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BIOGRAPHIES

SCHWARZENBERG, Karl Philip von, prince

(1771-1820) Austrian field marshal, commander in chief of the allied armies in 1814


Karl Philip von Schwarzenberg belonged to an old aristocratic family of the Holy Roman Empire, originally from Franconia. The family eventually settled in Bohemia during the 18th century, where it amassed large estates. Karl Philip was born on 15 April, 1771, in Vienna. From a young age he was destined for a military career, and he attended the Theresianischen Militärakademie, the military academy in Wiener Neustadt set up in 1751 by Maria Theresa, empress consort of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1788, at the age of seventeen, he was made second-lieutenant in the imperial cavalry before joining Baron Ernst Gideon von Laudon's general staff in 1789, serving in the Hungarian theatre of the Austro-Turkish war. Quickly making a name for himself as a courageous officer and an energetic leader of men, he was promoted to squadron commander in 1791. By 1794, he was serving as a cuirassier colonel. Distinguishing himself at the Revolutionary Battles of Neerwinden (18 March, 1793) and particularly Le Cateau (26 April, 1794), where he led his regiment in a charge that broke the French corps, he was presented with the knight's cross and the Order of Maria Theresa by Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor.
 
In 1800, he was promoted to division general and served Archduke Charles, under whom he commanded the right wing of the army at the Battle of Hohenlinden (3 December, 1800). Although Austria was defeated, Schwarzenberg nevertheless succeeded in protecting the archduke's retreat. Following the defeat, Schwarzenberg was dispatched to St Petersburg for the arrival of Alexander I on the Russian throne. In 1805, Archduke Charles appointed Schwarzenberg vice-president of the Habsburg Hofkriegsrat (war council) and the prince was present at the capitulation at Ulm, where he participated in a cavalry breakout in order to escape capture. Schwarzenberg subsequently advised Francis II to avoid battle at Austerlitz. Although this prescient advice went unheeded, the Holy Roman Emperor made him commander in the Order of Maria Theresa (he was also appointed to the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1809). In 1808, Schwarzenberg was dispatched to St Petersburg again on a mission to obtain - at the very least - Russian neutrality in the coming war between Austria and France. The Austrian defeat at Eckmühl encouraged Alexander to remain neutral, and despite Schwarzenberg's return to lead a cavalry corps at the Battle of Wagram, Napoleon proved victorious. Schwarzenberg's conduct at the battle saw him promoted to cavalry general.
 
With peace agreed, Austria's foreign minister, Metternich, named Schwarzenberg as ambassador to France. On 26 November, 1809, Schwarzenberg presented his letter of credence to Napoleon and was involved in the negotiations surrounding the marriage of Napoleon and the Austrian archduchess Marie-Louise. To mark the event, on 1 July, 1810, the prince gave a grand ball at the Austrian embassy (at the Hôtel Cité de la Chaussée d'Antin). In attendance were the imperial couple, twenty assorted kings, queens, princes, and princesses, and a huge number of dignitaries. During the evening, a candle ignited a curtain and a huge fire broke out: one of the victims of the fire was the prince's sister in law, Pauline de Schwarzenberg, whilst Prince Kurakin, the Russian ambassador, was badly injured.
 
Highly esteemed by Napoleon, Schwarzenberg was given the command of the Austrian auxiliary corps which had been integrated into the Grande Armée in preparation for the 1812 Russian campaign. On 2 December, 1812, the prince was named field marshal by the Austrian emperor, again on Napoleon's instigation. As commander of the right wing of the invading army, his remit initially covered the area around Warsaw; after the defeat at Berezina, however, his troops formed the rearguard, and he successfully held off Louis Alexandre Andrault de Langeron's Russian advance as the Grande Armée retreated. Hoping to broker a peace agreement between the allies and Napoleon after the retreat, Schwarzenberg returned to his ambassador role in Paris.
 
In 1813, with Austria having joined Russia and Prussia in the sixth coalition, the prince was named commander-in-chief for the allied armies. However, the large number of troops, the multitude of generals under his command, their frequent inability to work together, and the different methods and compositions of the various corps made his task extremely difficult. The early battles in the campaign resulted in allied defeats, with Napoleon victorious at Lützen (2 May, 1813), Bautzen (20 May, 1813), and Dresden (25-26 August, 1813), the latter of which saw the French emperor come up against Schwarzenberg himself. Well aware of Napoleon's strengths, Schwarzenberg's tactics remained cautious, and he was extremely careful to avoid dividing his troops, choosing instead to wear down Napoleon's French forces before meeting them in pitched battle at Leipzig (15 – 18 October, 1813, also known as the Battle of Nations). As well as being one of the largest ever pitched battles in western history, it was also notable for Schwarzenberg's counter-offensive cavalry charge, a decisive move which eventually saw the French emperor and his troops driven back and defeated. After Leipzig, Schwarzenberg, intent on hammering home the advantage, pushed for an immediate invasion of France, and following Marmont's surrender, allied troops entered Paris.
 
On 5 May, 1814, Schwarzenberg resigned his command and was named president of the Hofkriegsrat by Francis I. In 1815, he once again returned to France at the head of an Austrian army but was not involved in the Belgian campaign. Rewarded for his service to Austria, his emperor granted him land in Hungary, and he was also presented with the Grand Eagle of the Légion d'honneur. Schwarzenberg died aged forty-eight, on 15 October, 1820, following a second stroke (his first, in 1817, had left him partly paralysed). After his death, Francis declared three days of mourning, announcing "We have lost not only a great captain but a great statesman, for he proved that he could be both". Alexander I, Russia's tsar, was equally moved, saying, "Europe has lost a hero and I a friend, one that I shall miss as long as I live". As per his wishes, the prince was buried in Bohemia, in Orlík (modern-day Czech Republic), one hundred kilometres south of Prague. A statue of Schwarzenberg can be found in Schwarzenbergplatz, in Vienna.

Ed. HDW PH
Aug. 2011

 
     
 
 

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