1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Metternich-Winneburg, Clemens Wenzel Lothar
METTERNICH-WINNEBURG, CLEMENS WENZEL LOTHAR, Prince (1773-1859), Austrian statesman and diplomatist, was born at Coblenz on the 15th of May 1773. His father, Count Franz Georg Karl von Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein (d. 1818), was a diplomatist who had passed from the service of the archbishop-elector of Trier to that of the court of Vienna; his mother was Countess Maria Beatrix Aloisia von Kagenegg. At the time of Clemens Metternich's birth, and for some time subsequently, his father was Austrian ambassador to the courts of the three Rhenish electors, and the boy was thus from the first brought up under the influence of the tone and ideas which flourished in the small German courts that lay within the sphere of influence of the France of the ancien régime. In 1788 he went to the university of Strassburg, where he studied German constitutional law; but the outbreak of the French Revolution caused him to leave after two years. Metternich was a witness of the excesses of the mob in Strassburg, and he ascribed his life-long hatred of political innovation to these early experiences of the victory of liberal ideas. In 1790, by way of striking contrast, he was deputed by the Catholic bench of the Westphalian college of counts to act as their master of the ceremonies at the coronation of the Emperor Leopold II. at Frankfort, a function which he again performed at the coronation of Francis II. in 1792. The intervening time he spent at Mainz, attending the university and frequenting the court of the archbishop-elector, where his impressions of the Revolution were strengthened by his intercourse with the French émigrés who had made it their centre. The outbreak of the revolutionary war drove him from Mainz, and he went to Brussels, where he found employment in the chancery of his father, at that time Austrian minister to the government of the Netherlands. Here, in August 1794, he issued his first publication, a pamphlet in which he denounced the “shallow pates” of the old diplomacy and argued that the only way to combat the French revolutionary armies was by a levée en masse of the populations on the frontier of France — singular views for the statesman who was destined to be the last great representative of the old diplomacy and the greater part of whose life was to be spent in combating the national enthusiasms by which the revolutionary power of France was ultimately overthrown.
After a long stay in England, where he made the acquaintance of the prince of Wales (afterwards George IV.), Metternich went to Vienna; and on the 27th of September 1795 he married at Austerlitz the Countess Eleonore von Kaunitz, a grand-daughter of that Austrian chancellor who in many respects was his prototype. This alliance not only brought him great estates in Austria, but introduced him into the most exalted circles of Viennese society. Here he was well qualified to hold his own by reason of his handsome presence, the exquisite courtesy of his address and a certain reputation for gallantry. He was far, however, from being a mere carpet diplomatist. His interests were many and varied, and he found time for the serious study of natural science and medicine. In December 1797 he was chosen by the Westphalian counts as their representative at the congress of Rastadt, where he remained till 1799. This was his first experience of the great world of practical politics and especially of those rough diplomatists of the Revolution of whom in his letters he has left so vivid a description. In January 1801 he was appointed Austrian envoy to the elector of Saxony. His two years' stay at the court of Dresden was mainly useful to him by bringing him into touch with the many Russian and Polish families of importance; his serious diplomatic career did not begin till his appointment, in November 1803, as ambassador at Berlin. His instructions at the outset were to prevent Prussia from joining the alliance of Russia and Great Britain against the French Republic and to make himself agreeable to the representative of France; but shortly afterwards his part was exactly reversed, owing to the shifting of political forces which led to the war of the third coalition, and he laboured to secure the adhesion of Prussia to the alliance of Austria, Russia and Great Britain against Napoleon. His diplomacy was not successful; for though Prussia ultimately signed the treaty of the 5th of November 1805 with Austria and Russia, the influence of the emperor Alexander and the wound given to her pride by Napoleon's contemptuous violation of her territory had more to do with Prussia's decision than Metternich's veiled threats. His reward was the grand cross of the order of St Stephen and the appointment of ambassador at St Petersburg; but his commission to make himself agreeable to the French ambassador at Berlin was carried out to such excellent effect that, as a result of M. Laforest's reports, Napoleon requested that he might be appointed to represent Austria at the Tuileries, and in August 1806 Metternich took up his residence as ambassador in Paris.
