AUSTRIA : A PILLAR OF EUROPEAN POLITICS
Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich Nepomuk Lothar, Fürst von Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein, anglicised as Clement Wenceslas Lothar von Metternich-Winneburg-Beilstein; 15 May 1773 – 11 June 1859 was a politician and statesman of Rhenish extraction and one of the most important diplomats of his era, serving as the Austrian Empire’s Foreign Minister from 1809 and Chancellor from 1821 until the liberal revolutions of 1848 forced his resignation. One of his first tasks was to engineer a détente with France that included the marriage of Napoleon to the Austrian archduchess Marie Louise. Soon after, he engineered Austria’s entry into the War of the Sixth Coalition on the Allied side, signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau that sent Napoleon into exile, and led the Austrian delegation at the Congress of Vienna that divided post-Napoleonic Europe amongst the major powers. For his service to the Austrian Empire he was given the title of Prince in October 1813. Under his guidance, the “Metternich system” of international congresses continued for another decade as Austria aligned herself with Russia and, to a lesser extent, Prussia. This marked the high point of Austria’s diplomatic importance, and thereafter Metternich slowly slipped into the periphery of international diplomacy. At home, Metternich held the post of Chancellor of State from 1821 until 1848, under both Francis I and his son Ferdinand I. After brief exile in London, Brighton, and Brussels that lasted until 1851, he returned to the Viennese court, this time to offer only advice to Ferdinand’s successor, Franz Josef. Having outlived his generation of politicians, Metternich died at the age of 86 in 1859.
Born into the House of Metternich in 1773, the son of a diplomat, Metternich received a good education at the universities of Strasbourg and Mainz. He was of help during the coronation of Francis II in 1792 and that of his predecessor, Leopold II, in 1790. After a brief trip to England, Metternich was named as the Austrian ambassador to the Netherlands, a short-lived post, since the country was brought under French control the next year. He married his first wife, Eleonore von Kaunitz, in 1795, which aided his entry into Viennese society. Despite having numerous affairs, he was devastated by her death in 1825. He would later remarry, wedding Baroness Antoinette Leykam in 1827 and, after her death in 1829, Countess Melanie Zichy-Ferraris in 1831. She would predecease him by five years. Before taking office as Foreign Minister, Metternich held numerous smaller posts, including ambassadorial roles in the Kingdom of Saxony, the Kingdom of Prussia and Napoleonic France. One of Metternich’s sons, Richard von Metternich, was also a successful diplomat; many of Metternich’s twelve other acknowledged children predeceased him. A traditional conservative, Metternich was keen to maintain the balance of power, in particular by resisting Russian territorial ambitions in Central Europe and lands belonging to the Ottoman Empire. He disliked liberalism and worked to prevent the breakup of the Austrian empire, for example, by crushing nationalist revolts in Austrian north Italy and the German states. At home, he pursued a similar policy, using censorship and a wide ranging spy network to suppress unrest.
Metternich has been both praised and heavily criticised for the policies he pursued. His supporters point out that he presided over the “Age of Metternich”, when international diplomacy helped prevent major wars in Europe. His qualities as a diplomat are commended, some noting that his achievements were considerable in light of the weakness of his negotiating position. His decision to oppose Russian imperialism is seen as a good one. His detractors describe him as a boor who stuck to ill-thought-out, conservative principles out of vanity and a sense of infallibility. They argue he could have done much to secure Austria’s future; instead, his 1817 proposals for administrative reform were largely rejected, and his opposition to German nationalism is blamed for Germany’s unification under Prussia and not Austria. Other historians have argued that he had far less power than this view suggests and that his policies were only exercised when they were in accord with the views of Austria’s Habsburg monarchy.