During the first half of the nineteenth century “Metternich was the hero of the reactionary powers in the history of Europe.” Being the prime minister of Austria, he remained the most powerful and the most influential man of Europe from 1815 to 1848.
After the fall of Napoleon I in the battle of Waterloo, Metternich became the central figure not only in the politics of Austria and Germany, but in the diplomacy of the whole of Europe.
Owing to his unlimited influence, the period of 34 years (i.e., from 1815 to 1848) is called the ‘Era of Metternich’ in the history of Europe. C. D. Hazen has rightly remarked:
“Metternich appeared to the generation that lived between 1815-1848 as the most commanding personality of Europe, whose importance is shown in the phrases, ‘Era of Metternich’, ‘System of Metternich’.”
The Early Life and Marriage of Metternich
His frill name was Count Clemons Metternich. He was born in the town of Coblenz on May 15, 1773. His father was a famous feudal lord. He had landed property which was situated on the bank of River Rhine in Germany. He also held some dignified post in the Holy Roman Empire.
His property had been forfeited by Napoleon Bonaparte at the time of the regeneration of Germany. When the Revolution broke out in France in 1789, Metternich was receiving education in the University of Strassburg. In his young age, he had heard the heart-rending tales of the sufferings of the nobles, lords and the clergy.
His young heart was greatly moved by the terror and bloodshed of the revolution. He saw that many nobles, lords, clergy, the supporters of the monarchy were being guillotined by an extremist group of the revolutionaries called the Jacobins.
Feelings of sympathy for these persons began to stir in his heart and he turned against the revolution. Later on, he came into contact with these persons who had fled France in order to save their lives.
When he heard the tales of tyranny and atrocities of the revolutionaries, and of the tortures committed in the name of the revolution, his heart began to surge with feelings of extreme hatred, enmity and hostility for the revolution. It took him no time to realise that the revolution was nothing but a meaningless human slaughter.
After sometime, he went to England and there he came into contact with some great politicians, like Pitt, Faux, and Burk. All of them were against the excesses and extremism of the revolutionary tide.
In this way, his heart and soul were deadly set against the principles, philosophy and ideology of the revolution. In 1795, he was married with the granddaughter of Prince Kaunitz, the chancellor of Austria at that time.
The Political Life of Metternich
The matrimonial alliance with the grand-daughter of the Austrian chancellor enhanced the prestige of Metternich. His political life began with this alliance. He came into contact with his officers, politicians, and the rulers of other countries of Europe.
From the beginning, he was very clever, a genius and also possessed the ability and technique of talking. The government of Austria was greatly influenced by the ability of Metternich. He was appointed ambassador in 1801.
As an ambassador, he was in Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris and many other places which were of great political importance. He remained on the post of ambassador up to 1809.
By that time, his name and ability became well known to the statesmen of Austria and Europe. The government of Austria was so greatly influenced by the personality and achievements of this great statesman, that Francis I, the emperor of Austria, appointed him the chancellor of Austria in 1809.
He remained on this post up to 1848. During this period, he guided the politics of the whole of Europe ably. He bent all his energies towards maintaining the state of autocracy, despotism and reactionism in the continent.
He was the most famous statesman Austria had produced in the nineteenth century. C.D. Hazen has rightly observed regarding the diplomatic and political qualities of Metternich in the following words:
“A man of high rank, wealthy, polished, blending social accomplishments with literary and scientific pretensions, and his foible was omniscience. He was the prince of diplomatists, thoroughly at ease amid all the intriguing of European politics.”
The Character of Metternich
Metternich was a man of self-confidence. He was overconfident about his ability and capacity. He always thought that he had come into this world only to stabilise the political and social setup of Europe.
He was a man of ego and pride. He was of the opinion that God had sent him, “to prop up the decaying structure of European society.” He considered himself as the most important figure of the continent of his time.
He was confident that he could never commit any mistake. He always felt that the whole world rested on his shoulders. According to him, it was only he who could regenerate Europe. He said:
“My position has this peculiarity that all eyes, all expectations are directed to precisely that point where I happen to be. Why, among so many million men, must I be the one to think when others do not think, to act when others do not act, and to write because others know not how?”
Self-confidence was an everlasting trait of his character. He was of the view that the people of Europe could not understand the qualities of his character. After his downfall in 1848, he had remarked that-
“I was not understood. I became a phantasm, an imaginary being, a thing without substance.”
The main qualities and characteristics of Metternich have been described by a historian in the following words:
“Metternich remains by exterior grace, by the excellence of tone, the perfection of attitude and the subtle knowledge of the properties, an incomparable master.
The great comedy of the world, the high intriguing of the European stage, has never had so fertile an author, an actor so consummate.”