Congress of Vienna
- Lasting from September 1814 to June 1815, the Congress of Vienna had two chief purposes. One was to reconstruct the boundaries of states that Napoleon I of France had reshuffled with his armies and administrative reforms. The Treaty of Paris, concluded in May 1814, had reduced France to its 1792 territorial limits. Nevertheless, the territorial configurations of Europe’s other sovereignties remained unsettled. The second task facing the Congress was coming to some agreement on a code of international relations to ensure that whatever new order came out of the gathering would last.The momentous nature of the decisions to be taken was well appreciated by European states both large and small. The Congress was called by the Habsburg ruler Francis I (1768–1835). Once Holy Roman emperor, he was now emperor of Austria, thanks to Napoleon’s reorganization of Germany’s boundaries and governments. Prince Klemens von Metternich, of Rhenish origin but since 1809 the foreign minister of Emperor Francis, generally orchestrated the conclave. But states, ranging from large and important ones that were instrumental in Napoleon’s defeat—Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain as well as Austria—to very small ones, saw it in their interest to attend. Stripped of its Bonapartist pretensions, France was represented by the wily Bishop Charles de Talleyrand, who did much at the gathering to reestablish his country’s role in continental affairs. Both Prussia and Russia came to the Congress hoping to enlarge their boundaries, Prussia by absorbing Saxony, Russia chiefly by taking control of the Duchy of Warsaw, a Napoleonic creation designed to serve as the nucleus of a reunited Poland. Having faced Louis XIV in battle at the beginning of the 18th century and Napoleon a hundred years later, Great Britain wished to maintain a balance of power on the Continent that would discourage hegemonic aspirations of any one state there. The Habsburgs, humiliated by Napoleon’s victories in central Europe and Italy and worried about the nationalist sentiments they often inspired there, were eager to block Prussian and Russian expansion and to prevent any reordering of Europe along national lines.The work of the Congress, or rather the multilateral negotiations that went on between and among the various states in attendance, was held up for long stretches of time by the conflicts these ambitions provoked. Napoleon’s escape from Elba in March 1815, his return to France, and his reassembling of an army were other serious distractions. All of these concerns shaped the so-called Final Act of the Congress, which was signed by eight of the powers present at the meeting on 9 June, more than a week before Napoleon was beaten once and for all at Waterloo. The Austrian Empire gave up territories the Habsburgs had held in southwestern Germany for centuries. Some Habsburg Polish land was turned over to Russia as well. In return, however, Emperor Francis I was allowed to annex Lombardy and Venetia in Italy; King Ferdinand of Sicily agreed to follow Austria’s direction in military and foreign affairs. These provisions were generally seen as a way of preventing any further French insurgencies. The German-speaking core of the Habsburg lands was rounded out through the annexation of the archbishopric of Salzburg, once an independent prince-bishopric in the Holy Roman Empire. In Germany, the Habsburgs, through their sovereignty in their German provinces, joined the German Confederation, a loose association of the German territorial states. Reflecting a tradition of long standing, the Austrian emperor was made president of the body. Some mechanisms were put in place to guarantee that these and corresponding arrangements for the other signatories would endure. Metternich was not terribly enthusiastic about a project of Tsar Alexander I of Russia called the Holy Alliance, signed by Russia, Prussia, and Austria in September 1815. As rewritten by the Austrian foreign minister, it called for monarchs to observe the principles of fraternity among themselves, a sentiment that was read to mean that the participants should come to one another’s aid should their thrones be threatened. The Quadruple Alliance, formed by Russia, Great Britain, Austria, and Prussia two months later, called for the sovereigns of all four countries to consult periodically on ways of maintaining peace in Europe.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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