Clemens von Metternich came to office as Austrian foreign minister in 1809. A Rhinelander who had lost all to revolutionary France and Napoleon, his debts were at the time of his appointment reckoned at 1.25 million gulden. His master, Emperor Francis II (1792–1835), was bankrupt too. Unable to redeem the state bonds he had issued, Francis survived financially only by printing money and by the expedient of confiscating his subjects’ silverware in exchange for lottery tickets. The debt owed by the imperial treasury in 1809 amounted to 1,200 million gulden, to which should be added a further 1,000 million gulden in unbacked paper notes. Two years later, Francis would declare bankruptcy, reneging on all but 20 per cent of the state debt, busting in the process many manufacturing and agricultural enterprises.
Francis’s territorial capital had withered too. At first, Francis’s armies, led by the emperor’s brother, Archduke Charles, had almost held their own against the French during the long War of the First Coalition (1792–1797), bearing the brunt of the land war in alliance with Great Britain, Prussia, and the Dutch Republic. Although obliged to give up the Austrian Low Countries and Lombardy, the Habsburgs were compensated by the terms of the Peace of Campo Formio (1797) with Venice and its hinterland of Venetia, Istria, and Dalmatia. Venice’s strategically vital Ionian Islands in the Adriatic went, however, to France, with the island of Corfu now having Europe’s largest fort. Its enlargement presaged the major expansion of French power into the Eastern Mediterranean that led to Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798.
Napoleon became first consul of France in 1799 and, five years later, emperor of the French. His ambition was to enlarge France beyond its natural boundaries, to create a barrier beyond it of satellites, and to maintain on the periphery a cordon of enfeebled and compliant states. In pursuit of this goal, he pulled the Habsburg territories apart. As the British prime minister William Pitt the Younger presciently observed in 1805, upon hearing of the Habsburg and Russian defeat at Austerlitz, ‘Roll up that map, it will not be needed these ten years.’ Following Francis II’s participation in the wars of the Second and Third Coalition against Napoleon (1798–1802; 1803–1806), in both of which Francis was obliged to sue for an early peace, the Habsburgs not only lost almost all they had gained at Campo Formio but also surrendered the Tyrol to Napoleon’s Bavarian ally and the remaining Austrian possessions in the old duchy of Swabia (Further Austria) to Baden and Württemberg. The only consolation was Salzburg, which Francis annexed in 1805.
Francis stood aside from the War of the Fourth Coalition (1806–1807), but hoping to take advantage of Napoleon’s discomfiture in Spain, where the French were bogged down in a long war of attrition, he joined with Britain in April 1809 to renew the struggle. Napoleon reacted, however, by speedily taking Vienna. Then, building a pontoon bridge across the Danube, he caught Archduke Charles unawares, forcing him to commit to battle prematurely. The Battle of Wagram, fought on a fifteen-mile front over two days in July 1809, was not decisive, and the archduke was able to withdraw his troops in good order, but it had used up the whole of Habsburg resources, obliging Francis to seek peace. The Treaty of Schönbrunn was devastating. Croatia together with Trieste, Gorizia (Görz-Gradisca), Carniola, and a part of Carinthia were now transformed into the Illyrian Provinces, which Napoleon made a part of France. West Galicia, which Francis had taken in the final Third Partition of Poland (1795), was absorbed into the puppet Duchy of Warsaw, and a further slice of Galicia was ceded to Napoleon’s latest ally, Alexander I of Russia.
But Francis’s losses in the wars with Napoleon were more than territorial. In May 1804, Napoleon had crowned himself emperor of the French in Paris. In order, so he claimed, to maintain parity with Napoleon, Francis II now declared himself to be emperor of Austria, thus adding a hereditary imperial title to the elected dignity of Holy Roman Emperor. It was a wise move. Just two years later, Napoleon established the Confederation of the Rhine, appointing himself as its president. Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, and thirteen smaller states promptly defected from the Holy Roman Empire to join the confederation. Noting that ‘circumstances have rendered it impossible to discharge the commitments made at my imperial election’, Emperor Francis now formally declared the bond that joined him to the ‘state entities of the German Empire to be dissolved.’
