(Vienna, 1863 - Sopron, 1942) Austrian politician. As Minister of affairs outside of the Austro-Hungarian Empire between 1912 and 1915, he was primarily responsible for the escalation that, after the ultimatum issued to Serbia on July 23, 1914, led to the outbreak of the first world war.
He owned extensive properties in Moravia and Hungary and territorial, thanks to a convenient marriage, was one of the richest men in the Empire. Linked from a young age to the imperial court due to his aristocratic ancestry, in 1893 he joined the diplomatic corps of Austria-Hungary. He served first in Paris and then in London, and in 1906 he was appointed Ambassador close to the Tsar of Russia. In this position he remained until 1911.
On February 19, 1912, the Emperor Francisco Jose appointed him Minister of Foreign Affairs to succeed count Aloïs Lexa von Aehrenthal. Berchtold showed little enthusiasm to assume their new responsibilities, and his appointment was greeted with skepticism by political forces. Man presumptuous, womanizer, lover of luxury, the good life and horses (maintained one block from racing), his contemporaries regarded it as little smart and voluble nature.
In his new role, Berchtold soon fell under the influence of field marshal count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorff, Chief of the General staff of the army. This advocated a tough policy against the nationalist and social movements that threatened to disintegrate the Danubian monarchy. Although Berchtold remained, in principle, a moderate on this issue, attitude was supporter before the emperor for further policy inflexibility with respect to separatist movements and the threat of Russia in the Balkans.
During the first Balkan war, between October and December, 1912, defended at all costs the maintenance of the territorial division of the region. With a lack of political vision that would have dire consequences, after the war it supported the creation of the State of Albania, in order to prevent Serbia obtained a land corridor to the Adriatic Sea.
During the following year the Serbian Government radicalized his political efforts to create an independent State that would include all southern Slavic peoples, which meant in fact favour centrifugal movements that threatened to Austria-Hungary. The lack of clarity of the policy of Berchtold quickly exacerbated the tension between the Empire and Serbia, culminating in the murder of Francisco Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo (Bosnia) on June 28, 1914, at the hands of the Bosnian Serb student Gavrilo Prinzip.
The initial attitude of Berchtold to the assassination was restraint, given the dire political consequences which could lead to the outbreak of war with Serbia for the Balkan region. While the Marshal Hötzendorff urged the immediate invasion of Serbia, Berchtold hesitated during the first days, due to the conciliatory attitude of the Serbian Government, which expressed its condolences to the Emperor and condemned the murder. On the other hand, Berchtold was subjected to pressure from the Hungarian Prime Minister István Tisza, who wished to avoid at all costs the war outbreak. But, at the same time, receiving strong pressure from the German Government.
On 30 June he met with the German Ambassador in Vienna, count Heinrich von Tschirschky, who called on behalf of his Government is to take decisive action against the Serbs. Four days later she received Viktor Naumann, German Foreign Minister offered his Government's full support in the event that Russia intervened in the crisis in favor of Serbia.
His next step was to write a letter to the Emperor of Germany, Guillermo II and signed by Francisco José, which tried to convince both the responsibility of the Serbian Government in the assassination. On July 6, Guillermo II and his Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, addressed a telegram to Berchtold to ensure their support. This was the famous "blank check" that the Government of the second Reich offered to the Austrian Government in its policy of war in the Balkans.
Since that time, Berchtold approached Hötzendorff and shown favour to launch an invasion against Serbia, whose preparations were kept secret. For this reason, it recommended Hötzendorff and the Minister of war, baron Alexander von Krobatin, which leave on vacation to give an appearance of normality. At the same time, he avoided inform Italy of his plans, fearing that the Italian Government report to Russia and this was rapidly mobilized in support of Serbia. Apparently, Berchtold never considered with due seriousness Petersburgo to intervene militarily in the crisis.
On Monday he sent his collaborator Friedrich von Wiesner to Belgrade to find out how was the investigation into the assassination of the Archduke. Wiesner informed him so bluntly that nothing seemed to indicate that the Serbian Government was related to the attack on Sarajevo. However, Berchtold concealed this information Emperor Francisco José, who by then was in his summer residence in Bad Ischl.
July 14 he also lied to the Hungarian Tisza to assure you that the Austro-Hungarian Government would resolve the crisis with Belgrade through the normal diplomatic channels and would not effect any territorial claim over Serbia. But, in fact, the plot hatched by Berchtold, Hötzendorff and Krobatin had already made a territorial division of Serbia on the paper. Suspecting these manoeuvres, Tisza directed several letters to Francisco José for pleading for tolerance towards Serbia. But Berchtold intercepted these letters, which never came into the hands of the emperor.
On 21 July he visited Francisco José in Bad Ischl so approve the ultimatum intending to go to Serbia. This ultimatum, approved by the Council of Ministers and issued the next day, the Serbian Government was deliberately in unacceptable terms. He accused the Government of Belgrade of supporting the nationalist insurrectional movement and terrorism, of planning the assassination in Sarajevo and have provided weapons to commit unambiguously. He demanded an official condemnation of separatist terrorism, an institutional commitment to collaborate with the imperial authorities in the Suppression of the power moves and the involvement of Austrian officials in the investigation of the attack.
The acceptance of these terms would have left the Serbian Government at the mercy of the Empire. The ultimatum was thus a veiled Declaration of war and as such the Belgrade authorities reacted. On July 25, both Serbia and Austria-Hungary ordered general mobilization of its troops. Russia, which was not prepared to lose positions in the Balkans, supported Serbia. Shortly after was put in play a string of secret pacts and military alliances. Inadvertently, the handling of Berchtold had triggered the outbreak of the first world war.
Theoretically, Serbia was doomed to defeat, but when August 12 Hötzendorff Marshal launched the invasion of the country, met with a relentless resistance. In mid-December, the Austrians had been expelled from Serb territory. In this context, Berchtold reversed and was proponent of abandoning hostilities, earning the enmity of Hötzendorff.
The abandonment of its former employees joined a political issue of greater importance: the requirement of Italy and Romania get territorial counterparts instead of maintaining a "benevolent neutrality" in the conflict. On January 13, 1915, Berchtold was forced to submit his resignation as Foreign Minister. However, it did not lose the favor of the Emperor, who appointed him master of ceremonies of the imperial court and political advisor of the future emperor, Archduke Charles.