Conversationalist brilliant, at once skeptical and affable, the chancellor Klemens von Metternich driver the congress of Vienna, but tend to distract his more noble participants. He has long prepared a sled race between the Hofburg and Schönbrunn. The prince has ensured that every detail of this hike even as he attends all the plenary sessions and participate in each call-out between the four major winners who have exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba. Thanks to the skill of the prince of Talleyrand and his art of the plot, the French are no longer sitting on a subway’s jump seat.

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Only the lack of snow has delayed the race. In this January 22, it starts at two o’clock in the afternoon. The guests are called in order of precedence, to join the Josefsplatz, where the waiting of thirty-four wooden sledges enhanced with gold. The emperor Francis I settled in the first carriage with the empress of Russia, Elizabeth, that he finds charming. Tsar Alexander I follows. He gives the arm to the princess Auersperg because Ludovica, empress of Austria, was suffering, waiting for the guests at Schönbrunn. Follow the king of Prussia and the grand duke of Baden, the archiducs, the princes and the Hochadel of Vienna. Each is accompanied by a rider drawn by lot. The horses yoked to the sledges are covered with tiger skins and furs. Their manes were braided with knots and coloured ribbons.

Balls, masquerades, dinners, hunting parties

A detachment of cavalry took the lead of the caravan of snow. It is followed by a huge sleigh that carries an orchestra of trumpets and timbaliers. The grand equerry, accompanied by four biting, precedes the carriage of Francis I, who is escorted by pages and guards of the Hungarian and riders, austrians.

Klemens Wenzel von Metternich by Thomas Lawrence, circa 1815 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). akg-images/akg-images

The marching band plays. The small bells hanging on the harness jingle. The procession commences. In his sleigh, the tsar himself said that in Russia such an equipped would not have failed to bursts of laughter and cheers. But in Austria the label Spanish, leaner under maria Theresa, but still in force, prohibits any fantasy in the official events.

Alexander I participate willingly to the many parties on the margins of the congress. Balls, masquerades, dinners, hunting parties follow each other. It is the home of Talleyrand, at the palais Kaunitz where it is housed, that we eat the best because he brought with him the cook Lent, which is second to none. Receptions the most sophisticated place in the Metternich. The Russian emperor is cold with the prince. But not sulks not its evenings because the serious things are often decide between two polkas.

When the procession arrived in the park of Schönbrunn, a banquet was immediately served to guests. They are attending then to an opera by Nicolas Isouard, after Cendrillon by Charles Perrault. Some guests will still skate on the ponds frozen in the glow of the torches. Then a supper is offered in the Orangery. The return is done with torches. The snow falls abundantly. The guests are bundled up in furs. The women hide the tip of their nose under their sleeve.


back in his new residence of Rennweg, as Metternich is very satisfied with the race sleds. He is also of the congress. A tacit agreement binds Austria, the United Kingdom and France to temper the appetite of Alexandre Ier. The chancellor knows that no secret can be kept in a large assembly, especially when beautiful women such as Catherine Bagration, also known as the Andromeda, Russian, or its rival, Wilhelmine of Sagan, known as the Cleopatra of the curonian Spit, to participate. The tsar will quickly wind of the agreement. Itself with its black cabinet is made of every interview, every rumor, every confidence on the pillow.

and Yet, two months later, Metternich falls from the top when, in the early morning of march 7, 1815, he learns that Napoleon has left the island of Elba. The chancellor went immediately to his emperor. François I told him to go and warn the tsar of Russia. Left alone, the emperor of Austria looks out of the window the gardens of Schönbrunn. His grandson, the duke of Reichstadt, giving the hand to madame de Montesquiou, his governess, walks in an alley. It was only four years old. We will never talk about his father except to tell him that he was “nasty”. The child does nothing. He does not believe a word.


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