Maximilian, Count von Merveldt
Maximilian, Count von Merveldt (29th June 1764 – 5th July 1815), among the most famous of an illustrious old Westphalian family, entered Austrian military service, rose to the rank of General of Cavalry, served as Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor`s ambassador to Russia, and became special envoy extraordinaire to the Court of St Jame`s (Great Britain). He fought with distinction in the wars between the Habsburg and the Ottoman empires, the French Revolutionary Wars, and the Napoleonic Wars.
Maximilian entered the military as a young man, and acquired his first combat experiences the Habsburg wars with the Ottoman Empire. Following his experience in the Balkans, he retreated to the cloister at Bonn, where he spent a year as a novice in the Teutonic Order. At the outbreak of war between Austria and France in 1792, he returned to military service, and proved an intrepid and enterprising cavalry field officer. His role in the Austrian victory at Neerwinden in 1793 earned him the honor of conveying the news to the Emperor in Vienna.
In the War of the Second Coalition, Maximilian served in Swadia and northern Italy and Switzerland. In subsequent wars between France and Austria, his role on the battlefield often meant the difference between defeat and victory. He was wounded and captured at the Battle of Leipzig and, as a condition of release, he agreed not to bear arms against France again. He was subsequently appointed as an envoy to Britain, where he died in 1815.
Maximilian was born on the 29th June 1764 in the ecclesiastical territory of Münster, in Westphalia. His was an old Westphalian family, raised to comital status in 1726. He joined the military service in 1782, in a dragoon regiment, and was promoted to lieutenant and first lieutenant by 1787. In the wars between Austria and the Ottorman Empire, (1787–1791), he was a Rittmeister, or captain of cavalry and wing adjutant to Field Marshal Franz Moritz, Count von Lacy. In 1790, Merveldt commanded the Volunteers Grün-Loudon and later that year, after his promotion to major, he served on the staff of Field Marsha Ernst Gideon, Baron von Laudon in Moravia.
Following the defeat of the insurrection in the Austrian Netherlands, he received permission from Field Marshal Laudon, shortly before the latter’s death, to take a one year novitiate in the Teutonic Order, at Bonn where he remained until April 1792. The outbreak of the War of the First Coalition against France required his military talents and Mervelt rejoined the Habsburg army at as adjutant to Josias, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. He led two infantry battalions in the Austrian victory at Neerwinden (on the 18th March 1793), during which his battalions repulsed a strong French column. For his role at the head of his battalions of grenadiers, which his commander considered greater than duty required, in this victory, Merveldt received the honor of carrying the message to the Emperor Francis in Vienna. There, he was promoted to lieutenant Colonel and awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa on the 7th July 1794. Subsequently, he was appointed as an attaché to the staff of Frederick, Duke of York.
In the 1794 campaign, Merveldt fought at the Battle of Farmars and again at the Battleof Villers-enCauchies, 15 kilometres (9 mi) south of Landrecies on the 22nd April, during which he commanded the right wing. After the Battle of Tournai ( on the 22nd May 1794), he was promoted on the field to Oberst (colonel). His failing health prevented him from continued field service and he took sick leave until early 1796. In 1796 he transferred to the 18th Chevau-legers Regiment Karaczay and fought at the Battle of Kircheib, in the Westerwald, where, despite the French superiority of numbers, the Austrians eked out a victory. At Kircheib, with two squadrons of Chevaux-legers, Merveldt saved the Austrian artillery from French capture, thus contributing to the Austrian victory. TheTagebericht (daily dispatch) of the Army of the Rhine referred to his keen sense of duty, and his ability to seize the moment, which, in this case, proved a vital element in the extraordinary success of the small Austrian force against the considerably larger French one. Afterward he was promoted to Major General. He was assigned as proprietor of the First Lancer’s Regiment, and given command of a cavalry brigade in Franz von Werneck`s Reserve of the Army of the Lower Rhine.
