The Congress of Vienna and Its Aftermath (Overview)
Europe after Napoleon
The empire of Napoleon I fell in the spring of 1814. The allied powers—the United Kingdom, Russia, the Austrian Empire, and Prussia—invaded France and placed Louis XVIII, brother of executed Louis XVI, on the French throne. They called for a gathering of Europe's princely powers in Vienna at the Schönbrunn Palace.
Bringing together rulers and diplomats from across Europe, the Congress of Vienna convened in September 1814. Delegates gathered in formal and informal meetings to discuss the fate of Europe—and of France—after Napoleon. The Congress of Vienna brought back traditional court life. The aristocrats enjoyed balls, concerts, fireworks, hunts, and fancy dinners. The elegant entertainment marked a shift in Europe—the return of noble privilege and power.
The gathering lasted until June 1815. At that time, delegates signed the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna. They had decided how to change the map of Europe. Their agreement signaled a new balance of power, which brought stability to the continent. There would not be another great European war for 100 years.
The Alliance of Four
The Quadruple Alliance of Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria had several goals when they met in Vienna. Napoleon I had represented Enlightenment ideas. The Alliance planned to restore the power of monarchies in Europe. They opposed individual freedom and rights.
Czar Alexander I of Russia represented himself at the congress, although Karl Nesselrode served as his diplomatic adviser. Karl Hardenberg was the principal minister for King Frederick William III of Prussia. Viscount Castlereagh represented Britain. Francis I of Austria had Prince Metternich as his diplomat. Sweden, Spain, and Portugal also sent representatives, although they exerted little influence.
The allies also admitted a representative of Louis XVIII to the congress, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, in the hope of strengthening monarchy in France. They understood that a weak French king would be vulnerable to another revolution. Talleyrand proved to be one of Europe's greatest politicians.
Europe's New Map
Delegates to the Congress of Vienna produced a new map of Europe. In doing so, they gave little weight to ethnic pride. Nor did they consider the languages of given areas in determining boundaries. They were more concerned with ensuring a balance of power and with creating buffers against France. France was reduced to its frontiers of 1790 and was buffered by other states. Russia controlled part of Poland and kept Finland. Prussia and Austria both gained new territory to balance Russia's gains. Germany consisted of a confederation of 39 states with the Austrian emperor as its president. Italy consisted of seven states; two states were under Austrian control.
The Congress of Vienna aimed to restore noble power and privileges. Louis XVIII ascended the French throne. Many lesser nobles returned from exile. Across Europe, nobles owned large tracts of land, held important administrative and diplomatic offices, and commanded armies.
The congress also helped to renew the power of the established churches. Napoleon had placed the state above the Catholic Church. After the Congress of Vienna, that changed. Organized religion gained in popularity again. Money poured into church coffers from wealthy families and from governments.
Democracy and Nationalism
The ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution did not simply disappear after the Congress of Vienna. Liberal thinkers clashed with conservative monarchists and continued to demand voting rights and basic freedoms. They pushed for constitutional government and formed groups to promote their ideas. Despite censorship, they circulated newspapers and leaflets.
National feelings continued to stir discontent, as well. The boundaries of the new Europe did not recognize the dreams of the German, Belgian, Italian, or Polish people. In the 1830s, revolts and demonstrations broke out in many states. The old order crushed those uprisings. Soon, however, nationalism would transform Europe.
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