Elliot Fernandez

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The Congress of Vienna and the Restoration of the European order

The Congress of Vienna was the conference that brought together the greatest powers in Europe at the time.
Elliot Fernández

Elliot Fernández

He has a degree in History from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (2009) and a Master's in World History from Pompeu Fabra University (2011).

07/06/2019 | Last update:

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The Congress of Vienna was chaired by Prince Von Metternich, and it met in Vienna between October 1, 1814 and June 9, 1815, with the mission of restoring European order after the defeat of Napoleon in Waterloo.

After the seizures provoked during the Napoleonic Era throughout Europe, in which the French Empire will redraw the borders of the continent in its favour, and once Napoleon was defeated in 1814, the European powers had to re-establish the political map, try to control and eliminate the liberal revolutions that they had produced or would have occurred in the future, and to re-establish in power the absolute monarchies that General Bonaparte had overthrown from power.

The Congress of Vienna was the conference between ambassadors of the greatest powers in Europe and was chaired by the Austrian statesman Klemens Wenzel von Metternich. The Congress met at Schoenbrun Castle between October 1, 1814 and June 9, 1815.

The Congress of Vienna and the Holy Alliance: the new geopolitical map of Europe and the absolutist restoration

After the defeat of Napoleon, the European powers tried to restore the past: the absolute monarchy and the estates’ society. After the convulsive period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the previous political and social order had to be reconstructed, to return   to the old European order.  

The Congress of Vienna was the attempt of the absolutist monarchies to return to the pre-revolutionary era and to establish a “stable” order to their interests, which would stop the wave of the liberal revolutions. The time of the Restoration, between 1815 and 1848, it was based on the following principles:

  • Reset the old monarchical legitimacy. Monarchy based on tradition, which opposed the idea of ​​the Nation as a popular will.
  • Come back to Absolutist government. Restore powers where the monarch and his government did not share sovereignty with parliaments.
  • Scheme of the estates’ society. Society based on privileges, not equality. Belonging to a certain estate.

The restoration of the old regime that the monarchies claimed was impossible. The revolutionary past left a deep footprint in Europe. Not all Europe behaved the same. There were countries where the restoration of the old order was impossible while in others, in some way, it was easier.

The Congress of Vienna

The Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) was the largest diplomatic meeting held until then in Europe. The leadership of the Congress fell on the four powers that defeated Napoleon: Great Britain, Austrian Empire, Russia and Prussia.

Main participants:

Congress of Vienna
Congress of Vienna. In this image: 1. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington 2. Joaquim Lobo Silveira, 7th Count of Oriola 3. António de Saldanha da Gama, Count of Porto Santo 4. Count Carl Löwenhielm 5. Jean-Louis-Paul-François, 5th Duke of Noailles 6. Klemens Wenzel, Prince von Metternich 7. André Dupin 8. Count Karl Robert Nesselrode 9. Pedro de Sousa Holstein, 1st Count of Palmela 10. Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh 11. Emmerich Joseph, Duke of Dalberg 12. Baron Johann von Wessenberg 13. Prince Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky 14. Charles Stewart, 1st Baron Stewart 15. Pedro Gómez Labrador, Marquis of Labrador 16. Richard Le Poer Trench, 2nd Earl of Clancarty 17. Wacken (Recorder) 18. Friedrich von Gentz (Congress Secretary) 19. Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt 20. William Cathcart, 1st Earl Cathcart 21. Prince Karl August von Hardenberg 22. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord 23. Count Gustav Ernst von Stackelberg
  • Austria was represented by the prince von Metternich, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and his assistant, Baron Johann von Wessenber. While the sessions of the Congress were meeting in Vienna, the Emperor Francis I was regularly informed.
  • Britain was represented first by his Secretary of Foreign, Viscount Castlereagh; after, by Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley.
  • Russia was represented by the Tsar Alexander I, although the delegation was formally directed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Count Karl Robert Nesselrode. The Tsar had two main objectives: to gain control of Poland and to promote the peaceful coexistence of European nations.
  • Prussia was represented by the Prince Karl August von Hardenberg, the Chancellor, and by the diplomat Wilhelm von Humboldt. The king Frederick William III  also went to Vienna, although he developed his role behind the scenes.
  • France, the “fifth” power, was represented by its foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. Talleyrand had already negotiated the Treaty of Paris (1814) in the name of Louis XVIII of France.

