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The second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history online

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1 Goltz's report of January 18, 1793, B. A., R. XI, Russland, 135.

2 Cobenzl's reports of January-February, passim, and of March 5, V. A., Russ-
land, Berichte, 1793.



of the Netherlands. It would be impossible to decide upon the
territory to be occupied until the exact size of the lot claimed by
Prussia was known. The Conference finally resolved that if the
allied Powers refused to guarantee the realization of the Ex-
change, the Imperial Court should occupy only the fortresses of
Cracow and Kamieniec and the intervening strip of territory
along the frontier, although later on, after the precise area of the
Prussian acquisition was known, the occupation might be pro-
portionately extended. Owing to Lacy's meticulous anxiety not
to get a single village less than the King of Prussia, action was
thus indefinitely postponed. The net result of the Conference of
January 3 was that no effective measures whatever were taken to
obtain a security for the Exchange on the side of Poland. 1

There was one other means by which Austria might have safe-
guarded her interests and entered into possession of her indem-
nity at the same time as did Prussia. The highly suspicious
conduct of the Court of Munich still offered abundant excuse for
carrying out the plan discussed two months earlier between Spiel-
mann and the Prussians, the plan for the forcible sequestration of
Bavaria. If Cobenzl had had his way, it is probable that an
attempt would have been made to carry out this project; but
once more he encountered the opposition of Lacy and of Prince
Colloredo, the Chancellor of the Empire, who urged that such
violent measures would alienate all the German princes and
compromise the honor of the Imperial Court. If not definitely
abandoned, the plan was at least postponed until changes in the
military situation and the fall of Philip Cobenzl at last put an
end to it. 2

Hampered and thwarted in both his schemes for obtaining some
tangible security for the Exchange, the Vice-Chancellor could
only fall back on the uncertain resources of diplomacy; and here,

1 Cobenzl to Starhemberg, January 1, Lacy's volum of January 2 (erroneously
given as of January 3 and as written after the Conference, in Vivenot, ii, pp. 459 f.),
Conference protocol of January 3 and separat-vola, Vivenot, ii, pp. 456-461).

2 For the above: Cobenzl's correspondence with Lehrbach, January-March
1793, passim, V. A., Bayern, Expcd., and Berichte, 1793; Caesar's reports of
January 12, 26, February 13, B. A., R. 1, 174; vola of Lacy, Rosenberg, and Col-
loredo of January 12, Cobenzl to the Emperor the same day, V. A., Vortrdge, 1793.


too, fortune was steadily adverse to him. On February 19
Razumovski communicated a dispatch from Ostermann contain-
ing a preliminary announcement as to the Partition Treaty.
After some explanation of the reasons that had led the Empress to
make a decision without a final consultation with Austria, the dis-
patch stated that she had provided for the Emperor's interests
in two equally effective ways, in such a manner that he could not
have done better himself, as he would be convinced as soon as the
completed act should be presented to him. She had, namely,
induced the King of Prussia to bind himself in the most formal
and positive manner to make common cause with the Court of
Vienna throughout the whole course of the war, and also to assist
powerfully and efficaciously both in the matter of the Bavarian
Exchange and in procuring "several otheradvantages" to Austria.
For the rest, it was said that it had been impossible to cut down
the size of the Prussian acquisition, in view of the consent pre-
viously given by the Emperor to all the King's demands; and no
direct reply was made to the Austrian request for a guarantee of
the Exchange. Immediately after Razumovski, Caesar made an
analogous communication in the name of his Court.

Cobenzl took these announcements with good grace. He
already knew that Russia and Prussia were negotiating a separate
convention, and he does not seem at this time to have felt much
uneasiness over the fact. In his reply to Caesar, however, he took
pains to indicate once more the provision in its favor to which
his Court attached the most importance, and which it confidently
expected to find in the treaty: namely, a clear and unequivocal
guarantee of the realization of the Exchange. 1 Reporting to the
Emperor, the Vice-Chancellor declared that a final judgment could
be formed only after the receipt of a detailed report of the Con-
vention from the ambassador in St. Petersburg; but meantime
he thought the prospects not unfavorable, although the refusal
to reduce the Prussian lot was as unexpected as the reason alleged
for not doing so was, according to the records, absolutely untrue. 2

1 Ostermann's dispatch of January 27/February 7, in Vivenot, ii, pp. 481-
484; Razumovski's report of February 9/20, M. A., ABCrpia, III, 54; Caesar's
report of February 25, B. A., R. 1, 174.

