The man who guided him to that fulfillment was born at Coblenz on the Rhine May 15, 1773, and was christened Klemens Wenzel Lothar von Metternich. He was the eldest son of Prince Franz Georg Karl von Metternich, Austria’s representative at the courts of the Prince-Archbishop Electors of Trier, Mainz, and Cologne. The boy received his first two names from the first of these ecclesiastical rulers, and he never forgot his religious connections and loyalties through all his Voltairean youth and Machiavellian ministries. He was given also the name Lothar to remind Europe that an ancestor so called had ruled Trier in the seventeenth century. Sometimes he added “Winneburg Beilstein” to indicate the properties that had belonged to the family for eight centuries, and whose seventy-five square miles provided ground for the noble preposition von. Obviously he was not made to love or guide revolutions.
He received the education normal to his status from a tutor who initiated him into the French Enlightenment,3 and then from the University of Strasbourg. When this institution felt some tremors from the fall of the Bastille, Klemens was transferred to the University of Mainz, where he studied law as the science of property and precedent. In 1794 the French seized Coblenz as a hive of buzzing émigrés, and nearly all the Metternich estates were “nationalized.” The family found refuge and comfort in Vienna. Tall, athletic, elegant, Klemens wooed and won Eleonore von Kaunitz, rich granddaughter of the statesman who had married Hapsburg Austria to Bourbon France. Almost inheriting from his bride the diplomatic arts of noncommittal courtesy and of gracing appropriation with righteousness, he was soon fit for stratagems and spoils.
In 1801, aged twenty-eight, he was appointed minister to the court of Saxony. There he met Friedrich von Gentz, who became his mentor and mouthpiece for the next thirty years, arming him with the most telling arguments for the status quo ante revolution. Faithful to the mores of the Ancien Régime, he took a mistress, Katharina Bagration, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a Russian general whom we shall meet again. In 1802 she bore Klemens a daughter, who was acknowledged to be his by his wife.4 Impressed by his progress, Vienna promoted him (1803) to the Austrian Embassy at Berlin. During his three years in Prussia he met Czar Alexander I, and formed with him a friendship that lasted till they had overthrown Napoleon. This, however, was not in Bonaparte’s vision when, after Austerlitz, he asked the Austrian government to send him “a Kaunitz” as ambassador to France. Count Philipp von Stadion, then head of the Foreign Ministry, sent him Metternich. The thirty-three-years-young Kaunitz-in-law reached Paris on August 2, 1806.
Now began a nine-year battle of wits between diplomacy and war, in which the diplomat won by the cooperation of the general. For relaxation from encounters with Napoleon’s penetrating eyes—and finding his illustrious wife intellectually unstimulating and physically toujours la même—Metternich amused himself with Mme. Laure Junot, wife of the then governor of Paris. But he did not forget that he was expected to probe Napoleon’s mind, discover his aims, and explore all possibilities of guiding them to Austria’s advantage. Each man admired the other. Napoleon, Metternich wrote to Gentz in 1806, “is the only man in Europe who wills and acts”5; and Napoleon found in Metternich an intellect as penetrating as his own.6 Meanwhile the Austrian learned much by studying Talleyrand.
He spent some three years as ambassador in Paris. He saw with concealed satisfaction the ensnarement of the Grande Armée in Spain. He tried and failed to hide from Napoleon the rearming of Austria for another attempt to unseat him. He left Paris on May 25, 1809, joined Francis II at the front, and witnessed the Austrian defeat at Wagram. Stadion, his martial venture thwarted, resigned his leadership of policy. Francis offered the post to Metternich, and on October 8, 1809, Metternich, aged thirty-six, began his thirty-nine years’ career as minister of the imperial household and of foreign affairs.
In January, 1810, General Junot found in his wife’s desk some love letters from Metternich. He nearly strangled her, and vowed he would challenge the mettlesome Minister to meet him in a duel at Mainz. Napoleon ended the fracas by dispatching the general and his wife to Spain. The story apparently did no damage to Metternich’s reputation, nor to his marriage, nor to his position in the Austrian government. He shared in arranging the marriage of Napoleon with the Austrian Archduchess Marie Louise. He was delighted to hear that this sudden rapprochement between France and Austria had angered Russia. He watched the tension grow between those opposed nuclei of European force. He hoped and planned that some weakening of both empires would let Austria regain the lands she had lost, and the high place she had held in the clashing concert of the Powers.