Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Kaunitz, Wenzel Anton
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Kaunitz, Wenzel Anton
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KAUNITZ, Wenzel Anton (1711-1794), count of Rietberg, Austrian statesman, was born at Vienna, February 2, 1711. As the fifth and youngest son of an Austrian count, he was destined at first for the church, but on the death of his brothers he turned his attention to statesmanship. He was sent by Maria Theresa on embassies to Rome and Florence, and was engaged at Turin in strengthening the alliance between Austria, Sardinia, and Great Britain against the Bourbons. In the meantime he had acquired the countship of Rietberg by marriage. In 1744 he was sent as minister to the court of the duke of Lorraine, governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands. During the duke's absence, Kaunitz administered affairs ably; and, when the French besieged Brussels in 1746, he secured a free retreat for the Austrian troops to Antwerp. After a brief retirement on account of his health, Kaunitz reappeared on the political stage at the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, where he laid the foundation of his reputation, and earned the rank of minister of state. During his stay as ambassador at Paris, from 1750 to 1752, he concluded a secret alliance between Austria and France, a diplomatic stroke which involved the complete reversal of the former hostile attitude of the two powers, and which was rewarded by his appointment as chancellor of state or prime minister. In 1756 he was made chancellor of the Netherlands and of Italy. For nearly forty years he continued in this capacity to direct the affairs of Austria, steadily cultivating the French and Russian alliances, and jealously watching the rising power of Prussia, against which he formed the coalition of 1756. At the partition of Poland in 1772 he secured Galicia for Austria; and it was during his ministry also that Bukowina (1776) and the so-called “Inn quarter” came under the Austrian crown. He enjoyed the unbounded confidence of Maria Theresa, and was an active agent in furthering the reforms under her and her son Joseph II. He showed himself a liberal patron of education and art, as well as an accomplished statesman. Under Joseph II. and Leopold II. his influence waned, and he resigned all his offices at the accession of Francis II. in 1792. In 1764 he was created a prince of the empire. He died June 27, 1794.
See the life by Hormayr in the Oesterreichischer Plutarch, and Denkschriften des Fürsten Kaunitz, Vienna, 1872, by Beer.