2 P. Cobenzl to the Emperor, February 21, Vivenot, ii, p. 481.


This somewhat optimistic mood must have been disturbed a
few days later by the arrival of an ominous report from Louis
Cobenzl as to the rigid secrecy with which the Russians concealed
from him their negotiation with Prussia. 1 The Austrians now
began to discover how completely they had played into the hands
of their allies; and in the following weeks their uneasiness and
their suspicions were increased by the inexplicable delay in the
communication of the Convention.

Almost at the same time with Razumovski's overtures, a
courier from London brought the reply of the British govern-
ment to the Austrian advances of December. The response was
favorable enough in so far as England, now committed to the war
with France, displayed a strong desire for a close understanding
with the Imperial Court; but as to the Bavarian Exchange, Lord
Grenville had raised so many objections that there could be little
doubt of the decided aversion felt at London towards that pro-
ject. On the other hand, he had held out hopes that if the Em-
peror would renounce that plan, England would gladly help him
to procure an indemnity at the expense of France. 2

The British answer made a deep impression at Vienna, the
more so in view of the bad news from St. Petersburg. The con-
viction was gaining ground that Cobenzl and Spielmann had
bungled sadly; that they had allowed themselves to be duped by
Russia and Prussia; and that by insisting further on their im-
practicable Exchange project, they would merely be alienating
England, the one ally from whom Austria might hope for loyal
assistance both in prosecuting the war and in securing a suitable
indemnity of some kind. Before the end of February the Emperor
was undoubtedly considering a change of ministry and a change
of system. A redoubtable competitor for Cobenzl's position was
already being brought to the front by the powerful Colloredo
family in the person of Baron von Thugut. 3

1 Report of February 13, which, being sent by courier, must have reached
Vienna about the 25th-2 7th, V. A.. Russland, Berichte, 1793.

2 Stadion's report of February 15, V. A., England, Berichte, 1793.

3 In January Thugut had been appointed political adviser to the commander-
in-chief, the Prince of Saxe-Coburg (Vivenot, ii, p. 466), but then the Emperor for
some unknown reason authorized him to delay his departure for the army (Thugut


In a memorial which was probably presented to the Emperor
early in March, Thugut subjected the Vice-Chancellor's policy
to a searching criticism, and outlined a new program. He de-
clared that under the existing circumstances it was impossible
to ensure the ultimate realization of the Exchange sufficiently to
make that project the basis of a political system. On the most
favorable supposition, the Exchange could not be effected for two
or three years yet ; and during such a period no one could foresee
what events would occur to thwart a plan, the execution of which
depended on so many contingencies and on so many wills — on
the consent of the Elector and of all the members of his House, on
that of the Empire, Prussia, Russia, England, and so many
others. Austria could not afford to defer her indemnity to so
uncertain a future, or to rely on the promises of Prussia, when that
Power did not hesitate at present to violate openly the stipula-
tion which formed the cornerstone of the alliance — a perfect
equality in all ' advantages.' The Emperor's indemnification
must be based on another plan less complicated and better suited
to balance the dangerous aggrandizement of the Court of Berlin.
The precise nature of this plan Thugut did not attempt to fix at
that moment, but he suggested conquests from France. The
abandonment of that mirage, the Bavarian Exchange, an effort to
free the Imperial Court from too close dependence on a suspected
ally, close union with England, and vigorous prosecution of the
war with the aim of securing as soon as possible an indemnity
completely equal to that of Prussia — such were the chief points
in the new program. One can hardly deny that whatever were
the later results, it was better adapted to the existing situation
than Cobenzl's system. 1

to Colloredo, January 28, V. A., F. 446). In February the Baron began to fre-
quent the State Chancellery daily. On the 24th the Emperor ordered Cobenzl to
place all important documents without exception at Thugut's disposal, on the pre-
text of preparing him for his diplomatic mission (Vivenot, ii, pp. 485 f). In reality
Thugut was being prepared to take over Cobenzl's position, as appears from a
hitherto unpublished document in the Vienna Archives, written not later than
February 27 — a note in Thugut's hand, by which the Vice-Chancellor was to be
informed of his dismissal (V. A., Vortrage, 1793). Why the note was sent only
one month later is not entirely certain.

