The System of Metternich was of two elements. Firstly to dam up the tide of revolution at home and secondly to maintain the status quo in Europe. Hence, the main objective of the system of Metternich was to resolve disputes that were prevalent in European Nations.

Before we directly explain the system of Metternich, let us first know who is Metternich.

Metternich’s full 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 has a land property on the bank of River Rhine in Germany. He also held some dignified post in the Holy Roman Empire (1806).

When the Revolution broke out in France in 1789, Metternich was receiving education at 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 touched 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, he was absolutely against the revolution. It took him no time to realize that the revolution was nothing but a meaningless human slaughter.

After some time, he went to England and there he came into contact with some great politicians, like Pitt, Faux (1749-1806) and Burke. All of them were completely against the revolutionary tide. In 1795, he marries to the grand-daughter of Prince Kaunitz, the Chancellor of Austria at that time.

The Political Life 

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 high 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. Thus, his ability influences on the government of Austria to many extend.

He became the ambassador in 1801. As an ambassador, he was in Berlin. He remained on the post of ambassador up to 1809. It was during this time, he became famous as a statesman of Austria and Europe.

Besides, Metternich’s personality and achievements influence the government of Austria. As a result, Francis I, the Emperor of Austria appoints him the Chancellor of Austria in 1809. He remains on this post up to 1848. In fact, he was the most famous statesman Austria has ever produced in the 19th century.

The Character of Metternich

Metternich was a man of self-confidence. He was overconfident about his ability and capacity. He put the burden on his shoulder to stabilize the social and political set up of Europe. Also, 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.”

Besides, he considered himself the most important figure of the continent of his time. He was very confident and he never thought he could ever commit a mistake. He always felt that the whole world rested on his shoulders. According to him, he was the only person that can regenerate Europe.

The Metternich System

Prince Metternich (1773-1859) was the most important and the most outstanding personality of Europe between 1815 and 1848. European diplomacy during this period respects his capability and so great was his importance that this period in European history is often famous as the “Metternich Era or system of Metternich.”

Entering the diplomatic service of the Austrian government, he achieved a lot of political experience and knowledge at a comparatively young age. At the age of thirty-six, he became the Chancellor of Austria. For forty years, he ruled the country with an astern hand. Metternich had an inborn hatred for democratic institutions. He was an avowed arch-enemy of the French Revolution. He struck Napoleon at the right time. Austria joined the Campaign of 1814 and brought about the fall of the great conqueror. As a result of his outstanding personality, he was able to introduce “The System of Metternich” with many European nations.

Metternich at the Congress of Vienna

Metternich was the Chairman of the Vienna Congress. As such he was the main architect of the new Europe, carved out at Vienna. He succeeded to a great extent in bringing back to their former glories the absolute princes of Europe, who had earlier to flee before the tide of French revolutions.

He gave up the distant and risky provinces of the Austrian Netherlands and got in exchange for the nearer Italian provinces of Lombardy and Venetia. Germany was left divided under the Austrian grip. Thus, at the Congress of Vienna, Metternich proves to be the embodiment of reaction. His greatest aim henceforward was to keep intact the system that he had built up so skilfully.

Metternich and the Concert of Europe

To hold his system intact and to preserve peace and order in Europe, Metternich proposed periodic conferences of the great powers. Thus, the Quadruple Alliance was signed in November 1815, between Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain. But, France joins this brotherhood in 1818.

Metternich’s idea was to have an international police force to help maintain law and order in Europe. The Quadruple Alliance powers agreed to meet from time to time with a view to discussing the problems facing them and thereby maintain the peace of Europe.

These periodic conferences of the powers were to be the beginning of the Concert of Europe. The first of a series of conferences took place at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818. France was admitted to the Alliance and agreed to the use of force by the rest of the four powers in case of a revolution within her territory. Metternich regarded this as a personal triumph a remarked in excitement.

Two years later, the Alliance powers met at Troppau, in 1820 to take stock of the situation created by the disorders in Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sardinia, and Greece. Austria, Russia, and Prussia signed a protocol rule and declared their intention not to recognize any change in the status quo of Europe and meet any revolutionary changes by force. This conference again was a great triumph of Metternich. Another conference took place at Laibach in 1821.

