Who's Who - Count Leopold von Berchtold

Count Leopold von Berchtold Leopold Anton Johann Sigismund Joseph Korsinus Ferdinand, Count Von Berchtold (1863-1942), Austro-Hungarian foreign minister at the outbreak of the First World War, was born on 18 April 1863 in Vienna.

Berchtold was of wealthy means, owning tracts of land in Hungary and Moldavia; he was reputed to be one of Austria-Hungary's richest men.

Berchtold joined the diplomatic corps in 1893, and although not credited with any great ability, nevertheless impressed with his courtly manners and aristocratic background.  Promotion was consequently rapid.  After spells in London and Paris, Berchtold was appointed ambassador to Russia in 1907, serving at St. Petersburg until his return to Vienna in 1912 whereupon he took up his appointment as Emperor Franz-Josef's foreign minister.

During the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 Berchtold mooted with 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 on 28 June 1914, Berchtold saw an opportunity to humiliate Serbia, favouring on 7 July an immediate invasion of Serbia without a prior declaration of war; he was ultimately over-ruled in this by Prime Minister Tisza, who argued strongly for retribution through diplomatic channels.

Having persuaded the reluctant Emperor to agree to the presentation of an unacceptable ultimatum to Serbia (chiefly by arguing that Russia would not come to Serbia's aid), delivered on 23 July, effectively the first step towards war, Berchtold disregarded Serbia's largely complaisant reply, convincing Franz-Josef to declare war with Serbia on 28 July.

With war underway Berchtold's performance was viewed at home as somewhat defeatist.  Faced with Italian demands for control over certain southern Austrian territories, Berchtold recommended either a declaration of war with Italy (a course of action favoured by Army Chief of Staff Conrad and Prime Minister Tisza, despite Italy's status as a member of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary) or else agreement with the Italians' demands.

Forced to resign on 13 January 1915, Berchtold was replaced as foreign minister by the more pugnacious Count Burian.  Taking no further part in public life (although a prominent role at court), Count Leopold von Berchtold died on 21 November 1942 in Hung.

In WW1 an "ace" was a pilot who scored five confirmed "kills".

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