Congress of Vienna Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Congress of Vienna settled European political affairs after the twenty-year struggle with Napoleon and ushered in nearly a century of general peace on the Continent.

Summary of Event

On March 10, 1814, one month before the defeat of Napoleon I, France’s four major adversaries—Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Russia;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] and Prussia—signed the Treaty of Chaumont Chaumont, Treaty of (1814) . Under this treaty, the four nations agreed to remain allied until a final victory over Napoleon was achieved and then to hold a general European congress to secure the peace. In signing the Paris, First Peace of (1814) first Peace of Paris on May 30, 1814, with the restored Bourbon monarchy of France, the four great powers reaffirmed their intention to hold such a congress at Vienna. Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) Vienna;Congress of Vienna Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815);Congress of Vienna France;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Great Britain;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Prussia;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Austria;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] [kw]Congress of Vienna (Sept. 15, 1814-June 11, 1815) [kw]Vienna, Congress of (Sept. 15, 1814-June 11, 1815) Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) Vienna;Congress of Vienna Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815);Congress of Vienna France;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Great Britain;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Prussia;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Austria;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] [g]France;Sept. 15, 1814-June 11, 1815: Congress of Vienna[0730] [g]Austria;Sept. 15, 1814-June 11, 1815: Congress of Vienna[0730] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Sept. 15, 1814-June 11, 1815: Congress of Vienna[0730] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Sept. 15, 1814-June 11, 1815: Congress of Vienna[0730] Alexander I [p]Alexander I[Alexander 01];and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Hardenberg, Karl von Metternich [p]Metternich;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Castlereagh, Viscount [p]Castlereagh, Viscount;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Talleyrand [p]Talleyrand;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Sagan, Wilhelmine von

From beginning to end, the Congress of Vienna remained almost exclusively a congress of the great powers, with the smaller states being summoned to participate only in the discussion of matters that pertained to them individually. A plenary session of all the powers involved in the Napoleonic Wars was never held.

The problem of the organizational relationship between the great and the small powers, which plagued the diplomats throughout the opening months of the congress, was soon overshadowed by a serious dispute within the ranks of the four primary allies themselves concerning Poland. Poland;partition of From the beginning of the first informal discussion in Vienna on September 15, 1814, the four great powers could not agree on the partition of Polish territory.

Czar Alexander I Alexander I [p]Alexander I[Alexander 01];and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Russia;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] of Russia had been determined for some time to reconstitute the former Polish state as a Russian dependency. Prince Karl von Hardenberg, Hardenberg, Karl von the Prussian chancellor, agreed to surrender to Alexander the Polish lands that Prussia had acquired during the eighteenth century if the czar would support the Hohenzollern Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen[Hohenzollern Sigmaringen] claim to the whole of Saxony. Saxony Metternich, Metternich [p]Metternich;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] the Austrian minister of foreign affairs, and Viscount Castlereagh, Castlereagh, Viscount [p]Castlereagh, Viscount;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] the British foreign secretary, naturally regarded the Russian and Prussian demands as serious threats to the balance of power in Europe. Especially disturbing was the possibility that Russia would move deeper into Europe than ever before.

During this crucial period when the fate of post-Napoleonic Europe was being discussed, the major player at the conference, Austrian foreign minister Metternich, was terribly distracted. Although he was a married man with children, he was also an incurable womanizer who in 1814 found himself passionately in love with the beautiful Wilhelmine, Sagan, Wilhelmine von duchess of the Germanic province of Sagan. At the same time, however, Wilhelmine, a strong-willed woman who prized her independence, had taken other lovers. When Metternich Metternich [p]Metternich;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] learned of this, he was devastated. During the fall of 1814, when Metternich needed to concentrate the most on diplomatic issues, he was obsessed with his feelings for Wilhelmine. He found it difficult to concentrate on important matters such as the fate of Poland Poland;partition of or the relationship of Prussia and Austria in the context of Germany after Napoleon. Competing foreign ministers, such as Chancellor Hardenburg Hardenberg, Karl von of Prussia and the shrewd Talleyrand, certainly noticed the Austrian minister’s distraction and moved to profit from it.

Only after what has been called Metternich’s “six weeks of hell” was Metternich able to put Wilhelmine Sagan, Wilhelmine von behind him and turn to the issues of war and peace. After an exchange of letters the affair between them was declared over. It was almost as if a separate peace treaty had been negotiated between sovereign nations. However, Metternich Metternich [p]Metternich;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] was at last able to move to attend to larger issues.

The dispute within the allied camp was particularly welcomed by Talleyrand, the French minister of foreign affairs, who had been seeking a voice for France at the Congress of Vienna for some time. He now had his opportunity. In December of 1814, he put forward a compromise plan to Castlereagh Castlereagh, Viscount [p]Castlereagh, Viscount;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] and Metternich under which Russia Russia;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] would be offered a reduced Poland Poland;partition of and Prussia would be offered a reduced Saxony Saxony with some territory in the Rhineland. Rhineland If the two countries proved to be slow in accepting the compromise, Talleyrand offered an additional plan whereby Austria and Great Britain would ally and resist, by force if necessary, the Russo-Prussian stand. Such an alliance did come into existence on January 3, 1815, but it never mobilized its forces because Prussia and Russia decided to accept a compromise solution based on Talleyrand’s suggestion.

Conferees at the Congress of Vienna.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

In an agreement signed on February 11, 1815, Poland was repartitioned among Austria, Austria;and Poland[Poland] Poland;and Austria[Austria] Prussia, and Russia. Russia;and Poland[Poland] Poland;and Russia[Russia] In addition, Prussia Prussia;and Poland[Poland] Poland;and Prussia[Prussia] received only two-fifths of Saxony, Saxony but by way of compensation annexed parts of both the Rhineland Rhineland and Westphalia. Westphalia As part of the same agreement, Austria acquired Salzburg, Salzburg the Tyrol, and territory along the Dalmatian Dalmatia (or Illyrian) coastline. Talleyrand’s solution to the Polish Poland;partition of question thus enabled the allies to heal the breach in their ranks. Moreover, his diplomacy earned for France a greater role at the Congress of Vienna than it had before, at least until Napoleon’s temporary resumption of power in March of 1815.