Besides, Austria was chosen to be the executioner in Italy and France was to help to restore the autocratic rule of Ferdinand in Spain. The fourth and the last conference takes place at Verona in 1822. It dealt exclusively with the problem of Spain. Ferdinand VII, (1784-1833) was restored to his absolutism with the help of French bayonets. Thus, Metternich had succeeded in keeping the European States tied up to his order and system. His name had become a terror in European Capitals.

Metternich and Austria-Hungary

The suppression of all liberal ideas and free-thinking was the key-note of the policy of Metternich. He did not want to take any risks in the matter of Law and order. The preservation of the status quo was his greatest aim. He believes that the circumstances demanded a very strict and extreme reactionary policy. The racial admixture in Austria-Hungary did not allow any loosening of the grip, or else the empire would be in serious danger of dismemberment. To avoid any complications for the administration, prevention at an earlier stage was better than a cure later.

Thus, a reign of tyranny and repression was let loose in Austria. Strict censorship was imposed on the press of the country. Universities came under the strict control of the government and no liberal thinking and teaching were allows therein. A regular spy ring was established at these Educational institutions. No foreign literature of liberal views allowed to be imported in the country. Foreign travel did not encourage. In fact, an attempt was  Segregate Austria from the rest of the world.

The government did not bother and care for the economic development of the country. The result was that trade sickened and commerce lagged behind. Emperor Francis I of Austria was in complete agreement with the policy of his chancellor and hacked him up in his methods of dealing with the people. In short, Austria-Hungary from 1815 to 1848 was in the iron grip of Metternich and people had to wait patiently for any relief for this monster to meet his doom.

Metternich and Germany

Germany had come out of the Vienna Settlement with thirty-eight sovereign states, loosely united together in the German Confederation under the leadership of Austria. This again was a triumph of Metternich. Prussia remained weak, unable to do anything for German unity. The small states of Germany were jealous of one another. Metternich took full advantage of this mutual jealousy. Therefore, he establishes his system in the Germanies as well, where he did not allow any kind of freedom and liberal thinking.

Subsequently, he establishes an elaborate spy system to trace out the secret organizations and conspiracies. Also, he forbids Liberal teaching at the Universities. The life for patriots and liberals became miserable in Germany. When revolution and popular riots broke out in 1820 and later in 1830, they were crushed with an iron hand. Thus, as long as Metternich lived at the helm of affairs, Germany could not breathe freely.

The Metternich System in Italy

At the Vienna Settlement, Metternich had succeeded in keeping Italy a “geographical expression”. His greatest aim after 1815 was to preserve what he had achieved in Italy. The Habsburg rulers of Parma, Modena, and Tuscany, who had run away, were restored to their thrones with all the evils of their despotism. Further, he guaranteed the ruler of Naples and Sicily a despotic rule and Austrian help in the case of a revolution.

Metternich and France

Metternich was an arch-enemy of revolutions and France was the land where revolutionary germs bred so quickly and fast. Thus, his objective in France was to see that no revolution took place there. Therefore, at the conference of Aix la-Chapelle (1818), he made the Quadruple Alliance powers agree to take armed action in case a fresh revolution broke out in France.

Even France accepts the member of the alliance. Thus the government of France commits itself to a reactionary policy and Metternich was glad about the success of his ideas.

Metternich Blocks the Greek Cause

Metternich had no better thoughts for the Christians of Greece in their struggle for independence and liberation from the tyranny of the Turks. He helped the Turks to keep the Greeks under their cruel and despotic rule. The Greeks rose into revolt under prince Ypsilanti and expected help from Russia. However, Metternich prevailed upon the Tzar and the latter refused to take up the Greek cause. When Ypsilanti approach Metternich, he put him at the prison and remain there for seven long years.

England defies Metternich

From the Congress of Vienna to the establishment of the Quadruple Alliance, England cooperated with Metternich. However, England would not tie herself down to the ambitions of a ruthless despot. Differences began to grow between England and Metternich from the conference of Aix-La Chapelle, and they became acute at the conference of Verona (1822).

