The Vienna Settlement: Principles, Criticism and Holy Alliance!
The Vienna Settlement was based on three principles, viz., restoration, legitimacy’ and compensation.
As regards the principle of restoration, it was decided to restore, as far as possible, the boundaries and reigning families of the several European countries as they were before the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon.
Napoleon had badly mutilated the political map of Europe. He had tom away territories from some States and added them to other States to suit his convenience.
However, when he was overthrown in 1814 and sent to the Island of Elba, the problem before the European statesmen was how the map of Europe was to be redrawn. As Metternich had played the most important part in the overthrow of Napoleon, Vienna was chosen as the venue of negotiations and the settlement of Europe.
Many emperors, foreign ministers and statesmen assembled at Vienna and carried on deliberations during the winter of 1814-15. There was a lot of controversy among the victors regarding the fate of Poland and Saxony.
Prussia desired to annex the whole of Saxony in exchange for the large amount of Polish territory she was surrendering to Russia and Czar Alexander “backed up” Prussia to the limit. Metternich refused to allow Prussia so large an extension of the territory contiguous to Austria and Castlereagh and Talleyrand (of France) stood with him. The difference went right up to the brink of war.
At the beginning of 1815, France, Austria and England formed a defensive alliance to resist the claims of Russia and Prussia. This extreme step produced the desired results. The Czar was convinced that the other side would fight rather than give way. The result was that he gave way on some points and Prussia followed suit. Ultimately, Prussia secured only about half of Saxony.
The part of Talleyrand has been exaggerated to some extent. It is wrong to say that he created differences between the allies. All that he was able to do was that he inflamed and exploited the differences between the allies to the advantage of France.
The result was that all matters were already adjusted when the news came that Napoleon had run away from the Island of Elba and Louis XVIII had left France. The work of the Congress was completed after the overthrow of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.
1. Principles on which Vienna Settlement was based
2. Criticism of Vienna Settlement
3. The Holy Alliance
1. Principles on which Vienna Settlement was based:
(1) The Vienna Settlement was based on three principles, viz., restoration, legitimacy’ and compensation. As regards the principle of restoration, it was decided to restore, as far as possible, the boundaries and reigning families of the several European countries as they were before the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon.
The principle of restoration was consistent with that of legitimacy which the French statesman Talleyrand was exploiting in order to save France from further territorial spoliation and to enable his defeated country to play an important part in the deliberations of Europe. The Vienna Settlement restored the Bourbons in Spain, Naples and Sicily. The House of Orange was restored in Holland.
The House of Savoy was restored in Piedmont and Sardinia. The Pope was also restored with all his possessions in Italy. The various German princes whose territories had been included by Napoleon in the Confederation of the Rhine were also restored to their territories. The Swiss Confederation was also restored. The Tyrol was restored to Austria. The right of Austria to the Austrian Netherlands was recognised but she was allowed to exchange it for some other territory.
(2) During the Napoleonic wars, Great Britain had captured the important Dutch colonies of Ceylon, Cape Colony, South Africa and Guiana. Those colonies were confirmed to her. However, with a view to compensating Holland and also to creating a strong State on the northern frontier of France, the Austrian Netherlands were given over to Holland. The King of Holland was made the King of the United Netherlands. Austria was compensated for her loss of the Austrian Netherlands and shot got Lombardy and Venetia in Italy.
The members of the Hapsburg family were put on the thrones of Tuscany, Parma and Modena. Finland and Swedish Pomerania were taken away from Sweden and given to Russia and Prussia respectively. Sweden was compensated in the form of Norway which was taken away from Denmark. Denmark was punished on account of her alliance with Napoleon for a long time.
(3) Prussia also gained a great deal. She got back all the German territories which had been taken away from her by Napoleon. She was also given Swedish Pomerania, two-fifths of Saxony, the whole of Westphalia and most of the Rhineland.
One of the reasons why Prussia was given these territories was that it was intended to make Prussia a bulwark against France. However, the result of these acquisitions was that Prussia became the leader of Germany. These concessions added to her mineral resources and helped her to become a great industrialized country. Prussia also became a purely German State by the surrender of her Polish territory to Russia.