Without a ruler, the thousand-year-old Holy Roman Empire came to an end. Even so, Francis’s decree of dissolution, published on 6 August 1806, commenced by reciting his titles as Holy Roman Emperor, including the designation ‘at all times Enlarger of the Empire.’ Fortunately, by having previously instituted the title of emperor of Austria, the Habsburgs were able to keep hold of an imperial title. But their numbering changed. So Holy Roman Emperor Francis II became Austrian Emperor Francis I; his successor became Ferdinand I rather than Ferdinand V, and so on.
Francis did, however, take over the double-headed imperial eagle, in use since the fifteenth century, and the imperial colours of black and yellow, making these purely Habsburg symbols. In the case of yellow, it curiously became a Brazilian one too. In 1817, Francis’s daughter, Leopoldine (1797–1826), married Prince Pedro of Portugal during his family’s exile in Brazil. Following Pedro’s declaration of Brazilian independence in 1822, it fell to her to design the country’s flag. Leopoldine duly combined the yellow of the Habsburg flag with the green of the Portuguese and Brazilian house of Braganza. Brazil’s football team still plays in Habsburg colours.
As ambassador to Paris, Metternich had warned against a new war with the French, considering it reckless. Vindicated by Wagram and by the harsh terms Napoleon imposed, it was no surprise that Emperor Francis should have appointed him foreign minister in 1809. Metternich’s main concern at this point was to buy time, on which account he urged a policy of peace towards France. The emperor concurred, to the extent of sacrificing his daughter Marie Louise by having her marry the upstart Corsican commoner. Even she was third best, for Napoleon had previously been looking at two Russian princesses, but the first turned him down, and the second never obtained her father’s approval.
An elegant dandy, Metternich was as much at home in the boudoir as the conference hall. But Metternich’s liaisons allowed him intimacies of more than one kind. A notorious and indiscreet gossip, he also traded secrets. When he needed to know more, he simply arranged for the diplomatic mail to be opened. Most spectacularly, after 1808 Metternich had the former French foreign minister and state councillor Talleyrand in his pocket. The information which Talleyrand passed on, including military dispositions, went straight to Emperor Francis as evidence obtained from ‘Monsieur X.’
Between March and September 1810, Metternich was in Paris, officially as part of the delegation attending Napoleon’s marriage. He used the opportunity to fathom Napoleon’s intentions, frequently staying up with him until four AM while Napoleon rehearsed his genius. It was clear to Metternich that Napoleon’s ambition had not yet been sated, but his next move was uncertain. On 20 September, in Napoleon’s palace at St Cloud, the emperor of the French disclosed his aim to conquer Russia. ‘I had at last obtained light,’ Metternich later recalled. ‘The object of my stay in Paris was attained.’ Four days later, he left for Vienna.
Metternich planned carefully. The outcome of a Franco-Russian war was uncertain, and to back either or neither side invited danger. So Metternich opted instead for ‘armed neutrality’: he would support Napoleon, but only against Russia and not in the main assault. Behind the scenes, he advised Tsar Alexander that the Habsburg army would only play a supporting role. As it turned out, the army led by Prince Schwarzenberg acquitted itself so well that the tsar lodged a protest with Francis.
The campaign of 1812 saw Napoleon commit what was then the largest ever army in the history of warfare—about six hundred thousand men, of which only thirty thousand were under Schwarzenberg’s command. Although the French reached Moscow, they were by October in headlong retreat and eating their horses. Generals January and February did the rest. In the wake of the retreat from Moscow, Napoleon’s adversaries regathered, joining together in 1813 to form the Sixth Coalition. Although Napoleon managed to organize a new army, he was decisively defeated at Leipzig at the so-called Battle of the Nations by a combination of Habsburg, Russian, Swedish, and Prussian forces (Saxony and Württemberg defected halfway through the four-day battle to join the winning coalition).