With Canning George (1770-1827) taking over the foreign office of England in 1822, grave differences arose with Metternich. Much in opposition to him, Canning took up the cause of the American colonies of Spain to achieve their independence from the barbaric Spanish rule.  He actively helped the liberals of Portugal against the wishes of Metternich and he secretly sent help to the Greeks. With this bold stand, the so-called Concert of Europe came to an end.

The Foreign Policy of Metternich

His views about Napoleon

Metternich knows the character of Napoleon very well. He was much influenced by the qualities of Napoleon. He often said that: “He (Napoleon) would have played a prominent part at whatever epoch he had appeared.” But he always hates him.

Although he was the greatest political opponent of Napoleon, he sometimes tries to establish good relations with him.  He established the coalition of four countries against Napoleon and defeats him in the battle of Waterloo (1815).

His Views about Czar Alexander I (1777-1825)

Although Alexander I, the Czar of Russia (1801-25) was a good friend of Metternich. But the latter always regarded the former most dangerous man. Since the Czar of Russia was a sentimental man, Metternich always remained cautious about the schemes of Alexander. He knew well that the schemes of the Czar would create a danger to the internal and external peace of the Austrian Empire.

Therefore, it was essential for Metternich to behave with the Czar in such a way that, he might not prove to be a dangerous man for him. He always taught the Czar about the evils of the democratic and national movements. At last, Metternich could influence Czar about his opinions. By the end of 1818, Alexander I (1777-1825) had become a true follower of the policy of Metternich.

The Congress of Vienna

After the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, 3 Congress takes place at Vienna in 1815, in which almost all the countries of Europe took part. No doubt, Metternich was the main person to influence the diplomats at the Vienna.

The main aim of Congress and Metternich was for the reconstruction of Europe peace on a permanent basis. In this congress, Metternich became the most noticeable and the convener of the Congress.

Some of the decisions of Metternich during the Vienna Congress are:

He extends the boundary of the Austrian Empire. Belgium was detached from Austria but she was compensated by letting her annex the provinces of Lombardy and Venetia of northern Italy. She also recovered the Illyrian province along the eastern coast of the Adriatic. As a result of these annexations, Austria emerged with a considerable accession of strength, after a long period of twenty years of war.

He frees the Austrian Empire from France because it was only France in Europe where the revolutionary feelings can be easily developed. Besides, he was a great political opponent of Napoleon so he decides to keep his empire away from evils of revolution.

Metternich also wants to maintain the status quo in Europe. As a result, diplomats of the Vienna Congress agreed on the principle of “Going Back To 1789”. According to this principle, the princes deprived of their thrones or driven from their States by Napoleon should be given their rights again. In this Way, Metternich played an important and decisive role in the Vienna Congress (1814-15).

The Holy Alliance (1815)

In the history of Europe, the period of 1815-1822 is famous as the Age of Congresses. During this period, European countries render the policy of wars and focus on international relations in the whole of Europe through mutual understanding. For this purpose, they introduce two schemes:

(i) Holy Alliance and

(ii) Quadruple Alliance.

Metternich and Quadruple Alliance (1815)

As a result of Metternich aspirations, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and England establishes the Quadruple Alliance. But, they include France in this alliance only in 1818 and thus, it came to be famous as the Quadruple Alliance.

The members of the Quadruple Alliance organize a meeting to discuss their common interests. But soon, this was converted into the means of suppressing liberalism and nationalism in Europe, which was the ultimate aim of Metternich. He used this organization for the suppression of the national and democratic movements in Europe. However, England did not support the views of Metternich. So, England separated herself from this Alliance.  As a result, it divides the alliance into two groups. One group was led by Metternich and supported by Russia, Prussia, and France. Subsequently, Metternich started to intervene in the internal affairs of European countries.

Metternich and Germany

Napoleon establishes the confederation of the Rhine during the Congress of Vienna; this decision abolishes the administration of the German States. Thus, it divides Germany into thirty-eight states and establishes the German confederation comprising the delegates appointed by the rulers of different states.

Also, a Federal Diet was formed for administrative purposes. The President of this Diet was Austria. The working system of the Diet and the confederation was very loose and complicated. Each state was to be free, in its internal affairs. The rulers of the German states had no faith in one another. They were jealous of one another and each of them was always concerned with the preservation of their own power.

