Crimean War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The largest international military conflict of the mid-nineteenth century, the Crimean War served as the catalyst for shifting European political power from Austria and Russia to France during the mid-nineteenth century, led to the modernization of Russia, and redefined European interest in the Ottoman Empire.

Summary of Event

The origin of the Crimean War can be traced to the waning military and political power of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. Ottoman control of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles Straits gave the Turks a unique position to influence European events. The discussions on the fate of the Ottoman Empire, and control over the Holy Land by the so-called great powers—Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia—became known as the Eastern Question Eastern Question . Crimean War (1853-1856) Russia;and Crimean War[Crimean War] France;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Great Britain;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Ottoman Empire;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Austria;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Bosporus Dardanelles Straits Ottoman Empire;and Russia[Russia] Russia;and Ottoman Empire[Ottoman Empire] [kw]Crimean War (Oct. 4, 1853-Mar. 30, 1856) [kw]War, Crimean (Oct. 4, 1853-Mar. 30, 1856) Crimean War (1853-1856) Russia;and Crimean War[Crimean War] France;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Great Britain;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Ottoman Empire;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Austria;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Bosporus Dardanelles Straits Ottoman Empire;and Russia[Russia] Russia;and Ottoman Empire[Ottoman Empire] [g]Russia;Oct. 4, 1853-Mar. 30, 1856: Crimean War[2940] [g]Ukraine;Oct. 4, 1853-Mar. 30, 1856: Crimean War[2940] [g]Great Britain;Oct. 4, 1853-Mar. 30, 1856: Crimean War[2940] [g]Ottoman Empire;Oct. 4, 1853-Mar. 30, 1856: Crimean War[2940] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 4, 1853-Mar. 30, 1856: Crimean War[2940] Abdülmecid I Alexander II [p]Alexander II[Alexander 02];and Crimean War[Crimean War] Menshikov, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Napoleon III [p]Napoleon III[Napoleon 03];and Crimean War[Crimean War] Nicholas I [p]Nicholas I[Nicholas 01];and Crimean War[Crimean War]

The British, afraid that the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire would upset Middle Eastern stability and threaten British control of India by allowing the Russians to control the British lines of communication and dictate British commerce with India and the Far East, supported the Turks. In contrast, Czar Nicholas Nicholas I [p]Nicholas I[Nicholas 01];and Crimean War[Crimean War] I of Russia believed the Turkish collapse to be imminent and would do nothing to delay it. He was eager, however, to break the apparent Anglo-French alliance on the Eastern Question and approached the British to suggest that the two nations should agree on the division of the Turkish lands prior to the Ottoman collapse. The British government rejected the suggestion, but both powers were partially satisfied with the mutual assurance that neither would take steps to establish themselves in Constantinople.

Even with this mutual assurance, the contrasting views of Russia and the Western powers led to increasing suspicion of each other’s policies in the Middle East. Mutual suspicion was long-standing and was related to several incidents prior to the Crimean War. The Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi Unkiar Skelessi, Treaty of (1833) in 1833 caused Europe to fear that Russia would dominate in Turkey. The defeat of Muḥammad ՙAlī Pasha in Egypt in 1840 contributed to European rivalries. France had supported Muḥammad ՙAlī’s vain attempt to gain independence from the Turks, and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte Napoleon III [p]Napoleon III[Napoleon 03];and Crimean War[Crimean War] was leery of another blow to French policy and pride. Another important event was the Straits Convention of 1841 Straits Convention of 1841 , which attempted to solve the problems of navigation rights to the Bosporus Bosporus and the Dardanelles Straits Dardanelles Straits and closed the straits to warships in time of peace. This, in effect, confined Russia’s navy Navy, Russian to the Black Sea. Black Sea;and Russia[Russia] Black Sea;and Crimean War[Crimean War]

The Crimean War

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The immediate cause of the war was whether the Greek or the Latin Christians would control the various holy places in Jerusalem, Jerusalem a part of the Ottoman Empire. Traditionally, France France;and Holy Land[Holy Land] was the protector of the Roman Catholic Roman Catholic Church;and Holy Land[Holy Land] , or Latin, Church in the Holy Land, while Russia Russia;and Holy Land[Holy Land] came to regard itself as the protector of the Greek Orthodox Orthodox Church, Russian Church in the same area. In the past, the Latins had controlled most of the holy places, but they were being replaced by the Greeks. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte began to reassert the rights of the Latins after he was elected president of the Second French Republic in 1848. After negotiating with the Turks, France was willing to allot equal authority over the holy places to both Latins and Greeks, but the Russians insisted on preserving Greek dominance.