This was the beginning of his ever growing influence in European affairs. Established in the diplomatic character of an “honourable spy” in the very centre of Napoleon's power, he used his exceptional gifts of fascination not only to become a persona grata at the Tuileries, but to establish relations with those elements in the society of the empire which were already intriguing against Napoleon's power. His intimacy with Talleyrand and with Caroline Murat, Napoleon's sister, was destined to produce notable results later. Though on the look-out, however, for any chance of weakening the French emperor's power, Metternich was not at first sanguine of success, for he believed Napoleon to be invincible. For Austria the best policy seemed to him to be to temporize; he was willing, therefore, to co-operate with France in the agreement made between Napoleon and Alexander I. of Russia at Tilsit for the partition of the Ottoman Empire; failing the success of the efforts of Austrian diplomacy to break the Franco-Russian alliance, this would at least secure for the Habsburg monarchy a share of the spoils. With the postponement of Napoleon's Oriental schemes, however, the situation was once more changed. During the summer of 1808 Metternich had reason to suspect fresh designs of the French emperor against Austria, and his suspicions appeared to be confirmed when, during an interview on the 15th of August, Napoleon indulged in one of his violent tirades, denouncing Count Stadion's action in strengthening the Austrian armaments. In November Metternich was at Vienna, urging the Austrian government to an early declaration of war — for which the moment seemed to him opportune owing to the French losses in Spain, of which he had received exaggerated reports. On the 1st of January 1809 he was back in Paris, but no longer as a persona grata. At the outbreak of the war he was placed under arrest, in retaliation for the action of the Austrian government in interning two members of the French embassy in Hungary; and in June, on Napoleon's capture of Vienna, he was conducted there under military guard. In July he was exchanged at Komárom for the French diplomatists, and he was present with the emperor Francis at the battle of Wagram. At a council held on the 7th of July it was decided, on Metternich's initiative, to open negotiations for peace; next day Stadion tendered his resignation, which was provisionally accepted. Stadion was sent as diplomatic adviser to the headquarters of the archduke Charles, while Metternich took his place at the emperor's side. On the 4th of August Metternich was named minister of state, and soon afterwards was sent with Count Nugent to the peace conference at Altenburg, where Chamagny attended as Napoleon 's representative. The conference, however, dragged on without result, and the emperor Francis decided to open negotiations with Napoleon direct. Count Bubna was accordingly sent to Schönbrunn; the result was the French ultimatum which issued in the treaty of Schönbrunn (Vienna), signed by Prince Liechtenstein on behalf of the emperor Francis on the 14th of October 1809. With the negotiation and signature of this humiliating instrument Metternich therefore had nothing to do, though on the 8th of October he had been definitely appointed minister for foreign affairs, an office he was destined to hold for nearly forty years.
The position of the new minister was no easy one. By the treaty of Schönbrunn Austria was reduced to the position of a second-rate power, and by secret articles undertook during the continuance of the maritime war to limit her force of all arms to 150,000 men, and to dismiss from her service all officers or civil officers born in the territories of ancient France, Piedmont or the former Venetian republic. Weak as she had become, the menace of the future seemed even more disquieting. To the south she was divided from the French dominions by the Save; to the west and north the vassal states of France, traditionally her enemies, lay along the frontier; to the east was Russia, which as the reward for her alliance with Napoleon had received a portion of East Galicia as her share of the spoils, and to all appearance was firmly established in the Danubian principalities. Austria seemed hopelessly cut off by Napoleon from any chance of re-asserting her traditional preponderance in Germany, by Russia from any prospect of obtaining compensation at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. One false move on the part of those who guided its destinies, and the Habsburg monarchy might easily have ceased to exist altogether.
The saving factor in the situation was the improbability of the alliance between Napoleon and Alexander continuing, and the immediate task of Metternich was to hasten its dissolution, while securing Austria's safety in the East by bringing about the end of the Russo-Turkish War. It was a task of extreme delicacy; for any revelation of its true tendency might have thrown the emperor Alexander into the arms of France and plunged Austria into an unequal struggle for life and death with Russia on the banks of the Danube. Metternich was helped by the rapid development of the causes of disagreement between the French and Russian emperors. Early in 1810 Europe was full of contradictory rumours of war between France and Russia, of a marriage of Napoleon with a Russian grand duchess. Then suddenly came Napoleon's formal request for the hand of the Austrian archduchess Marie Louise. A proposal so nicely calculated to forward Metternich's plans was suspected of being due to his inspiration; certainly it was his influence that decided the emperor Francis to agree to an alliance which could not but be distasteful to him and was resented as a crowning humiliation by the proud aristocrats of Vienna.
On the 13th of March 1810 Metternich left Vienna for Paris in company with the archduchess. His object was to use so favourable an occasion for obtaining the abrogation of some of the more onerous articles of the treaty of Schönbrunn, and for coming to some arrangement whereby the serious inconvenience caused in Austria by Napoleon's coercion of the pope might be obviated. His diplomacy, however, met with but slight success. His efforts to persuade Pius VII. to purchase a measure of liberty of action by concessions to Napoleon broke down on the gentle old man's refusal to traffic with his principles. From Napoleon he extracted a lame apology for the execution of Andreas Hofer, the reversal of a few sequestrations and, as a crowning grace, the abrogation of the article of the Schönbrunn treaty limiting Austrian armaments. In the matter of restoring the access of Austria to the Adriatic, Napoleon would make no concession; his answer to Metternich's representations was only a commercial treaty which failed to obtain ratification at Vienna. Anything further, e.g. an exchange of the Illyrian provinces for Galicia, must depend on the attitude of Austria in the forthcoming Russian war which, in an interview of the 20th of September, Napoleon declared to be now inevitable.
On the 10th of October Metternich was back in Vienna, where his presence was urgently needed. The policy of a Franco-Austrian entente was popular with the public and the army, resentful of the treacherous attitude of Russia in the late war, but in the powerful circles of the court it had scarce an adherent. Prince Metternich himself, who had acted as foreign secretary during his son's absence, favoured an understanding with Russia, and was even believed to be intriguing to retain the portfolio of foreign affairs, which would have meant the victory of the Russian party. On the other hand, the French party were clamouring for the speedy conclusion of a definite alliance with Napoleon. By an admirably clear exposé of the situation Metternich won over the emperor Francis to that middle course, the policy of armed abstention, which was to be the basic principle of his diplomatic action during the crisis of the coming years. An alliance with Russia, he argued, would be worse than useless; Austria would at any time obtain better terms from the tsar's growing needs. An alliance with France would be one with “a power whose exclusive object is the destruction of the old order of things, which has hitherto found its defence in Austria.” Alone of European Powers Austria still had the possibility of choice; let her work for the preservation of peace and at the same time remain free, should war break out, to make her own terms. It would little serve Austria's interests to become the ally of Russia, merely to serve as a barrier behind which the emperor Alexander could carry out his designs on Turkey in safety. In an interview with Count Shuvalov, the Russian agent, Metternich roundly declared that the maintenance of the integrity of Turkey was for Austria the question of supreme interest.
