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Life After Napoleon and Balance of Power Politics

The years between 1789 and 1815 had been unsettling at best for most of Europe and for most European rulers in particular. The ideas of liberty and equality, neither of which sounded very appealing to the old regimes, took hold of France and led to both regicide and a bloody revolution. To make matters worse, outsiders tried to intervene in France but to no avail (see Chapter 14). As if the French Revolution and the warmongering Directory weren’t bad enough, the ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte marched his armies anywhere he pleased despite the best efforts of the rest of Europe.

After the Quadruple Alliance, which included Britain, Austria, Russia and Prussia, finally defeated Napoleon not once but twice, it seemed as though Europe might actually have some time to catch its collective breath. In one way or another, France had been stirring things up for some time and the four victorious nations, with some other minor nations riding their coattails, were determined to make sure France didn’t cause problems again.

Maintaining a Delicate Balance

Renaissance Italy, a geographic region with a number of independent principalities, saw year after year of infighting and violent competition among the Italian states. Not until Italy adopted a system known as balance of power politics did the warring subside. The Italian states created a system of alliances and mutual agreements whereby the majority of the states would keep individual states in check in the case that any one state rose up and threatened the peace and harmony of the region.

After the turmoil of the French Revolution and Napoleon, the leaders of the predominant European powers decided it would be best for all of them to adopt such a system to prevent the same thing from happening in Europe again. Although their main goal was to keep France in check, the nations wanted a system that would prevent other nations from doing what France had done. Europe was tired of fighting and, with the promise of economic improvement as a result of the Industrial Revolution (see Chapter 17), Europe hoped for decades of peace and prosperity. With that in mind, the European powers set out to design a road map for continental peace.

The Bourbon Dynasty Restored

With Napoleon securely exiled, or so they thought, the victorious European nations of Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain decided it would be in the best interest of France, and frankly in the best interest of the other European monarchies, to reinstate the French monarchy. Louis XVI died during the revolution and his son, Louis XVII, died in prison in 1795. Therefore, the throne passed to Louis XVIII (1755— 17824), the brother of Louis XVI.

King Louis XVIII was an unattractive choice for king on many levels. He was old and in poor health. He had little zeal for anything and he appealed to very few people. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in France, many of the émigrés, nobles who fled the revolution, returned to France with lists of demands. Likewise, many revolutionaries demanded a return to revolutionary ideals. In a show of good faith, Louis XVIII returned the government to a sort of constitutional monarchy, with a bicameral legislature that included the Chamber of Peers and the Chamber of Deputies.

Would You Believe?

Louis XVIII's feet and legs were crippled and disfigured from gout, a disease that commonly struck wealthy Europeans. Only they could afford to indulge in rich foods and alcohol, especially port, and they tended toward a sedentary lifestyle.

Other famous gout sufferers included Henry VIII and Isaac Newton.

His government was weak, at best, and word of this prompted Napoleon to return, during which King Louis XVIII fled the country to Ghent fearing for his life. Upon Napoleon’s second defeat and subsequent exile, this time for good, Louis XVIII returned to the throne where he ruled for about 10 more years. Upon Louis’ death, the throne passed to his brother, who ruled as Charles X (1757-1836).

After Louis’ restoration, violence had broken out against those suspected of supporting either the revolution or Napoleon. This violence resembled the violence that erupted after the Reign of Terror and was generally referred to as the White Terror. Louis did not support or approve the violence but he was powerless to stop it. The victorious Allies initially had decided to deal lightly with France because, after all, the nation had been oppressed by a dictator. However, after seeing the way the French people and soldiers rallied behind Napoleon upon his return to the nation he had supposedly oppressed, the allied nations decided not to go so easy on France after all.

The Congress of Vienna

The leaders of the Quadruple Alliance decided that the best way to reestablish order was to hold a congress, or a meeting of representatives, to decide the future of Europe. This meeting was to be held in Vienna in 1814 and 1815. Furthermore, they agreed to hold similar congresses every few years to maintain the order they established. This system of congresses, referred to as the Concert of Europe, helped maintain relative peace for another generation and helped prevent another continental war for about 100 years.

