Friedrich Graf Szápáry von Muraszombat, Szechysziget, und Szápár
Back to the Austrian Commanders page
Friedrich Graf
Szápáry von Muraszombat, Szechysziget, und Szápár
Friedrich Graf von Szápáry was Austria's ambassador to Russia during the July crisis.   He was born on 5 November 1869 in Budapest, son of GdK László Graf Szápáry and his wife Marianne, nee Gräfin Grünne (daughter of Graf Carl Grünne, Kaiser Franz Josef’s first Adjutant-General, 1848-1859).  His family was noted for long and distinguished service to the Empire.  His great-great-grandfather Janos Péter Szápáry (b. 1730, d. 1791) was Governor of Fiume and the whole Croatian Coast from 1788 to 1791.  Friedrich's grandfather Franz (b. 1804, died 1875) was a healer and ‘magnetopath,’, well-known in the 1840s and 50s for his cures; he wrote extensively about his work.  Friedrich’s father was charged by General Friedrich von Beck to conquer Dolnja Tuzla during the occupation of Bosnia in late summer 1878.  And, cousin László (b. 1864, d. 1939) was Governor of the city and port of Fiume from 1897 to 1903.

In 1904, Szápáry was wedded to Prinzessin Hedwig von Windischgrätz. (She died on 30 September 1918.)  They had three children.

GWS, rev. 11/02

The Rising Star

Friedrich Szápáry entered in the service of the Imperial foreign office in 1895, and in the subsequent years proved to be most competent in a variety of postings, including to Rome, Berlin, and München.  On 27 October 1907, Szápáry was recalled to Vienna to serve in the Foreign Ministry (on the Ballplatz), and was appointed to the Foreign Minister's office.  On 15 December 1909, he was promoted to head this office, and his responsibilities were directly subordinate to
Aloys Graf von Aehrenthal, the Imperial Foreign Minister. Szápáry became Aehrenthal's secretary at the Ballplatz, handling personal correspondence, receiving diplomats as the Foreign Minister’s personal  representative, taking notes at the Minister’s meetings, and other duties. 

In time, Szápáry was highly trusted by the Foreign Minister and also his successor,
Leopold Graf von Berchtold, whose “Weltanschauung” has been described as being like Aehrenthal's, only more desperate and erratic.  (Those who knew Aehrenthal would find that conclusion disturbing.)  Szápáry had the intelligence to see beyond mere “Viennese” emotions and understand both the Empire's predicaments and their possible solutions.  It was noted by German Ambassador von Tschirschky that Szápáry, though “an inveterate Magyar,” insisted on the continuum of a single, unwavering Austro-Hungarian policy, as upheld by Berchtold.

Berchtold lauded Szápáry for “his outstanding skill in handling political issues and his judgment which far exceeded the norm.”  On 20 April 1912,  he was appointed to head the Policy Section, an important move at a critical period of history.  Italy was at war with Turkey, and the implications for the Balkans would be dramatic.  Right at the time of his appointment, the Ballplatz issued its famous veto of Italian military action in the Balkans to force the recalcitrant Turks to a decision.  As it was, Szápáry was already not much liked by the Italian Ambassador, and the feeling spread extended all the way to Rome.

Now, Szápáry most active believed that the Empire should not passively accept the outcomes of the three Balkan wars that erupted inevitably from the Italo-Turkish war, but should protect its interests.  He criticised the policies of the Germans in his diaries, writing that, because they had made prior agreements with Russia concerning German involvement south of the River Save, they did not feel bound to support the Empire's endeavours.  As Szápáry wrote, “Such a stance reaches close to the essence of the German-Austrian-Hungarian relationship and shakes its foundation.”  These words were strikingly consistent with the general feeling in Vienna at the time  These general feelings would be justification for Berchtold and the rest of the so-called “war party" seeking aggressive solutions to their Serbian problems without consulting their allies.  This had already been partly done in 1908 when Aehrenthal pressed for the annexation of Bosnia without notifying their German ally nor any of the other Great Powers.

GWS, rev. 11/02

The Ambassador's Most Difficult Days

The appointment of Szápáry to the ambassadorship in St. Petersburg was a momentous step in his career, and it was an extension of Vienna's attempt to reach a foreign policy independent of Berlin's line.  Staunch a supporter though Szápáry was of the Triple Alliance, he was convinced that Italy's betrayals and Germany's backhanded dealings with the Russians were all undermining more than 30 years of assured peace and security for all.  In the event, Szápáry was not to have much influence in St. Petersburg, owing to illness in his family. He could not present his credentials to the Tsar until 14 February 1914; by 28 February he left the capital to deal with pressing family affairs, returning and returned once more on 12 April.  This stay lasted only until 21 May. 