With the approach of the Russo-French War the situation became increasingly difficult. The partisans of a Russian alliance remained powerful and clamorous; but Metternich did not share the doubts as to the outcome of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, which he believed would leave Austria, if she remained neutral, isolated amid a huge European confederation. To him the only safe course seemed to be to offer the French emperor substantial assistance, stipulating for some quid pro quo in the settlement to follow the war. The emperor Francis shared this view; and on the 14th of March a treaty of alliance was signed by which Austria agreed to support the French army with an army corps of 30,000 men operating from Galicia. This treaty was ratified at Vienna on the 25th of March, the day of Napoleon's passage of the Niemen. It was characteristic of Metternich's diplomacy that the Austrian generals in Galicia were ordered to act only on the defensive, and that the court of St Petersburg was informed that Austria would only take part in the war as a principal should Russia force her to do so.
This cautious attitude was soon justified by the astounding developments of the Moscow campaign. When the full extent of the catastrophe that had overwhelmed Napoleon's army became known, Metternich realized the advantageous position in which Austria lay for exploiting the changed situation. His first idea was that France should commission Austria to mediate a peace in Russia and in England (Despatch of Otto, November 10); but, as affairs developed, this was replaced by the policy of temporizing until Austria should be in a position to intervene with decisive effect. Napoleon's demand that Austria should raise her contingent from 30,000 to 100,000 men was, indeed, from Metternich's point of view doubly opportune: for it enabled him quietly to assume that the treaty of the 14th of March, which stipulated only for an “alliance limitée,” had been abrogated by Napoleon's own act; that Austria had reverted to a position of neutrality; and that, should she take part in the war, it would no longer be in a subordinate character but as a principal. “Le passage de la neutralité à la guerre,” said Metternich to the emperor Francis, “ne sera possible que par la médiation armée”; which meant in effect that Austria required time to complete her armaments. To gain this time was, during the weeks that followed, the object of his diplomacy. For this purpose he encouraged Napoleon to believe that Austria was prepared for a settlement on terms very favourable to the French emperor; with the result that Napoleon, though he would not hear of a “mediation,” not only consented to, but pressed for, Austrian “intervention” (entremise). But Metternich had made up his mind that the only chance of an effective restoration of the Habsburg influence in Europe lay in using this opportunity for destroying or limiting Napoleon's power, and he had already opened negotiations with the allied courts, with a view to enforcing a common agreement as to a basis of peace, when the indecisive battle of Lützen (May 2) gave him the opportunity of making his policy of mediation effective. Count Stadion was now sent to the emperor Alexander to lay before him the terms on which Austria was prepared to mediate; he was also to “agree to the bases of an active military co-operation on our part, in the event of the non-success of our efforts on behalf of peace.” On the 20th of March Napoleon gained another indecisive victory at Bautzen, which still further strengthened Metternich's position; for Napoleon allowed himself to be persuaded into signing the ill-omened armistice of Pleiswitz (Poischwitz), on the 4th of June, and to become entangled in the insincere negotiations of the congress of Prague. Austria thus had time to complete her armaments. Meanwhile, on the 14th and 15th of June, were signed at Reichenbach the treaties of alliance between Great Britain, Russia and Prussia, by which the signatory Powers agreed neither to negotiate nor to conclude treaty or truce with Napoleon except by common consent. In an interview with the emperor Alexander, Metternich now presented the terms which he proposed to offer to Napoleon, and on this basis a treaty between Austria, Russia and Prussia was agreed to, Austria contracting to put 150,000 men into the field, should Napoleon reject the ultimatum, and not to make peace without the consent of Russia and Prussia — which in effect involved that of Great Britain also.
Before this second treaty of Reichenbach was signed (June 27), Metternich went on Maret's invitation to Dresden, where on the 26th he had the famous interview with Napoleon. The whole scene was on his part a masterpiece of Machiavellian diplomacy. The terms he offered to the emperor were so favourable that he has been denounced by every Prussian historian since as the enemy of Germany; while French historians have enlarged on Napoleon's infatuation in rejecting them. In spite of the fact that the draft of the treaty of Reichenbach was in his pocket, he posed as the impartial “mediator,” with a leaning in favour of Napoleon, assuring the emperor “on his honour as a German count” that Austria was still “free from all engagements,” which was true only in so far as the treaty was not signed till the next day. Metternich's object was, in fact, only to gain an extension of the armistice till the 10th of August, on which date Schwarzenberg had declared that he would be ready to take the offensive. As for the terms offered to Napoleon his acceptance of them need not hamper the plans of the Allies; for the consent of Great Britain would have to be obtained, and, moreover, Napoleon was sure before long to provide an excuse for a fresh breach; his rejection of them, on the other hand, would be a blow to his waning popularity in France. The interview was long and stormy; Napoleon struggled vainly in the toils; in his excitement he dropped his hat, which the imperturbable Metternich did not condescend to pick up; “Napoleon,” he records in his Memoirs, “seemed to me small.” Metternich, however, gained his immediate point; the armistice was extended to the 10th of August. At midnight on that date, Napoleon not having come to terms, Metternich gave orders for the lighting of the beacons that signalled to the Austrian army in Silesia the outbreak of the war.
