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Johann Amadeus Franz de Paula Thugut
Austrian statesman, born at Linz, 31 March, 1736; died at Vienna, 28 May, 1818. He was the son of a paymaster of the imperial army, Johann Thugut. Until the time of his grandfather the family name was written "Thunichtgut." Although baptized Johann Amadeus, Thugut was called through life Franz. A great many mythical stories are told of his childhood, such as the following. One day Maria Theresa found an abandoned infant on the steps of the Hofburg at Vienna, had compassion on it, and named the infant "Thugut." Another tale relates that the empress while crossing the Danube to Maria-Taferl was attracted by the large eyes of the boy who steered the boat. She was told that he was a foundling, a good-for-nothing (Thunuchtgut). The truth is that Maria Theresa, on account of the services of the father, had the boy educated at the academy of Oriental languages that had just been opened. In 1754 Thugut entered the imperial service, first as a translator at Constantinople. Kaunitz praised his linguistic knowledge and abilities and made him secretary of the state chancery. While here he accepted an annual income of 13,000 livres from Louis XV as a secret agent of France. He still received the same pension from France when secretary from 1769 of the Austrian embassy at Constantinople. In 1771, at the request of Kaunitz, he was raised to the ranks of the lower nobility on account of his meritorious services. Joseph II greatly desired to obtain the Province of Bukovina, as this would make a connection between Galicia and Transylvania. Thugut persuaded the Turkish Government in 1775 to cede the province. To reward him Thugut was made a Freiherr or baron. During the war of the Bavarian succession Maria Theresa employed Thugut to negotiate with Frederick the Great, but the negotiations led to nothing. His employments varied greatly during the reign of Joseph II. During the years 1780-85 he was Ambassador at Warsaw, and during 1787-89, Ambassador at Naples; in the intervening years he had an official position at Paris where he was on terms of friendship with Mirabeau and Lafayette.
Emperor Francis II first used Thugut as a military diplomat in Belgium, and finally in 1794, after the death of Prince Kaunitz, appointed him minister of foreign affairs. While holding this office his aim was to check the growth of Prussia's power, and to subdue the wild forces of the French revolution. Austria was to become a well-rounded, compact whole. Consequently, after the unfortunate occurrences in Belgium, which was too far from Austria to be easily held and ruled, he sought to obtain compensation in the Third Partition of Poland and in Italy. In 1795 he was able to make an offensive and defensive treaty with Russia that opened the way for Austria to gain Bosnia, a part of Servia, and the territories on the Venetian coast. At the same time, during the negotiations concerning the Rhine as a boundary between France and Germany, and on the question of secularization, Thugut spoke emphatically in regard to justice, morality, and the uncompromising duties of the emperor as the head of the empire. It was impossible for him to consent to the robbing of spiritual princes and other estates of the empire of their possessions. After strong opposition he only yielded to necessity when he agreed in the Treaty of Campo Formio to cede the left bank of the Rhine to France and to give compensation in Germany to the princes whose possessions had been encroached upon. He called this peace "an unfortunate peace, the infamy of which would make an era in the annals of Austria, unless, what was much to be feared, the annals of Austria did not soon themselves disappear." Thugut's greatest success, the alliance of Austria, Russia, and England in the second French war, led to his overthrow. In 1801 he resigned his position.
Both in life and in history Thugut seems to have been a kind of Jekyll and Hyde. Baptized Johann and called Franz, in the service of the emperor and sold to France, grasping and yet often rejecting opportunities with indignation, passionately hated and genuinely honoured, it is difficult to consider "Thugut" and "Thunichtgut" as one and the same person. Concerning Thugut, whom he succeeded after eight years as minister of foreign affairs, the courtly Metternich said: "France owed her enormous success above all to the inconsistency of the ministries that had charge of the conduct of affairs. The ideas which underlay the Austrian policy were clearly conceived by them, but probably at no time were they carried out more negligently. The ministry of Baron Thugut shows only an unbroken succession of blunders and false calculations. Sprung from the lower classes Thugut was educated in the Oriental Academy and trained for the subordinate service of the State. Skillful and cunning he owed the good luck of his political life to these qualities, which, aided by great talent for dissimulation and inclination to intrigue, pass current only too easily for real talent" (Aus Metternichs nachgel. Papieren, I, 29 sq.). Count Franz Dietrichstein on the other hand was an enthusiastic admirer of Thugut. He had Thugut buried in the Dietrichstein ancestral vault, and in an obituary expressed the hope that history might finally do honour to Thugut's great qualities. This was the aim of Vivenot's biography of Thugut, on which the author spent many years.