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.

The main legacies of the period 1789 to 1815 were

  1. liberal ideas, particularly notions of civil rights, political constitutions, free political institutions and a free press,
  2.  the growth of national feeling
  3. the rise of Russia as a great power. 

In Italy, Germany, Ireland and Poland patriotism and nationalism became inseparably attached to revolution. Self-conscious `liberals’ included university students (especially in Germany), journalists, urban crowds, army officers and radical associations: (The Tugendbund (League of Virtue) and other Burschenschaften (student fraternities) in Germany, the Carbonari in Italy, and military clubs with constitutional ambitions in Russia). This is a period of secret societies and failed revolutions.

Spain and Portugal
In 1812 the leaders of the Spanish resistance had convoked a Cortes or national parliament. This was elected on a broad franchise. A majority of the delegates turned their backs on the king and the Church and drew up a constitution with a division of powers, basic civil liberties, equality under the law and a guarantee of property. These delegates were known as ‘liberales’ in opposition to the conservative ‘serviles’.

The restored Ferdinand VII reneged on his promise to respect this constitution. A coup by liberal army officers in 1820 forced him to swear allegiance to the constitution, but in 1823 France intervened militarily to oust the liberals and restore full power to Ferdinand. Ferdinand then unleashed a reign of terror against Spanish liberals. Hundreds were executed, and thousands were imprisoned or driven into exile.

In Portugal, the restored João VI accepted, then in 1822 repudiated, a liberal constitution. His son, Dom Miguel abolished the constitution in 1828, and persecuted liberals.

From 1821, the cause of Greek independence became a popular among liberals and nationalists elsewhere, including Byron and Delacroix (who painted the Turkish massacre at Chios 1821)

After 1815 the 300 principalities that had made up the Holy Roman Empire had gone forever, to be replaced by the 39-state German Confederation. Medium-sized states such as bavaria, Württemberg and Hanover grew in importance. Prussia and Austria, the two Great Powers of the  Confederation, adopted a conservative authoritarian policy, in contrast to the (slightly) more liberal politics of the German states.

The German national movement of 1815-20 was largely made up of young men, many of them university students and/or veterans of the War of Liberation. Its ideals were partly liberal and partly a nationalistic response to the French Revolution. At the Wartburg Festival of 1817, commemorating Martin Luther (depicted right)) students burned the symbols of oppression: conservative books, the final act of the Congress of Vienna and sticks used by noblemen and army officers to beat their subordinates. In 1819 a deranged student fraternity member assassinated the playwright August von Kotzebue. In response Metternich inspired the German states to introduce the Carlsbad Decrees (1819) outlawing the Tugendbund and Burschenschaften, introducing strict press censorship and placing German universities under police supervision. In Prussia, the great Wilhelm von Humboldt, founder of Berlin University, resigned in protest.

After Vienna the northern provinces of Lombardy and Venetial, the most economically advanced part of Italy, were put directly under Austrian rule, and most of the other states were clients of Austria.

After 1815 the secret society, the Carbonari, supported national independence and a republic. It formed a complex organization of local cells and an elaborate secret ritual. In 1820 and 1821 it launched unsuccessful risings in Naples and Piedmont.

In 1831 the exiled   Guiseppe Mazzini (left) founded ‘Young Italy, a group that may have had as many as 50,000 clandestine members throughout the Italian peninsula.

The Greek War of Independence
From 1821, the cause of Greek independence from Ottoman Turkey became popular among liberals and nationalists elsewhere, including Byron and Delacroix, who painted the Turkish massacre on the Ionian island of Chios that took place in March 1822. Gradually the great powers moved in the direction of intervention on the side of the insurgents. Even Metternich made this case an exception from his usual policy of support for legitimate monarchs.

On 20 October 1827 a combined Ottoman and Egyptian armada was destroyed by a combined British, French and Russian naval force off Navarino Bay on the west coast of the Peloponnese. In 1828 Russia declared war on the Ottoman EmpireIn May 1832, the British Foreign Secretary, Palmerston, convened the London Conference. The three Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia) offered the throne of Greece to the Bavarian prince, Otto of Wittelsbach. Under the Protocol signed on May 7, 1832 between Bavaria and the protecting Powers, Greece was defined as a ‘monarchical and independent state’ though it had to pay an indemnity to Turkey.

Russia and Poland
Alexander I threw off his liberal sympathies, became increasingly reactionary. From 1816 secret societies spread in the universities, but the political goals of the conspirators were vague and their numbers were small. On Alexander’s unexpected death in 1825, the `Decembrist’ revolt of liberal army-officers sought to introduce constitutional monarchy. After it was crushed, Nicholas I exiled hundreds of the Decembrists to Siberia and inaugurated thirty years of reaction.

In the eighteenth century Poland had vanished, swallowed up by the three partitioning powers, Austria, Russia and Prussia. `Congress’ Poland, the core Polish territory, was joined to Russia in 1815 as a `kingdom’ ruled by the tsar. Following the July Revolution in France, secret societies, whose members were mostly younger officers in the Polish divisions of the tsar’s armies, planned a coup in Warsaw. It took a campaign from February to October 1831 to suppress the revolt. After it was put down, Poland’s semi-autonomous status was revoked by Nicholas I and Poland was formally annexed to the Russian Empire.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands
The kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg under the rule of William I of Holland, was an artificial creation set up in 1815 to form a bastion against France. This was deeply unpopular in Catholic Belgium. Following the July Revolution, street demonstrations in Brussels at the end of August turned into clashes between demonstrators and royal troops. By November there was a provisional government of the newly independent Belgium. Dutch rule was overthrown in 1830 and in 1831 the neutral kingdom of the Belgians was established by the Great Powers, with Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (left) as king. (He was allowed to keep his Protestant faith.) In 1832 he married Louise-Marie, eldest daughter of Louis-Philippe (see later post).

The European powers could not ignore these developments. The governments of Austria, Prussia and Russia wanted to check the Belgian revolution and preserve the position of 1815. However, Britain and France wanted to prevent intervention and summoned a five-power conference to meet in London in November 1830 just as the elections to the Belgian National Congress were taking place. In December the conference recognized the principle of Belgian independence and in January it issued a protocol proclaiming that ‘Belgium forms a perpetually neutral state’. However it was not until 1838 that the Dutch accepted the 1831 treaty and recognized Belgian independence. The status of Belgium as an independent and neutral country was finally confirmed by the Treaty of London in 1839. 

  1. The Vienna settlement was undermined by wars for independence in Greece and Belgium.
  2. However revolts in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Poland were suppressed.
  3. Among young intellectuals in particular, liberalism and nationalism were challenging the existing authorities.