Karl Robert, Count Nesselrode - Encyclopedia

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KARL ROBERT NESSELRODE, Count (1780-1862), Russian diplomatist and statesman, was born on the 14th of December 1780 at Lisbon, where his father (d. 1810) was Russian ambassador. In deference to his mother's Protestantism he was baptized in the chapel of the British embassy, thus becoming a member of the Church of England. The Nesselrodes were of Westphalian origin, but had long been settled in Livonia. Nesselrode's German origin was emphasized by his education in a Berlin gymnasium, his father having been appointed ambassador to the Prussian court about 1787. When he was sixteen he entered the Russian navy, and his father's influence procured for him the position of naval aide-de-camp to the emperor Paul. He presently exchanged into the army, obtained a further court appointment, and entered the diplomatic service. Nesselrode was attached to the Russian embassy at Berlin, and transferred thence to the Hague. In August 1806 he received a commission to travel in South Germany to report on the French troops; he was then attached as diplomatic secretary to Generals Kamenski, Buxhoewden and Bennigsen in succession. He was present at the battle of Eylau in January 1807, and assisted at the negotiation of the peace of Tilsit. Immediately afterwards he was sent to Paris to join the embassy of Count Peter Tolstoy, whom he accompanied in the spring of the next year to the meeting of the two emperors at Erfurt. After his return to Paris he strengthened the understanding between Alexander I. and Talleyrand consequent on the Erfurt meeting, and acted as intermediary between the two. On the appointment of a successor to Count Tolstoy he retired to St Petersburg, but returned to Paris early in 1810 charged with a commission from Speranski to Talleyrand and the marquis de Caulaincourt, formerly ambassador in St Petersburg, both of whom were hostile to Napoleon's policy of aggression. After the breach of diplomatic relations with Russia in 1811, Nesselrode returned to St Petersburg by way of Vienna in order to exchange views with Metternich. He sought to persuade Alexander to open negotiations with Napoleon, if only to throw the onus of breaking the peace entirely on the French side. He joined the tsar's headquarters at Vilna in March 1812 and, though Rumiantzov was still foreign minister, it was Nesselrode who directed the foreign policy of Russia from this time forward. He was present at the battle of Leipzig, and accompanied the invading army to Paris; he negotiated the capitulation of Marmont and Mortier at Clichy, and signed the treaty of Chaumont on the 1st of March 1814. His former relations with Talleyrand facilitated negotiations in Paris, and his great influence with the emperor was used in favour of the restoration of the Bourbons, and, after Waterloo, against the imposition of a ruinous war indemnity on France. At the congress of Vienna he was associated with Count Capo d'Istria, and when, in August 1816, Alexander made him secretary of state for foreign affairs in succession to Rumiantzov, it was again in conjunction with the Greek statesman, from whom he differed widely in temperament and ideas. The emperor Alexander I., however, was apt to keep the direction of affairs in his own hands and so long as Alexander inclined to Liberalism Capo d'Istria was the interpreter of. his will, but as the emperor veered towards Metternich's system Nesselrode became his mouthpiece. After Alexander's final "conversion" to reactionary principles, Capo d'Istria was dismissed (1822) and Nesselrode definitely took his place. He had consistently advocated Alexander's project of a "universal union," symbolized by the Holy Alliance, in contradistinction to the narrower system of the alliance of the great powers; and, when the Greek insurrection broke out, he did much to determine the tsar to sacrifice his sympathy with the Orthodox Greeks to his dream of the European confederation (see Alexander I., emperor of Russia).

After Alexander's death in 1825 Nesselrode retained office under Nicholas I. He was responsible for the change of policy of Russia towards the Ottoman empire after 1829, viz. that of abandoning the traditional idea of conquering Constantinople in favour of keeping the Ottoman power weak and dependent on the tsar. This was his policy during the revolt of Mehemet Ali, and it was Nesselrode who inspired the terms of the famous treaty of Unkiar Skelessi (1833). Nicholas I. was, however, even less inclined than his brother to place himself in the hands of a minister; and Nesselrode showed himself amenable, though when his views differed from those of the emperor he stated them with great frankness. He conducted the negotiations which led to the shelving of the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi and to the alliance between Russia and Great Britain which, issuing ultimately in the Straits Convention of 1841 - to which France also was a party - healed the breach which had so long divided the powers of eastern and western Europe.

In 1849 it was Nesselrode who suggested the intervention of Russia in Hungary in favour of the Austrian government, although he restrained the tsar from active intervention in France then as in 1830. During the crisis of 1853 he prolonged negotiation in the hope of averting war. The last of his important political acts, the signing of the treaty of Paris in 1856, undid the results of his patient efforts to establish Russian preponderance in the Balkan peninsula. He then retired from the foreign office, retaining the chancellorship, which he had held since 1844. He died at St Petersburg on the 23rd of March 1862.

See Lettres et papiers du chancelier comte de Nesselrode 1760-1850,. the first volume of which was issued by his grandson Count Anatole Nesselrode at Paris in 1904. This work includes letters of the chancellor's father, Count William, Nesselrode's correspondence, and important state papers. In vol. ii. is a fragment of an autobiography (to 1814), which Count Nesselrode did not live to complete. See also Correspondance diplomatique du comte Pozzo di Borgo et du comte de Nesselrode, edited by Charles Pozzo di Borgo (Paris, 2 vols., 1890-1897).

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