1 Thugut's memorial is printed in Vivenot, ii, pp. 498-501.


Provided at last with a program and an able spokesman, the
party who had long been opposing the leading ministers re-
doubled their onslaughts. At the meeting of the Conference on
March 11, the Vice-Chancellor found his whole policy violently
assailed; and when pressed to explain precisely how matters
stood with Russia and Prussia, he was very nearly driven to the
wall. 1 His critics affirmed with much justice that he had practi-
cally given the other Powers carte blanche, without taking any
effective steps to prevent a separate negotiation between them or
to provide for Austrian interests. Kaunitz is said to have de-
clared to the Emperor that the mere possibility of a Russo-Prus-
sian convention on Polish affairs without the participation of
Austria was an unpardonable fault of the Imperial ministers. 2
Overwhelmed with reproaches, Cobenzl nightly poured out his
sorrows and anxieties to Razumovski, who could only offer his
personal opinion that the Empress would surely guarantee the
Exchange and might even admit an Austrian acquisition in
Poland, and who assured Caesar that he looked forward to the
coming of his courier as to the advent of the Messiah. 3 The town
was full of rumors of the impending ministerial revolution, which
was, indeed, virtually decided upon. If the Emperor delayed
announcing his intentions, it was apparently only because he
wished to await the communication of the Russo-Prussian Con-

On March 23 Razumovski and Caesar successively appeared at
the State Chancellery to present that long-expected treaty. The
sensation was indescribable. Cobenzl's consternation was such
that he could hardly speak. He flew to the map, stammering
incoherently: " This changes the whole system of Europe — the
French revolution is only child's play, compared with this event
— the Emperor must take a great decision — this will break my

1 Conference protocol and vota, Vivenot, ii, pp. 489-498. Caesar reported
(March 21) that Cobenzl was driven to declare — to the amazement of the Confer-
ence — that there was as yet no question of acquisitions on the part of the two
Northern Powers, but merely of the military occupation of Polish territory (!),
B. A., R. 1, 174.

2 Caesar's report of March 21, B. A., R. 1, 174.

3 Razumovski's reports of March 9/20 and 17/28, M. A., ABCTpia, III, 55.


neck and my cousin's too." When Razumovski pressed for an
answer regarding the Emperor's accession to the treaty, Cobenzl
could reply only that he was too much agitated to speak of the
affair; he must have time to collect his ideas and to make his
report to his sovereign. 1 To Caesar the Vice-Chancellor de-
clared that the Convention was something so great, so decisive, so
different from all the preceding agreements that he simply could
not grasp it; he had been entirely ignorant of the extent of the
King's acquisition; nothing had been definitely arranged, con-
cluded, or signed with Austria, as had now been done between
Russia and Prussia; the previous negotiations had been mere
trifles compared to this. Spielmann was hardly less confused and
dismayed. Razumovski and Caesar could get no further reply
that day. 2

1 Razumovski's report of March 17/28, M. A., ABCTpia, III, 55.

Describing the scene when he presented the Convention to Cobenzl, Razumov-
ski wrote: " La sensation inexprimable qu'elle a faite sur lui, me persuade qu'effec-
tivement on ne s'etait pas doute le moins du monde de sa teneur. La consterna-
tion du comte de Cobenzl fut extreme; il se precipite a la carte geographique,
puis me balbutia maintes phrases qui peignaient l'agitation de son ame et la
confusion de ses idees ; comme par exemple, ' ceci change tout le systeme de
l'Europe ... la revolution de France n'est qu'un enfantillage en comparaison
de l'importance de cet evenement . . . il faut que l'Empereur prenne un grand
parti . . . voila qui me cassera le cou et a mon cousin aussi.' Je le laissais revenir
a. lui; je reclamais son attention sur ce que j'avais a dire touchant l'accession, a
laquelle S. M. Imperiale m'ordonnait d'inviter l'Empereur. II me repondit qu'il
n 'etait point en etat de me rien dire a cet egard, qu'il etait trop agite pour parler
de cette grande affaire, qu'il lui fallait du terns pour reprendre ses esprits et faire
son rapport a l'Empereur. . . .