(4) With the object of maintaining the balance of power and creating a ring round France, it was decided to enlarge and strengthen the kingdom of Sardinia. To that kingdom, Savoy and Piedmont were restored and Genoa was added.
(5) As regards the settlement of Germany, it was decided not to restore all the petty States which existed before the French Revolution. The Holy Roman Empire had been abolished by Napoleon in 1806 and no attempt was made to revive it. It is true that men like Stein advocated the unification of Germany under the supremacy of a single Power, but Frederick William III did not show any keenness to become the leader of Germany and Metternich had also given a promise to the Princes of South Germany that their sovereign rights would be protected.
Neither Prussia nor Austria nor the Princes of the small German States showed any enthusiasm for a unified Germany and so the opportunity to create a united Germany was lost. A loose German Confederation of 38 States was established.
There was to be a Diet at Frankfurt which was to consist of Delegates from the various sovereign States of Germany. The Diet was to be presided over by the Chancellor of Austria. Austria was given the right to send six Delegates to the Diet. All the States were not given representation in it.
The members were forbidden to enter into an alliance with a foreign Power either against the Confederation as a whole or against a fellow-member. Although the German Confederation was nominally guaranteed by all the European Powers, in actual practice, Austria dominated her politics.
(6) Russia was allowed to retain Finland which she had conquered from Sweden. She was also given Bessarabia which she had captured from the Turks. She also got most of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. England occupied Heligoland in the North Sea, Malta and the Ionian Islands in the Mediterranean, Cape Colony in South Africa, Ceylon and other islands.
Austria-Hungary recovered her Polish possessions. As compensation for the Austrian Netherlands given to Holland, she got Lombardy and Venetia. She also got the Illyrian provinces along the eastern coast of the Adriatic. Duchy of Parma was given to Maria Louise, wife of Napoleon and an Austrian Princess. Princes connected with the Austrian imperial family were restored to the throne of Modena and Tuscany.
In the name of legitimacy France was restored but she was hemmed in by the Netherlands, Prussia and Sardinia. The leadership of Europe passed to Austria from France. The Austrian acquisition made her a great power in Europe. She dominated both Germany and Italy. She became more German than before. Although the Austrian Emperor lost the title of the Holy Roman Emperor yet the control of Austria over Germany was complete.
2. Criticism of Vienna Settlement:
The view of Prof. Fyffe is that “Standing on the boundary line between two ages, the legislation of Vienna forms a landmark in history.” It cannot be denied that the Vienna Settlement of 1815 was not so bad as the Paris settlement of 1919-20.
On account of the influence of Castlereagh, the settlement of 1815 was not one of revenue. He rightly told the statesmen present at Vienna that they had assembled not to distribute the trophies of war but to make such a settlement as would give peace to the people of Europe.
The principle of compromise was applied wherever possible and consequently there was no thrashing or flogging of France. In 1919, Germany was held responsible for all the acts of omission and commission of William II and was deprived of her territories, colonies, investments, etc., and was made to pay a huge war indemnity amounting to billions of dollars which was not within her competence to pay.
It cannot be denied that Napoleon was responsible for acts of wanton aggression and had disturbed Europe in a very bad way, but France was not held guilty for all his misdeeds. Even when Napoleon was defeated for the second time in 1815 at Waterloo, a very mild treaty was imposed on France. Her frontiers were restricted to those of 1791 and not even those of 1789 when the French Revolution actually started.
France was required to restore her treasures of arts which Napoleon had plundered from other countries. She was merely asked to pay a war-indemnity of 700,000,000 francs. The period of Allied occupation was cut short in 1818 when France paid off the war indemnity. The result of this kind treatment to France was that there was no general conflagration in Europe for 99 years (1815-1914).
Seaman says, “Nevertheless the Vienna Settlement must not be regarded as having of itself prevented European war for a century. It is possible to say instead that it contained in none of its provisions the seeds of a future war between the great powers, and must thus be rated a better peace than either Utrecht or Versailles. Utrecht rankled in the hearts of the Hapsburgs, and its colonial and commercial clauses were an encouragement to the British to embark in due course on new wars against France and Spain.
