Monday, 22 October 2012

Europe after the Congress of Vienna

The two pictures above demonstrate the contradictory aspects of the period: the crushing of the Decembrist revolt in Russia in 1825 and the July Revolution in Paris in 1830.

The post-Napoleonic rulers committed themselves in practice to an attempt to turn the clock back or at least to preserve the status quo: an aristocratic society, supported by a middle class (enriched in France by the French Revolution and in Britain by the Industrial Revolution).
But could the clock be turned back? New ideas were striking at the roots of the traditional order. ‘Conservatism’ and ‘conservative’ were new words from France. ‘Liberal’ from Spain acquired a new currency as a noun. ‘Democrat’ and ‘democracy’ began for the first time to be used by some in a favourable way. ‘Left’ and ‘right’ acquired political meanings.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Congress of Vienna

‘The reconstruction of Europe at the Congress of Vienna is probably the most seminal episode in modern history. Not only did the congress redraw the map entirely. It determined which nations were to have a political existence over the next hundred years and which were not…It entirely transformed the conduct of international affairs.’ Adam Zamoyski, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (HarperPress, 2007), p. xiii.

The Congress System

In September 1815 Tsar Alexander (who was still under the influence of Julie von Krüdener), Francis I and Frederick William III (and all European rulers except the pope, the sultan and the Prince Regent) signed a Holy Alliance (the countries depicted right) to deal with each other and other peoples on the basis of Christianity. The pragmatic Castlereagh described it as
‘a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense’.
A more realistic treaty was signed in November – the Quadruple Alliance Treaty. This set up the ‘Concert of Europe’ by which Britain, Russia, Austria, Prussia attempted to control events by regular consultation (summit conferences) among themselves. This is known as the Congress System.

He had to fall

[Above: Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides, Paris.]

'Napoleon was bound to fail because his appetite for gloire was insatiable. Like the French Revolution, from whose culture he sprang, he never had any war aims beyond victory.'
From Tim Blanning, The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 (Penguin, 2008), p. 669.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Napoleon: rise and fall

This very schematic diagram istaken from my O Level text book, Denis Richards' An Illustrated History of Modern Europe (Longmans, 1950) and is a wonderful summary of the main events of Napoleon's career. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Napoleon: the downfall

[The above picture is Goya's, The Second of May, 1808: The Charge of the Mamelukes, depicting the brutal suppression of the Spanish revolt.]

The first major test of Napoleon’s rule was the Spanish crisis of 1808, when he placed his brother Joseph on the throne. The military presence of the French in Madrid led to a revolt  on 2 May. Its brutal suppression triggered off the Spanish War of Independence, known in British history as the Peninsular War, a popular counter-revolution which was exploited by the British. In August British troops under Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal, and the ensuing war forced Napoleon to commit 300,000 troops to the country to fight the British and Portuguese armies and the Spanish insurgents.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Napoleon as administrator

Above, Jacques-Louis David, The Emperor Napoleon in his Study (1812).

Here are some thoughts about Napoleon's achievements in France.

Centralization: Napoleon created the agencies of centralized administration and the administrators to run them. These included the gendarmerie, the state-controlled paramilitary police force; the prefect, the head of departmental administration, appointed by the central government and accountable exclusively to it; a cadre of trained experts for the state, products of the École Polytechnique, founded in 1794; new state-run secondary schools, the lycées, whose curriculum centred on Latin and Mathematics.

Spin-doctoring à la français

Antoine-Jean Gros, The Bridge at Arcole (1801)
If you would like more on how painters acted as Napoleon's propagandists, then you should find this site interesting.

 The battle of Arcola, 17 November 1796: a case study in propaganda
This is what happened as described in Philip Dwyer, Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769-1799 (Bloomsbury, 2007), 1-3, 248-58.

Arcola is a village in northern Italy, 32 kilometres east of Verona. French and imperial forces confronted each other there, separated by the river Alpone and a small wooden bridge. The countryside around was marshy and crossed by dykes as a defence against flooding. Napoleon believed he had to cross this bridge in order to take Arcola.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Napoleon on the web

There's loads of material on Napoleon on the web.

Here, for example.

Napoleon: the rise to power

The posts on Napoleon are based on a wide range of reading. I have found Jonathan Sperber's Revolutionary Europe, 1780-1850 (Longman, 2000) especially helpful.

Napoleon institutionalized the changes brought about by the French Revolution and spread them throughout Europe. This makes him easily the most influential figure of the period. He was the heir both of the Revolution and the Enlightenment and the changes he brought about outlasted his military defeat.