Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, Prince von Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein (German: [ˈmɛtɐnɪç]; 15 May 1773 – 11 June 1859) was an Austrian diplomat who was at the center of European affairs for four decades as the Austrian Empire's foreign minister from 1809 and Chancellor from 1821 until the liberal Revolutions of 1848 forced his resignation.
One of his first assignments was to engineer a détente with France that included the marriage of Napoleon to the Austrian archduchess Marie Louise. Soon after, he engineered Austria's entry into the War of the Sixth Coalition on the Allied side, signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau that sent Napoleon into exile and led the Austrian delegation at the Congress of Vienna that divided post-Napoleonic Europe amongst the major powers. For his service to the Austrian Empire, he was given the title of Prince in October 1813. Under his guidance, the "Metternich system" of international congresses continued for another decade as Austria aligned itself with Russia and to a lesser extent Prussia. This marked the high point of Austria's diplomatic importance and thereafter Metternich slowly slipped into the periphery of international diplomacy. At home, Metternich held the post of Chancellor of State from 1821 until 1848 under both Francis I and his son Ferdinand I. After brief exile in London, Brighton and Brussels that lasted until 1851, he returned to the Viennese court, this time to offer only advice to Ferdinand's successor, Franz Josef. Having outlived his generation of politicians, Metternich died at the age of 86 in 1859.
Born in 1773 into the family of a prosperous and well-connected, if relatively minor, Rhenish nobility, the son of a diplomat, he was named after his godfather, Clement-Wenceslas, Archbishop of Trier. Metternich received a good education at the universities of Strasbourg and Mainz. He was of help during the coronation of Francis II in 1792 and that of his predecessor, Leopold II, in 1790. After a brief trip to England, Metternich was named as the Austrian ambassador to the Netherlands, a short-lived post since the country was brought under French control the next year. He married his first wife, Eleonore von Kaunitz (a descendant of Karolina of Legnica-Brieg) in 1795, which aided his entry into Viennese society. Despite having numerous affairs, he was devastated by her death in 1825. His second marriage was to Baroness Antoinette Leykam in 1827 and following her death in 1829 married Countess Melanie Zichy-Ferraris in 1831. She predeceased him by five years. Before taking office as Foreign Minister, Metternich held numerous smaller posts, including ambassadorial roles in the Kingdom of Saxony, the Kingdom of Prussia and Napoleonic France. One of Metternich's sons, Richard von Metternich, was also a successful diplomat and many of Metternich's twelve other acknowledged children predeceased him. A traditional conservative, Metternich was keen to maintain the balance of power, in particular by resisting Russian territorial ambitions in Central Europe and lands belonging to the Ottoman Empire. He disliked liberalism and strove to prevent the breakup of the Austrian Empire, for example, by crushing nationalist revolts in Austrian north Italy and the German states. At home, he pursued a similar policy, using censorship and a wide-ranging spy network to suppress unrest.
Metternich has been both praised and heavily criticized for the policies he pursued. His supporters point out that he presided over the "Age of Metternich", when international diplomacy helped prevent major wars in Europe. His qualities as a diplomat are commended, some noting that his achievements were considerable in light of the weakness of his negotiating position. His decision to oppose Russian expansionism is seen as a good one. His detractors describe him as a boor who stuck to ill-thought-out, conservative principles out of vanity and a sense of infallibility. They argue he could have done much to secure Austria's future, instead his 1817 proposals for administrative reform were largely rejected and his opposition to German nationalism is blamed for Germany's unification under Prussia and not Austria. Other historians have argued that he had far less power than this view suggests and that his policies were only exercised when they were in accord with the views of the Emperor.
Klemens Metternich was born into the House of Metternich on 15 May 1773 to Franz George Karl Count Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein, a diplomat who had passed from the service of the Archbishopric of Trier to that of the Imperial court, and his wife Countess Maria Beatrice Aloisia von Kageneck. He was named in honour of Prince Clemens Wenceslaus of Saxony, the archbishop-elector of Trier and the past employer of his father. He was the eldest son and had one older sister. At the time of his birth the family possessed a ruined keep at Beilstein, a castle at Winneberg, an estate west of Koblenz, and another in Königswart, Bohemia, won during the 17th century. At this time Metternich's father, described as "a boring babbler and chronic liar" by a contemporary, was the Austrian ambassador to the courts of the three Rhenish electors (Trier, Cologne and Mainz). Metternich's education was handled by his mother, heavily influenced by their proximity to France; Metternich spoke French better than German. As a child he went on official visits with his father and, under the direction of Protestant tutor John Frederick Simon, was tutored in academic subjects, swimming, and horsemanship.
Between the end of 1790 and summer of 1792 Metternich studied law at the University of Mainz, receiving a more conservative education than at Strasbourg, a city the return to which was now unsafe. In the summers he worked with his father, who had been appointed plenipotentiary and effective ruler of the Austrian Netherlands. In March 1792 Francis succeeded as Holy Roman Emperor and was crowned in July, affording Metternich a reprisal of his earlier role of Ceremonial Marshall. In the meantime France had declared war on Austria, beginning the War of the First Coalition (1792–7) and making Metternich's further study in Mainz impossible. Now in the employment of his father, he was sent on a special mission to the front. Here he led the interrogation of the French Minister of War the Marquis de Beurnonville and several accompanying National Convention commissioners. Metternich observed the siege and fall of Valenciennes, later looking back on these as substantial lessons about warfare. In early 1794 he was sent to England, ostensibly on official business helping
Viscount Desandrouin, by the Treasurer-General of the Austrian Netherlands, to negotiate a loan.