Karl Schulmeister is shrouded in mystery like most spies. He claimed he was descended from Hungarian nobility, but he was born a clergyman’s son in Alsace. He doesn’t really arrive in the historical record until he began as an agent in the service of Austria. He was a smuggler, and apparently a good one and had all kinds of contacts on the French side of the lines. It was 1804 and war was brewing between France and Austria. One of his contacts, General Anne-Jean-Marie-Rene Savary, was aide-de-camp to Napoleon and recruited him to work for Napoleon. A spy was born.
Schulmeister excelled as a spy and in 1805 was presented to Napoleon by General Savary with the words, “Here, sire, is a man, all brains and no heart.” It was true. Schulmeister arrived in Vienna and trotted out the story he was a Hungarian nobleman who had been exiled from France. He met Baron Mack von Leiberich, who was the commander of the Austrian army. Schulmeister worked his charm on Mack who took a liking to the young exile and attached him to his staff as chief of intelligence. That was supremely ironic, and a coup for Schulmeister, who got first dibs on any intelligence reports coming in to the Austrian army. Thus began a game of disinformation and spying.
Schulmeister presented Mack with evidence the French were going to retreat as there were uprisings at home and a British landing was imminent. He even had specially printed fake French newspapers made to prove his point. Then he bribed two Austrian officers to provide seemingly independent confirmation of all his lies. Mack had been planning to retreat from Ulm, but this new information convinced him to stay. Unbeknownst to him, the Grand Armee was in no way headed back to France, but was closing a trap around the Austrian forces. They marched to Ulm and were cut off from reinforcements. Mack was forced to surrender his forces without a shot. Napoleon praised his spy saying, “Gentlemen, all respect to Charles, who I estimate highly, because he was worth an army corps of 40,000 men to me.”
But Schulmeister wasn’t done turning on his home country yet. He kept his cover by being taken prisoner by the French, reported to Napoleon then “escaped”. Mack tried to regroup and meet up with the Russian Army. Schulmeister and another spy made their way to Vienna to get more information. However, they were betrayed and beaten and left for dead. His partner was killed, but Schulmeister made it to Vienna no worse for the wear. His continuous supply of information straight from the Office of Austrian Intelligence was a major contributing factor to Napoleon’s stunning victory at Austerliz. It was then that rumors started to circulate that Schulmeister wasn’t who he said he was. That he was a traitor. An order went out for Schulmeister’s arrest and interrogation.
However, luck intervened and the French took Vienna before the Austrians could take him. He was then made the commissioner of police in Vienna. Not bad for selling out your country, if you can sleep at night. Schulmeister apparently could as he kept up the spy work, gathering intelligence in the campaign against Prussia in 1806. He even led a small contingent of cavalry and convinced the town of Wismer to surrender.
However, his notoriety dampened his effectiveness as a spy. He was too well known, and was employed at the Ministry of Police back in Paris. He grew rich with rewards, but Napoleon shunned him and refused to award him the Legion of Honor. No one likes a traitor. Not even one who flipped for your side. He lived comfortably in Paris until 1814 and the Austrians invaded. They ordered his arrest, but he went into hiding and evaded capture. He was back again for the Hundred Days in 1815 with his old buddy Napoleon, but was captured by the Prussians and imprisoned. It took all his ill gotten gains to get him out, leaving him impoverished on the streets. He died running a tobacco shop for a friend in Strasbourg, France from heart failure. Funny, I imagine most Austrians didn’t think he had one.
Sources available on request