METTERNICH: The First European by Desmond Seward

METTERNICH: The First European

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A slender review of the career of Austrian archconservative Prince Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859), whose vision of a Europe united became a reality briefly during the decade 1810-20, from prolific English historian Seward (Henry V, 1988, etc.). Tracing Metternich's rise to power in the period when Napoleon terrorized Europe and built his empire, the author reveals the astuteness and consummate political skill of the young diplomat. Appointed Austrian Ambassador to the French Court in 1806, the prince quickly took the measure of his adversary, eventually maneuvering him into the Habsburg fold through marriage to an archduchess and souring his alliance with Tsar Alexander. After Napoleon's fall, Metternich embarked on a quest to form a federated Europe, with Austria its center, keeping his hopes alive against conflicting national agendas through a series of congresses from 1814 to 1822--but European unity on such a scale did not suit the temper of the time, and his efforts proved in vain. As newly appointed chancellor for the Habsburgs, however, he ensured an interval of relative stability for Austria, until he was forced from power by the Marxist ferment of 1848. Honored as an elder statesman even through years of exile, counseling Disraeli and conferring with Bismarck, he returned home to continue in an unofficial capacity as royal advisor until his death in 1859. Seward gives a sense of this remarkable figure's accomplishments, including his many affairs of the heart and three marriages, but ultimately the account lacks luster as history and only skims the surface as biography. Timely but tepid, at times merely a patchwork of quotations, but nonetheless highlighting a powerful and controversial presence in the tapestry of modern Europe, still being woven today.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking