Count Karl Robert Nesselrode

The Russian diplomat Count Karl Robert Nesselrode (1780-1862) served as minister of foreign affairs from 1814 to 1856.

Karl Robert Nesselrode was born on Dec. 14, 1780, in Lisbon, Portugal, where his father was Russian ambassador. Young Karl received his education in Berlin, Germany. At the age of 16 he entered the Russian navy, where he became naval aide-de-camp to Paul I. He then went into the army, received another court appointment, and at last entered the diplomatic service.

Count Nesselrode served at Russian embassies in The Hague and Berlin. In 1806 he went on a mission to southern Germany. His assignment was to report on French troops to Alexander I, who was turning away from Napoleon in his foreign policy. Nesselrode assisted Alexander I at the Peace of Tilsit in 1811, which, according to Mikhail Speranski, contained practically all the ingredients for a future war between Russia and France.

On June 24, 1812, the French army, without a declaration of war, crossed the Neman River and entered Russian territory. During the Franco-Russian War, Nesselrode served as diplomatic secretary to generals Mikhail Kamenski, Friedrich von Buxhowden, and Levin August Bennigsen. During the negotiations at the Congress of Vienna, Nesselrode succeeded Count N. P. Rumiantsev in August 1814 as Russian minister of foreign affairs.

Russia's design on Poland met with opposition from other powers, especially England and Austria. Nesselrode played a subordinate role and was seldom consulted by Alexander I on major issues. By the end of 1814, the discussions of the Polish and Saxon problems having reached an impasse, England and Austria made preparations for war against Russia. A compromise, however, averted another war. By the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna (June 1816), the greater part of the former duchy of Warsaw was given to Russia.

In November 1831 Mohammed Ali, Pasha of Egypt, revolted against Sultan Mahmud II, and by the following year Ibrahim Pasha, commander of the insurgent army, had conquered Syria and was threatening Constantinople. The Sultan asked the Western powers for help but met with indifference. Russia, however, was eager to provide Turkey with military assistance because the Turko-Egyptian War offered a golden opportunity for the consolidation of Russia's hold over Turkey. Nicholas I and Nesselrode, moreover, saw in Mehemet Ali a rebel against his suzerain (Mahmud) and a puppet in the hands of revolutionary France. Sultan Mahmud accepted Russia's military aid, which alarmed France and England. Peace was achieved between Mohammed Ali and Mahmud at the Convention of Kintayah, negotiated in April and May 1833.

Several months later Russia signed the Treaty of Unkiar Skellesi with Turkey on July 8, 1833. The importance of the treaty was the provision by which the two monarchs "promise to come to agreement without reserve on all matters concerning their respective tranquility and safety and for this purpose, mutually to lend each other material aid and most effective assistance." Nesselrode then wrote that "our intervention in the affairs of Turkey has acquired a basis of legality."

Nesselrode tried unsuccessfully to avert the Crimean War (1853-1856). After he concluded the Treaty of Paris, he retired as foreign minister but continued as chancellor, a post he had held since 1844. He died on March 23, 1862, in St. Petersburg.

Further Reading on Count Karl Robert Nesselrode

For background on Count Nesselrode see Andrei Lobanov-Rostovsky, Russia and Europe, 1789-1825 (1947) and Russia and Europe, 1825-1878 (1954); A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918 (1954); Barbara Jelavich, A Century of Russian Foreign Policy, 1814-1914 (1964); and Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, The Foreign Ministers of Alexander I (1969).