Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, Fürst von Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein) (May 15, 1773 – June 11, 1859) was a German-Austrian politician and statesman and was one of the most important diplomats of his era. He was a major figure in the negotiations before and during the Congress of Vienna and is considered both a paradigm of foreign-policy management and a major figure in the development of diplomatic praxis. He was the archetypal practitioner of 19th-century diplomatic realism, being deeply rooted in the postulates of the balance of power. For generations, Metternich was castigated as a blind reactionary. After World War I, some historians suggested that one of the main reasons for his opposition to giving power to the people was his apprehension that it would eventually lead to the political dominance of German nationalism.
In 1788, Metternich began studying at the University of Strasbourg, but the outbreak of the French Revolution impelled him to leave after two years. In 1790, he was deputed by the Catholic bench of the Westphalian Circle to act as their Master of the Ceremonies at the coronation of the new Emperor Leopold II in Frankfurt, a function he repeated at the coronation of Francis II in 1792. He then found employment in the Chancery of the Austrian minister to the Government of the Austrian Netherlands.
After a long stay in England, Metternich moved to Vienna. On September 27, 1795 he married the Countess Eleonore von Kaunitz, a granddaughter of a former Austrian chancellor. This alliance introduced him to the most exalted circles of Viennese society. In December 1797, the Westphalian Counts chose him to be their representative in the Congress of Rastatt, where he remained until 1799. In January 1801, he was appointed Austrian envoy to the Elector of Saxony, where he established contact with many important Russian and Polish families. In November 1803, he was appointed Ambassador to Berlin because the Emperor believed that Metternich knew how to combine "great powers of observation with a moderate and agreeable manner".
In Berlin, Metternich made himself so agreeable to the French envoy that Napoleon requested he be sent to Paris, where he took up residence as Ambassador in August 1806. His influence in European politics grew rapidly, and he ingratiated himself widely at the French Court and in society. However, in 1809 war broke out between France and Austria. Metternich was arrested in reprisal for the internment in Hungary of two members of the French embassy. After Napoleon's capture of Vienna, he was conducted to the Austrian capital under military guard and handed over in exchange for the French diplomats.
On July 8, Metternich succeeded Johann Philipp Stadion as Minister of State. He was absent at the peace conference at Altenburg when the Emperor signed the Treaty of Schönbrunn on October 14, 1809, although he had been appointed Foreign Minister on October 8.
Napoleon's request for the hand of Archduchess Marie Louise suited Metternich's plans admirably, and he accompanied the princess to Paris on March 13, 1810. The concessions that he gained for Austria were quite small, but Metternich had managed to restore Austria's freedom of action. Metternich hurried back to Vienna on October 10, just in time to stop the pro-Russian party at the Austrian court from compromising this liberty by concluding an alliance with Russia, as well as winning over the Emperor for his policy of armed abstention.
With the palpable approach of what was to become the Franco-Russian War, the integrity of this policy became increasingly difficult to maintain. Although Metternich concluded an alliance with Napoleon on March 14, 1813, promising military assistance in return for the concessions that France was now obliged to offer, he at once informed Russia that Austria's troops would act purely defensively, and held out the prospect of a renewal of the old alliance of the conservative powers.
When Napoleon suffered his catastrophic reverse in Russia, Metternich extracted Austria from this alliance, reverted to neutrality, and soon maneuvered his country into the position of arbiter of Europe. When he visited Napoleon at Dresden on June 26, his role was still that of a seemingly impartial mediator who was attempting to end the war and re-establish good relations between the three countries. However, Napoleon was now interested only in taking complete control of Austria and Russia, stating, "We shall meet in Vienna."
After this meeting Metternich realised the necessity of protecting Austria. In the subsequent war, he was chiefly anxious to ensure that the balance of power did not swing too far in any direction, and that it would strengthen neither Russia nor Prussia. Events forced him to agree to the restoration of the Bourbons, but he succeeded in ensuring the creation of a Federation of German states. Metternich also strove to mitigate the fear of a Russian dictatorship by promoting the principle of concerted action by the Great Powers (Great Britain, Austria, Russia and Prussia) that would accord with their international interests. After the fall of Napoleon, this was the principle that underpinned the European political system.
