Karl Philipp was born 18/19 April 1771 in Vienna, the son of Johann Nepomuk Anton of Schwarzenberg and Marie Eleonore Countess of Öttingen-Wallerstein. He was one of thirteen siblings, seven of whom did not reach adulthood.
Karl Philipp entered the imperial cavalry in 1788, fought in 1789 under Lacy and Loudon against the Turks, distinguished himself by his bravery, and became a major in 1792. In the French campaign of 1793, he served in the advanced guard of the army commanded by Prince Josias of Coburg, and at Le Cateau-Cambrésis in 1794 his impetuous charge at the head of his regiment, vigorously supported by twelve British squadrons, broke a whole corps of the French, killed and wounded 3,000 men, and captured 32 of the enemy's guns. He was immediately decorated with the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa.
After taking part in the battles of Amberg and Würzburg in 1796 during the French Revolutionary Wars, he was raised to the rank of general-major, and, in 1799, he subsequently was promoted to Feldmarschall-Leutnant. At the Battle of Hohenlinden, he led a division in the right wing. During the retreat, his promptitude and courage saved the right wing of the Austrian army from destruction, and he was afterwards entrusted by the Archduke Charles of Austria with the command of the rearguard. In 1804, Prince Karl Philipp was created Fürst zu Schwarzenberg in a title identical to, but separate from, that of his brother, Joseph, Prince of Schwarzenberg.
In the war of 1805 he held command of a division under Mack, and when Ulm was surrounded by Napoleon in October he was one of the band of cavalry, under the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este, which cut its way through the hostile lines. In the same year, he received the Commander's Cross of the Order of Maria Theresa and in 1809 he was awarded the Order of the Golden Fleece.
In 1806–1809, Schwarzenberg served as the Austrian ambassador to Russia. Schwarzenburg returned to Austria in time to take part in the Battle of Wagram, leading a cavalry division in the Reserve Corps and was soon afterwards promoted to general of cavalry. After the peace of Vienna, he was sent to Paris to negotiate the marriage between Napoleon and the Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria. The prince gave a ball in honour of the bride on 1 July 1810, which ended in a fire that killed many of the guests, including his own sister-in-law, wife of his older brother, Joseph.
Napoleon held Schwarzenberg in great esteem, and it was at his request that the prince took command of the Austrian auxiliary corps in the Russian campaign of 1812. The Austrian general won some minor victories against the Russians at Gorodetschna and Wolkowisk. Afterwards, under instructions from Napoleon, he remained for some months inactive at Pultusk.
In 1813, when Austria, after many hesitations, took the side of the allies against Napoleon, Schwarzenberg, recently promoted to Feldmarschall, was appointed commander-in-chief of the allied Grand Army of Bohemia. As such, he was the senior of the allied generals who conducted the campaign of 1813–1814. Under his command, the allied army was mauled by Napoleon at the Battle of Dresden on 26–27 August and driven back into Bohemia. However, his army defeated pursuing French forces at the Second Battle of Kulm. Returning to the fray, he led the Allied army north again and played a major role in Napoleon's decisive defeat at the Battle of Leipzig on 16–18 October. During the invasion of France in 1814, he beat a French force at the Battle of Bar-sur-Aube in late February. He repelled an attack by Napoleon in the Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube on 20–21 March and overcame the last barrier before Paris by winning the Battle of Fère-Champenoise on 25 March. His capture of the French capital on 31 March after the Battle of Paris resulted in the overthrow of Napoleon.
The next year, during the Hundred Days when Napoleon escaped from Elba and regained the French throne, in the hostilities that followed Schwarzenberg commanded the Army of the Upper Rhine (an Austrian-allied army of about a quarter of a million men). But shortly afterwards, having lost his sister Caroline, to whom he was deeply attached, he fell ill. A stroke disabled him in 1817, and in 1820, when revisiting Leipzig, the scene of the "Battle of the Nations" that he had directed seven years before, he suffered a second stroke. He died there on 15 October.
The Prince married the Countess Maria Anna von Hohenfeld (20 May 1767–1848), who was the widow of Prince Anton Esterhazy. They had three sons:Friedrich, Prince of Schwarzenberg (1800–70), his eldest son, had an adventurous career as a soldier, and described his wanderings and campaigns in several interesting works, of which the best known is his Wanderungen eines Lanzknechtes (1844–1845). He took part as an Austrian officer in the campaigns of Galicia 1846, Italy 1848 and Hungary 1848, and as an amateur in the French conquest of Algeria, the Carlist Wars in Spain and the Swiss civil war of the Sonderbund. He became a major-general in the Austrian army in 1849, and died after many years of well-filled leisure in 1870.
Karl II Borromäus Philipp (1802–1858), the second son, was a Feldzeugmeister;
Edmund Leopold Friedrich (1803–73), his third son, was a field marshal in the Austrian army.
Of Schwarzenberg's nephews, Felix Schwarzenberg, the statesman, was also notable, and Friedrich Johann Josef Coelestin (1809–1885) was a cardinal and a prominent figure in papal and Austrian history.