Leopold Graf Berchtold
Leopold Anton Johann Sigismund Josef Korsinus Ferdinand Graf Berchtold (in English: Count Leopold Anthony John Sigismund Joseph Corsinus Ferdinand von Berchtold, in Hungarian: Gróf Berchtold Lipót, in Czech: Leopold hrabě Berchtold z Uherčic) (April 18, 1863 – November 21, 1942) was Austro-Hungarian foreign minister at the outbreak of the First World War.
Berchtold was born on April 18, 1863. He was reputed to be one of Austria-Hungary's richest men, and he owned tracts of land in Hungary and Moravia.
Berchtold joined the diplomatic corps in 1893, and although he was never credited with any great ability, he impressed others with his courtly manners and aristocratic background. Promotion was consequently rapid. After spending time in London and Paris, Berchtold was appointed ambassador to Russia in 1907, serving in St. Petersburg until he returned to Vienna in 1912, whereupon he was appointed Emperor Franz Josef's foreign minister.
During the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 Berchtold mooted the idea of war with Serbia. Having ruled this out he nonetheless accepted what amounted to a diplomatic defeat at the conclusion of the war. His position against Serbia hardened during this period.
With the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian-backed Bosnian nationalists on June 28, 1914, Berchtold saw an opportunity to humiliate Serbia, pushing for an immediate invasion of Serbia without a prior declaration of war, but was over-ruled in this by Prime Minister Istvan Tisza, who favored retribution through diplomatic channels.
Berchtold persuaded the reluctant Emperor to issue an unacceptable ultimatum to Serbia (mainly by arguing that Russia would not come to Serbia's aid) on July 23, which was effectively the first step towards war. Berchtold disregarded Serbia's largely compliant reply and persuaded Franz-Josef to declare war on July 28.
With war underway Berchtold's performance was viewed as somewhat defeatist. Faced with Italian demands for control over certain southern Austrian territories, Berchtold recommended either a declaration of war on Italy (a course of action favoured by Army Chief of Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf and Prime Minister Tisza) or else acceptance of most of with the Italian demands.
Forced to resign on January 13, 1915, Berchtold was replaced as foreign minister by the more pugnacious Baron Istvan Burian. Taking no further part in public life (although he maintained a prominent role at court), Count Leopold von Berchtold died on November 21, 1942 near Csepreg, Hungary. He was buried in the family tomb near the Buchlov Castle, Czech Republic.
He was portrayed by Sir John Gielgud in the 1969 film Oh! What A Lovely War.
Note regarding personal names: Graf is a title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. The female form is Gräfin.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
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