As the allies pressed westwards into France and British forces crossed the Pyrenees from Spain, Talleyrand in Paris seized the initiative. Leading what was left of the French senate, he declared himself head of a provisional government and Napoleon to be deposed. Talleyrand then proclaimed the Bourbon dynasty restored by the people of France ‘of their own, free will.’ Louis XVIII objected to Talleyrand’s interpretation, for he considered himself to rule by divine right, irrespective of his people’s wishes, but the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy was entirely to Metternich’s satisfaction. With Russian troops deployed as far west as Calais and thus within eyeshot of the English coast, Metternich had already discerned that Russia was now the leading continental power; he saw a strong and stable France as a counterweight.
The map of Europe was repaired at the great international conference, or congress, which met in Vienna from November 1814 to July 1815. The congress was by every measure an apogee of Habsburg power, however much the long wars had also been fought by others. Its proceedings were halted for several months during the ‘Hundred Days’, when Napoleon escaped from Elba (as Metternich had predicted) briefly to recapture power in France. The Congress of Vienna brought together two emperors, four kings, eleven ruling princes, and two hundred plenipotentiaries. There were daily banquets, either in the Hofburg or in Metternich’s chancellery building, balls, hunting expeditions, portrait sittings, operas, and concerts. Beethoven conducted in person his Seventh Symphony—it was an expiation of sorts for his Third, the Eroica, which he had ten years earlier dedicated to Napoleon.
Metternich got much of what he wanted. Most of the Habsburg territories were returned, and although the Low Countries were lost, there was compensation in the form of Lombardy and Venetia, which were now combined to make the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia within the Austrian Empire. Along with Venetia came Dubrovnik and Venice’s other possessions on the Dalmatian coast. Tuscany and Modena, although not incorporated in the Habsburg lands, continued to be governed by archdukes drawn from the Habsburg line, while Parma was given over to Francis’s daughter, Marie Louise, the estranged wife of Napoleon. The congress additionally recognized the annexation of Salzburg and gave over a sliver of Bavaria. It further restored Galicia and Lodomeria to Habsburg rule, although with some territorial adjustments, including the loss of Cracow, which now became a free city.
Importantly too, France was not punished but returned to its borders in 1792, and Saxony was not sacrificed to Prussia. The Holy Roman Empire was not restored either, but a German Confederation, which included the Austrian lands, was put in its place under Habsburg presidency. The royal titles bestowed by Napoleon on the rulers of Saxony, Bavaria, and Württemberg were retained, and Hanover was given one too. The congress also permitted the bigger German principalities to keep the smaller ones that they had gobbled up during the recent war, reducing the new confederation to just thirty-four members (several others joined later). In so doing, Metternich ensured that the German Confederation had enough capacity to resist French and Russian encroachments, as well as to hem Prussia in.
The overall result of these changes was that the new Austrian Empire comprised a concentrated block of territory in Central Europe, with extensive influence northwards over the German Confederation, and southwards into Italy. It was enough to keep Russia and France apart and for the Austrian Empire to hold the balance between the two. It was a masterful redrawing of the map of Europe. A grateful Emperor Francis rewarded Metternich with the castle of Johannisberg in the Rhineland—he had in 1813 been given the honorific title of prince and would in 1821 receive the equally honorific office of chancellor.
Metternich was never less than duplicitous. Notoriously, in communicating with his ambassadors abroad, Metternich would send three letters. The first would announce a policy position; the second would indicate to whom it should be disclosed, and the third would give the real policy. Metternich continually referred to his principles, his interest in maintaining the rule of legitimate monarchs, and his goal of a lasting peace and balance of power in Europe. Like so much else, none of these were his true aims. Metternich’s interest was to maintain the influence of his master and of the newly proclaimed Austrian Empire, particularly in respect of the German Confederation and Italy. His stress on legitimacy was a cover for maintaining the status quo, which he had stacked to Austria’s advantage. When it came to the legitimate rights of Spain to its rebellious Latin American colonies, of the Poles to their historic kingdom, or of the city of Cracow to independence (he sent in troops to occupy it in 1846), Metternich was uninterested.
