Joseph II and His Court

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter LXIII. Russia a Foe to All Europe.

Prince Kaunitz remained silent for a time, as though he were turning over in his mind what he should say to the king. Then slowly raising his head, he met the scrutinizing glance of Frederick with perfect composure, and spoke as follows:

"At the conclusion of the unhappy war which desolated both Austria and Prussia, I had to consider what course for the future was likely to recuperate the prostrate energies of Austria. I resolved in my mind various schemes, and laid them before her imperial majesty. The one which I advocated and which was adopted by the empress, had mainly for its object the pacification of all European broils, and the restoration of the various Austrian dependencies to order and prosperity. For some time I waited to see whether your majesty would not seek to conciliate France, and renew your old league of friendship with her king. But the policy pursued by your majesty at the court of Russia convinced me that you were thinking exclusively of securing your provinces in the east. This once understood, it became the interest of Austria to rivet the links which bound her to France; for an alliance with her offered the same advantages to us as that of Russia did to Prussia. Moreover, it was Austria’s opinion that Prussia was now too closely bound to Russia for her ever to seek an alliance with France. It therefore appeared that our good understanding with the latter would conduce to preserve the balance of power among European nations, and that it would meet with the favor of all those potentates who were anxious for peace. It follows thence that the court of Vienna is perfectly content with her relations toward France; and I expressly and distinctly declare to your majesty that we never will seek to alienate Russia from Prussia, that we never will encourage any advances from Russia, and that your majesty may rest assured that we never will deviate from our present line of policy. This was what I desired to explain, and I thank your majesty for the courtesy with which You have listened to me." [Footnote: This discourse of Kannitz is historical. It is found in Ferrand’s "Histoire des Trois Demembrements de la Pologue," vol. i., p. 112.]

The face of the king, which at first had looked distrustful, was now entirely free from suspicion. He rose from his chair, and giving his hand to Kaunitz, said with a cordial smile

"This is what I call noble and candid statesmanship. You have not spoken as a diplomatist, but as a great minister, who, feeling his strength, has no reason to conceal his actions. I will answer in the same spirit. Sit down again and hear me. You fear Russia, and think that if she gains too great an ascendency among nations, she will use it to the detriment of all Europe. I agree with you, and I myself would view the aggrandizement of Russia under Catharine with disapprobation and distrust. You are right, and I feel the embarrassment of my present political condition. At the commencement of this Turkish war, I would have used my honest endeavors to check the usurping advances of Russia, not only in Turkey but also in Poland. But I myself was in a critical position. You, who had been represented to me as the most rapacious of diplomatists, you had prejudiced all Europe against me, so that for seven long years my only allies were my rights and my good sword. The only hand reached out to me was that of Russia; policy constrained me to grasp and retain it. It is both to my honor and my interest that I keep faith with Russia,, and eschew all shifts and tergiversations in my dealings with her. Her alliance is advantageous to Prussia, and therefore I pay her large subsidies, give her advice, allow my officers to enlist in her armies, and finally I have promised the empress that should Austria interfere in behalf of the Turks, I will use all my influence to mediate between you." [Footnote: Dolan. "Memoirs of My Times," vol. i., p. 458.]

"Does that mean that if Russia and Austria should go to war, your majesty will stand by the former?"

"It means that I will make every effort to prevent a war between Russia and Austria. If, in spite of all that I could do, there should be war between you, it would not be possible for Prussia to remain neutral. Were she to do so, she would deserve the contempt both of friend and foe. I would fulfil my obligations to Russia, that I might secure the duration of our alliance. But I sincerely hope that it may be my good fortune to mediate with such results as will spare me the espousal of either party’s quarrel."

"If so, Russia must abandon her ambitious projects in Turkey, and she must speedily consent to secure peace to Poland," replied Kaunitz warmly.

The king smiled, and taking from the table a sealed packet, he presented it to Kaunitz.

"A letter for me!" exclaimed the minister, surprised.

"Yes, your highness. A few moments before you came hither, a courier arrived from Constantinople with dispatches for you and for me."

"Does your majesty allow me to open them?"

"I request you to read them while I read mine, Which are, as yet, unopened. I have only read the report of my ambassador at Constantinople. Let us see what news we have."

The king, with a smiling inclination of the head, settled himself in his arm-chair, and began to read.

A long pause ensued. Both tried to seem absorbed in the dispatches from Turkey, yet each one gave now and then a hasty, furtive glance at the other. If their eyes met, they were quickly cast, down again, and so they continued to watch and read; until there was no more excuse for silence.

"Bad news from Turkey," said Frederick, speaking first, and putting down his letters.

"The Porte has been unfortunate," said Kaunitz, shrugging his shoulders and looking perfectly indifferent. "Russia has not only gained a great victory on land, but has defeated him at sea, and has burnt his fleet."

"The consequence of all this is, that Turkey now turns to Austria and Prussia for help, "replied the king." Upon our intervention now, hangs the peace of all Europe. We have a most important mission to perform."