He returned to St. Petersburg for the last time in mid-July, when French President Poincaré was being wined and dined by the Tsar (and the mad Foreign Minister Viviani was embarrassing France with his uncontrollable utterings, including forecasts of war) and Berchtold had already prepared the ultimatum for Serbia's refusal.  He had not had the opportunity to become fully established and had not yet formed close relationships with the press, as was customary for any ambassador of a Great Power. 

The assassination of the Archduke horrified every cabinet in Europe, including the Russian government, which had suffered the largest number of political murders in the preceding fifty years.  Still, common tragedy did not make for common politics.  During Poincaré's visit, Szápáry was given a warning by the French President that Serbia had friends in Russia and Russia had an alliance with France; Szápáry reported this warning to Imperial Foreign Minister Berchtold, who expected such and withheld delivering the ultimatum to Serbia until the French President had left St. Petersburg on July 23, 1914 and was sailing away from Russia.

GWS, rev. 11/02
 
Try to Convince the Russians

Szápáry had to convince Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov that Austria was first not intent on war with Serbia and, following the ultimatum, that Austria was not attempting to thwart Russian interests in the Balkans and particularly the Straits.  Sazonov reacted with anger and foreboding toward Szápáry upon hearing of the ultimatum, but following the note's expiration with no sign of war from Austria, Sazonov's mood swung the other way, and Szápáry was treated with an optimistic Russian foreign minister who admitted his indifference toward the Balkan peoples.  All of this, combined with the anger of the Russian people toward Austria, made Szápáry's job an extremely difficult one. 

Later, when discussions between the two came down to whether or not Serbia was in fact Russia's business, Sazonov corrected Szápáry's assertion that Serbia was Austria's business alone by stating “Russian interests are identical with Serbia's interests.”  This was the first time a high official had ever clarified the situation, and it was stated on July 29, the day after war had been declared by Austria against Serbia. 

Szápáry was then in the midst of delivering an official assurance of Austria's intentions of peace toward Russia.  Then, a telephone call informed Sazonov of the Austrian monitors' attack on Belgrade and the blowing of the bridge across the river Save (not realising the Serbs had blown it themselves).  Sazonov slammed the receiver and shouted back at the Ambassador “Why continue our conversation if you act in this manner?”  Some authors relate that Szápáry ran from Sazonov's office in tears, while others state he turned and quietly exited the room without argument.  Whatever his reaction at the Russian Foreign Ministry, Szápáry's report to Berchtold was quite succinct:  “There was no further hope of a calm discussion.”

Conflagration is Inevitable!

By July 31, Szápáry reported to Berchtold that Sazonov did not want war any more than Tsar Nicholas, but intended war in order to save Serbia from destruction.  By August 1, Austria's ally Germany had declared war on Russia and Szápáry was the lone ambassador in St. Petersburg representing the Central Powers.  For, as Austria saw it, their war was confined to Serbia, and not Russia, whose mobilisation had prompted the German ultimatum and declaration of war to begin with.  Russia never responded to Germany or to Austria with war declarations, not even after Austria calmed German nerves by issuing their declaration a week later.  Such a decision was demanded by the planned invasion of Russia formulated according to Chief of the General Staff
Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf.  

Thus, Szápáry was given the task of delivering the Austrian declaration of war against Russia on August 6, 1914.  After this act, which formally green-lighted the Army High Command's plans, Szápáry burned his papers and left St. Petersburg for good.

GWS, 11/00

Home Life for the Ambassador

Szápáry became unattached on 14 August 1915.  During the war, he involved himself in organisation of the care of wounded soldiers, but after war’s end, he withdrew into private life and focused on his children and the management of what was left of his family estates. He found the time to write two essays in which he described ideas that he was unable to implement while working in the Foreign Ministry. They were titled “The relationship of Austria-Hungary to Russia” in the book  “Around Sasonow” published by E. v.Steinitz in 1928, and “From the Crisis Years 1908 to 1913” in the compilation  “Remembrances of Franz Joseph I” edited by Steinitz in 1931.  They were basically “What-ifs” for a by-gone age, left to moulder with thousands of others written by his comrades and compatriots.

Friedrich Szápáry von Szápár died in Vienna on 18 March 1935.

GWS, rev. 11/02
Russia's Foreign Minister was Sergei Sazonov (right) and certainly the most important man during the July Crisis (that led to WWI).  His mood swings and desire to see Austria destroyed caused him to drop any chance for peace in 1914. Szapary (left) understood this as he witnessed Sazonov's behaviour first-hand.
1