Avant-hier je retournai chez le Comte de Cobenzl; je ne le trouvai ni plus rassure
ni mieux prepare a m'entendre. II me repeta encore qu'il ne pouvait revenir de
son etonnement; prenant ensuite le ton de la confiance et de l'amitie, il se plaignit
toujours du mystere qu'on leur avait fait, se lamenta sur l'etendue de notre acqui-
sition et surtout sur l'inconvenient de nous rendre limitrophes les uns des autres,
mais il se recria encore plus amerement sur la portion enorme du Roi de Prusse,
a laquelle il etait bien loin de s'attendre, ayant au contraire espere, d'apres leurs
sollicitations a notre Cour, qu'on chercherait a la restreindre plutot qu'a l'aug-
menter. . . ." Razumovski replied: "... Enfin Mr. le Comte, la chose est faite,
pouvez-vous Pempecher ? Des lors, je n'ai rien a dire. Mais comme j'en doute
fort, ne mettez done pas de la mauvaise grace a une mesure indispensable, et que
des retards inutiles n'augmentent pas le mecontentement que vous nous avez donn^
plus d'une fois par des lenteurs. ..."

2 Caesar's report of March 24, B. A., R. 1, 174.


The communication of the Convention sealed the fate of the
two leading ministers. On March 27, while the capital in gala
was celebrating the victory of Neerwinden, Cobenzl and Spiel-
mann received notes from the Emperor dismissing them from
their posts.

In his memoirs Cobenzl ascribed his fall to a cabal formed
against him by Colloredo, Rosenberg, Trautmansdorff, and
Thugut. 1 Doubtless personal rancors and intrigues played their
part in it, but from the political standpoint the Emperor's
decision seems fully justified. In judging the policy of the two
ministers one must bear in mind how constantly their better-laid
plans were thwarted by their opponents, and how much they had
to acquiesce in against their will; but in spite of this one can
hardly deny that they had adopted a disastrous political system,
and that it had had only too long a trial. Their first great mis-
take lay in taking up the Exchange project at such a time, and in
combining it with the nefarious Partition plan; their second lay
in holding to the scheme through thick and thin, after all the sad
experiences of the autumn and winter, to the neglect of every
other consideration. They had also confided overmuch in Prussia
and neglected Russia. Finally, not the least of their faults was
the mortal slowness of their conduct of affairs, their months of
silence and indecision, the timidity, the lack of energy, the dis-
organization that crept into the State Chancellery during their
year of control. It was time that their outworn system made way
for something less visionary, time that a strong and unfettered
hand took the helm.


Cobenzl's successor was Baron von Thugut, who here began the
stormy and tragic ministry which ended at Marengo. Thugut is
an enigmatic figure: the " Austrian Pitt " of some historians, the
" faunish Mephistopheles" or " the modern Borgia" of others. A
parvenu who had risen by immense industry, intelligence, and
some less creditable means, he far surpassed his immediate prede-
cessors in knowledge and experience, in the clearness and conse-

1 Arneth, Philipp Cobenzl und seine Memoir en, pp. 154 f.


quence of his views, above all in the strength of his will, his ability
to dominate opposition, his justly celebrated courage. It was
said of him that he could not have been shaken by an earthquake.
But he missed greatness by a considerable margin. In his out-
look upon life, his aims and methods, his political morality, he
represented only too faithfully the sordid, cynical, unprincipled
eighteenth century at its worst. As a diplomat of the old school,
familiar with all the tricks of the trade, he believed that territorial
aggrandizement was the Alpha and Omega of statecraft, and that
all means were hallowed by that end. As a pupil of Kaunitz, he
had no stronger passion than hatred of Prussia. He was the last
man in the world to be repelled by the moral aspects of the parti-
tion of Poland, but no one could be more outraged than he by a
transaction which glutted the cupidity of the other Powers while
leaving his own Court empty-handed.

The first and the foremost task of the new ' General Director of
Foreign Affairs ' was to meet the situation created by the St.
Petersburg Convention, to repair — as far as might be — the
results of Cobenzl's bungling. And here, whatever might have
been his own ideas, he could hardly have ventured to propose an
unconditional acceptance of the treaty: the storm of indignation
at Vienna was far too strong. Throughout April and long after-
wards, the ' political circles ' in the capital alternately abused and
execrated the late ministers — Kaunitz referred to Spielmann as
" that scourge of Austria " — or raged at the perfidy of the parti-
tioning Powers, who had taken advantage of the confidence of the
Imperial Court to put through these vast plans, the full extent of
which could not even be conjectured. Poland had been anni-
hilated, it was said; a partition of Austria would be the next
project; Russia and Prussia had always been united when it
was a case of despoiling the Court of Vienna; the Emperor
would probably be reduced to the condition of a mere Elector
Palatine. 1

