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BIOGRAPHIES

METTERNICH-Winneburg-zu Beilstein, Clemens Wenzel Lothar, Graf von (1773-1859)

Austrian politician and diplomat


The great Habsburg statesman of the nineteenth century, Metternich was born in Koblenz on 15 May, 1773. His university career started in Strasburg (1788) where he studied under the famous teacher of law and political history Christoph Wilhelm von Koch (other pupils included Louis-Guillaume Otto (Metternich's opposite number in the Marie Louise marriage negotiations), Benjamin Constant, and Maximilian von Montgelas, to name but three influential politicians of the period). After a brief period studying law at Mainz, he followed his father into a diplomatic career. His father was posted first to the Austrian Netherlands, whence he was sent to England for the negotiation of a loan for the Austrian government in the Netherlands. In Vienna in 1794, his mother arranged his exceedingly advantageous marriage with the 19-year-old Eléonore de Kaunitz, wealthy and well-connected grand-daughter of the great eponymous Austrian politician – they were married in the chateau at Austerlitz! His father was then sent to the Congress of Rastadt (1797-1799) and the young Metternich was forced to suffer the dismemberment of the Austrian empire and the insolence of the diplomatic representatives of the young French Republic.
 
In February 1801 he became the Austrian emperor's minister plenipotentiary to Saxony in Dresden, where he achieved a reputation for being more of a ladies man than a diplomat. In February 1803 he was promoted to position of the emperor's ambassador in Berlin, and in this capacity he attempted to encourage the Prussian king to join the Third Coalition – in vain. After the Austrian catastrophe at Austerlitz and the humiliating treaty of Pressbourg, Metternich was appointed Austrian ambassador to France. He arrived in Paris on 4 August, 1806. Napoleon received him at Saint-Cloud with the words: "You are very young, Monsieur de Metternich, to be representing such an old empire." To which the Austrian diplomat, "I am the same age as your majesty was at Austerlitz." In his position as ambassador, Metternich saw Napoleon very frequently and his memoirs are an extraordinary source for a close-up view of the emperor. Throughout the period 1806 – 1808, Metternich was a frequent figure in the salons, and his gallantry was legendary – some of his best-known conquests were Laure Permon (future duchess d'Abrantès) and Caroline Bonaparte (future queen of Naples). After the defeat at Wagram (despite having encouraged the emperor in his disastrous war policy) he was appointed to replace the 'hawk' Stadion as foreign minister. Installing himself at Vienna in November 1809, his policy was one of 'realism'. As he noted to the emperor: "Starting from the day of the signature of the peace of Schönbrunn, our system will be to tack against the wind, to avoid any engagements whatsoever and to flatter. Only in this way can we remain in existence until eventual day of deliverance".
 
Perhaps his greatest triumph was the organisation of the marriage of Napoleon to Marie-Louise. The marriage was part of Metternich's attempt to prevent the Russian marriage. In his memoirs he wrote how it was a French initiative: 'Monsieur Laborde [the French chargé d'affaires in Vienna], came to see me and to sound me on the possibility of a family alliance. He laid on the table the marriage of the Austrian Prince Imperial with the daughter of Lucien Bonaparte or indeed that of the archduchess Marie-Louise with Napoleon." His French counterpart noted that it was Metternich's idea: "Monsieur de Metternich slipped the words family alliance into our conversation and, after much diplomatic beating about the bush, he expressed his ideas very clearly – "Do you think," he said, "that the emperor has ever contemplated divorce." Metternich helped arrange Napoleon's marriage to the emperor's daughter, Marie-Louise, coming specially to Paris to negotiate the wedding deal for Marie-Louise. Napoleon hosted him from March to September 1810. His negotiations with Napoleon however came to nothing and Austria in end was obliged to send an auxiliary corps of 30,000 men under Schwarzenberg with the Grande armée into Russia. He was however careful to inform Tsar Alexander this contribution was no more than a token gesture.
 
After the French debacle in Russia he lead Austria gingerly away from neutrality into outright alliance with the coalition against Napoleonic France. Metternich met Napoleon for the last time in Dresden on 23 June, 1813, before the Battle of the Nations (16-18, October 1813) and claimed in his memoirs that he told Napoleon that he was finished. After the battle, Metternich was elevated to the rank of Prince. After the Campagne de France in 1814 and Napoleon's first abdication, Metternich would have proposed a regency by Marie-Louise as the political solution for France had he been present in Paris for the talks. He was absent and so was not able to prevent the Bourbon solution proposed by Talleyrand, Castlereagh and Alexander (6 April, 1814). In Vienna he hosted the Congress there, which after a brief interruption of activities during the Hundred Days, opted finally for a preservation of the international status quo through balance of power, and he is generally regarded, along with British foreign minister Castlereagh, as the architect of the lasting peace agreement that emerged from the Congress of Vienna.
 
Metternich played one final role in the downfall of the Bonaparte family by overseeing the detention of the Duc de Reichstadt (Napoleon's son). He is even said to forbidden his wintering in Naples which could possibly have cured the fatal tuberculosis. The duke died in 1832. Metternich was Austrian Foreign Minister and arbiter of European continental politics until the Revolution of March in Vienna in 1848, when he was forced into exile in London and then Brussels. He was allowed to return to Austrian capital in 1851, and he died there on 11 June 1859 at the age of 86, his death (it is said) hastened by hearing the news of the Austrian defeat at Magenta (4 June, 1859).

Prince Metternich married three time. Eleonore Kaunitz, his first wife, died in 1825 of pthisis. Two of their daughters and their eldest son, Victor, had died of the same disease. He married his second wife, Antoinette de Leykam, in 1827 and she died of complications following the birth of their son, Richard (1829-1895), two years later (January 1829). Two years after that, Metternich married the Hungarian Melanie de Zicky-Ferraris (d. 1854), by whom he had a daughter and two sons. The eight volumes of Metternich's memoirs were edited and published by his son Richard (Paris: Plon 1880-1884) who was also Austrian ambassador to Napoleon III (1859-1870).
 
Authors: Marc Allégret ed. P.H.
Source: Revue du souvenir Napolonien, no. 458, (2005), avril-mai-juin, pp. 53-54

 
     
 
 

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