Versailles humiliated, or appeared to humiliate the Germans; created new democratic States whose democracy had no roots and whose independent sovereignty was illusory; abolished old minority problems only to create new ones; disappointed the Italians and inflated the French; and by appealing to the irrational forces of the mass mind bred a chaos contrasting tragically with the orderliness that Vienna achieved by ignoring the masses altogether. For the disregard of Liberalism and Nationalism at Vienna (in so far as they were disregarded) did not cause war.
They were right in thinking in 1815 that before revolutions can make wars there must first be the wars that encourage the revolutions. They saw that the issues of peace and war are decided by the great powers and by them alone. Hence, the simple fact that the Vienna Settlement contained no clause that offered any of the great powers a pretext for war is its complete and sufficient justification.”
About the Congress of Vienna, Gentz, its Secretary, wrote, “The fine phrases about the ‘reconstruction of the social order’, ‘the regeneration of the political system of Europe”, and an enduring peace founded on ‘a just redistribution of forces’, etc., were intended only to tranquilize the people and give to the solemn reunion an air of dignity and grandeur; the real object of the Congress was to divide among the conquerors the spoils of the conquered.” However, Ketelbey does not agree with this view.
According to him, it was inevitable that the victorious powers should seek to protect their own interests, but their treatment of the defeated enemy was marked by reasonableness and even generosity. It is true that the victorious powers got their profit, but not so much at the cost of France but as that of other countries such as Poland. It is true that the victorious powers talked of the “rights, freedom, and independence of all nations”, they did not mean to draw political frontiers round every group of articulate nationalists.
They were determined to prevent another European war and provide safeguards against the same. They had seen the destruction caused even by the people’s war and hence, they repudiated the influence and example of revolutionary French democracy in the same way as the United Nations repudiated German Nazism or Italian Fascism after the World War 11. It must not be forgotten that the victorious powers had already made peace with France before the Congress of Vienna and they had allowed the representatives of France to go to Vienna on equal terms.
What the Congress embodied in its Final Act had already been agreed upon among the powers. The fates of Finland, Norway and Belgium and the states bordering France had already been settled. The major work left to the Congress was to settle the political pattern of the German, Swiss and Italian states and the Polish-Saxon question.
The Congress of Vienna restored wherever restoration was possible. It tried to protect Europe against a revival of French imperialism. It provided a guarantee order and initiated a policy for settling future disputes. It built broadly on the principle of a balanced European society of five major powers.
The result was that there was no major war for about forty years. Russia gained immensely out of the arrangements made at the Congress of Vienna and it started taking an active part in the affairs of Western Europe and continued to do so till her defeat in the Crimean War.
The victors of 1815 acknowledged the disappearance of the Holy Roman Empire, the withdrawal of Sweden into a comparative Scandinavian isolation and the abandonment of her trans-Baltic ambitions. The number of the states in Germany was reduced and that helped the cause of German unification.
The newly strengthened kingdoms of Russia and Sardinia were to help the unification of Germany and Italy. It is true that the Congress of Vienna failed to satisfy the aspirations of Poland and it ignored the population of Belgium and yoked Norway to Denmark, but it showed both moderation and political wisdom. It provided a real foundation on which later Europe was to build and it preserved international stability for forty years.
(1) However, it cannot be maintained that the Vienna Settlement was an ideal one and many drawbacks of it can be pointed out. According to Prof Hayes, “In all these territorial readjustments, there was little that was permanent and much that was temporary.
The union of Holland and Belgium lasted but 15 years. The Italian and German settlement survived but 50 years and the Polish barely a century.” Napoleon had annexed Holland in 1811 on account of the refusal of Louis to enforce strictly the Continental System.
However, there was no justification to group Belgium with Holland. Holland was democratic, Protestant and Teutonic. Belgium was conservative, Catholic and the majority of her people spoke the French language. The people of Belgium did not like the headship of Holland and no wonder they revolted in 1830 and won their independence.