The congress began in May 1814. It was interrupted until June 1815 (Napoleon’s return to France, during the “100 days”). It ended in November 1815, with the most rigorous treaty possible for France.

Problems to solve

  • French Imperialism: the expansion of France had to be avoided again:   the so-called “French danger”.
  • New wars and political or liberal revolutions or peasants movements had to be avoided.
  • The rulers and frontiers prior to the French Revolution, and changed by Napoleon, had to be restored.
  • To find a solution to the conflicts: territorial problems between Russia and Poland (great terror of a Russian intervention).
  • To neutralize popular opinion and the feeling of popular malaise.

Principles that inspired the debates of the Congress of Vienna

  • Establishment of traditional costumes (using traditional bases and modern bases).
  • Restoration and legitimization of the principles of the Old Regime.
  • Establishment of new agreements that guarantee European peace and security.
  • Balance of forces, through territorial rewards.
  • Compliance with the agreements, with respect to France.   A “belt” will be built to France, in order to contain it and avoid any expansionist attempt.

Territorial agreements

Europa 1815
The new map of Europe emerged from the Vienna Congress in 1815

To the east of France It is established:

  • Return to the borders of 1792-1790.   France is forced to return to the borders it had in 1790.
  • Creation of “buffer states” or a “sanitary cord” to crystallize the French borders.

In Central Europe:

  • The Austrian Empire increases its control over the North of the Italian peninsula.
  • Creation of the Germanic Confederation, replacing the Confederation of the Rhine.
  • Prussia goes on to control the territories of the Rhine (left bank): Rhineland, Palatinate…
  • Russia exercises its dominion over Poland.

The establishment of the Holy Alliance

One of the basic agreements of the Vienna Congress was the establishment of “principle of military intervention”. It was an agreement in order to help each other between states at any time and place: a military intervention was established in case one of the signatories was threatened by some liberal revolution.  

The “Holy Alliance” was created of restoring by the force of absolutism where it was necessary. It was signed in 1815 by three powers: Austria, Prussia, and Russia, to which most of the European states, except the Ottoman Empire, the Papal States, and the United Kingdom, will later join.

In the agreement of 1815 between the four great powers gathered in Vienna, all are committed to take a joint action against any French attempt to expand their borders.

The new geopolitical map of Europe

The new political map of Europe emerged from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 had as main points:

  • France: it had to go back to its 1790 borders.
  • Russia: recovered Polish territories (Duchy of Warsaw), Romania, Ukraine, Moldova…
  • Prussia: at East it obtained Polish territories (part of Saxony) and at West Cologne, Bonn…
  • Austria: in the eastern region it recovered the northern region of the Carpathians, Lombardy and the Veneto. It had lost the Austrian Netherlands.   Italy was becoming a dominant possession of Austria.
  • United Kingdom: it suffered few changes, but strategic ones: it obtained islands by different oceans of the world: Island of Heligoland, Island of Malta, Ionian Islands, Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, Ascension Island, Mauritius Island, Trinidad, Tobago and Santa Lucia, among others.
  • Restoration of the divisions of the German and Italian territories.

The new Germanic Confederation

It was a union of federated States. A Diet is instituted, under the Austrian presidency. The different states had to send delegates. The Diet was an assembly with permanent headquarters in Frankfurt. Each state maintained its independence in internal affairs. War between states of the Confederation was forbidden. It was needed consent of all states to either declare war on a third country.

It will last until 1866, when its dissolution took place. At this stage, the Confederation of North Germany have been created by Bismarck, a step that is both significant and necessary for the future German unification.

All articles of the course: Late modern History in Europe (19th and 20th Centuries)

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