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Prince Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar von Metternich, born 1773, died 1859, was the emminent statesman of Europe from 1814 to 1848. Metternich married into the Austrian Hapsburg family and became an ambassador to several countries throughout his career.

Metternich was ambassador to Napoleonic France in 1806 and arranged the marriage of Austrian noblewoman, Marie Louise, to Napoleon Bonaparte. Metternich used this peaceful ploy with Napoleon to gain the political upperhand when Napoleon's Russian Campaign failed. Following the fall of Napoleon, Metternich's Quadruple Alliance (Prussia, Russia, England, and Austria) failed to crush revolution in Europe, however it did solidify the rule of noblemen in Italy and Austria for several more years.

Attacked as a reationary against the rising tide of democratic revolution and liberalism in 19th century, Metternich's ideal of a monarchy that shared power with the traditional privileged classes of society was never realized in the development of modern European government. Some have judged him as a reactionary who tried to stem the tide of democratic progress. To others, he was a constructive force, misunderstood by contemporaries and historians alike.

Clemens Wenzel Lothar von Metternich-Winnelburg-Beilstein

The calculating statesman who came to be synonymous with nineteenth-century diplomacy after his performance at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Metternich was also one of the leading politicians in the Habsburg Monarchy, dedicating himself to avoiding revolution at home and abroad; his career was effectively ended when revolution came to Vienna in 1848.

Metternich was born in 1773 near Koblenz, a small town on the River Rhine, and was named Clemens Wenceslas after the Elector of Trier, who ruled one of the many small territories that would not be fully amalgamated into Germany for nearly a hundred years.

In 1794, the noble family were forced to flee to other lands they possessed in Bohemia, after the French revolutionaries won the battle of Fleurus and went on to occupy the right bank of the Rhine.

It was not the young Metternich's first brush with revolution: he had been horrified to discover that his boyhood tutor, John Simon, harboured Jacobin sympathies, and, while studying at Strasbourg University, he had witnessed a mob sacking the town hall after receiving the news of the fall of the Bastille.

98 Coaches in the Big Parade

Metternich had first made himself known in the Habsburg Monarchy when he and his father had attended the 1790 coronation of Emperor Leopold II with a 98-coach retinue. Now part of the Austrian court for good, his mother engaged on a vigorous campaign of social climbing, and ensured Metternich's marriage to Eleonore von Kaunitz, whose impeccable noble pedigree included Wenzel Anton Kaunitz, the diplomat who had orchestrated Austria's diplomatic revolution and alliance with France in 1756.

Metternich made his own diplomatic début at the Congress of Rastatt in 1798, as a member of the Austrian delegation attempting to make peace with France. He appears not to have enjoyed the experience, and complained of the vulgar clothes of his French counterparts, but prospered when he was sent as ambassador to Saxony in 1801. Two years later he was moved to Berlin, with the brief of encouraging the Prussians back into the war, and his Kaunitz connection secured him the Paris embassy in 1806.

1809 saw Metternich replace Johann Philipp von Stadion as foreign minister after Austria's disastrous defeat at the Battle of Wagram. Stadion had argued for a war of revenge against France, relying on patriotic élan; the more pragmatic Metternich preferred a rapprochement with Napoleon by marrying Emperor Franz I's eldest daughter Archduchess Marie Louise to the French Emperor.

During the negotiations for the marriage, Metternich was distracted when General Andoche Junot threatened to challenge him to a duel for sleeping with his wife Laura: a gossip at a masked ball had let the general into the secret. Junot attacked Laura with a pair of gilt scissors before dashing off to inform Eleonore, who had heard too many similar tales of Metternich's infidelities to be in the least perturbed.

Congress Man

Metternich's role organising the anti-French alliance made it no surprise that the reconstruction of Europe should be worked out at Vienna, in a Congress that set the tone of diplomacy for a century. Metternich held fast to the balance of power, paying off the victorious allies and restoring France to the borders of 1789.

Alarmed by the Italian nationalism Napoleon had fostered on Austria's south-western border, he broke Italy up again into her component kingdoms, but would be troubled by nationalists in the Austrian provinces of Lombardy and Venetia throughout his career.