It may be noted that England was responsible for, this unnatural union. Her fear was that without Holland, Belgium alone would not be able to resist French pressure and consequently it was necessary to unite her with Holland so that France might not be able to gobble up Belgium in one mouthful.
The union of Russia and Finland was dissolved in 1917 and that of Sweden and Norway in 1905. The German Confederation with all its paraphernalia was destroyed by Bismarck. The settlement of Italy was completely upset by Cavour.
(2) Another defect of the settlement was that it ignored altogether the nationalist movement that had stirred the Poles, the Spaniards, the Italians, and the Germans. The Polish nationalist leader Czartorysky attached himself to Czar Alexander I with a view to securing independence for his country but he failed in his efforts. Poland was put under the control of Russia and it was to be ruled as a separate territory.
The Poles had to exert themselves throughout the 19th century to achieve their independence and suffered terribly while doing so. They were crushed under the tyrannical regime of Russia. Likewise, the dream of Stein to create a unified German State was not realised. A loose German confederation was created. Austria is blamed for not giving out many, unity and constitutional government.
However, it is pointed out that even one hegemony of Britain was considered undesirable. The Congress of Vienna did not overlook Germanic constitutionalism, but the trouble arose on account of the reactionary policies followed afterwards by Metternich in Germany. As regards Italy, it was pointed out that a timely devolution of government from Vienna might have given Italy good government by Italians.
The Vienna Congress had no authority to force Austria to give Italy Home Rule. The Congress united the kingdom of Savoy and Piedmont with republics of Genoa and Nice. The union appeared to be temporary and there was a lot of bitterness in Genoa and Nice.
In spite of this, the union of these small Italian States led indirectly to the unification of Italy. Mazzini, the apostle of Italian liberation, was a native of Genoa. Garibaldi, the sword-arm of Italy, was born in Nice. It was from Genoa that the famous “Thousand” Red Shirts sailed in 1860 under the leadership of Garibaldi to liberate Sicily. In 1859, Cavour bought the help of Napoleon III to turn out the Austrians from Venetia and Lombardy by giving him Nice and Savoy.
(3) The hopes of the liberals were frustrated. Rulers who were restored by the Vienna Settlement set up reactionary regimes in their countries and there was repression everywhere. This was particularly so in Spain and Naples where the Bourbons were restored. Metternich himself tried to police Europe.
Wherever liberalism raised its head, it was crushed. Liberal ideas were regarded as daggers. The Protocol of Troppau helped the European States to interfere in the internal affairs of other States. Metternich’s own view was that “what the European people want is not liberty but peace.”
(4) According to Prof Hayes, the Vienna Settlement was defective in so far as the people were regarded as so many pawns in the game of dynastic aggrandizement.
(5) According to Cruttwell, “It was mean and hypocritical not to extend the doctrine of legitimacy of Republics. Both Venice and Genoa had a longer and more glorious life of independence than many monarchs, but both were extinguished without a murmur in the supposed interests of securing North Italy against France.”
(6) According to Grant and Temperley, “It has been customary to denounce the peace-makers of Vienna as reactionary and illiberal in the extreme. It is indeed true that they represented the old regime and were, to a large extent, untouched by the new ideas. But they represented the best and not the worst of the old regime, and their settlement averted any major war in Europe for forty years. According to their lights the settlement was a fair one.
France was treated with leniency, and the adjustments of the Balance of Power and territory were carried out with the scrupulous nicety of a grocer weighing out his wares, or of a banker balancing his accounts. Russia alone gained more than her fair share, and this was because she had an undue proportion of armed forces.
The settlement disregarded national claims, forced unnatural unions on Norway and Sweden, and Belgium and Holland. But in each case the ally and the stronger partner (Sweden and Holland) demanded it, and the Allies did not see their way to resist the demand.
A more serious criticism, was the disrespect paid to the views of smaller Powers. Though the settlement was supposed to be in favour of the older and existing rights, the smaller States were ruthlessly sacrificed for the benefit of the larger. For this side of the activities of the peace-makers there is little excuse, and it is the gravest criticism of their actions.”
