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Congress of Vienna: 1814-1815

The congress of Vienna, summoned by the four powers who have done most to defeat Napoleon (Britain, Russia, Prussia, Austria), is an attempt to stabilize the map of Europe after the upheavals caused by more than twenty years of war. All the crowned heads and their representatives are welcome in Vienna, with the result that there is much entertainment and glamorous festivity throughout the winter of 1814-15.

Behind the glitter, orchestrated by Metternich, the hard work of diplomacy goes on. The four great nations intend to make all the decisions themselves, but Talleyrand - representing the newly restored Louis XVIII - ensures that France has an equal place at the table. Her participation in any agreed balance of power will be essential.
 









Everyone is well aware that a breakdown in the negotiations can easily lead to a renewal of war, in the familiar pattern of recent years. Yet each participant has a vested interest in ensuring that none of the others becomes too strong. The main players are like heavily armed gangsters who nevertheless need to clinch a deal.

Danger lies primarily in Poland and Saxony, the much fought over regions bordered by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Poland has already been dismembered by her neighbours before being partly reconstituted by Napoleon - as a grand duchy which he grants to the king of Saxony. (Saxony remains a French ally longer than anyone else and thus ends up on the losing side.)
 







Eventually the major powers reach a compromise in Vienna, to the predictable detriment of Poland and of a much reduced Saxony. In most other areas this congress of conservative monarchies restores the pre-Napoleonic status quo. Just as Louis XVIII returns to the French throne, so Naples is restored to the Bourbons, the papal states to the pope, and much of northern Italy to Austria.

Among the more important changes, the larger German states keep their gains from the process of rationalization introduced by Napoleon; Denmark loses Norway to Sweden; and a new kingdom of the Netherlands links the Austrian Netherlands (or Belgium) and the United Provinces, as a barrier to renewed French expansion northwards.
 







Austria by now has no objection to relinquishing the Austrian Netherlands. But decisions of this kind are old-fashioned diplomacy, conducted between crowned heads and bearing little relation to the wishes or identity of people in the affected areas. Partly for this reason, the newly created kingdom of the Netherlands lasts only fifteen years before splitting apart.

Nevertheless in most respects the negotiators at Vienna succeed in their primary aim of finding a basis for peace. Most of their solutions hold good for several decades. The new Europe of the 19th century is no longer characterized by frequent wars. Instead, each nation is confronted internally by the likelihood of revolution.
 






Quadruple and Holy Alliances: 1814-1822

At the treaty of Chaumont in 1814, during the advance on Paris, Napoleon's four main enemies (Russia, Prussia, Austria and Britain) have pledged themselves not to make peace with France individually.

This Quadruple Alliance is renewed in a different form at the congress of Vienna, when the same nations agree to hold regular congresses in order to safeguard the newly re-established peace in Europe. This so-called congress system lasts for four international gatherings, from Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle) in 1818 to Verona in 1822.
 









Meanwhile there is another group, professing a similar purpose, which derives from an initiative of the Russian emperor Alexander I. Russia's sufferings at Napoleon's hands in 1812 have inspired him with what he believes to be a God-given mission.

In Paris in the autumn of 1815, negotiating for the second time a peace treaty with France, Alexander persuades two other autocratic rulers among the victorious nations - the king of Prussia and the emperor of Austria - to join him in a Holy Alliance to promote a peaceful community of Christian nations.
 








The intention is for all the European powers to join this Holy Alliance. Eventually there are just three notable absentees - Great Britain, papal Rome and the Ottoman empire.

The main issue confronting both alliances is whether the powers should intervene when legitimate rulers are threatened by internal revolution. The members of the Holy Alliance tend to say yes. Austria wins approval when intervening to protect the crowned heads of Naples and Piedmont in 1821. But in 1822, at the congress of Verona, Britain opposes plans for intervention in Spain and Latin America - and subsequently withdraws from the Quadruple Alliance. (Regardless of this a French army marches into Spain in 1823 to restore Ferdinand VII to his throne.)
 








This brings to an end the congress system, but the principle of regular cooperation between nations on such issues has been established and will not be forgotten.