Merveldt was known to his contemporaries for his strength of will, presence of mind, and his self-control. Those same qualities made him attractive to his military superiors as part of the negotiation party in the cease-fire preliminaries at Leoben in 1797. He opposed Napoleon’s desire to move a general peace congress closer to Vienna, and later was a co-signator of the Peace of Campo Formio on the 17th November 1797. He brought the document to Rastatt, where the Rastatt Peace Congress convened. He stayed in Rastatt in the capacity of ambassador.
At the outbreak of the war of the Second Coalition in March 1799, and the dissolution of Congress on the 7th April 1799, Merveldt returned to his regiment, which by this time had crossed the Lech and Iller rivers, and was advancing into Swabia. During the campaigns of 1800, he commanded the left wing by Eckartsweiler at the Battle of Alt-Breisach on the 25th April, and on the 10th May conducted a rear-guard action to protect the Imperial army’s withdrawal. He remained with his brigade on the right bank of the Danube, where he directed a series of bold actions against the French, and then along the Iller and Lech rivers, he organized a series of well-timed thrusts designed to keep the French from pushing the retreating army. After the battle at Offenburg, he was promoted to lieutenant Field Marshal on the 4th September 1800. At the Austrian defeat in the Battle of Hohenlinden on the 3rd December, Merveldt commanded a division in the left wing. He signed the 24-hour cease-fire at Kremsmünster with Jean Victor Moreau on the 22nd December. During the cease-fire, he retreated to Pressburg.
In 1805 he was in Berlin when the hostilities between France and Austria resumed, and he returned to the Danube valley, where he fought a series of rearguard actions. He avoided being caught in the capitulation of Ulm and fell back toward Mikhail Kutuzov`s Russian army. With 6,000 soldiers in six line and ten Grez infantry battalions plus 14 squadrons of cavalry, Merveldt made for Styria, hoping to join the army of Archduke Charles. Napoleon detached Louis Davout`s III Corps in pursuit. Slowed by heavy snow in the mountains, his “poorly-handled corps” was overtaken by the French at Gross-Ramig, also called Mariazell, in the Austrian Steirmark, on 8 November. His exhausted troops were routed by General of Brigade Etienne Heudelet de Bierre`s advanced guard of Davout`s III Corps; half, about 2,000, were taken prisoner, and they lost four colors and 16 guns.
After the War of the Third Coalition, he acted as ambassador to St. Petersburg for over two years, with the assignment of improving military relations between the armies of the respective countries. He attempted to do this, including trying an offer to mediate between Britain and France, and was appointed Privy Councilor. During this time, he married Maria Theresia Gräfin von Dietrichstein.In 1808 he was given command of a cavalry division in Lemberg. In early 1809, Merveldt became a prominent member of the group pushing for war against France, together with such notables as Archduke Ferdinand, Archduke John, Empress Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, and Count Heinrich von Bellegarde. In the 1809 campaign, Merveldt`s force was stationed in the Bukowina and part of Galicia, and from 1809 to mid-1813, he spent three years in Moravia.
On 22 July 1813 he was appointed governor of the fortress of Theresienstadt and shortly after that Commanding General in Moravia and Silesia. He then became commander of II Corps; the First Division held the village of Nollendorf, in the French defeat at the battle of Kulm (now Chlumec) on the 29th and 30th August 1813.
On the 16th October, during the Battle of Leipzig, Merveldt’s forces were arrayed on the right flank of the French center, commanded by Napoleon. On his own right stood Wittgenstein’s Corps, and beyond that, johann von Klenau`s. His troops were interspersed among several wooded sections and surrounding several small villages: Dolitz, Mark-Kleeburg and Gautsch. Opposite him were the forces of Jozef Antoni Poniatowski and Pierre Augereau. He rode out to view the battlefield and to direct the disposition of his force. Near Dolitz, which lay close to the French line, he wandered into a troop of Hungarians, or so he thought, but they were actually a mixed group of Saxons and Poles, whom he mistook for Hungarians, and was captured. Most of the action, on the first day, occurred to the north, where Blucher`s Prussians repelled Michel Ney`s cavalry, but when Napoleon heard that Ney and Marmont had been forced back, he sought a cease-fire from the Allied monarchs. He called for Merveldt, and, after a meeting, Merveldt carried Napoleon’s proposal to the allied monarchs, which they refused.
