Kaunitz, Prince Wenzel Anton
Kaunitz-Rietburg, Wenzel Anton, Prince von
Austrian Chancellor (1753-1792)
born February 2, 1711, Vienna, Austria
died June 27, 1794, Vienna, Austria
Wenzel Anton was the second son of Max Ulrich, third Count of Kaunitz, and of Maria Ernestine Franziska von Rietburg. The family was ancient, and was believed to have been of Slavonic origin in Moravia. His father intended Wenzel Anton for the church.
In 1724, Kaunitz already held a canonry at Münster. However, when his elder brother died, he was trained for law and diplomacy, at Vienna, Leipzig and Leiden. He then traveled in Great Britain and Italy.
In 1735, Kaunitz became a member of the Reichshofrath (Aulic Council).
On May 6 1736, Kaunitz married Maria Ernestine von Starhemberg.
In 1739, Kaunitz was one of the imperial commissaries at the German Diet of Ratisbon.
In 1740, when the Emperor Charles VI died, Kaunitz after some hesitation decided to support Maria Theresa.
In March 1741, Kaunitz started a diplomatic mission which brought him to Florence, Rome, and Turin.
From August 1742 to 1744, Kaunitz was ambassador at Turin.
In 1744, Kaunitz was sent as minister with Prince Charles of Lorraine, the governor of Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). The prince being away commanding the Austrian Army in Bohemia, Kaunitz was virtual ruler of this rich province.
On February 20 1746, Brussels, the provincial capital, surrendered to the Maréchal de Saxe after a three weeks siege. Kaunitz had to leave the city and take refuge in Antwerp and then in Aachen. In June, he was recalled to Austria at his own request.
In 1748, at the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, Kaunitz was sent as representative of Austria to the peace congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) where his tenacity and dexterity established his reputation as a diplomatist. However, he was extremely disappointed with the loss of Silesia and then focused on the means to reduce the power of Prussia.
In 1749, when Maria Theresa appealed to her counselors to reexamine the policy of Austria after the rise of Prussia, Kaunitz was a supporter of an alliance with Russia and France against Prussia which he considered as the most dangerous enemy of Austria. Most counselors, including Emperor Francis, were rather supporting the adherence to the old alliance with the sea powers: Great Britain and the Netherlands. Maria Theresa finally came round to Kaunitz's point of view.
From September 1750 to 1752, Kaunitz was ambassador to France. During this period, he patiently laid the foundation for the future alliance with France.
From 1753, when he was recalled to Austria, Kaunitz assumed the office of "house, court and state chancellor".
On September 6 1754, Kaunitz's wife, Maria Ernestine von Starhemberg, died.
In 1756, Kaunitz was the leading force behind the alliance with France. On May 1, the Treaty of Versailles, a defensive alliance between Austria and France, was concluded.
On February 2, a treaty of mutual assistance against Prussia was concluded between Austria and Russia. On May, a Second Treaty of Versailles was signed with France. The hitherto defensive alliance was then transformed into an offensive pact against Prussia.
In 1758, Kaunitz helped to promote a simplification of the Austrian administration.
In 1760, Kaunitz founded the Austrian Council of State.
In 1764, Kaunitz was created a prince of the empire with the title of Count von Rittberg.
After the Seven Years' War, Kaunitz wanted to avoid great risks and to secure alliances. When Joseph II succeeded to Maria Theresa on the throne of Austria, Kaunitz lost much influence.
When the French Revolution altered the relations of the major European powers, Kaunitz did not fully understood its full implications.
In 1794, Kaunitz addressed a despatch to the ambassadors of the emperor which contained the first outlines of the future Austrian policy of "legitimacy" as well as the first proposal for the combined action of the powers. On June 27, Kaunitz died at his house, the Garten Palast, near Vienna.
Kaunitz had surprising manias. He would not hear of death, nor approach a sick man. He would not breathe fresh air and, on the warmest summer day, he kept a handkerchief over his mouth when outdoor. Each morning, he did some riding indoor... He was also consumed by vanity. However, Kaunitz also had great qualities. He was astute, laborious and orderly.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 - Wenzel Anton, prince von Kaunitz-Rietburg