Napoleon's victory at Dresden (Aug. 26 and 27) for the moment brought discord into the counsels of the Allies and threatened the ruin of Metternich and his plans; but the successive defeats of Vandamme at Kulm (Aug. 28), of Macdonald at Katzbach (Aug. 29) and Oudinot at Grossbeeren (Aug. 30) completely altered the aspect of affairs; and on the 9th of September Metternich signed at Toplitz a treaty with Russia which committed Austria yet more closely to the policy of the Allies. Then followed the battle of Leipzig (Oct. 16-18) and the advance of the Allies into France. The diplomatic situation throughout the campaign was, from the Austrian point of view, one of extreme delicacy. The necessity of curbing the power of Napoleon and rendering him for ever incapable of again oversetting the balance of Europe was practically the only object Austria had in common with her allies. She did not share the implacable resentment with which Great Britain pursued Napoleon; she watched with alarm the development of the ambitions of Alexander I., which threatened to substitute a Russian for a French supremacy in Europe; she was far from sympathizing with the noisy enthusiasm of the patriots of the War of Liberation for a united Germany, in which the traditional influence of the Habsburgs would be balanced or overshadowed by that of Prussia. Metternich had no wish to see the husband of Marie Louise ousted in favour of the Bourbons, who had little reason to be grateful to Austria; still less did he desire to see on the throne of France Alexander’s protégé Bernadotte, whose name was being whispered in the Paris salons as the destined saviour of his native country. But if Napoleon was to remain sovereign of France, it must be not by his own force, but by grace of his father-in-law, and hedged round with limitations which would have made him little more than the lieutenant of the Habsburg monarchy. This was the secret of the moderate terms of accommodation ostentatiously offered by Metternich to Napoleon at various stages of the campaign. From Frankfort he sent, through General de Saint-Aignan, a diplomatist on whose indiscretion he could rely, an informal offer of peace on the basis of France’s “natural frontier,” the Rhine, the Alps and the Pyrenees. The famous manifesto of Frankfort, issued on behalf of the Allies (Dec. 4, 1813), contained no such offer of acceptable terms; but Metternich’s object was attained; for Napoleon refused to be drawn into the trap, and the French people cursed the emperor’s infatuation in refusing a settlement which, from what had leaked out of Saint-Aignan’s mission, they believed would have satisfied the legitimate ambitions of France. On the other hand, Metternich did his best to oppose a too rapid advance of the allied forces on Paris, which would have played into the hands of Russia and Prussia; and it was to his initiative that the conferences of Châtillon were due. Only when the breakdown of the negotiations made it clear that Napoleon had seen through his plans, and preferred the chances of war to the certainty of ruin or of surviving only as the puppet of Austria, did Metternich join with Castlereagh in pressing upon the tsar the necessity for restoring the Bourbons. On the 1st of March 1814, he set his hand to the treaty of Chaumont, of which the immediate object was the restoration and preservation of the old dynasty in a France reduced to her “legitimate frontier.” In other respects, however, the treaty was a triumph for Metternich; for it laid down that at the final settlement Germany was to be reconstituted as a confederation of sovereign states, and it also did much to temper the fear of a Russian dictatorship by consecrating the principle of that concerted action of the Great Powers, in affairs of international interest, which after Napoleon’s fall was to govern the European system. On the 10th of April Metternich arrived at Paris, ten days after its occupation by the Allies. He was now at the height of his reputation; on the 20th of October 1813, two days after Leipzig, he had been created an hereditary prince of the Austrian Empire; he now received from the emperor Francis a unique honour: the right to quarter the arms of the house of Austria-Lorraine with those of Metternich. At the same time (April 21) the countship of Daruvar was bestowed upon him. On the 30th of May Metternich set his signature to the treaty of Paris, and immediately afterwards accompanied the emperor Alexander and King Frederick William on a visit to England. On the 18th of July he was back in Vienna, where the great congress was to meet in the autumn. The dignity of a Hungarian magnate was bestowed upon him before it assembled.
At the congress Metternich’s charm of manner and great social gifts gave him much personal influence; the ease and versatility with which he handled intricate diplomatic questions, too, excited admiration; at the same time he was blamed for his leaning to intrigue and finesse and for a certain calculated disingenuousness which led to an open breach with the emperor Alexander, who roundly called him a liar. In the difficult questions of Poland and Saxony the honest and conciliatory attitude of Castlereagh was of more avail in reaching an acceptable settlement than all Metternich’s cleverness. If in the Italian and German questions, however, Austria’s views triumphed, this was due to the foresight displayed in Metternich’s diplomacy during the campaigns and to the address with which he handled the questions at issue at the congress. The complacency of Hardenberg had allowed Austria alone to negotiate with the states of the Confederation of the Rhine with a view to detaching them from Napoleon; and he had used this opportunity to render impossible the idea of a united Germany. On the 8th of October 1813 he had signed with Bavaria the treaty of Ried, which in the event of the liberation of Germany guaranteed to Bavaria a sovereign and independent status. This instrument, which was reinforced by a secret treaty signed at Paris on the 3rd of June 1814, served as a model for similar agreements with other courts; and the principle involved was, as mentioned above, included in the treaty of Chaumont. Thus all the unionist ideals, represented at the congress by Stein, were sterilized from the outset; and the Act of Confederation embodied in the Final Act of Vienna gave to Germany exactly the form desired by Metternich as best calculated to perpetuate Austrian preponderance (see Germany: History). The same was true of the settlement of Italy. The question here was complicated by the treaty of alliance signed by Metternich with Murat as the price of his treason to Napoleon. But Metternich from the first had known that the treaty was but a temporary expedient; that Great Britain would never recognize “the person at the head of the government of Naples”; and that sooner or later Murat himself would afford excuse enough for tearing the treaty up. Not Murat’s dream of an Italy united under his own rule, but the traditional Austrian policy of possession in the north and preponderance throughout the Peninsula was Metternich’s goal, and this he secured at the congress. Murat, in view of Austria’s engagements, was suffered to survive for the time being; he himself shattered the alliance during the Hundred Days; and the Bourbons returned to Naples, pledged by a secret agreement to attune their policy to that of Vienna (see Naples: History).
Metternich, then, emerged from the congress of Vienna confirmed in the confidence of his sovereign, and therefore supreme in Germany and in Italy. To him had been due the marvellous recovery of the Habsburg monarchy; in spite of Gentz’s lament that in the latter stages of the campaign of 1814 “Europe” had been substituted for “Austria” in his diplomacy, Metternich had acted throughout first and foremost in the interests of Austria, as he was bound to do. This, too, gives the key to his policy after 1815, the policy of using the European concert, established by the treaty of Chaumont and the Paris treaty of the 20th of November 1815, as an instrument for ensuring the “stability” of Europe by suppressing any “revolutionary” manifestations by which the settlement made at Vienna might be endangered.
After the campaign of Waterloo and Napoleon’s second downfall Metternich was again in Paris, where he co-operated with the emperor Alexander and Castlereagh in securing tolerable terms of peace for France. A few days after the signing of the two treaties of the 20th of November 1815, he left Paris for Milan, where he met the crown prince Louis of Bavaria and Baron von Rechberg, with whom he came to terms on certain outstanding questions between Austria and Bavaria, terms embodied in the treaty of Munich of the 14th of April 1816. During his visit to Italy, which he repeated in 1816 and 1817, Metternich could not but be impressed with the general signs of discontent with Austrian rule. Neither was he blind to the true causes of this discontent: the atrophy of the administration owing to its rigid centralization at Vienna, and the policy of enforcing Germanism on the Italians by a ruthless police system. He made half-hearted proposals for removing something of both these grievances; but his terror of revolution from below made him fearful of reforms from above. While therefore in Prussia king and ministers were labouring hard to remodel and consolidate the monarchy, Metternich did next to nothing to reform the most obvious abuses of the Austrian Empire. Yet the fault was not wholly, or mainly, his. Sir Robert Gordon, in a letter to Castlereagh (dated Florence, July 11, 1819), gives the true reason for this attitude: “How much is it to be desired that the superior talents of Prince Metternich were more occupied with the revision and improvement of the administration of affairs in his own country. He is too enlightened not to perceive its most palpable defect ... He might have courage to sacrifice himself for the institution of effective remedies, but he fears that the confiding benignity of his Sovereign might afterwards be dissuaded from the just and vigorous application of them.” (F.O. Austria. Gordon. Jan.-Dec., 1819.) Metternich's power, after all, was limited by the goodwill of his master, the emperor Francis, and Francis trusted him precisely because he seemed to share his own fanatical hatred of all change. It is this fact that seems to explain Metternich's feverish anxiety to justify his obscurantist attitude to himself and to the world. It suited him to ascribe the general discontent, of which the causes were not obscure, to the wanton agitation of the “sects,” and his agents all over Europe earned their pay by supplying him with plentiful proof of the correctness of his contention. The result was well summed up in another letter of Gordon to Castlereagh (ibid. No. 26, Florence, July 12, 1819). “Nothing,” he writes, “can surpass Prince Metternich's activity in collecting facts and information upon the inward feelings of the people; with a habit of making these researches he has acquired a taste for them. . . . The secrecy with which this task is indulged leads him to attach too great importance to his discoveries. Phantoms are conjured up and magnified in the dark, which probably if exposed to light would sink into insignificance; and his informers naturally exaggerate their reports, aware that their profit is to be commensurate with the display of their phantasmagoria.” The judgment is instructive, coming as it does from a diplomatist in intimate touch with Metternich and in general sympathy with his views.
There was, none the less, method in this madness. Behind the agitations of the “sects” loomed the figures of the emperor Alexander and of his confidant Capo d'Istria, “the Coryphaeus of Liberalism,” whose agents, official or unoffical, were intriguing in every country in Europe, and not least in Italy. The factor, then, that determined Metternich's attitude was not so much a dread of revolutions in themselves as of revolutions exploited by the “Jacobin” tsar to establish his own preponderance in Europe. Metternich's object, then, in respect of the revolutionary agitations, was twofold: he wished to impress Alexander with the peril of this imperial coquetting with democratic forces; he wished to convince the “sects” that they could not rely on the tsar's support. He succeeded in both these objects during the period from the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818 to that of Verona in 1822. (See Alexander I. of Russia; Europe: History.)
On his way to the congress of Aix, Metternich spent a few days at Frankfort, where his presence was sufficient to settle the difficult question of the constitution of the federal forces. It was a signal triumph. “You can have no idea of the effect produced by my appearance at the diet,” he wrote exultingly to his wife, “I have become a species of moral power in Germany and, perhaps, even in Europe” (Mem. iv. 64). This self-complacency was characteristic of the man; but, if we accept his view of “morality,” the boast scarce seems exaggerated. In the main questions debated at Aix, indeed, it was Castlereagh's influence rather than that of Metternich which prevailed; the abolition of the supervision of French affairs by the committee of ambassadors was, for instance, carried against his opinion. But it was at Aix that Metternich was not only reconciled with Alexander, but laid the foundations of that personal influence over the tsar that was to bear notable fruit later; from Aix, too, where he arrived at a complete understanding with King Frederick William III. and the Prussian ministers, dates his preponderant influence in German affairs.