Metternich always stood close to the emperor, generally keeping him abreast of events and policy, although often filtered and filleted in such a way as to earn his approval. Metternich advertised his relationship to Francis as if they were political twins. As he remarked, ‘Heaven has placed me next to a man who might have been created for me, as I for him. The Emperor Francis knows what he wants and that never differs in any way from what I most want.’ Francis seems to have concurred, although he explained that Metternich was the kindlier of them. In truth, Francis had better things to do than pore over dispatches. His interest was instead to examine the sealing wax that had been used on them. An eager student of wax production, he reputedly delayed opening letters from Napoleon until he had scrutinized the wax used to close them. Making bird cages, lacquer boxes, and toffee also occupied his time, as did the glasshouses of the Schönbrunn.
The ‘Big Four’ at the congress were Tsar Alexander, Metternich, Prince Hardenberg for Prussia, and Lord Castlereagh for Great Britain, but Talleyrand also had an influence that was often decisive. Following the Congress of Vienna, the four agreed to meet periodically ‘for the purpose of consulting upon their common interests … for the repose and prosperity of nations, and for the maintenance of the peace of Europe.’ Tsar Alexander added to this his own plan for a brotherly bond of peoples, based on the ‘sublime truths’ of Christianity. Metternich famously described the tsar’s Holy Alliance as a ‘resounding nothing’, but he deftly changed the text of the tsar’s plan from a union of peoples to a union of sovereigns, thus once more stamping the monarchical status quo on the map of Europe.
Defending the status quo and upholding the rights of legitimate rulers obliged the four powers and France to intervene whenever the threat of revolution presented itself. This suited Metternich, since it permitted Austria to march into Piedmont and Naples in 1821 to defend their monarchs, thereby enlarging Habsburg influence in the peninsula. It was, however, unwelcome to politicians in Britain and France, who found themselves committed to support all established governments, including those which resisted even the slightest reforms. Metternich’s attempts to extend the guarantee to include Ottoman Turkey exemplified the British predicament—that, as Castlereagh foresaw, a ‘general European police’ was intended to act as ‘the armed guardians of all thrones.’
Four congresses met between 1818 and 1822, at Aachen, Opava (Troppau) in Austrian Silesia, Ljubljana (Laibach) in Carniola, and Verona in Venetia. The last three were held within the Austrian Empire, thus acknowledging Metternich’s influence and making it easier for him to open the diplomatic mail. But unlike Russia, Britain and France were increasingly unwilling to be drawn into the business of defending unpopular rulers against their subjects. With the main powers divided on the principle of intervention, the congress system fell apart. A precedent of sorts had, however, been established that international crises might be better resolved through conferences than by going to war.
After 1822, Metternich increasingly relied for support on Prussia and Russia, cementing an uneasy alliance of the three ‘northern courts’ of Vienna, Berlin, and St Petersburg. (Europe was still at this time thought to be divided north-south rather than east-west). Meeting at Münchengrätz and Berlin in 1833, Emperor Francis, Tsar Nicholas of Russia, and Prince Frederick William of Prussia agreed to maintain ‘the conservative system as the unquestionable basis of their policies’, and they affirmed that all rulers were entitled to call upon one another for military aid.
With the acquisition of Venice and its Adriatic possessions, the Habsburgs had inherited a navy, comprising in 1814 ten ships of the line with several gun decks, and nine smaller frigates. At first, the fledgling fleet languished in disrepair, being mainly used to carry mail and ferry sightseers along the coast. Gradually, however, its value became apparent: to convey the archduchess Leopoldine to Brazil in 1817 and a few years later to cement a new commercial treaty with China. So unused were the Chinese to Habsburg vessels that they did not recognize the red-and-white naval standard introduced by Joseph II, obliging the captain to hoist instead the old black and yellow flag of the Holy Roman Empire with the double-headed eagle.
The fleet proved its value in 1821 when it supported land operations in the invasion of Naples. It was also deployed against Greek corsairs who plundered merchant shipping to support an insurrection in the Peloponnese. By the late 1820s, the Habsburgs had more than twenty vessels patrolling the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. It was, however, the activities of Moroccan pirates that gave the navy sudden importance. In 1828, the sultan of Morocco repudiated his agreement not to molest Habsburg shipping and began attacking commercial vessels passing through the Mediterranean on their way to Brazil. One of these was the Veloce bound for Rio de Janeiro out of Trieste, whose crew were held for ransom. To rescue the men, Metternich ordered two corvettes and a two-masted brig with several hundred troops aboard to sail to the Moroccan coast. The expedition was a resounding success, culminating in the bombardment of the port of El Araich. Shortly after, the sultan renewed his treaty with Emperor Francis.