Thus, the German States had no time to think of the good of the People. Metternich, who was a great reactionary, took full advantage of the jealousy and selfishness prevailing among the German States. His motive was to stop the tidal flow of the revolutionary principles in Germany and to establish the same principles in Germany that prevailed in Austria (liberal thinking was no allowed).

But, Germany was very unhappy with this arrangement. They were highly encouraged by the War of Liberation which had been started in Prussia to free the Germans from the domination of Napoleon Bonaparte. They felt a lot of frustration when they come to know about the decisions of the Vienna Settlement.

Although the King of Prussia was sympathetic towards Germany, still he could do nothing due to the fear of Metternich. Metternich was in no case ready to give any right to the people.

In spite of the declarations of the Metternich principle, the national movement takes place in German states just after the Vienna settlement. The universities of Germany were the main centers of this movement. The students and teachers formed secret committees in order to spread the national movement all over the country. Among them, “Burschenschaft” was the most prominent committee.

Subsequently, the student establishes student branches in sixteen universities. The main aim of the students was to create national unity and patriotic inspiration. On October 18, 1817, the students of the German Universities celebrated a patriotic festival at Wartburg in honor of Martin Luther (1483-1546). They celebrate the function with great enthusiasm in every part of Germany.  Not only this, the students’ murder “Kotzebue” who was a journalist.

The murder of Kotzebue provided a golden opportunity to Metternich to crush the national movement of Germany and re-establish the reactionary system there.

Immediately Metternich called a meeting of the Federal Diet of German states in 1819 at Carlsbad. Some important regulations were passed in the meeting which is called the “Carlsbad Decrees (1819).” These regulations were presented before the German confederation at Frankfort and passed. Though. There are many German rulers who did not participate in the meeting but they have to follow the laws.

Metternich and Spain

In 1820, the people of Spain revolt against their ruler, Ferdinand VII (1784-1833). They demand a liberal constitution. The king agrees to the demands of the people but, on the other hand, he sought help from the European powers.

During the Congress of Verona in 1822, they discuss the problem of Spain. During this meeting, France, as a member of the Concert of Europe feels like helping to restore Ferdinand VII at his throne. However, England was against the proposal of France. But, with the support of Metternich Ferdinand VII was restored to his throne with the help of France military. This was also a great success in the policy of Metternich.

Subsequently, when the absolute monarchy was re-established in Spain, the European powers (except England) considered restoring to Spain the American colonies which had revolted against her. These powers, under the able leadership of Metternich, had achieved great triumphs in Italy and Spain. By that time, the system of Metternich had been successfully entrenched in every corner of the continent.

In spite of this dominant position, Metternich and the European powers had to face the pronounced opposition of England on the question of American colonies of Spain. On December 2, 1823, James Monroe (1817-25), the President of the United States announced very clearly that the European powers should not interfere in the internal affairs of America. Thus, the European powers and Metternich gave up their plan. When the revolution broke out in France in 1848, the system of Metternich was demolished.

The Fall of Metternich

Kossuth, a great hero of the revolution of 1848 in Austria and Hungary, delivered a flaming speech on March 3, 1848, in which he bitterly criticized the system of Metternich and the whole structure of the Austrian government.

Subsequently, the people of Austria were excited about the activities of the nationalist leaders. After the speech of Kossuth, Austrian people rebel against Metternich in Vienna on March 13th, 1848. People surrounded his palace and shouted with the slogan “Down with Metternich”. As a result, he at once resigned his post and fled to England.

However, Metternich had the ability to distinguish between the curable and the incurable diseases. He always regarded the revolution as an infectious disease that must be cured. But he concludes the revolution of 1848 as an incurable disease.

Conclusion

Metternich was the greatest politician and an able diplomat of his time. He introduces a new system of administration which saw its advent not only in the Austrian Empire but in other countries of Europe as well. This new system is famous as the ‘system of Metternich’.

He laid down some principles to guide the polities of Europe and he always tried to implement his system with all his might. He was a great opponent of changes, reforms, constitutions, and liberalism. By nature, he was right and a staunch follower of the policy of ‘status quo’.

Source: Mohammed Rafi Komol & O. Jnanendra Singh

A Guide to History of Modern Europe 1789-1945.

Imphal, Khumanthem Babudhon, 2018,

Book

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