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Christian von Haugwitz

Christian von HaugwitzAKA Christian August Heinrich Kurt

Born: 11-Jun-1752
Birthplace: Peuke-bei-Öls, Silesia, Germany
Died: 9-Feb-1832
Location of death: Venice, Italy
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Protestant
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Diplomat

Nationality: Germany
Executive summary: Prussian statesman

Prussian statesman, born on the 11th of June 1752, at Peucke near Öls. He belonged to the Silesian (Protestant) branch of the ancient family of Haugwitz, of which the Catholic branch is established in Moravia. He studied law, spent some time in Italy, returned to settle on his estates in Silesia, and in 1791 was elected by the Silesian estates general director of the province. At the urgent instance of King Frederick William II he entered the Prussian service, became ambassador at Vienna in 1792 and at the end of the same year a member of the cabinet at Berlin.

Haugwitz, who had attended the young emperor Francis II at his coronation and been present at the conferences held at Mainz to consider the attitude of the German powers towards the Revolution, was opposed to the exaggerated attitude of the French émigrés and to any interference in the internal affairs of France. After the war broke out, however, the defiant temper of the Committee of Public Safety made an honorable peace impossible, while the strained relations between Austria and Prussia on the question of territorial "compensations" crippled the power of the Allies to carry the war to a successful conclusion. It was in these circumstances that Haugwitz entered on the negotiations that resulted in the subsidy treaty between Great Britain and Prussia, and Great Britain and Holland, signed at the Hague on the 19th of April 1794. Haugwitz, however, was not the man to direct a strong and aggressive policy; the failure of Prussia to make any effective use of the money supplied broke the patience of Pitt, and in October the denunciation by Great Britain of the Hague treaty broke the last tie that bound Prussia to the Coalition. The separate treaty with France, signed at Basel on the 5th of April 1795, was mainly due to the influence of Haugwitz.

His object was now to save the provinces on the left bank of the Rhine from being lost to the Empire. No guarantee of their maintenance had been inserted in the Basel treaty; but Haugwitz and the king hoped to preserve them by establishing the armed neutrality of North Germany and securing its recognition by the French Republic. This policy was rendered futile by the victories of Napoleon Bonaparte and the virtual conquest of South Germany by the French. Haugwitz, who had continued to enjoy the confidence of the new king, Frederick William III, recognized this fact, and urged his master to join the new Coalition in 1798. But the king clung blindly to the illusion of neutrality, and Haugwitz allowed himself to be made the instrument of a policy of which he increasingly disapproved. It was not until 1803, when the king refused his urgent advice to demand the evacuation of Hanover by the French, that he tendered his resignation. In August 1804 he was definitely replaced by Karl August von Hardenberg, and retired to his estates.

In his retirement Haugwitz was still consulted, and he used all his influence against Hardenberg's policy of a rapprochement with France. His representations had little weight, however, until Napoleon's high-handed action in violating Prussian territory by marching troops through Ansbach roused the anger of the king. Haugwitz was now once more appointed foreign minister, as Hardenberg's colleague, and it was he who was charged to carry to Napoleon the Prussian ultimatum which was the outcome of the visit of the tsar Alexander I to Berlin in November. But in this crisis his courage failed him; his nature was one that ever let "I dare not wait upon I will"; he delayed his journey pending some turn in events and to give time for the mobilization of the duke of Brunswick's army; he was frightened by reports of separate negotiations between Austria and Napoleon, not realizing that a bold declaration by Prussia would nip them in the bud. Napoleon, when at last they met, read him like a book and humored his diplomatic weakness until the whole issue was decided at Austerlitz. On the 15th of December, instead of delivering an ultimatum, Haugwitz signed at Schönbrunn the treaty which gave Hanover to Prussia in return for Ansbach, Cleves and Neuchâtel.

The humiliation of Prussia and her minister was, however, not yet complete. In February 1806 Haugwitz went to Paris to ratify the treaty of Schönbrunn and to attempt to secure some modifications in favor of Prussia. He was received with a storm of abuse by Napoleon, who insisted on tearing up the treaty and drawing up a fresh one, which doubled the amount of territory to be ceded by Prussia and forced her to a breach with Great Britain by binding her to close the Hanoverian ports to British commerce. The treaty, signed on the 15th of February, left Prussia wholly isolated in Europe. What followed belongs to the history of Europe rather than to the biography of Haugwitz. He remained, indeed, at the head of the Prussian ministry of foreign affairs, but the course of Prussian policy it was beyond his power to control. The Prussian ultimatum to Napoleon was forced upon him by overwhelming circumstances, and with the battle of Jena, on the 14th of October, his political career came to an end. He accompanied the flight of the king into East Prussia, there took leave of him and retired to his Silesian estates. In 1811 he was appointed Curator of the University of Breslau; in 1820, owing to failing health, he went to live in Italy, where he remained until his death at Venice in 1831.

Haugwitz was a man of great intellectual gifts, of dignified presence and a charming address which endeared him to his sovereigns and his colleagues; but as a statesman he failed, not through want of perspicacity, but through lack of willpower and a fatal habit of procrastination. During his retirement in Italy he wrote memoirs in justification of his policy, a fragment of which dealing with the episode of the treaty of Schönbrunn was published at Jena in 1837.


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