(7) Critics point out that the Congress of Vienna did not provide a satisfactory solution of the Eastern question. However, it was impossible for the Vienna Congress to tackle that question successfully. That question was not solved in spite of the efforts made by the European statesmen throughout the 19th century. “The sick man of Europe” was a great puzzle. All the European Powers wanted to have Constantinople and it was impossible to arrive at any settlement. Moreover, Russian treaties with Turkey, particularly that of Bucharest of 1812, added to the difficulties of the problem.
According to Hazen, “The Congress of Vienna was a Congress of aristocrats, to whom the ideas of nationality and democracy as proclaimed by the French Revolution were incomprehensible or loathsome. The rulers rearranged Europe according to their desires, disposing of it as if it were their own personal property, ignoring the sentiment of nationality, which had lately been so wonderfully aroused, indifferent to the wishes of the people.
There could be no ‘sentiment’ because they ignored the factors that alone would make the settlement permanent. The history of Europe after 1815 was destined to witness repeated, and often successful, attempts to rectify this cardinal error of the Congress of Vienna.”
According to H.A. Kissinger, “The statesmen at Vienna were not interested in transforming humanity, because in their eyes this effort had led to the tragedy of a quarter-century of struggle. To transform humanity by an act of will, to transcend French nationalism in the name of that of Germany, would have seemed to them to make peace by revolution, to seek stability in the unknown, to admit that a myth once shattered cannot be regained. The issue at Vienna, then, was not reform against reaction—that is the interpretation of posterity. Instead, the problem was to create an order in which change could be brought about through a sense of obligation, instead of through an assertion of power.”
Again, “Whatever one may think of the moral content of their solution, it excluded no major power from the European continent and therefore testified to the absence of unbridgeable schisms. The settlement did not rest on mere good faith, which would have put too great a strain on self-limitation; nor on the efficacy of a pure evolution of power, which would have made calculation too indeterminate. Rather, there was created a structure in which the forces were sufficiently balanced, so that self-restraint could appear as something more than self-abnegation, but which took account of the historical claims of its components, so that its existence could be translated into acceptance.
There existed within, the new international order no power so dissatisfied that it did not prefer to seek its remedy without the framework of the Vienna Settlement rather than in overturning it. Since the political order did not contain a ‘Revolutionary’ power, its relations became increasingly spontaneous, based on the growing certainty that a catastrophic upheaval was unlikely.
“That the Vienna Settlement came to be so generally accepted was not a fortunate accident. Throughout the war Castlereagh and Metternich had insisted that theirs was an effort for stability, not revenge, justified, not by crushing the enemy, but by his recognition of limits. If we compare the outline of the Vienna Settlement with the Pitt plan and its legitimization with that of the instructions to Schwarzenberg, we find that luck, in politics as in other activities, is but the residue of design. This is not to say that the settlement revealed a prescience that made all events conform to a certain vision. Castlereagh, in giving up his conviction of the mechanical equilibrium for that of an historical balance, maintained through confidential intercourse among its members, increasingly separated himself from the spirit of his own country. Metternich, by attempting to maintain predominance in both Italy and Germany, was forced into a policy beyond his resources. His increasingly inflexible struggle for legitimacy revealed a growing consciousness of the insufficiency of Austria’s material base for the European task he had set for her. If a policy for pure power is suicidal for an Empire located in the centre of a continent, reliance on unsupported legitimacy is demoralizing and leads to stagnation. Finesse can substitute for strength when the goals are determinate, but it is no substitute for conception when the challenges have become internal. And Prussia, with misgivings and hesitations, with a feeling of national humiliation and grudging surrender, was forced into a German mission in spite of itself. Extending now from the Vistuala to the Rhine, it symbolized the quest for German unity. Scattered in enclaves across Central Europe, its need for security, if not its conception of a national mission, forced it into becoming, albeit reluctantly, the agent of a German policy. Situated athwart the major waterways and land routes, Prussia came to dominate Germany economically before it unified it physically. The defeat in Saxony, so bitterly resented, became the instrument of Prussia’s final victory over Austria”.