In addition to dealing with France and establishing a system of balance of power politics to keep the peace, the Congress of Vienna had the daunting task of deciding exactly what to do with all the states whose rulers had been unseated and whose borders had changed as a result of revolutionary and Napoleonic expansion. Too much had changed in Europe for the Congress to say, “As you were,” and return every state on the continent to the way it was in 1789. Parts of Europe altered by Napoleon included Poland, the Netherlands, Saxony and other German states, as well as various parts of Italy. The Congress did, however, return France to its 1789 borders.

The states represented at the Congress of Vienna included Austria, Russia, Prussia, Great Britain, and France. Everyone present had to agree on the terms, even the big loser, France. The leading negotiator of the Congress was Prince Klemens von Metternich of Austria. Britain’s prime minister, Robert Castlereagh (1769-1822), also played a major role in the negotiations. Charles Talleyrand represented France, Karl von Hardenburg represented Prussia, and Count Karl Robert Nesselrode (1780-1862) officially represented Russia, though Czar Alexander I did much of the negotiating.

Everyone agreed on a few major issues. First, France had been bothering the rest of Europe since 1789 and, if you wanted to get technical, since the reign of Louis XIV; nothing in its recent history suggested France would behave unless something were done. Second, everyone agreed that to the victors should go the spoils for all the time, effort, money, and lives wasted on the conflict with France. Third, everyone agreed that no single state should be rewarded so greatly as to upset the balance of power the Congress so desperately sought. Finally, all states of Europe were to be secure, stable states with permanent borders, states not likely to be preyed upon by other more powerful ones.

Would You Believe?

Because the delegates from the major powers did the majority of the negotiating, the delegates from nations like Spain, Sweden, and Portugal had little to do. The host of the Congress often threw extravagant parties to keep them busy. It was said, “The Congress does not walk; it dances."

Because of the brief return of Napoleon and a major disagreement over the settlement, the Congress almost failed to accomplish its goals. In addition to returning France to its 1789 geographic size and restoring the French monarchy, the Congress forced France to pay a sizable remuneration. Furthermore, the Congress forced France to allow allied troops to be stationed within French borders for five years, just in case. Those were terms that everyone could agree upon, even Talleyrand.

Britain retained many holdings it had gained over the years in its many battles with France. Austria ceded territory it had won from France in exchange for land in Venetia and Lombardy and along the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic Sea. Compensating Russia and Prussia didn’t go as smoothly. The Russian czar, Alexander I (1777-1825), wanted to reestablish the kingdom of Poland, which would naturally be under Russian control. Prussia agreed to that idea provided it could have Saxony.

Metternich and Castlereagh feared that if those two states acquired so much wealthy and populous land the balance of power would be tipped in favor not only of Russia and Prussia but also in favor of the region of eastern Europe. The disagreement over this nearly led to more fighting; the treaty allowed for war if necessary. Fortunately for Europe, cooler heads finally prevailed. In the end, Prussia and Russia each took a smaller portion of the land they wanted.

Would You Believe?

Castlereagh and Metternich opposed the Russian annexation of Poland and the Prussian annexation of Saxony so much that they actually signed a secret treaty with France against the Russians and Prussians.

Though nothing came of the threat of war, the precedent for secret treaties and alliances had been set.

As for other states around Europe, Belgium and Holland were combined to form the kingdom of the Netherlands, a larger state capable of defending itself. The three hundred-plus German states were consolidated into thirty-nine states which formed a loosely united German Confederation (see Chapter 19). Sweden received Norway from Finland. Spain and Portugal each got their old rulers back, whom Napoleon had knocked off their respective thrones, and the pope was restored as the ruler of the Papal States in Italy. Clearly, the Congress of Vienna was a major turning point in nineteenth-century Europe.

Many contemporaries criticized the conservative measures taken by the Congress, arguing that the Congress repressed the sense of nationalism and liberalism that was beginning to blossom in parts of Europe. Considering that the negotiations were influenced most by the conservative Metternich, perhaps the contemporary critics were correct. However, many later historians consider the work of the Congress to be a watershed because such broad, sweeping changes were instituted with the agreement of all involved.

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