Despite their preoccupation with Napoleon during the Hundred Days Napoleon I [p]Napoleon I[Napoleon 01];Hundred Days of his restoration during the spring of 1815, the allies and the lesser powers met on June 9 to sign the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna. This treaty encompassed previously concluded bilateral agreements and other measures, together with new arrangements worked out in the congress itself. Most of its provisions can be subordinated under the headings of legitimacy, security, and compensation, which were the three major principles that dominated the congress.

“Legitimacy” involved the restoration of dynasties that had been deposed during the Napoleonic period, including the restoration of the House of Orange to the throne of Holland and Bourbon Bourbon dynasties;French Bourbon dynasties;Spanish Bourbon dynasties;Sicilian lines to the thrones of France, Spain, and the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Under the principle of “security,” the states near or adjacent to France were enlarged to forestall any possible future aggression on the part of that country. As a result, Holland received the old Austrian Netherlands, Netherlands;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] Prussia obtained Rhenish and Westphalian Westphalia territories, and Switzerland Switzerland;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] was perpetually neutralized and assigned three additional cantons on the French frontier.

Finally, besides embracing the territorial provisions made for security reasons, the principle of “compensation” included Russia’s Russia;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] acquisition of Finland Finland;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] from Sweden, Sweden;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] which in turn received Norway Norway;and Denmark[Denmark] Denmark;and Norway[Norway] from Denmark, Denmark;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] which was punished for having been a staunch Napoleonic ally. Great Britain was compensated with Malta, Malta Ceylon, Ceylon the Cape Cape Colony;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] of Good Hope colony, and Dutch Guiana Dutch Guiana (Surinam), among other territories. Austria obtained Salzburg Salzburg , the Tyrol, the Italian Italy;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] lands of Lombardy Lombardy and Venetia Venetia , and districts along the Dalmatian Dalmatia coast. These lands, together with the accession of lesser Habsburg Habsburg Dynasty princedoms in the smaller north-central Italian states, compensated Austria for the surrender of the southern Netherlands Netherlands;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] to Holland.

The only major part of the settlement that did not fall within the principles enumerated above was the disposition of the Germanies. Germany;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] In place of the old Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire , which had come to an end in 1806, the allies established a confederation of some thirty-nine states under the presidency of Austria. The Diet of the German Confederation comprised diplomats speaking on behalf of their rulers, not of popularly elected representatives. The tradition of Austrian predominance over a coalition of disunified German states was preserved well into the nineteenth century.

Significance

The Vienna settlement brought about the restoration of a conservative order in Europe. To preserve the arrangement, Austria, Great Britain, Russia Russia;and Congress of Vienna[Congress of Vienna] , and Prussia signed the Quadruple Alliance Quadruple Alliance;creation of later in 1815 to establish the Concert of Europe. They were joined by France in 1818. The Concert of Europe sought to preserve the Vienna settlement for at least twenty years through periodic conferences (several of which were held between 1818 and 1822) to deal with liberal-nationalist challenges to the settlement in Greece, Spain, and the Italian states. In the long run, such tests of the balance of power in Europe brought about the dissolution of the Vienna settlement and the end of the Concert of Europe.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Alsop, Susan Mary. The Congress Dances: Vienna, 1814-1815. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. Provides an excellent account of the role played by the duchess of Sagan and other noblewomen at the conference.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chapman, Tim. The Congress of Vienna: Origins, Processes, and Results. London: Routledge, 1998. Examination of the negotiations conducted at the Congress, describing the historical background for the sessions, the agreements that were reached, and the long-term consequences of these agreements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cook, Chris, and John Paxton. European Political Facts, 1789-1848. New York: Facts On File, 1981. Helps put the deliberations at Vienna within their larger historical context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dwyer, Philip G. Talleyrand. London: Longman, 2002. Biography of one of the key figures at the Congress of Vienna. Dwyer portrays Talleyrand as a pragmatic politician who was willing to mediate between various factions to achieve a compromise.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flenley, Ralph. Makers of Eighteenth Century Europe. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1970. A reprint of the 1927 edition, this volume provides a good, traditional account of the diplomatic maneuvers at the event.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Klimenko, Michael. Alexander I, Emperor of Russia: A Reappraisal. Tenafly, N.J.: Hermitage, 2002. Full-length study of the czar by a specialist in Russian history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McGuigan, Dorothy Gies. Metternich and the Duchess: The Public and Private Lives at the Congress of Vienna. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975. A thorough examination of the pivotal role Wilhelmine played during the Congress.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nicholson, Harold. The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity, 1812-1822. 1945. Reprint. New York: Grove Press, 2000. A reprint of the classic study in which Nicholson provides a comprehensive narrative of the negotiations at the Congress and the power struggle among Castlereagh and other participants.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sauvigny, Guillaume. “Congress of Vienna.” In Historical Dictionary of France from the 1815 Restoration to the Second Empire, edited by Edgar Newman. New York: Greenwood Press, 1985. A brief but informative overview of the diplomatic initiative that reshaped Europe for three generations.

France’s Bourbon Dynasty Is Restored

Britain Acquires the Cape Colony

Treaty of Ghent Takes Effect

Organization of the German Confederation

Battle of Waterloo

Second Peace of Paris

Neapolitan Revolution

Great Britain Withdraws from the Concert of Europe

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

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