Neither Louis Napoleon Napoleon III [p]Napoleon III[Napoleon 03];and Crimean War[Crimean War] nor Nicholas Nicholas I [p]Nicholas I[Nicholas 01];and Crimean War[Crimean War] considered the problem to be important. The French ruler had taken a strong stand to strengthen his position at home, and Nicholas had used the problem to gain more power for Russia in Constantinople. Then, in May of 1853, Prince Aleksandr Sergeyevich Menshikov Menshikov, Aleksandr Sergeyevich of Russia arrived in Constantinople and demanded not only maintenance of the status quo but also Turkey’s acceptance of Russia as the protector of all Greek Christians throughout the Ottoman Empire. The Turks were enraged, considering these demands a threat to their sovereignty.

Great Britain, France, Austria, and Prussia had met in Vienna to discuss the situation when the Turks took matters into their own hands. Convinced that the entire Ottoman Empire was united behind Sultan Abdülmecid I Abdülmecid I and that Britain and France must offer support, Turkey declared war on Russia on October 4, 1853. Despite this declaration, war did not become a certainty until the Russians destroyed a Turkish flotilla at Sinop on November 30. France and Britain then announced that they would join the Turks. Austria, caught between both sides, vacillated in a vain attempt to remain neutral.

A British and French expeditionary force was dispatched to support the Turks and sailed to the Crimea in 1854. Peace negotiations began two years later after the allied capture of Sevastopol and the death of Nicholas I Nicholas I [p]Nicholas I[Nicholas 01];death of , who was succeeded by Alexander II Alexander II [p]Alexander II[Alexander 02];and Crimean War[Crimean War] on March 2, 1855. Preliminary peace terms were negotiated in February, 1856, at the Congress of Paris Congress of Paris (1856) . The war formally concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Paris Paris, Treaty of (1856) on March 30, 1856.

Significance

The leading role played by France in the Crimean War and at the peace table established that nation as the dominant military and diplomatic power of Europe. Alexander II realized that the defeat of Russia was the result of the empire’s backwardness and that Russia must modernize to the standards prevailing elsewhere in Europe. Because of its vacillation, Austria was diplomatically isolated, a situation that eventually led to the unification of Romania, Romania Italy, and Germany.

The resulting Peace of Paris further defined European interest in the Ottoman Empire and gave Count Camillo di Cavour Cavour, Count [p]Cavour, Count;and Crimean War[Crimean War] of Sardinia an opportunity to air the Italian question as a result of Sardinia’s support of Turkey in the later stages of the war. The Crimean War was the only war of the nineteenth century that involved all the great powers of Europe, the first time in two hundred years that Great Britain and France had fought on the same side in a war against a common enemy, and was essential in the creation of the sixth European great power—Italy. It also resulted in the wholesale reform of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, shaking their societies to their foundations.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinglake, Alexander William. The Invasion of the Crimea. 8 vols. London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1863-1887. A classic study by an eyewitness who held strong anti-French views.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Royle, Trevor. Crimea: The Great Crimean War, 1854-1856. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. A comprehensive, 564-page study of the war. Includes maps, illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Saab, Ann Pottinger. The Origins of the Crimean Alliance. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977. Views the Crimean War from the perspectives of the East European and Middle Eastern powers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schroeder, Paul W. Austria, Great Britain, and the Crimean War: The Destruction of the European Concert. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972. Concentrates on Austria’s and Great Britain’s contrasting styles of diplomacy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Troubetzkoy, Alexis S. The Road to Balaklava: Stumbling into War with Russia. Toronto: Trafalgar Press, 1986. Discusses the blunders and errors in diplomatic negotiations prior to the Crimean War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wetzel, David. The Crimean War: A Diplomatic History. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, 1985. Discusses the diplomatic history of all belligerents involved in the war.

Second Russo-Turkish War

Turko-Egyptian Wars

Siege of Sevastopol

Battle of Balaklava

Nightingale Takes Charge of Nursing in the Crimea

Bulgarian Revolt Against the Ottoman Empire

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

Alexander II; John Bright; Count Cavour; Muḥammad ՙAlī Pasha; Napoleon III; Nicholas I; Florence Nightingale; Lord Palmerston; Leo Tolstoy. Crimean War (1853-1856) Russia;and Crimean War[Crimean War] France;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Great Britain;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Ottoman Empire;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Austria;and Crimean War[Crimean War] Bosporus Dardanelles Straits Ottoman Empire;and Russia[Russia] Russia;and Ottoman Empire[Ottoman Empire]

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