The outlook in Europe at the beginning of 1819 seemed to Metternich particularly gloomy. In France the ministry of Decazes was, in his opinion, under the inspiration of the Russian ambassador Pozzo di Borgo, heading straight for a new revolution; in Italy Russian agents were openly carrying on a Liberal propaganda; Germany, and notably the Prussian bureaucracy, was honeycombed with revolutionary ideas. Then came the news of the murder of Kotzebue (March 23). Metternich was in Italy at the time; but he determined at once to take advantage of this senseless crime to carry his views in the matter of muzzling the Liberal agitation in Germany. In the summer he met King Frederick William and Prince Hardenberg at Toplitz; a conference that resulted in the indefinite postponement of the Prussian constitution and in a secret agreement (Aug. 1) on the proposals to be laid before a conference of German ministers to be held at Carlsbad in the same month. The result of this were the famous Carlsbad Decrees (q.v.), by which liberty of speech and of the press was abolished throughout Germany. The Vienna conferences that followed in November and issued in the Final Act of the 15th of May 1820, was not so complete a triumph for Metternich; but his diplomacy, none the less, had succeeded in riveting on Germany the yoke of the Austrian system, which it was to bear with but partial and temporary relaxations for nearly thirty years (see Germany: History).
The year 1820 was marked by critical events which drew Metternich's attention once more from the affairs of Germany to those of Europe at large. The revolution in Spain, with which Austria had no immediate concern, interested him little; but his attitude towards it is characteristic and illuminating. The emperor Alexander for whom the idea of the confederation of Europe was an article of faith, proposed a European intervention and offered to march a Russian army through northern Italy into Spain. Metternich, to whom the remedy seemed far worse than the disease, covered his dissent from this proposal with a great display of principle. The ills of Spain were “material,” those of Europe at large “moral”; and the European Alliance was there to deal with moral, not material, troubles. The revolution that followed in Naples, however, necessitated a different attitude. Strictly speaking, it concerned Austria alone; but Metternich was anxious to range Alexander openly against Italian Liberalism, and he therefore consented to the question being laid before a congress to be assembled at Troppau. The congresses of Troppau (1820) and Laibach (1821) are dealt with elsewhere (see Europe: History; Italy: History, and the articles s.v.). For Metternich they represented a signal triumph. Not only did he complete his ascendancy over the emperor Alexander; but he openly committed all the Powers to an approval of the Austrian system in Italy, a success that outweighed his failure to win over Great Britain to the general principle of intervention enunciated in the Troppau Protocol. His attempt, however, to crown his system in Italy by setting up a central committee on the model of the Mainz commission was defeated at the congress of Verona (1822) by the opposition of the Italian princes headed by the pope and the grand duke of Tuscany.
The sort of moral dictatorship which Metternich had acquired on the continent was shattered by the developments of the Eastern Question. At first, indeed, the peril of a Russian attack on Turkey had drawn Austria and Great Britain closer together, and in a meeting at Hanover in October 1821 Metternich and Castlereagh had come to an understanding as to using the Holy Alliance to prevent Alexander from acting independently of the concert. But Metternich's hope that the Greek revolt would burn itself out “beyond the pale of civilization” was belied by events; and even before Castlereagh's death it was clear that Great Britain would have sooner or later to adopt a policy of intervention opposed to all Metternich's ideas. The breach was hastened by the accession to office of George Canning, who hated Metternich and all his ways. At Verona in 1822 the withdrawal of Great Britain from the system of the continental Allies was proclaimed to all the world; in March 1823 Canning recognized the Greek flag. This opened up the whole Eastern Question in the precise form that Metternich had sought to avoid; for the action of Great Britain involved a move on the part of Russia, jealous of her prestige in the Levant, and thus led ultimately to a rearrangement of the relations of the Powers which, so far as the affairs of the Ottoman empire were concerned, left Austria isolated. It is impossible here even to outline Metternich's diplomacy during the eleven years between the outbreak of the Greek revolt and the signature of the treaty of London (1832) by which the kingdom of Greece was established. The principles that guided it are, however, sufficiently simple. In common with Great Britain he desired to maintain the integrity of the Ottoman Empire as a barrier against Russian domination in the Balkan peninsula; he wished also to avert a Russo-Turkish war, not only for the above reason, but also because this would involve the breakdown of the system by which he hoped to curb the revolutionary forces in the West. He therefore attempted, and for a while successfully, to persuade the tsar that the Greeks were only “ordinary rebels against legitimate authority.” But, when this expedient failed, he was the first to suggest the complete independence of Greece, which seemed to him less dangerous to Austrian interests than a tributary principality on the model of Moldavia and Wallachia. In the end his attitude was one of abstention and protest, since he rightly considered that the action of the Powers which culminated in the treaty of London was fatal to the doctrine of legitimacy, on which his system was based.
