The Congress of Vienna, held in 1814-1815, was a series of diplomatic conferences that aimed to establish a new balance of power in Europe following the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Its final Act was signed nine days before Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815.
The Congress of Vienna was convened following the Napoleonic Wars, which had disrupted the established order and redrawn borders. After Napoleon’s defeat in May 1814, the victorious Allied powers, including Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain, sought to restore stability and establish a new framework for European relations. Consequently, they invited other states of Europe to send plenipotentiaries to Vienna for a peace conference.
Among the central figures of the Congress of Vienna was Klemens von Metternich, the Austrian statesman and host, whose conservative views and desire for a restoration of the pre-Napoleonic order heavily influenced the negotiations. France was represented by Prince Talleyrand, a French diplomat, who advocated for favourable terms for his country despite its recent defeat. Tsar Alexander I of Russia, with his vision of a conservative and monarchical Europe, also played a prominent role. Castlereagh, the British representative, helped maintain a balance of power in the negotiations. Finally, another influential figure was Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, the French ambassador to Austria, known for his diplomatic skills and moderation.
The Congress of Vienna sought to create a stable and long-lasting European order by redrawing borders and balancing the power between nations. By doing so, they aimed to prevent any single country from dominating the continent and avoid future conflicts.
To address concerns regarding France, the negotiators created strong border states. For this purpose, the Netherlands and the Italian Kingdom of Piedmont were created. Prussia got the left bank of the Rhine, while Austria gained territories in northern Italy. Moreover, the German Confederation was established to maintain stability in Central Europe and replace the Holy Roman Empire. Finally, France was allowed to retain most of its pre-Napoleonic borders but was required to return territories it had acquired during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods.
During the negotiations, the future of Napoleon's Grand Duchy of Warsaw posed a significant challenge. Tsar Alexander wanted to annex the territory, but Austria and Prussia had parts of it. Prussia formed an alliance with Russia, whereby Russia would support Prussia's claim for Saxony, and Prussia would support Russia's claim for Poland. To combat the Russian-Prussian alliance, Metternich, Castlereagh, and Talleyrand signed a secret treaty agreeing to oppose them. In the end, the Congress established a smaller Poland known as "Congress Poland" with Alexander installed as the king. With Russia satisfied, Prussia lost its ally and only was able to get a small part of Saxony.
However, in March 1815, amid negotiations, Napoleon escaped from exile on Elba and re-occupied the throne of France, marking the beginning of the period known as the Hundred Days. The allies regrouped and defeated him decisively at Waterloo on June 18th, 1815, nine days after having signed the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna. To prevent France from ever again becoming a threat to Europe, they briefly entertained the idea of dismembering it. However, France got away with a foreign military occupation and heavy war reparations. Napoleon was shipped to St Helena, where he remained until his death.
The Congress of Vienna profoundly shaped the political landscape of Europe in the 19th century. By restoring monarchies and re-establishing conservative values, the Congress aimed to suppress revolutionary ideas and maintain stability. While the agreements reached at the Congress were not without flaws, they did succeed in achieving a remarkable period of peace in Europe that lasted for nearly four decades.
However, the Congress also drew criticism for its conservative nature and disregard for nationalist aspirations. Nationalism and liberalism gained momentum in the following decades, leading to social and political transformations that eventually led to the revolutions of 1848. Nonetheless, the Congress of Vienna laid the foundation for a new era of diplomacy and set a precedent for future international conferences. Its principles of collective security, territorial adjustments, and the balance of power became guiding principles for European diplomacy well into the 20th century.
- napoleonic wars
- tsar alexander i
- great britain