As a condition of his release at Leipzig, he agreed not to participate in combat against France. Subsequent to his release, Merveldt was appointed commanding general of Moravia, and lived in Brno, where he received in January 1814 the instructions to proceed to London as an envoy extraordinaire to the Court of St. James`s, replacing Baron Wessembourg. He arrived in London in early March, and met the Prince Regent at Carlton House on the 7th March 1814, where he ceremoniously presented his ambassadorial credentials. He was well-received in Britain, and became a notable personage, invited to many social events; he told good stories about the wars and the various people he had encountered, which made him popular in social circles. His comings and goings were widely reported in the society columns: For example, on the 4th July 1814, he attended a lecture by the Abbé Secard, and was listed among the distinguished persons present. When he died in 1815, the British government proposed to bury him at Westminster Abbey. However, his widow took into account his last wishes and had the remains sent to Germany. He was buried in the crypt of the Michaelis chappel in Lembeck Castle where his grave still exists.
In 1903, in the Lößnig neighborhood of the city of Leipzig a square and a street were named after Maximilian von Merveldt, in honor of his contribution to the Battle of Leipzig. In 1950, the communist authorities of East Germany renamed Merveldt square to Rembrandt square and Merveldt street to Rembrand street.
The family coat of arms shows in blue a golden lattice, consisting of six raised and toppled rafters. On the helmet is a smaller shield with the same design, between two blue ostrich feathers, each bound with three oblique bands of gold. The helmet’s mantle is blue and gold. (The von und zu Merfeld Line bears a red grid on the golden background.)
Merveldt (also Meerveldt or Merfeld) is the name of a Westphalian noble family, which belongs to the nobility of the Middle Ages. The Herrn [Lords] von Merveldt were among the oldest families in the Munsterlans. Merfeld, the eponymous seat of the family, is now a neighborhood of the city of Dulmen in the District of Coesfeld in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany.
The first documented member of the family was in 1169, when the Ministerialis Henricus de Merevelde appeared in documents. The reliable line of descent began with 1227, the date mentioned in documents with “ministerialis beati Pauli” [Latin, “Ministrialis of St. Paul’s”], the office of Hermannus de Mervelde, Ministerial of the Prince-Bishops of Munster. Bernd and Hermann von Merveldt mentioned in documents from 1251, were Burgmannen [castle defenders] of Dulmen for the Prince-Bishops of Münster.
The grandson of the progenitor Hermann founded three lines. The first of them was derived from Johannes, the Ritter [knight] and Schenk [butler] of the Bishop of Münster and who later called himself only Schenk, and was established until 1400 in Dülmen. Hermann, the Burgmann of Stromberg, the second line, which became extinct in 1691 (based on the eponymous family seat, Merfeld). The third and still flourishing line began with Heinrich, the knight and, like his brother, Burgmann of Stromberg (later a resident at Schloss Westerwinkel). A branch of this line was later also established in Courland (now western Latvia).
Numerous members of the family remained in the service of the Prince-Bishops of Münster and were canons in the Munster Cathedral. Later, they also appeared in the cathedral chapters of Hildesheim, Osnabruck and Paderborn. In St,Mauritz (now in the east side of Münster) and Xanten they were canons. Female members of the family performed as canonesses in Kanonissenstift (secular nunnery) Überwasser in Munster, Borghorst and the St. Boniface Frauenstift (secular nunnery) in Freckenhorst.
Bishop Heidenreich of Münster granted Marshal Heinrich von Merveldt in 1389 the manor of Wolbeck (now in the southeastern part of Münster). There, the Herrn von Merveldt held the office of Drosten (bailiffs) until the Secularization. The goal of an independent Imperial estate was not achieved because of the disputes within the family and of the encroachments of the epsicopal lords. With his efforts as the moderator, Hermann von Merveldt Hermann participated in the completion of the Treaty of Kranenburg ( on the 23rd October 1457) to end the “Münster Bishops Feud” (1450-1457). During the Anabaptist Rebellion (1534–1535) in Münster, the Herrn von Merveldt went to the side of the Prince-Bishop of Münster. Dietrich von Merveldt (died 1564), Drost of Wolbeck, undertook in 1532 an unsuccessful attempt to restore the order of a levy on the farmers in the city.