Meanwhile members gradually defect from the Holy Alliance, until it consists only of its three founders, Russia, Prussia, Austria. As such it seems merely a club of the more reactionary crowned heads of Europe attempting to hold back the tide of progress in an age of revolution. With intervention across frontiers now generally discouraged, each ruler is likely to be on his own in confronting unrest. But the contagion of rebellion knows no boundaries. Radical notions prove hard to quarantine, in spite of the best efforts of Europe's secret police.
 






Revolutions: 1830-1848

The heady example of the French Revolution remains an inspiration to liberals (a term coined in Spain in 1810) throughout the first half of the 19th century. At first the centre of political agitation is Latin America, where between 1809 and 1821 liberation movements claim and win independence from Spain and Portugal. But soon there are barricades again in European streets.

France once more takes the lead. The Bourbon Restoration has developed into an increasingly reactionary regime, and by July 1830 the citizens of Paris have had enough. Angry crowds assemble waving the tricolour, the flag of the revolution which has not been seen since 1815.
 









After three days of street fighting the ultra-reactionary king, Charles X, flees from Paris. He is replaced on the throne by a distant cousin, Louis Philippe, so moderate in his political views that he becomes known as the Citizen King. But his reign, even though it lasts eighteen years, remains a period of restless and violent political factions. When revolution breaks out again, Paris is as usual much involved (and Louis Philippe loses his throne). But this time it is a Europe-wide phenomenon.

Sicily sets the pattern for the most turbulent year of the 19th century, with an uprising in January 1848 against Bourbon rule. Revolutions soon follow in Vienna and Paris.
 







By the end of this year of revolutions the Austrian emperor has fled from Vienna, the French king from Paris and the pope from Rome. And there are uprisings too in Munich, Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Venice and Milan.

A coincidence reveals that there is now a new element in Europe's political turmoil. In February the Communist Manifesto, hastily written by Marx and Engels, is printed in Paris. But for the moment the forces of reaction are strong enough to recover their position. By the end of 1849 almost all the ruling dynasties are back on their thrones. The exception is France, where the fall of Louis Philippe is followed by the second republic. But the second republic lasts only four years before being transformed into a second empire.
 






Italy and Germany: 1861-1871

Much of the unrest in 1848 has been either in the Italian territories of the Habsburg emperor in Vienna, or in the German kingdoms and principalities which have in recent centuries owed allegiance to Vienna within the notional framework of the Holy Roman empire. The next major changes within Europe are the result of these same areas first asserting independence and then forging a shared nationhood.

The progress of the Italian peninsula towards unification is largely the result of pressure from the kingdom of Piedmont and its energetic chief minister, Cavour.
 









War with Austria brings Lombardy (and its capital, Milan) under the control of Piedmont in 1859. Soon Parma, Tuscany and the papal states follow, in 1860, after uprisings are followed by plebiscites in which the majority votes to merge with Piedmont.

In the same year Garibaldi captures Sicily and Naples on behalf of Victor Emmanuel, the king of Piedmont. In 1861 the Piedmontese parliament in Turin declares Victor Emmanuel to be king of Italy. This leaves outside his control only Venice and its surrounding region (subsequently captured from Austria in 1866) and Rome (seized from the pope by Italian troops in 1870). With this Europe has a new nation, the Italy of today.
 







This same decade, the 1860s, sees the kingdom of Prussia flexing its muscles under the guidance of an aggressive new prime minister, Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck's intention is that Prussia rather than Austria shall lead the German world, and he makes his point conclusively with victory in the Seven Weeks' War of 1866.

The following year Bismarck uses his advantage to merge all the German states north of the river Main into a federation led by Prussia and deliberately excluding Austria. The Catholic states south of the Main maintain a tentative independence until Bismarck rallies all German patriots in a joint assault on France in 1870.
 







Germany's rapid defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 is followed by Bismarck's final moment of triumph. All the German states agree to unification under the leadership of Prussia. In January 1871 Bismarck announces the rebirth of the ancient German empire, with the Prussian king transformed into the emperor William I.

These events leave Europe with a massively powerful new nation at its centre, together with a bitter sense of hostility provoked by the humiliation of France in 1870. Moreover Bismarck soon engages in an imperial contest against both France and Britain, in the so-called 'scramble for Africa'. Europe has new tensions which bode ill for the future. And in the east other ancient hostilities are also approaching crisis point.
 






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