The navy remained, nevertheless, small, comprising in 1837 just four frigates with single gun decks, five corvettes, a paddle steamer, and some smaller vessels. The merchant marine, by contrast, comprised five hundred large commercial vessels, and from Venice, Trieste, and Rijeka (Fiume) it dominated commerce with the Ottoman Empire and North Africa. Many of its ships belonged to two companies in the establishment of which Metternich was active: the Danube Steamship Company, founded in 1829, and the Austrian Lloyd, which was incorporated in 1836. Both were engaged in the Black Sea and East Mediterranean trade, and Metternich pushed the Ottoman sultan to grant preferential terms to Austrian merchants in the trade in cotton and silk. When the pasha, or governor, of Egypt, Mohammed Ali, attacked Ottoman Syria in 1839, Metternich instructed the Austrian fleet to join the British navy in bombarding Beirut and blockading the Nile delta in support of the sultan. The pasha subsequently agreed to open his territories to European merchants, of which the Austrians were the first to establish themselves.
Austrian ships not only transported cotton and silk but also took charge of much local commerce in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the movement of grain and other agricultural produce. They were also deeply implicated in the slave trade, transporting captives from Alexandria in Egypt to the markets of Istanbul and Izmir (Smyrna). Although figures on the slave trade are speculative, about a million Africans were transported to the Eastern Mediterranean in the nineteenth century. Of these, many tens of thousands travelled in ships of the Austrian Lloyd. Indeed, investigations as late as the 1870s disclosed that there was not a single Austrian Lloyd vessel working the Alexandria to Istanbul route that was not carrying slaves. A few of the wretches ended up in Vienna, working there as household servants under the description of ‘persons of unclear legal status.’
Austrian commercial expansion in the East Mediterranean was a colonial venture without territories. It bore many of the hallmarks of the more visible colonial empires in terms of its economic exploitation of indigenous resources and the paternalistic zeal of the diplomats and entrepreneurs who oversaw its expansion. They came not only to found trading depots but also to convert, bringing an iron gunboat down the White Nile in support of Catholic missionaries. Since the Habsburg emperor also acted as the protector of Catholics in Egypt and the Sudan, the extension of the faith increased his political weight there. The Geographical Society in Vienna was happy to record in 1857 that the Austrian flag had been planted only three degrees north of the Equator and looked forward to the steady development under its shadow of ‘Christianity and civilization.’
As Habsburg merchants pressed southwards into Africa, they found the local population uninterested in the manufactured wares, textiles, and umbrellas that they put up for sale. So they traded currency instead, mostly the large silver coins known as Maria Theresa thalers. First minted in 1741, the thaler stabilized in design and content in 1783, bearing the date 1780 to commemorate the year of the empress’s death. Of a good silver content and impressively sculpted, the Maria Theresa thaler became the medium of exchange in Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, and the Indian Ocean, being used to buy gold, ivory, coffee, civet oil (for perfumes), and slaves. It was, as one Ethiopian slave girl remarked in the 1830s, the coin ‘which serves to buy children and men’, but it was also, when threaded on a wire, a neck ornament and the medium through which local rulers collected tax. The Maria Theresa thaler remained an official currency in Ethiopia until 1945, in Muscat and Oman until 1970, and continues to this day in informal circulation as far afield as Indonesia.
Metternich himself observed that he ‘may have governed Europe occasionally, but Austria never.’ His principal sphere was foreign policy and, since they were regarded as almost foreign countries, Hungary and Lombardy-Venetia. The plans he put forward for the administrative reform of the Austrian Empire were neglected by the emperor. Metternich’s bugbears were the committees of state, which examined policy in laborious detail and proceeded by taking votes. Far better, he thought, to have ministers with real power, who coordinated policy between themselves. But Emperor Francis opposed him. ‘I want no changes, our laws are sound and sufficient’ and ‘The time is not suitable for innovations’ were comments typical of Francis’s political immobility.