Metternich's fears of revolution, and of any one power gaining the upper hand in Europe as Napoleon had done, were not allayed in the years that followed. At the Congress of Verona in 1822, he attempted to secure joint intervention in the civil war in Spain, although was unable to prevent France going it alone in the following year.

The Eastern Question, concerning the future of the moribund Ottoman Empire, would also tax him to the limit, not least after Ottoman weaknesses were exposed by the Greek War of Independence, which Lord Byron transformed into an early example of radical chic. Metternich and his old-school colleagues in other capitals preferred that the Ottoman Empire should survive, knowing full well the tension that would result once Europe's great powers competed for the Balkan lands the Ottomans would leave behind.

Meanwhile, Eleonore had died of tuberculosis in 1825, and Metternich had taken up with the Russian princess Dorothea Lieven. Lieven was not at all pleased to hear of his marriage to Antoinette von Leykam in 1826, and neither was Metternich's snobbish mother Beatrice, who had picked out a more suitable match in a family friend, Melanie Zichy-Ferraris.

Beatrice died in the winter of 1828, closely followed by Antoinette and Victor, his son by Eleonore. Tuberculosis had also accounted for his sisters Marie and Clementine, and he turned to the Zichy-Ferraris family for consolation, eventually marrying Melanie in 1831.

He almost certainly took to Melanie's arms on the night of the French Revolution of 1830, which he saw as destroying fifteen years of painstaking effort: he collapsed at his desk on receiving the news, groaning that his whole life's work had been destroyed, although he rallied after it became clear that the Orléans dynasty, rather than revolutionaries and commoners, would rule in Paris.

Grand Inquisitor

Metternich was appointed an Austrian Chancellor of State in 1821, and his domestic influence increased after the mentally ill Emperor Ferdinand came to the throne. At home, he took an emphatic stand against the nationalisms which were beginning to emerge among Austria's multi-ethnic population. Of most concern to him were the Magyar nobility, who insisted on the independence of Hungary within the Habsburg framework and began, during the 1840s, to be swayed by the fiery orator Lajos Kossuth.

From time to time, Metternich even bit his lip and funded the Illyrian movement of Ljudevit Gaj, a Croat whose visions of Southern Slav unity necessarily impinged on Hungary's possession of Croatia.

Kossuth's rise came at the expense of István Széchenyi, a liberal aristocrat who had attempted to occupy himself with a series of economic reforms vetoed by Metternich, who feared they had political overtones. Even the scheme for a Budapest toll bridge, in Metternich's eyes, could well be an underhand blow against feudalism and the privileges of the nobility.

However, Metternich had recognised Széchenyi's influence in the 1820s and 1830s, but still refused to co-operate with him on the grounds that the least concession to Budapest would open the floodgates and risk the Hungarian Revolution that ironically broke out, under Kossuth's leadership, in 1848.

Metternich reacted with equal vehemence against liberals in Vienna, and orchestrated the Karlsbad Decrees to crack down on German nationalism in Austria and the states of the German Confederation. His secret police and press censorship earned him the nickname of 'the Grand Inquisitor of Europe', although the institutions were underfunded and created a predictable resentment while delivering, by twentieth-century standards, rather little in the way of repression.

The revolutions of 1848 became Metternich's annus horribilis in March, when unrest in Vienna resulted in his dismissal. Lombardy and Venetia, inflamed by the nationalist rebellion of Daniele Marin and the encouragement of the new pope Pius IX, had been troubling him since 1847, and a further French Revolution provided the last straw.

It was the last straw, too, for Vienna's stock market, which feared that Metternich would insist on intervening in Paris and plunge Austria into a costly war. Archduke Ludwig, effectively Ferdinand's stand-in, was unsettled enough by the financial panic even before a student demonstration, backed up by Vienna's rioting poor, demanded the Chancellor's dismissal.

Metternich and Melanie fled the country incognito, staying in the London suburb of Richmond for a couple of years before returning to the Monarchy in 1851: the various revolutions had all fizzled out by 1849, Kossuth's Hungarians holding out the longest.

He provided unofficial advice, often unheeded, to his diplomatic successors for several years, and died in 1859, when his funeral was overshadowed by fresh Austrian military disasters against the Italians in Lombardy.

Read more:
Arthur J. May, The Age of Metternich
Alan Palmer, Metternich

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