Posts Tagged ‘Waterloo


European History Pt. 46 — Congress of Vienna

We saw how the European powers finally banded together to end Napoleon’s reign. Afterwards, a workable peace had to be built by the powers of Europe in one of the most important diplomatic conferences in history.

France — Talleyrand

Prussia — Hardenberg

Austria — Clemens von Metternich

England — Castlereagh

Russia — Alexander

Of course, a big part of the negotiations was how to contain France. States around France in all directions were strengthened. Princes were propped up if need be. Prussia was created as a buffer state between Russia and France; it was given more land to accomplish this.

The first sticking point was the Polish Saxon question. It was quite simple really. Russia wanted to control Poland (which had been partitioned into nothingness), and Prussia sought to have Saxony, a land in between Germany and France. Metternich was horrified by this prospect because it would mean a strengthened Prussia. Castlereagh hated the proposal because he thought Russia was the main strength to be feared in Europe, and he wanted to contain it.

France jumped at the prospect to become relevant to the congress proceedings, and here was there chance as the fifth and tiebreaking great power. Talleyrand agreed, with Britain and Austria, to go to war against Prussia and Russia in a triple alliance. News of the alliance leaked, and Alexander backed down, content to control an short-lived entity known as “congress Poland.” Prussia had to back down.

At this point, all the negotiations were thrown into doubt when Napoleon escaped from Elba in March 1815. He returned to Paris where old guard revolutionaries flocked to him. He promised to dismantle the congress of Vienna. During his “100 days” he raised the spectre of resurgent revolution, empire, and war.

Again, the four powers dusted off their muskets and bayonets. They beat Napoleon at Waterloo and wrote a new, harsher treaty with France, saddling them with war indemnities and promising amongst themselves that a bonaparte would never rule France. Napoleon was sent to St. Helena.

Closing Remarks On the Napoleonic Era

I thought it would never happen, but we are now largely done with the French Revolution and its Napoleonic capstone. The book notes in closing that the French Revolution provided a model for independence struggles elsewhere.

The book rightly places the Congress of Vienna a critical pivot point in European history. Its upsides: it dealt with France without creating too much anger on their part (compare this to the Peace of Paris at the end of WWI) and it smoothed the Polish-Saxon question for 50 years. It also created, in a sense, peace. There was no major conflict in Europe for the roughly 100 years leading up to WWI.

The book notes though that the treaty fared better with past issues than with future issues. Haha, of course, that’s the nature of human fallibility. The issues on the horizon are much harder to see and deal with. The failure in this department was the treaties suspicion to liberalism, self determination, and democracy. German patriots particularly upset. The congress of vienna was about the old way of restoring the balance of power, but that concept was changing drastically, as we will see.