Klemens von Metternich

From New World Encyclopedia

Metternich in Old Age

Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar Fürst von Metternich-Winneburg-Beilstein (May 15, 1773 – June 11, 1859) was an Austrian politician and statesman and perhaps the most important diplomat of his era. He was a major figure in the negotiations leading to the Congress and Treaty of Vienna and is considered both a paradigm of foreign policy management and a major figure on the development of diplomacy. He took part in European Congresses at Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), Troppau (1820), Laibach (1821), and Verona (1822). Metternich was a conservative, who favored traditional, even autocratic, institutions over what he saw as their radical alternatives, such as democratic systems, if the establishment of the latter meant, as they often did, the violent overthrow of the former.

However, he was an enthusiastic supporter of what was called the Concert of Europe. Metternich wanted stability, not revolution. Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia began to meet to try to resolve impending crises peacefully. What has been described as a predecessor of the League of Nations evolved, although the Concert never had a formal mechanism. It lasted from 1814 until 1898. The concept of maintaining a balance of power informed the deliberations of the Concert. Metternich influenced Henry Kissinger in the twentieth century. Metternich's concept of the balance of power thus influenced Cold War policy as the two super-powers tried to match each other's capability, even to the extent of ensuring their mutual destruction if nuclear war had occurred.


Early life

Metternich was born on May 15, 1773, in Coblenz, Germany, then part of the Archbishopric of Trier. His father was Franz Georg Karl von Metternich. As a member of a Westphalian noble family, he was brought-up in a most traditional environment. He was fluent in French and in German. In 1788, he began studying diplomacy at the University of Strasbourg. When the French revolution began, he shifted to Mainz University. On graduation, he entered the Austrian diplomatic service.

His first official diplomatic appointment was to England in 1794. In 1801, he was appointed minister to Dresden, followed by Berlin (1803), and then as ambassador in Paris (1806).

He is considered the prime practitioner of nineteenth century diplomatic realism, deeply rooted on the balance of power postulates. This policy sets out to ensure that no single nation becomes capable of compelling other states to comply with its will, either through use of force or by economic mechanisms.


In 1809, after Napoleon Bonaparte defeated Austria, Metternich was named Austria's Foreign Minister, replacing Johann Philipp von Stadion.

Metternich was consumed by a personal hatred for Napoleon, who had given several people in Austria their freedom back after centuries living in a feudal system. Metternich was also jealous of Napoleon's influence, and from the very start as foreign minister he did everything he could to sabotage and conspire against him, for instance bribing Talleyrand. Following Bonaparte's defeat in Russia in 1812, Metternich turned to a policy of neutrality, mediating between Bonaparte and the Russian and Prussian governments in search of a peace agreement. In June 1813, he famously met with Bonaparte at Dresden, where he presented the emperor a number of unacceptable and insulting propositions; he wanted France's borders to be withdrawn to those of the year of 1792. By now Napoleon was tired of all wars, and did indeed agree that a peace would be in both nations' interest. However, Austria, who had not fought in the Napoleonic Wars, made demands on France, thus insulting her. Napoleon could hardly agree to any of Metternich's demands, and finished with the words: "We shall meet in Vienna then." Metternich concluded that Napoleon was lost. In 1813, he was awarded the title "Prince," which was hereditary.

In the spring of 1814, as the war approached its end, Metternich quickly concluded that peace with Bonaparte was impossible and abandoned his ideas of a Bonapartist regency under Marie Louise, the Duchess of Parma. He lent his support to a Bourbon restoration, which brought him closer to Viscount Castlereagh, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, and Richard Le Poer Trench, 2nd Earl of Clancarty. Around that time, Francis I of Austria promoted Metternich from the rank of count to that of prince.

Political philosophy

Metternich wanted to maintain stability both within states and between states. He believed that conserving traditional institutions was the best strategy to deliver this. He did not trust popular opinion, because this changed too easily, so he was reluctant to support strong democratic institutions. He thought that too much popular participation in governance would result in a type of anarchy, because of class and economic differences between people. That is, an insistence on equality would result in the "have nots" believing themselves entitled to help themselves to what the rich possess. He was, therefore, anti-revolutionary. Those who govern need to maintain equilibrium, ensuring that no class is too discontent. Peace externally depended on the balance of power, on no nation being too powerful either militarily or economically.[1] Metternich believed in the ideal of freedom, but contended that freedom without order could degenerate into anarchy, therefore to protect and preserve order, some freedoms were best restricted, hence his views on censorship.

Post-Napoleonic Europe

Metternich was the principal negotiator and dominant member at the Congress of Vienna, earning himself the title "coachman of Europe." During the negotiations, Metternich developed a bitter personal enmity with Tsar Alexander I of Russia, due to the Russian plans for Poland—fiercely resisted by Metternich—and by an alleged competition for the affection of the beautiful Wilhelmina von Sagan. Metternich sought to form a coalition with Viscount Castlereagh and Hardenberg, the Prussian chancellor, to oppose Alexander's plans for a constitutional Kingdom of Poland under Russia's rule. These efforts failed because of the unwillingness of the Prussians to stand up to Alexander. Metternich then shocked the Prussians by signing an alliance with Castlereagh and Talleyrand, the French envoy, on January 3, 1815, to prevent the annexation of Saxony by Prussia, which was to be her compensation for giving up Polish land to Alexander. While this was successful in saving the King of Saxony, northern areas of the kingdom were ceded in perpetuity to Prussia and Alexander managed to get most of what he wanted in Poland. Austria never regained the land gained in the partition of Poland.

At the same time, Metternich worked hard in negotiations with Prussia, Hanover, Bavaria, and Württemberg to resolve the organization of Germany. The resulting Germanic Confederation (Deutscher Bund) bore much of the stamp of his ideas and was used as a means to achieving other ends, as were other organizations of the period. This unified the area with 39 German states and four free cities under a single Constitution with a single Diet, or parliament. Princes, however, retained much of their power. The Diet was symbolic, with very little power of its own. Its presidency was permanently occupied by Austria. Matternich was appointed Chancellor in 1821.

Metternich’s most notable achievement in the years following the Congress was turning the Tsar into a protector of the old order (Alexander had seen himself as a protector of liberalism). This led to the Tsar’s decision at the Congress of Troppau, in 1820, when he assented to Metternich’s repression of a Neapolitan rebellion and refused to aid Greek rebels against the Ottoman Empire. This is most aptly demonstrated by Metternich’s subversion of the Holy Alliance, from an institution advocating Christian ideals in politics (which, in 1815, was described as a "loud-sounding nothing" by Metternich and "a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense" by Castlereagh) to an anti-revolutionary institution used as a bastion of conservatism.

Over the succeeding decades, Metternich developed into a reactionary protector of the rights of Kings and Emperors in an era of rising democratic sentiment. Wanting stability above all, he feared what he saw as the fickleness of popular sentiment and the excesses of what had occurred in revolutionary France. He had a free hand in conducting the foreign affairs of the Austrian Empire for some thirty years, especially after the death of Emperor Francis I in 1835, when the mentally challenged Ferdinand I took the throne. However, a number of vital committees were run out of Metternich’s control, and a number of domestic affairs state matters were outside of Metternich’s reach: Both Francis and Ferdinand were adamant about their absolute rights and were known to rebuff some of Metternich’s advances, while figures such as the court chancellor Count Kolowrat—who mistrusted Metternich’s politics and birth—took office in positions that opposed Metternich’s power. His conservatism, however, was quite popular in a Europe at the time that "was deeply attached to order, authority, and patriarchal rule"[2]

Due to the fact that Metternich dominated Austrian politics during the era, and mainly because he best exemplifies the spirit of the Concert of Europe, the period in between the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo in 1815 and the Liberal Revolutions of 1848 is often referred to as the Age of Metternich. No major war engulfed Europe until World War I, largely due to the maintenance of the balance of power.


Metternich married Countess Eleonore Kaunitz, the granddaughter of the powerful and wealthy Austrian chancellor, Count Wenzel von Kaunitz, in 1795. She died in 1825. In 1927, he married Baronness Antoinette Leykam. When she died in 1829, he married Countess Melanie Zichy-Ferraris in 1831. His third wife died in 1854. His son, Richard (whose mother was Antoinete) also became ambassador to Paris, serving there between 1859 and 1870.


In 1848 a series of unsuccessful revolutions broke out in Austria. Many saw Metternich as the cause of repression in Austria and demanced his resignation as Chancellor. He resigned on March 13. Metternich and his third wife then fled to England, with help of the Rothschild Family. In this period, Metternich met young Otto von Bismarck who later would lead the process of German re-unification under Prussian leadership.

The Metternichs returned three years later, and, although never resuming office, he became a close personal adviser to Emperor Franz Joseph. He died in Vienna on June 11, 1859.


Metternich's conservative views regarding the nature of the state were a strong influence on the outcome of the Congress of Vienna. He believed that since people had become well acquainted with old institutions, national revolutions such as those in France and Greece were illegitimate. The Legitimacy Principle played a vital role in the re-installation of ancient states, such as the Papal States in Italy, and the resurgence of the Bourbon monarchy in France under Louis XVIII. Through the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819, Metternich introduced police supervision in universities to keep a watch on the activities of professors and students, whom he held responsible for the spread of radical liberal ideas.[3]

Before his resignation, Metternich revealed seemingly liberal positions on a number of issues of state; with regards to censorship, Metternich is known to have said, "It is useless to close the gates against ideas. They over-leap them." Yet, he had supported censorship in 1808, according to his memoirs. These opinions seem to stem from pragmatism rather than ideology.[4]

There is a sparkling wine named after him, Fürst von Metternich Riesling Sekt.

Kissinger's studies

Considered a brilliant man by his contemporaries, Metternich has earned the admiration of succeeding generations for his brilliant management of foreign policy. Henry Kissinger idolized Metternich, and studied him laboriously. He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation, which was later published in 1957, under the title, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of the Peace 1812-1822, on the European negotiations for achieving a balance of power after Waterloo, praising the role of Metternich in holding together the crumbling Austrian Empire. The balance of power doctrine influenced the Cold War as the two super-powers competed to ensure that neither gained an advantage over the other.


  1. Gerhard Rempel, Prince Metternich and the New Social Order, 1815-1848. Retrieved September 7, 2007
  2. Ibid.
  3. Richard Metternich, "The Internal Condition of Italy, and Meternich;s Desire for a National Government of the Lombardo-Ventian Kingdom" in Prince Richard Metternich, ed. Memoirs of Prince Metternich, 1815-1829 (New York: Howard Fertig, 1970).
  4. Richard Metternich, "Of the Necessity of a Censorship of the Press," in Memoirs of Prince Metternich, 1830-1835, translated by Gerard W. Smith (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1880).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Kissinger, H. A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of the Peace 1812-1822. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999. ISBN 9780297643951
  • Kraehe, Enno E. The Metternich Controversy. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971. ISBN 9780030781001
  • Milne, Andrew. Metternich. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975. ISBN 9780874715910
  • Palmer, A. Metternich: Councillor of Europe. London: Phoenix Giant, 1997. ISBN 9781857998689
  • Seward, Desmond. Metternich: The First European. New York: Viking, 1991. ISBN 9780670826001

External links

All links retrieved April 20, 2018.


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