The Greek question was not finally settled when the outbreak of the revolutions of 1830 threatened the overthrow of the whole structure of 1815 in the West. Events which seemed to involve the complete ruin of Metternich's system gave it in effect, however, a new lease of lite. Austria, isolated by the events in the East, was once more brought into touch with Russia by a crisis that concerned both Powers equally. On the receipt of the news of the July revolution in Paris Metternich hastened to meet Count Nesselrode at Carlsbad; and, though the Russian statesman refused to commit himself to the idea of an immediate reconstitution of a league of the three autocratic Powers, a common basis of action was agreed upon, and the foundations were laid for that cordial understanding that ripened in the meeting of Münchengrätz three years later. Meanwhile, though his language was still “European,” Metternich's attitude towards the revolutions was wholly Austrian. He preached the sacred duty of intervention, but he refused to intervene, save where the interests of the Habsburg monarchy were directly concerned. He was even the first to recognize the revolutionary government of Louis Philippe (Sept. 8); he answered the appeal of the king of Holland for help with an ironical reference to the geographical situation of Austria; he did not even interfere with the revolutions in Germany and Poland. But when in Italy revolts broke out that threatened the Austrian hegemony, he acted with promptitude and decision, in spite of the threatening attitude of France; in the spring of 1831 Austrian bayonets restored order in Parma, Modena and the Papal States. Yet even here Metternich showed an unwonted moderation: not only did he soon withdraw the Austrian troops from Ancona, but he took the initiative in impressing on the papal government the urgent necessity for drastic reform. This attitude was, indeed, mainly determined by the uncertainty as to the relations of the three autocratic courts on whose co-operation the effectiveness of a policy of repression ultimately depended; and Metternich's next work was to attempt to re-cement the broken alliance. With Prussia he had little difficulty; the timidity of King Frederick William III. had increased with years and the events of 1830, and the Prussian and Austrian governments came to complete understanding on a common policy in Germany. Its first fruits were the additional articles appended by the Federal Diet (June 28, 1832) to the Vienna Final Act, by which the control of the diet over the state legislatures was increased. As for Russia, Count Nesselrode at first maintained the reticent attitude he had adopted at Carlsbad; but finally, in 1833, Metternich met the emperor Nicholas I. himself at Münchengrätz and by adroit flattery won him over to his views. The Berlin convention of the 15th of October 1833, which reaffirmed the divine right of intervention, was a fresh triumph for Metternich's diplomacy. This had been rendered possible by the change in Russia's attitude towards the Turkish question after 1829, which made a co-operation of Austria and Russia possible in the East (see Mehemet Ali); and in its turn it made possible the maintenance for a while longer of the Austrian system in Germany.
The convention of Berlin marked the last conspicuous intervention of Metternich in the general affairs of Europe. “The Holy Alliance of the East,” as Palmerston called it, served the immediate purpose of securing “stability” in the countries immediately subject to the Powers composing it; it made no attempt at more than “moral” intervention in questions, e.g. that of Spain, that lay beyond its own sphere of influence; and the development of the Eastern Question, leading to the rapprochement between Russia and Great Britain, though Austria joined the Quadruple Alliance of 1840, tended to loosen the cordial ties between the courts of Vienna and St Petersburg. The Straits Convention of 1841, by which France was formally readmitted to the concert, was due largely to Metternich's initiative; so, to, was the ill-judged effort of the continental Powers in 1847 to interfere in favour of the Sonderbund in Switzerland. But, on the whole, the growing crisis within the Habsburg monarchy itself was sufficient to deter Metternich from foreign adventures. So long as the emperor Francis lived all question of reform was impossible, and when he died, in 1835, the rusty machinery of the Austrian administration was too completely out of gear to be set right by anything short of a complete reconstruction, to which Metternich was too old to set his hand, even had he had the inclination to do so. He was too experienced not to realize the sickness of the state, but he was content to veil it from himself and to attempt to veil it from others. The world was not deceived; but it was not until the Vienna mob, in 1848, was thundering at the door of his cabinet that Metternich himself realized the truth to which he had tried to blind himself. With his fall his system also fell; and his flight from Vienna was the signal for the revolutions by which in 1848 all the countries under Habsburg influence were convulsed.
The resignation of Prince Metternich, handed in on the 13th of March 1848, was accepted by the emperor on the 18th, and the prince and his family at once left for England. Here he lived in great retirement, at Brighton and London, until October 1849, when he went to Brussels. In May 1851 he went to his estate of Johannesberg, where he was visited by King Frederick William IV. and Bismarck; in September he returned to Vienna. The events of 1848 had not shaken his self-complacency; they seemed to him rather to confirm the soundness of his own political principles, which would have scotched the evil betimes had not the weakness of others allowed the forces of disorder to gather strength. But though, in his own opinion, triumphantly vindicated, he did not again take office; he maintained, none the less, as a critic and adviser no mean influence on the counsels of the Austrian court, though it was contrary to his advice that Austria signed the treaty of the 2nd of December 1854 with France and Great Britain. He lived to see the beginning of the struggle of France and Italy against Austria, dying on the 11th of June 1859.