While the Westerwinkel Line therefore always stayed in contact with the sovereign of the Prince-Bishopric, the Merfeld Line looked in late 16th and early 17th Centuries to defend its domains against all sovereign influences. Claiming its own jurisdiction, including the place of execution and the development of a Reformed church system in Merfeld was for Adolf III von Merveldt (1546–1604) and Johann Adolf von Merveldt (1580–1619) the appropriate tools for the defense of their local domination. The religious opposition against the Prince-Bishop – typical of many families of the Westphalian nobility at this time – after the Thirty Years’ War and the inheritance of the House of Merfeld by the Herrn von Merode (1693) cost the family its importance, but the jurisdiction claimed by the House of Merfeld was kept for it until the end of the Prince-Bishopric (1803).
From the Westerwinkel Line was Dietrich Hermann von Merveldt (1598–1658) the Lord Chamberlain of the Electorate of Colagne and minister at the Imperial Diets of Regensburg. Beginning with his son Dietrich Hermann II von Merveldt (1624–1688), all the hereditary heads of the family were (Obrist-)Hofmarschälle [(Colonel-) Court Marshals], members of the (Secret) Councils and Drosten of Wolbeck, all for the Prince-Bishops of Münster. Maximilian Friedrich von Merveldt (1764–1815), Austrian Feldmarschall-Leutnant [Lieutenant Field Marshal] and regimental commander, participated in the 1813 Battle of Leipzig and later became an ambassador in London.
During the 19th Century the family owned the manors of Lembeck, Ostendorf and Hagenbeck in the District of Recklinghausen, Steinhaus in Werne, the Burg Geinegge (a castle in Bockum-Hovel) and the Schloss Westerwinkel (in Aschberg-Herbern) in the District of Ludinghausen (after 1975, District of Coesfeld), Wolbeck bei Muenster, Huxdiek and Seppenhagen in the District of Beckum (after 1975, District of Warendorf), Feckenhorst in the District of Warendorf, Empte in the District of Coesfeld and – because of the marriage into the family of the Barons Droste zu Hülshoff (most famous family member was Annette von Droste-Hulshoff) – the manor of Fuchtel in Vechta (Lower Saxony). From 1717 to 1923 the family also had a Familienfideikommiss [a legal way to keep its lands and finances together in its single head for generations].
Dietrich Hermann von Merveldt (1624–1688), Privy Chamberlain of the Prince-Bishop of Münster and the Drost of Wolbeck, was raised on 17 February 1668 by Emperor Leopold I to the rank of Reichsfreiherr [Imperial Baron]. Goswin Hermann Otto von Merveldt (1661–1727) was, between 1721 and 1727, the Grand Proir of the Order of St. John “in the German lands” and, in this position, also the Reichsfürst [Imperial Prince] of Heitersheim. On the 20th December 1726 was Dietrich Burchard Reichsfreiherr von Merveldt, Councilor and Lord Chamberlain for the Elector of Cologne and the Prince-Bishop of Münster, and all his descendants were raised by Emperor Charles VI to the rank of Reichsgraf [Imperial Count] with the title of Hoch-und Wohlgeboren [“High and Well-Born”] and an upgrade for his coat-of-arms.
Furthermore, the Lords von Merveldt were awarded the diploma of the Hereditary Marshals of the District of Merveldt in the Principality of Münster by Prussian ceremony in Berlin on the 28th December 1846 in primogeniture (for the first-born of the either gender). The Bohemian Inkolat [the rights and privileges of the nobility] in the peerage was received by Maximilian von Merveldt, Imperial and Royal Chamberlain and Privy Councillor as well as Major General and Lord Chamberlain of Archduke Franz Karl, on 26 February 1848 to Vienna.
J. D. von Merveldt served within The Royal Green Jackets.
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