3. The Holy Alliance (1815):
It seems desirable to refer to the Holy Alliance of 1815 which was the creation of Czar Alexander I who was a visionary, a mystic, a man of moods and unstable imagination. Such a scheme had been put forward earlier by Sully, the Minister of Henry IV of France, in his Grand Design.
The object of the Grand Design was “to deliver them forever from the fear of bloody catastrophes, so common in Europe; to secure for them an unaherable repose so that all the princes might henceforth live together as brothers.” It was intended to set up a General Council or Senate consisting of 66 delegates from the different countries whose duty was to settle disputes and maintain the peace of Europe. However, nothing came out of it on account of the premature death of Henry of Navarre in 1610.
Czar Alexander I was encouraged to put forward his scheme of the Holy Alliance on account of his preponderant influence in Europe after the overthrow of Napoleon. He also had liberal views on account of the influence of his Swiss tutor. What Alexander I wanted was that the rulers of the European States should apply the principles of Christianity in their dealings with one another.
They were also to regard their subjects as their children. He intended to spiritualise politics. To quote Alexander, “The present act has no other object than to publish, in the face of the whole world, their fixed resolution, both in the administration of their respective States and in their political relations with every other government, to take for their sole guide the precepts of their Holy religion, namely, the precepts of Justice, Christianity, Charity and Peace, which, far from being applicable only to private concerns, must have an immediate influence on the counsels of princes and guide all their subjects, as being the only means of consolidating human institutions, and remedying their imperfections.”
It is to be noted that the Holy Alliance was honoured more in its breach than observance. It is true that Russia, Austria and Prussia made the required declaration but the declaration was not observed in actual practice. The Holy Alliance was an attempt to apply the principles of morality in the field of international diplomacy and to create the political conscience of Europe but it failed in its objective. The Czar did not succeed in providing “the transparent soul of the Holy Alliance with the body” and the scheme remained still-born.
Great Britain refused to subscribe to the principle of the Holy Alliance. According to Castlereagh, the Holy Alliance was “a piece of sublime mysticism and non-sense.” Metternich looked upon it as “a loud-sounding nothing” or “moral demonstration.”
To quote Metternich, “The Holy Alliance was merely a philanthropic aspiration clothed in a religious garb.” “It was not an institution to keep down the right of the people, to promote absolutism or any other tyranny. It was only the overflow of the pietistic feeling and the Emperor Alexander’s application of Christian principles to politics.”
The practical importance of the Holy Alliance was negligible. Its principles were never put into practice. However, the people of Europe confused the Holy Alliance with the Quadruple Alliance and as the Quadruple Alliance was used for the purpose of suppressing nationalism and liberalism everywhere in Europe, the Holy Alliance was also condemned and was regarded as a symbol of reaction, a league of princes against their peoples and a conspiracy against liberalism. However, the attitude of the various Powers towards the Holy Alliance showed that there was no unanimity of purpose among the Powers and there was every possibility of their falling out if circumstances so required.
Seaman says that the Holy Alliance “was an important preservative of peace in Europe. For so long as it kept Austria, Russia and Prussia together, peace was almost certain, and war, when it came, only partial. The fact that the Holy Alliance had existed helped to prevent Prussia and Austria from fighting against Russia in the Crimean War, and thus kept the conflict outside the main European area, confining it to the Crimea, where nothing vital could be destroyed and no essential changes be effected. Its collapse after 1856 was the prelude to the distinction of the 1815 Settlement in Italy and Germany; for only because Austria was isolated from an aggrieved Russia could Napoleon III and Bismarck create the new Italy and the new Germany (and indirectly an autonomous Hungary) at Austria’s expense. Moreover, Bismarck’s first concern after 1871 was to create the Alliance from whose years of eclipse he had profited. The Three Emperors League of 1872 was alleged, like the Protocol of Troppau, to be based on a common resistance to republicanism; and all Bismark’s subsequent ingenuity in foreign affairs was directed to the same end at the policy of Metternich, that of preventing Austrians and Russians from fighting over the Eastern Question. For only when that happened would a general European war be inevitable.”