Probably no statesman of all time has, in his own day, been more beslavered with praise and bespattered with abuse than Metternich. By one side he was reverenced as the infallible oracle of diplomatic inspiration, by the other he was loathed and despised as the very incarnation of the spirit of obscurantism and oppression. The victories of democracy brought the latter view into fashion, and to the Liberal historians of the latter part of the 19th century the name of Metternich was synonymous with that of a system in which they could recognize nothing but a senseless opposition to the forces of enlightenment. A juster estimate of the man and his work has, however, become possible as the age has moved farther away from the smoke of controversy. On the whole, history has tended to endorse the sane judgment on Metternich pronounced by Castlereagh when he was first brought into diplomatic contact with him. Writing from Chaumont to Lord Liverpool, on the 26th of February 1814, he said: “Austria both in army and government is a timid Power. Her minister is constitutionally temporizing — he is charged with more faults than belong to him, but he has his full share, mixed up, however, with considerable means for carrying forward the machine, more than any other person I have met with at Head Quarters” (F.O. 2 France, From Lord Castlereagh}. This gives the key to Metternich's character and policy: Austria was a timid Power, and Metternich was an Austrian minister. His policy of “stability,” so necessary for the Habsburg monarchy, at least secured a long period of peace for Europe at large. Europe, her strength renewed, passed a severe judgment on the statesman who acted on the assumption that what the generality of people wanted was peace, not liberty; and justly, in so far as his pessimism led him to convert what might have been legitimate as a temporary counsel of expediency into an immutable principle. But, as Demelitsch points out, it will be time for Austrians to condemn him when Austria shall have survived half a century of constitutional experiment under the dual monarchy.
Of the technique of diplomacy Metternich was a master. His despatches are models of diplomatic style. If they have any fault, it is that they are often over-elaborate, the work of a man who evidently loves diplomacy for its own sake and glories in the fine turn of a phrase. In this respect they are comparable to those of Canning, who modelled himself upon Chateaubriand; they are in vivid contrast to the crabbed businesslike letters of Castlereagh. Metternich almost invariably begins his despatches and his reports with a broad discussion of the principles involved in the case in point, and argues from these down to the facts. In this again he is in sharp contrast with Castlereagh, who, with characteristic British practical sense, politely sweeps the principles aside and prefers to argue upward from the facts. Yet Metternich's phrase-making was often the result of astute calculation. His diplomatic genius was never so well displayed as in disguising perilous issues in phrases that soothed even when they did not convince; and, like Gladstone after him, when the occasion demanded it, he was master of the art of appearing to say much when in fact he said nothing. When he wished to make his meaning plain, no one could do so more clearly; when he wished to be reticent, no reticence could have been more pleasingly eloquent.
In private life Metternich was a kind, if not always faithful, husband and a good father, devoted to his children, of whom he had the misfortune to lose several before his death. He was three times married. His second wife, Baroness Antonie von Leykam, Countess von Beilstein, died in 1829; his third wife, Melanie, Countess Zichy-Ferraris, died on the 3rd of March 1854. Of his sons three survived him: Richard Clemens Lothar (1829-1895), his son by his second marriage, who was Austrian ambassador in Paris from 1859 to 1871; Prince Paul (1834-1906), and Prince Lothar (1837-1904), his sons by his third marriage. His grandson Prince Clemens (b. 1869), son of Prince Paul, married in 1905 Isabella de Silva Carvajal, daughter of the marquis de Santa Cruz.
A vast mass of unpublished material for the life of Prince Metternich exists in public and private archives; to some of those in the F.O. Records references are given in the bibliography to chap. i. of vol. x. of the Cambridge Mod. Hist. Of published documents the most important are in the collection Aus Metternichs nachgelassenen Papieren (8 vols., 1880-1884), edited by his son, Prince Richard Metternich. There is a complete French translation issued contemporaneously, and an English version, of which only five volumes (down to 1835) have been published, under the title Memoirs, &c. (London, 1880-1882). These Memoirs, especially the autobiographical parts, must be read with considerable reserve; even the official letters and documents, which are their most valuable contents, have been to a certain extent “edited.” See also Count Anton Prokesch-Osten (the younger) Aus dem Nachlass von Prokesch-Osten (2 vols., Vienna, 1881); the writings and correspondence of Friedrich von Gentz (q.v.), especially as collected under the title Oesterreichs Theilnahme an den Befreiungskriegen; Wilhelm Oncken, Österreich und Preussen im Befreiungskriege (1876-1879); A. Beer, Zehn Jahre österreichischer Politik, 1801-1810 (1877); Die Finanzen Österreichs (1883); Die orientalische Politik ' Österreichs seit 1774 (1883); T. T. de Martens, Recueil des traités, &c., vols. iii. and iv.; Thiers, Hist. du consulat et de l'empire, which was frequently commended by Metternich himself as giving an accurate account of his policy, a statement, however, controverted by Albert Sorel, whose l'Europe et la revolution française, gives a detailed and masterly account of Metternich's share in the overthrow of Napoleon. Fedor von Demelitsch's Fürst Metternich und seine auswärtige Politik, vol. i., to 1812 (Munich, 1898), is an elaborate and useful analysis of Metternich's foreign policy, based on a large mass of unpublished archives. The best short biography of Metternich is that by A. Beer in Der neue Plutarch (1877), vol. v.; but both this and Colonel G. B. Malleson's Life of Metternich (London, 1888) were written before the publication of the importantworks of Demelitsch and Sorel.
(W. A. P.)
- The family of Metternich, originally established in the county of Jülich, can trace its descent to the middle of the 14th century. In 1637 they received from the archbishop of Trier the countships of Winneburg and Beilstein. These were confiscated in 1803, and the lands of the suppressed abbey of Ochsenhausen, with the title of prince of the Empire, were granted by the edict as compensation. The new principality was “mediatized” in 1806 in favour of Württemberg; but in virtue of their short tenure of it the descendants of Prince Metternich enjoy the privileges of mediatized princes.
- Sir Robert Gordon (1791-1847), brother of the 4th earl of Aberdeen, was between 1815 and 1821 associated with Wellington as minister plenipotentiary at Vienna.