The causes of this ' indescribable sensation ' are easy to under-
stand. The partitioning Powers had themselves foreseen a

1 Zinzendorfs Diary, March 29, April 2, 19, 29, May 3, 19, June 5 (V. A.);
Casti, Lettere politiche, April 25, June 27, July 4, August 8.


storm. 1 In the first place, the manner in which this affair had
been rushed through without the participation of Austria was
bad enough, and the mystery so long made of it was flatly in-
sulting. But apart from the form of the transaction, the sub-
stance of the treaty did not at all conform to the expectations and
desires of the Court of Vienna. The size of the Russian acquisi-
tion might well stagger the Austrian ministers: the Empress had
never uttered a word to them as to the extent of her claims. It
had always been a maxim of the Imperial Courts that Poland was
to be maintained as a fair-sized buffer state, but the Republic was
now to be reduced to a mere shadow. Another principle equally
accepted at all times between the neighboring Powers was vio-
lated by the new Russian frontier, which touched directly upon
Galicia; and almost as much by the Prussian acquisition of the
fortress of Czestochowa, which threatened the adjacent unpro-
tected Austrian province. These grievances were clear and un-
deniable, but they were not the only ones which the Emperor's
advisers felt themselves entitled to raise.

It was here that the fatal misunderstandings of December
began to appear in the most unpleasant light. If Haugwitz had
really received the declaration announced in his final report from
Vienna, the Austrian ministers were now guilty of a gross breach
of faith: in the contrary case, they were perfectly justified in
taking their stand on the text of the note of December 9 and the
instructions to Louis Cobenzl of the 23rd. From those documents
it could easily be proved that Austria had consented to an imme-
diate Prussian occupation in Poland only on the understanding
that the details of the convention were to be arranged by a con-
cert of the three Courts, and on condition either that the Em-
peror should be allowed to make a similar occupation temporarily,
or else that his allies should guarantee the realization of the Ex-
change. As has already been stated, it is uncertain whether
Haugwitz's assertions are accurate, but at any rate the language
of the Austrian cabinet in January accorded perfectly with the
view advanced at Vienna in April. If, on receiving the news of

1 The Prussian ministry to Caesar, March 15, 17, 24, B. A., R. 1, 174; Markov
to Razumovski, February 25/March 8, in Wassiltchikow, op. cit., pp. 167 f.


Catherine's consent to the immediate entry of the Prussians into
Poland, the Emperor wrote to congratulate the King on the ful-
filment of his wishes, the letter implied just the converse of the
meaning later ascribed to it on the Prussian side: it meant that
the Emperor considered the King's immediate desires satisfied by
an occupation de surete, although the partition had not been for-
mally effected. One would search in vain among the Austrian
utterances of December or January for an admission that the
Imperial Court had given Prussia carte blanche to go ahead, con-
clude a partition treaty, and execute it without a further word
from Vienna. Haugwitz later maintained, indeed, that he had in
December insisted daily on obtaining Austria's acquiescence in
the immediate formal prise de possession of the new Prussian
provinces, and in their immediate and complete incorporation in
the Prussian Monarchy; x but his reports of that month speak
only of a prise de possession effective or actuelle, which is by no
means the same thing and which would certainly not have been
taken as such by the Austrians. Had Haugwitz really employed
the language which he later claimed to have used, his master
would have been bound not to lift his hand towards the continua-
tion of the war until the formal annexation had actually taken
place. The fact that Frederick William announced his readiness
to continue his cooperation against France as soon as he was
assured of the entry of his troops into Poland, 2 certainly lent color
to the Austrian theory.

Another objection to the Convention raised at Vienna was that
the new Prussian acquisition went far beyond the limits pre-
viously announced to the Imperial Court. Here, also, one en-
counters an absolute contradiction between the statements
advanced by the two parties regarding their previous negotiations.
In May Haugwitz asserted that soon after the presentation of the
Note of Merle he had shown Spielmann the original map upon
which Frederick William at Consenvoye had traced the frontier of

1 Report to the King of May 6, 1793, B. A., R. 96, 147 H. (Printed in Appen-

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 41 of 59)