As its host, the charm and communication skills that Prince Metternich possessed gave him much personal influence. The ease and versatility with which he handled intricate diplomatic issues elicited admiration. The Holy Alliance had intended to make its major decisions behind closed doors, but he counseled compromise and mutual concessions, and included France in the negotiations.
A Napoleonic creation, the Duchy of Warsaw was brought into being in order to resolve the Congress's top-priority issue, namely the division of Poland. The Austrian Netherlands (what is now Belgium) was surrendered by Austria to the newly independent Kingdom of the Netherlands. Three eastern cantons -— Eupen, Malmedy and St. Vith -— were ceded to Prussia. Austria received the Italian provinces of Lombardy and Venetia as its settlement.
Metternich was the architect of what he hoped would be an enduring European peace. For the next 30 years he would dominate foreign policy in Europe. In the view of some historians, the self-styled "coachman of Europe" had brought modern world history into being.
Whatever the underlying wisdom of his decisions, he reached settlements regarding Germany, Poland, Italy and the Austrian Netherlands that accorded precisely with his wishes, and he emerged from the Congress with the political equilibrium he had desired.
Metternich was destined to spend much of the remainder of his life attempting to stabilize and consolidate the situation that he had been instrumental in creating. Henceforward, the keynote of his policy was his attempt to use the European settlement as an instrument that would discourage revolutionary movements and ensure stability. The revolutions of the 1830s seemed to threaten Metternich's system, but gave it at least a temporary new lease on life. The Berlin Convention of 1833 was both a fresh triumph for Metternich's diplomacy and his last conspicuous intervention in the general affairs of Europe.
In domestic affairs, Metternich was not the thoroughgoing reactionary he is often taken to be. He was too intelligent not to perceive the abuses inherent in the Austrian governmental system and would gladly have remedied some of them; he had previously worked for equal rights and opportunities for the various peoples of the Austrian Empire. He even proposed the formation of a parliament in which all the empire's ethnic groups could be represented proportionally.
The real architect of the highly reactionary and aggressive regime in Austria in the first half of the 19th century was Emperor Francis I. More than once Metternich had declared himself, and possibly believed himself to be, a liberal; but in any case, he lacked the ability to institute the reforms he felt were necessary. Despite being the chancellor of Austria for many years, internal policy was not his principal focus.
The Liberal Revolutions of 1848 marked the end of Metternich's career. The Vienna mob stood thundering at the door of his cabinet and demanding his resignation, which they achieved; the emperor accepted the relinquishment of his post on March 18, 1848, after which Metternich and his family left for England. There he lived in retirement in Brighton and London until October 1849, when he moved to Brussels. In May 1851, he traveled to his estate of Johannesberg; in September of that year he returned to Vienna, where he eventually died on June 11, 1859.
Probably no statesman was so much praised and also so much reviled in his own day as Metternich. In one perspective, he was revered as the infallible oracle of diplomatic inspiration; in another, he was loathed and despised as an incarnation of the spirit of obscurantism and oppression. The victories of democracy have made the latter view fashionable, and to the liberal historians of the latter part of the 19th century the very name Metternich was synonymous with a system in which nothing but senseless opposition to progress could be discerned. Reaction against this view found its fullest expression in the work of Heinrich Ritter von Srbik.
Metternich was a master of the techniques of diplomacy: for instance, his dispatches were models of diplomatic style. Although they could be sententious, over-elaborate and verbose, their phrasing was often the result of astute calculation.
Metternich has earned the admiration of succeeding generations for his brilliant management of foreign policy. Henry Kissinger idolized Metternich and studied him closely. He wrote his Harvard University Ph.D. dissertation, later published in 1957 under the title A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of the Peace 1812-1822, on the European negotiations towards the achievement of a balance of power after Waterloo, and praised Metternich's role in holding together the crumbling Austrian Empire. It should be noted that Kissinger's work has generated controversy in academic circles among such historians as Paul W. Schroeder, inter alia attracting criticism for the absence of footnotes.