Great Britain Withdraws from the Concert of Europe Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Great Britain’s withdrawal from the Concert of Europe—the diplomatic, political, and military cooperation between European powers—weakened the use of collective diplomacy by the great powers to settle disputes and maintain peace without appealing to collective military intervention.

Summary of Event

The difference of viewpoint between Great Britain and Russia Great Britain;and Russia[Russia] Russia;and Great Britain[Great Britain] that eventually split the Concert of Europe was even evident at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. There, Viscount Castlereagh, the British foreign secretary, successfully resisted attempts by Czar Alexander I to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries. Castlereagh had taken the position that the Quadruple Alliance Quadruple Alliance;purpose of had been formed to prevent Napoleon I from returning to the throne of France, to guarantee international boundaries, and to preserve European peace. He did concede that Austria had a special right to intervene in Italy and Germany because they were Austrian spheres of influence. Concert of Europe;and Great Britain[Great Britain] Great Britain;and Concert of Europe[Concert of Europe] Verona, Congress of (1822) Castlereagh, Viscount [p]Castlereagh, Viscount;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] Canning, George [p]Canning, George;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] [kw]Great Britain Withdraws from the Concert of Europe (Oct. 20-30, 1822) [kw]Britain Withdraws from the Concert of Europe, Great (Oct. 20-30, 1822) [kw]Withdraws from the Concert of Europe, Great Britain (Oct. 20-30, 1822) [kw]Concert of Europe, Great Britain Withdraws from the (Oct. 20-30, 1822) [kw]Europe, Great Britain Withdraws from the Concert of (Oct. 20-30, 1822) Concert of Europe;and Great Britain[Great Britain] Great Britain;and Concert of Europe[Concert of Europe] Verona, Congress of (1822) Castlereagh, Viscount [p]Castlereagh, Viscount;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] Canning, George [p]Canning, George;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] [g]Great Britain;Oct. 20-30, 1822: Great Britain Withdraws from the Concert of Europe[1200] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 20-30, 1822: Great Britain Withdraws from the Concert of Europe[1200] Brougham, Henry Chateaubriand, François-René de [p]Chateaubriand, François-René de[Chateaubriand, François René de];and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] Liverpool, second earl of [p]Liverpool, second earl of;and Congress of Verona[Congress ofVerona] Metternich [p]Metternich;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] Montmorency-Laval, duc de Wellington, duke of [p]Wellington, duke of;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona]

Beyond his concession, however, Castlereagh probably believed that nonintervention best served British interests; he conjectured that intervention would only stir up nationalism, and that the British parliament would not back any interventionist plans. When Alexander proposed the Holy Alliance, a list of idealistic promises based on goodwill and Christian principle, Castlereagh refused to sign for Great Britain. Instead, he dismissed that alliance as “a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense.”

Castlereagh departed from the traditional British “balance of power” concept and took a more widely international view. He saw maintenance of a political equilibrium in Europe as essential to preserving the peace and maintaining British interests. He hoped that a series of congresses would lead to peaceful settlements of disputes and that Great Britain could serve in a conciliatory role, but basically, Castlereagh preferred to follow a policy of nonintervention in continental affairs unless peace demanded it. The only justification for such collective intervention was a revived military threat from France. Anything less could be handled through diplomatic channels at regular congresses.

Viscount Castlereagh.

(Library of Congress)

Many British people did not agree with Castlereagh’s policy of cooperation with the continental powers. It was difficult to convince the British public of the necessity for an active foreign policy, characterized by high taxes and continued military expenditures, during peacetime. The reactionary attitudes of Austria and Russia were not popular in Great Britain, especially when Liberalism began to revive after 1820. The Whigs Whig Party (British);and foreign policy[Foreign policy] argued for the balance of power concepts, as did some of the Tories. The Liberals thought that Britain should oppose the suppression of continental Liberals by repressive monarchs.

In 1820 the inherent contradictions between British and Russian policies became clearer because of liberal revolts in Spain and Naples. Naples The Spanish Spain;Revolution of 1820 Revolution of 1820 came first, but a crisis was avoided when Metternich Metternich [p]Metternich;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] agreed with the arguments of Castlereagh and the duke of Wellington Wellington, duke of [p]Wellington, duke of;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] against the joint intervention that Alexander I sought. The subsequent revolt in Naples, however, created a more serious problem. Alexander I was so alarmed that he completely gave up his liberal tendencies. Metternich was also concerned with the threat to Austrian hegemony in Italy, and decided that he needed Alexander’s support. Prussia as usual followed Austria’s lead. A distinctly reactionary and interventionist turn had been given to the Concert of Europe.

A conference called to discuss the Italian problem met at Troppau on October 29, 1820. Austria, Russia, and Prussia attended, while Great Britain and France only sent observers without power to act. This action by the British represented a partial break in the Concert of Europe. On November 19, Alexander I persuaded the delegates to write the Troppau Protocol Troppau Protocol (1820) , which justified interference in the internal affairs of other nations to prevent revolutions.

In response to the Troppau Protocol, Castlereagh circulated a strong protest to concert members, which, while admitting Austria’s right to intervene in Italy because of its hegemony, objected to military intervention in internal affairs by the Concert of Europe as a group.

