Freidrich von Gentz, 1764-1832

Freidrich von Gentz (1764-1832) was a Prussian writer who was consistently hostile to Revolutionary and Napoleonic France and ended up working for the Austrians after his attitudes made his position in Prussia too difficult.

Gentz was the son of a Prussian Civil Servant from Breslau, and after studying law at Königsberg also entered the civil service, ending up as a royal secretary for Minister Freidrich Graf von Schulenberg-Kehnert.

Like many writers he began as a supporter of the French Revolution, and his first published essay, On the Origins and Main Principles of Justice' reflected that view. However he soon changed his mind, in particular after translating Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France into German. Burke had predicted that the Revolution would turn violent, and the outbreak of the Terror helped confirm his views.

In 1793 Gentz moved to the Prussian Military Directorate. He founded Die neue deutsche Monatschrift (The New German Monthly), a magazine with an atheistic and political focus. In 1795 he left this publication.

Gentz soon found himself in trouble in Prussia. In 1797 Frederick William III came to the throne. Gentz wrote an open letter to the new king, rather annoying him. In 1799 he established a new publication, the pro-British Das Historische Journal, but struggled to get his articles past the censors. During this period he gained some financial support from Britain.

In October 1802 he moved to Austria, where he became an imperial adviser to Archduke Charles. He visited Britain, where he met Pitt and was rewarded with a pension. Back in Austria the foreign ministers Graf Cobenzl and Graf Colloredo employed him to write pamphlets to support the pro-war party.

After the battle of Austerlitz he attempted to convince the Austrians to continue with the war, before joining the Prussian court at Naumburg. He drafted King Frederick William III's letter to Napoleon and proclamation, at the start of the War of the Fourth Coalition. After the Prussians were defeated at Jena and Auerstädt Gentz was proscribed by Napoleon, who considered him to be a 'literary mercenary, who sold his skill as a writer'. He spent some time in exile in Prague, before being recalled to Vienna by the Austrian foreign minister Graf Stadion-Warthausen in 1808.

Early in 1809 Gentz drafted the Archduke Charles's proclamation of 15 April, in which he called for Austria and the German states to unite against Napoleon (Franco-Austrian War of 1809). He was certainly persistent, even if both of these wars ended in French victories.

From 1812 he became a friend and advisor of Metternich, the great Austrian conservative diplomat. In 1813 he published works for Metternich, and he became Secretary to the Congress of Vienna (and the series of European congresses up to the Congress of Verona of 1822). At Vienna he advocated a settlement in which the pre-war situation would be restored, and opposed any liberal tendencies, a change from his earlier views in favour of a single German state.

Wellington called him 'a very able man, but very venal; he took money from all quarters' - although this did include Wellington. He was a notorious spendthrift, who spent much of his money of gambling and women, but he also had a great deal of political acumen and was always in demand. In 1818 he set up the Wiener Jahrbuch (Vienna Annual), this time working with the Austrian censors. Ironically, having struggled with the censors earlier in his life, he ended up as a supporter of close control of the press.

He formed quite firm views on his contemporaries. He thought the Austrian foreign minister Johann Ludwig Graf Cobenzl lacked any long term version, described Emperor Francis II's advisor Franz Graf von Colloredo as a 'byword for imbecility',

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 December 2016), Freidrich von Gentz, 1764-1832 ,

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