Both Francis and Metternich agreed that there was a revolutionary threat to the Austrian Empire and to the established order in Europe. They were mistaken only in one respect, for the revolutionary threat was not coordinated by a secret committee in Paris, as they and many other statesmen imagined, but operated more loosely, almost in the manner of modern terrorist ‘franchises.’ Many of the revolutionary leaders in Naples, Spain, Russian Poland, the Balkans, and Latin America knew each other, fought in each other’s wars, and circulated to one another draft constitutions and revolutionary manifestoes. They operated secretively through cells and so-called societies of friends, which borrowed from freemasonry their rites of admission, system of passwords, and bloodthirsty oaths.
Metternich used Austria’s presidency of the German Confederation to push through a programme of censorship that applied throughout its territory, exempting only works of more than 320 pages, since these were thought too tiring for readers and censors alike (not 20 pages as historians often allege, but 20 Bogenseiten—that is, folded quires of 16 printed sides). He additionally forced the German rulers to clamp down on political organizations, demonstrations, and representative institutions that trespassed on their sovereignty. In the Austrian Empire, however, censorship was patchy, since there were only twenty-five censors employed in Vienna with responsibility for ten thousand titles a year. The liberal Allgemeine Zeitung, published in Augsburg, and the Leipzig Grenzboten circulated freely, with only occasional issues being confiscated, while the official Wiener Zeitung published foreign news both extensively and impartially.
Generally, repression was light, since Metternich preferred to monitor opinion through informers and surveillance than to prevent it forming. He recalled fondly his childhood tutor, ‘one of the best of men’, who had gone over to revolutionary republicanism, and he had no wish to punish errant convictions. There were political prisoners, but they had usually done something wrong, either through belonging to a banned society or by actively plotting insurrection, rather than just holding the wrong opinions. Even in Lombardy-Venetia, a hotbed of conspiracy, Metternich’s officials put more trust in La Scala than in the police, reckoning that just as the circus had tamed the ancient Romans, so the opera might make Italians more pliant. In Hungary and Transylvania, Metternich had the ringleaders of the liberal opposition—Louis Kossuth, László Lovassy, and Nicholas Wesselényi—gaoled in 1837 on charges of sedition. But they were held in fairly comfortable conditions in the Špilberk (Spielberg) prison in southern Moravia and amnestied after three years.
The most determined opposition to Metternich’s rule came, however, from within government itself. The bureaucracy continued to be infused with reformist zeal and to push for the improvement of society. Despite Emperor Francis’s resistance to innovation, the bureaucracy’s achievements were remarkable: a new code of criminal law in 1803; a civil code in 1811, which removed the distinctive legal status of the nobility; new technical and mining colleges; and support for ambitious commercial and industrial undertakings, particularly railway construction and the laying of telegraph lines. Obliged to take an annual oath that they were not members of secret societies, the bureaucrats joined the next best thing, which were the reading clubs, where foreign newspapers and banned books circulated with police approval. Of the thousand or so senior officials in Vienna, some two hundred were members of the Legal and Political Reading Union, where they could read Rousseau, the works of the early Swiss communists, and even Il Progresso, the mouthpiece of revolutionary Young Italy.
The bureaucrats pressed for the abolition of peasant servitude and for tenant farmers to be given the land they cultivated. But that meant compensating the landlords, which would use up resources otherwise earmarked for the army. Metternich’s foreign policy rested on the possibility of intervention, so he was in favour of a large military budget. The bureaucrats accordingly looked to Metternich’s rival in the administration, Count Kolowrat-Liebsteinsky, who had the main responsibility for financial affairs. Kolowrat was no reformer, but he was no fool either. As he remarked to Metternich, ‘Your instruments are force of arms and the rigid maintenance of existing conditions. In my view, this will lead to revolution.’ By cutting military expenditures, Kolowrat briefly balanced the budget for 1830–1831, on which account his political influence grew disproportionately.
