.26 Since Josephine had confided her hopes for a Habsburg marriage to her, Florel was convinced that she could play a great role in bringing them to fruition. Following her report of this auspicious tête-à-tête, her husband instructed her how to respond if the subject arose in future encounters with the empress. In a letter dated 27 January 1810, Metternich admitted that two significant barriers to the marriage, the annulment’s religious difficulties, and Marie-Louise’s consent, had been removed.27 Unfortunately, since the exciting revelation at Malmaison, Fiord had no other opportunity to converse with Josephine. However, at a few of the masked bails that winter, Napoleon had made several enticing comments to her. With her anticipation and anxiety over the marriage increasing, she had to rely on information from Laborde and Karl Theodor von Dalberg. They warned her that Schwarzenberg’s reluctant, apathetic behavior might cause Napoleon to reconsider selecting the archduchess. She complained about the prince to her husband, “I believe in general that he really is not in his place as an envoy.” Her distress grew.28 In the first days of February, frustrated and mistrusting Schwarzenberg’s abilities, Countess Metternich acted. She revealed her husband’s secret and candid letter to Dalberg, who realized its significance and copied parts of the letter which he then brought to Napoleon.29
The timing of Countess Metternich’s indiscretion could not have been more disadvantageous to Austria’s purposes. On 5 February, new reports (dated 15 and 21 January) from St. Petersburg indicated that Alexander still had made no decision despite Caulaincourt’s setting a deadline. The tsar’s intransigence left Napoleon free to seize the opportunity that Dalberg had presented. The Emperor then sent Eugène to secure Schwarzenberg’s commitment before news of the Russian refusal to respond became known. The viceroy recounted that when he returned to Napoleon with Schwarzenberg’s answer, “before the word ‘yes’ was out of my mouth, the great man was consumed with a joy so impetuous and full that I stood stupefied.”30 Champagny spent the night of 6—7 February researching the archives to prepare a contract of marriage based on the one between Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. At noon on the 7th, Schwarzenberg fulfilled his commitment to Eugene and signed the contract, still unaware of the events placing him in such an uncomfortable predicament. He informed Metternich of the disingenuous excuses he had made to Champagny for not being prepared to sign a contract. Schwarzenberg pleaded to the French minister that his hesitant reaction “could only be attributed to the impossibility that my ministry could imagine such a rapid conclusion to an affair so scarcely anticipated.”31 Actually, the prince had been prepared to receive Napoleon’s proposal, but he was shocked that his embassy somehow forfeited a chance for negotiations.
Countess Metternich, however, was delighted by the outcome and wrote to her husband:
Thus the grand affair is ended. God be praised that he gives it his blessing! I will not boast, but I made no small contribution to the success. I will tell you more of the details when I see you. Your letter made a great impression not on the person for whom it was intended—she never saw it—but on the high personage (Napoleon) who got his hands on it. But for heaven’s sake let us not speak of that. Prince Schwarzenberg knows nothing about it; he was even opposed that I use it at ail. I followed solely the inspiration of my little head. Now the affair is successful and it is everything we could desire. But what terrible nights I have spent, how much anxiety and fear I endured! It is truly indescribable.32
There is no dispute that Austria benefïtted greatly by the marriage. As Metternich had hoped, it prevented any strengthening of the failing Franco-Russian alliance. It also restored some badly-needed Habsburg prestige and, most importantly, it secured Austria’s unguarded borders. Despite these obvious gains, in his memoirs Metternich refused to admit that his wife’s thoughtlessness had allowed Napoleon to deprive Austria of even greater concessions. He claimed that Francis had consented to the marriage “with the express reservation that on neither side shall any condition be attached to it.” He wrote that when Napoleon sounded Schwarzenberg out regarding possible concessions, “the ambassador was in a position to express himself in the same sense as the Emperor (Francis).”33 One must note, however, that although Metternich’s account of this event was somewhat selective, he nevertheless hurried to Paris following the nuptials in Vienna, to try to recover some of what his wife had given away.