Some attempts were made by Metternich Metternich [p]Metternich;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] to conciliate Castlereagh when they met in Hanover Hanover in the autumn of 1821. Metternich supported Castlereagh’s policy of opposing Russian intervention on behalf of the Greeks in revolt against Turkey, and Castlereagh agreed to send a representative to the congresses at Vienna and Verona the next year. Difficulties centered on the continuing Spanish unrest and the Latin American revolt against Spain. Castlereagh Castlereagh, Viscount [p]Castlereagh, Viscount;death of committed suicide on August 12, 1822, however, and was succeeded as foreign secretary by George Canning.

Like Castlereagh, Canning favored nonintervention, but unlike Castlereagh, he had not been involved in creating the peace. He did not see the value of the Concert of Europe and believed that British interests often lay with revolution rather than legitimacy. Canning maintained that British national interests, not any international considerations, should guide British foreign policy. The duke of Wellington Wellington, duke of [p]Wellington, duke of;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] was sent as the British representative to the Congress of Verona. With him, he carried a memorandum, drawn up by Castlereagh before his death, which stated that Great Britain would prefer “rigid abstinence” from internal interference in Spain. He also carried a protest against the Russian closing of the Bering Sea Bering Sea . Noninterference was also to be the British policy in Greece and Latin America Latin America;and Great Britain[Great Britain] Great Britain;and Latin America[Latin America] .

The Congress of Verona opened on October 20, 1822, and it became absorbed in the Spanish problem, which had grown acute. The extreme liberals were in power in Spain and King Ferdinand VII was virtually their prisoner. The continental powers (Russia, Austria, Prussia, and France), prodded by Czar Alexander, agreed to intervene in Spain to restore the king to power. Represented by its foreign minister, duc de Montmorency-Laval Montmorency-Laval, duc de , and François-René de Chateaubriand, Chateaubriand, François-René de [p]Chateaubriand, François-René de[Chateaubriand, François René de];and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] France argued successfully to be allowed to restore royal power in Spain. The other continental powers—Russia, Austria, and Prussia—agreed to withdraw their ambassadors from Spain as a form of moral persuasion and support of France.

When the British prime minister, the second earl of Liverpool, Liverpool, second earl of [p]Liverpool, second earl of;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] and the Tory cabinet heard of this agreement, they ordered Wellington to announce to the congress on October 30 that Great Britain refused to be a party to the intervention and refused to withdraw its ambassador from Madrid. This statement was tantamount to withdrawing from the Concert of Europe because it put Britain in clear and public opposition to the policies of the Concert of Europe. This move, supported by Whig opposition leader Henry Brougham Brougham, Henry and his followers, was popular in England because Great Britain feared French Bourbon ambitions and the reconquest of the Spanish colonies in America.

Significance

Britain’s withdrawal from the Concert of Europe was important as a significant diplomatic shift away from international cooperation and closer to the more nationalistic British foreign policy of maintaining the balance of power in “splendid isolation.” At the time, it was as much a shift in style, since Canning continued cooperation with Austria and supported the concert in condemning the Greek revolt. Canning did not, however, endorse intervention in Spain.

The withdrawal of Great Britain weakened the Concert of Europe considerably, especially in western Europe. Deprived of the influence of its most liberal member, the eastern members of the concert followed a more reactionary and interventionist policy. Congresses did meet occasionally after the Congress of Verona to settle such important questions as the Greek and Belgian revolts, but the congress idea had received a mortal blow. British withdrawal from the Concert of Europe ultimately represented a diplomatic revolution.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clarke, John. British Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, 1782-1865: The National Interest. London: Unwin Hyman, 1989. Surveys the role of domestic politics in shaping foreign policy and diplomacy in a period of growing professionalism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elrod, Richard. “The Concert of Europe: A Fresh Look at an International System.” World Politics 28 (January, 1976): 159-174. Sees the Concert of Europe as crucial to maintaining European security and stability, and downplays the significance of British withdrawal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hinde, Wendy. Castlereagh. London: Collins, 1981. A clear biography with a good discussion of the withdrawal from the Concert of Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Palmer, Alan W. Metternich. New York: Harper & Row, 1972. An excellent English-language biography of the Austrian statesman.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schroeder, Paul W. “The Nineteenth-Century International System: Changes in the Structure.” World Politics 39 (October, 1986): 1-26.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “The Nineteenth Century System: Balance of Power or Political Equilibrium?” Review of International Studies 15 (April, 1989): 135-154. Two articles that connect European stability to the success of the Concert of Europe, with diplomacy by conference and political equilibrium replacing balance of power.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Temperley, Harold W. The Foreign Policy of Canning, 1822-1827: England, the Holy Alliance, and the New World. London: Frank Cass, 1966. Although dated (it was originally published in 1924), Temperley’s work remains the fullest account of Canning’s policies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Webster, Charles K. The Foreign Policy of Castlereagh, 1815-1822. 2d ed. London: Bell, 1963. Standard analysis of Castlereagh’s policies and achievements. Less sound on Metternich’s contributions.

Congress of Vienna

Second Peace of Paris

Neapolitan Revolution

Greeks Fight for Independence from the Ottoman Empire

July Revolution Deposes Charles X

Belgian Revolution

Paris Revolution of 1848

Prussian Revolution of 1848

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

Henry Brougham; George Canning; Viscount Castlereagh; François-René de Chateaubriand; Second Earl of Liverpool; Metternich; Napoleon I; Duke of Wellington. Concert of Europe;and Great Britain[Great Britain] Great Britain;and Concert of Europe[Concert of Europe] Verona, Congress of (1822) Castlereagh, Viscount [p]Castlereagh, Viscount;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona] Canning, George [p]Canning, George;and Congress of Verona[Congress of Verona]

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