"Your majesty intends to undertake it?" asked Kaunitz carelessly.

"I am resolved to do all that I can to prevent war. It is such a terrible scourge, that no nation has a right to fold her hands and see its horrors, if by any step of hers it can be averted or stopped. Turkey asks for intervention, that she may be restored to the blessings of peace. Shall we refuse her?"

"Austria cannot mediate in this affair unless Russia first proposes it," said Kaunitz, in a listless tone. "The court of Vienna cannot make propositions to Russia. It therefore rests with your majesty to induce the Empress Catharine to make the same request of Austria, as Turkey has made of us both."

"I will propose it to the empress," said the king eagerly; "and I feel sure that she will agree to do so."

Kaunitz bowed loftily. "Then," replied he, "Austria will mediate; but let it be understood that the peace is to be an honorable one for Turkey, and that Russia ceases any further aggression in that quarter."

"The Porte will be under the necessity of making some concessions," said the king, "since he it is whose arms have sustained reverses. But Turkey may still remain a second-rate power, for I think that Russia will be satisfied with the Crimea and the Black Sea for herself and a guaranty of independent sovereigns for Wallachia and Moldavia."

"Independent princes appointed by Russia!" cried Kaunitz.

"My imperial sovereign will never consent to have a Russian province contiguous to Austria; and should Moldavia and Wallachia be governed by hospodars and petty despots, their pretended independence would soon melt away into a Russian dependency. Austria, too, would esteem it a great misfortune if Russia should come into possession of the Crimea and the Black Sea. Her dominion over the Black Sea would be more dangerous to Europe than an extension of her territory. Nothing, in short, would be so fatal to that independence which is dear to all nations, as the cession of this important outlet to Russia." [Footnote: The prince’s own words. Ferrand, i., p. 112.

"Your highness may be right," said the king; "and Austria has more to fear from this dominion than Prussia; for the Danube is a finger of the Black Sea, which might be used to seize some of your fairest provinces. We will keep this in view when we enter upon our negotiations with Russia."

"Before we begin them at all, we must exact of Russia to restore peace to Poland."

"Ali, you wish to draw Poland info the circle of intervention?" said Frederick, laughing.

"The court of Vienna cannot suffer Russia to oppress this unfortunate people as she has hitherto done. Not only has she forced Stan islaus Augustus upon them, but she has also compelled them to alter their constitution, and, in the face of all justice, her armies occupy Poland, devastating the country, and oppressing both royalists and republicans."

"You are resolved to speak of Poland," said Frederick, again taking so large a pinch of snuff that it bedaubed not only his face, but his white Austrian uniform. He brushed it off with his fingers, and shaking his head, said: "I am not neat enough to wear this elegant dress. I am not worthy of wearing the Austrian livery." He then resumed: "You interest yourself in Poland. I thought that Polish independence had been thrown to the winds. I thought, also, that your highness was of the same opinion on this question as the Empress Catharine, who says that she neither knows where Polish territory begins nor where it ends. Now I am equally at a loss to know what is and what is not Poland, for in Warsaw a Russian army seems to be perfectly at home, and in the south of Poland an Austrian regiment affirms that they occupy Polish ground by command of the Austrian government."

"Your majesty is pleased to speak of the county of Zips. Zips has always belonged to Hungary. It was mortgaged by the Emperor Sigismund to his brother-in-law ZVladislaw Jagello for a sum of money. Hungary has never parted with her right to this country; and, as we have been compelled to send troops to our frontier to watch Russia, the opportunity presents itself for us to demonstrate to Poland that Austria can never consent to regard a mortgaged province as one either given or sold. Zips belongs to Austria, and we will pay back to the King of Poland the sum for which it was mortgaged. That is all."

"Yes, but it will be difficult not only for Poland, but for all Europe, which is accustomed to consider Zips as Polish territory, to remember your highness’s new boundaries. I, for my part, do not understand it, and I will be much obliged to you if, according to your new order of things, you will show the where Hungary ends and Poland begins." [Footnote: The kng’s own words. Ferrand, P. 112.]

"Where the county of Zips ends, and where the boundaries of Hungary began in olden times, there the line that separates Austria from Poland should be drawn."

"Ah!" sighed the king, "you speak of the olden time. But we must settle all these things now with regard to the present. I happen, by chance, to have a rnah of Poland on my table. Oblige me now by showing me Poland as your highness understands its boundaries."

The king stood up, and unfolding a map, laid it on the table. Kaunitz also rose, and stood on the opposite side. "Now," said Frederick, "let me see the county of Zips."


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter LXIII. Russia a Foe to All Europe.," Joseph II and His Court, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Joseph II and His Court (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed March 22, 2019,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter LXIII. Russia a Foe to All Europe." Joseph II and His Court, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Joseph II and His Court, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 22 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter LXIII. Russia a Foe to All Europe.' in Joseph II and His Court, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Joseph II and His Court, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 March 2019, from