The Objects

26th May 1815

Source: British Library,

Metternich's Realpolitik

Contributed by: Ewan McGowan

Klemens von Metternich (1773-1859) was an Austrian diplomat of Rhenish origins who rose to become one of the most significant statesmen of the nineteenth century. Following Austria’s multiple defeats at the hands of Napoleonic France and the subsequent enforced alliance, Metternich guided Austria's transition to becoming a member of the grand coalition against Napoleon. He was perhaps the most important figure at the Congress of Vienna, organising the Congress' vast array of festivities and playing a central role in the arrangement of Europe after 1815.

Metternich had rightly feared Alexander I's lenient attitude towards Napoleon in 1814. The Tsar's decision to grant Bonaparte sovereignty over the Islands of Elba was regarded by Metternich as an unnecessarily dangerous concession to the Emperor. However, upon hearing of Napoleon's return, Metternich used the fear Bonaparte inspired to unite the allies. A strong critic of liberalism, Metternich saw his diplomatic mission as one of restoring harmony to European relations. His goal throughout the Congress was to re-establish equilibrium between the great powers of Europe so that its aristocracy could thrive. Austria and Prussia were to act as a balance in central Europe to French and Russian aggression. Metternich’s pragmatic and largely successful approach to foreign affairs has since made him synonymous with 'Realpolitik'.

This research was completed with funding from the University of Warwick Undergraduate Research Support Scheme.