In 1835 Francis was succeeded by his son, Ferdinand. Childhood rickets had left Ferdinand with epilepsy and a deformed skull, but his principal disability as a ruler was his complete lack of interest in affairs of state. Like several of his forebears, Ferdinand’s preoccupation was botany—the genus of flowering tropical plants called Ferdinandusa was named in his honour. On his deathbed, Francis advised Ferdinand ‘to govern and not to change’, but he wisely instituted a regency council or state conference to act on Ferdinand’s behalf. The state conference became the vehicle whereby Kolowrat consistently impeded Metternich, blocking any expansion of the military budget but failing also to relieve the condition of the peasantry for fear of unravelling the state’s finances. Following a bloody uprising in Galicia in 1846, in which the peasants massacred their lords, collecting their heads by the wagon load, the need for reform in the countryside became urgent, but the state conference was frozen by wrangling and by its inability to reach decisions.
During Ferdinand’s reign (1835–1848), Metternich lost control of internal policy, to such an extent that many of the repressive features of the period were not of his creation but the work of Kolowrat or of his close allies in the state conference. Even so, it was Metternich who was identified with all the shortcomings of government as well as of the international order. In Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (1830), the exiled Count Altamira discards the beautiful Mathilde at a ball to speak instead to a Peruvian general, because ‘he so despairs of Europe as Metternich had organized it.’ Anton von Auersperg’s political poem Walks of a Viennese Poet (1831) has the Austrian people hammering on Metternich’s door begging to be let free. Indeed, by 1848 Metternich had in popular discourse become ‘the chief blood-sucker of all blood-sucking ministers’, ‘the wicked demon’, and ‘money swallowing, drinking the blood of the people.’
Yet Metternich’s achievement lies on the map of Europe. Cast aside by Napoleon, it was restored by him, and he gave the new Austrian Empire a commanding position in the centre, from which it might even spill Maria Theresa thalers into Africa. The borders that Metternich helped draw up in Vienna in 1814–1815, and that he strove to maintain, survived to the extent of forming the broad outline of the European state system until 1914. With a stable core, Europe’s great-power conflicts were ‘peripheralized’, and moved eastwards to the Ottoman Empire and southwards into colonial rivalries. Between 1815 and 1914 there were just four European wars, all of them short, whereas between 1700 and 1790 there had been at least sixteen major wars involving several or more leading powers. Metternich did not bring peace to Europe, but he gave Europe the foundation on which its statesmen might choose peace if they wanted it. Guided by Metternich, the Austrian Empire emerged from the marginal status accorded it by Napoleon to the main arbiter of Europe and, for almost forty years, a bastion against revolutionary disorder.
Metternich: Strategist and Visionary Hardcover – 5 November 2019
A compelling new biography that recasts the most important European statesman of the first half of the nineteenth century, famous for his alleged archconservatism, as a friend of realpolitik and reform, pursuing international peace.
Metternich has a reputation as the epitome of reactionary conservatism. Historians treat him as the archenemy of progress, a ruthless aristocrat who used his power as the dominant European statesman of the first half of the nineteenth century to stifle liberalism, suppress national independence, and oppose the dreams of social change that inspired the revolutionaries of 1848. Wolfram Siemann paints a fundamentally new image of the man who shaped Europe for over four decades. He reveals Metternich as more modern and his career much more forward-looking than we have ever recognized.
Clemens von Metternich emerged from the horrors of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, Siemann shows, committed above all to the preservation of peace. That often required him, as the Austrian Empire’s foreign minister and chancellor, to back authority. He was, as Henry Kissinger has observed, the father of realpolitik. But short of compromising on his overarching goal Metternich aimed to accommodate liberalism and nationalism as much as possible. Siemann draws on previously unexamined archives to bring this multilayered and dazzling man to life. We meet him as a tradition-conscious imperial count, an early industrial entrepreneur, an admirer of Britain’s liberal constitution, a failing reformer in a fragile multiethnic state, and a man prone to sometimes scandalous relations with glamorous women.
Hailed on its German publication as a masterpiece of historical writing, Metternich will endure as an essential guide to nineteenth-century Europe, indispensable for understanding the forces of revolution, reaction, and moderation that shaped the modern world.