Napoleon’s control over Europe for fifteen years had changed the boundaries of European countries and the balance of power was non-existent. When Napoleon was defeated the European leaders met in Vienna in 1814 to reorganise Europe. The Austrian Chancellor, Prince von Metternich (1773-1859) presided over the Congress. He made all the agreements following three main principles:
- Legitimism: monarchies based on the Divine Right of the Kings and tradition. Absolutism was newly imposed over most ofEurope.
- Intervention when it is needed to maintain the established order.
- Balance of power to avoid the hegemony of one country over others.
All the European states were represented except the Ottoman Empire. The leading countries were Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria. Later on France was accepted in the meeting.These big five powers made the most important decisions:
1) Reorganising the map of European: Napoleon’s empire had to be divided and these territories had to be handed back to the previous rulers. The main changes were:
- Russia gained part of Poland and took Finland fromSweden Prussia was given the Rhineland and part of Poland
- Austria took over the Italian states of Lombardy, Venetia and part of Poland. The small Italian states of Parma, Modena and Tuscany were ruled by Austrian princes.
- Sweden took Norway from Denmark; Denmark occupied the north of Germany.
- The HRE disappeared and a confederation of 39 German states was set up under the presidency of Austria.
- The lands of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg were united as the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
- Britain gained maritime hegemony with several small territories, including the Cape of Good Hope, Ceylon, Malta, the Ionian Islands, etc. They also obtained several territories abroad taken from France.
2) Re-establishing the political system from before the French Revolution: Spain and Naples were restored to the Bourbon royal family, the Pope recovered the Papal States, Louis XVIII was the new French king, etc.
Several meetings followed the Congress of Vienna to make sure that the new order worked. To ensure this new order, two alliances were established:
- The Quadruple Alliance: the four powers which had joined to defeat Napoleon (Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria) agreed to guarantee the Vienna agreement and to meet regularly to discuss and maintain the peace of Europe. This agreement guaranteed the Congress System”.
- The Holy Alliance: proposed by Tsar Alexander I wanted to safeguard Absolutism and the Christian religion. Prussia, Austria and later France and Spain participated.
The Congress of Vienna and the following meetings succeeded for a time. There was no major European war between 1815 and the 1850’s, the longest period of peace in Europe for centuries. France wasn’t heavily punished for the Napoleonic wars and did not seek revenge on those who
defeated them. The Congress System seemed, at first, to work quite well.
The Congress System ignored two new important movements: Nationalism and Liberalism. Some nations wished to be independent and their desires were pushed aside. The problem wasn’t solved and it was just postponed in countries like Belgium, Italy and Germany. Some others wanted to return to the ideas of the French Revolution and limit the power of the monarchies. The Congress of Vienna considered Liberalism as a dangerous movement against the power of kings. The main powers tried to suppress both and the system started to break down in the 1820s with the Liberal revolutions.