The Congress of Vienna is also famous as the Peace Settlement of Vienna. It starts from November 1814 to June 1815 in Vienna. It is one of the most important diplomatic gatherings in which all the European States came to participate, except Turkey did not participate.
Prominent rulers such as famous statesmen, able diplomats and politicians, generals, and eminent scholars of almost all countries of Europe came to participate in the conference.
Before the downfall of Napoleon, if not all, most of Europe’s State was under the control of Napoleon. However, the condition of Europe Countries became complicated and problems to the diplomats and statesmen of Europe.
Therefore, the main purpose of the Congress of Vienna was to solve the problems in European countries. Thus, the Congress of Vienna was to decide the fate and future of about half the lands of Europe and the Kings and princes.
The Treaty of Congress of Vienna Signed
Rightly speaking, the congress of Vienna was not a Congress in the real sense of the word. Because, it was never a transparent session, nor was there any formal exchange of credentials. As a matter of fact, there were no general sessions of all the delegates ever took place. Also, there was no day to day meetings of the delegates to deliberate over the problems confronting the Conference.
The secret Committee meetings of the five great powers decide most of the decisions at the conference. The lesser princes and their delegates did not have any say in the conferences. Instead, they were left only to gamble, drink, and dance and later they complained that they were left out.
During the conference, a large number of treaties were drafted out and embodied in a “Final Act” and presented to the delegates for signatures on June 9th, 1815. With the signing of the Treaty on that day, the lesser powers of Europe were made to accept what the great powers have already decided for them.
Background of the Congress of Vienna
Although the diplomatic gathering was convened after the downfall of Napoleon, certain arrangements had been agreed upon by the Allies (England, Russia, Prussia, Austria) before going to Vienna. These Big Four had their own mutual secret agreements. Some of those secret treaties are as under:
- According to the treaty of Abu (1812), the decision was to join Norway with Sweden.
- The treaty of Keling (1813), the decision was that Prussia must be compensated for the loss of a part of its territory under the treaty of Tilsit (1807).
- The treaty of Riekhenbeich (1813), The Tripartition of Poland among Austria, Prussia, and Russia was the main decision of this treaty.
- Also, according to the treaty of Toplitz (1813), -It was decided that the boundaries of Austria must be ascertained as they existed in 1805.
- The treaty of Chaumont (1.814)-This treaty was based upon the principle of mutual co-operation. The Allies had decided to help one another for at least two decades.
- The treaty of Paris (1814)-This treaty was the most important of all the treaties. This treaty decides the boundaries of France, the boundaries have to be as per the situation obtainable in January 1792. In addition to it, many decisions were taken about Holland; Belgium, Venetia, Lombardy, and Portugal, etc.
Thus, it was clear that the Big Four already decides the secret treaties before the Congress of Vienna. But, these prior decisions or secret treaties are not registered in the Vienna of Congress.
Basic Principles of the Congress of Vienna
Some of the basic principles which are already decided by the selfish representatives are:
- The Principle of Legitimacy
Talleyrand (1754-1838), the foreign minister of France was the deviser of this Principle. As per the decision, the rulers have to get back their rights that are overthrown by Napoleon.
- The Principle of the Balance of Power
The main idea of the principle of the balance of power is to ensure peace in the whole of Europe Countries. The power of one country should be balances so that no country will disturb or threatened other countries.
- The Principle of Rewards and Punishments
As per this principle, those Countries that will give a helping hand to the allies against Napoleon will be rewarded. However, those countries that have supported Napoleon will be punished.
Besides, the conferences also decide that the Countries or Kingdom destroyed by Napoleon will be compensated and by giving them new territories.
Main Representatives at Congress of Vienna
The representatives who influenced most the decisions of the Congress of Vienna are:
Emperor Francis I (1768-1835) and his able Chancellor, Metternich represent Austria. As the Congress of Vienna takes place in the capital of Austria, Francis I spent £800,000 on the entertainment of the guests. Metternich was the convenor at the Congress of Vienna. During this time, he was a great diplomat. Thus, Metternich’s political views were one of the main influencers of the decisions of the Congress of Vienna
On behalf of Russia, Czar Alexander I along with his ministers represents Russia in the Congress of Vienna. During this time, Czar Alexander I was the emperor of Russia. Few people even believe that Alexander I was one of the main person to influence the decisions in the Congress of Vienna. He even called himself the victor of the victor (Napoleon Bonaparte).
Frederick William III (1770-1840), the King of Prussia and his Minister Hardenberg represent their country in the Congress of Vienna. The delegates of Prussia believe in militarism and extremism. They draw their attention upon the rich kingdom of Saxony to the south.
Lord Castlereagh (1769-1822) and the Duke of Wellington were the delegates of England. Lord Castlereagh kept in his mind the colonial interest of his country. England was the most persistent enemy of Napoleon. Therefore the British delegates were very much eager to fund compensation in the form of some new colonies. Besides this, Lord Castlereagh has many contributions to the reconstruction of the European political system.
The delegate of France was Talleyrand (1754-1838). He was a conspicuous diplomat. It was due to the able diplomacy of Talleyrand that France was in no way less powerful than any other European power at that time.
Besides the above, many other delegates of almost all the countries of Europe came to participate in the Congress of Vienna. Cardinal Salvi was the delegate of Rome. In the same way, the representatives of Denmark, Sweden, Bavaria, Wurtemburg also came to attend this Conference.
The Fate of Poland
Poland had been the subject of much controversy at the conference table. Russia had wanted to have the whole of it. The other powers did not like the idea. Hence, she was divided out into four parts to satisfy all three aspirants to her lands and people. Russia got the largest share. Prussia and Austria got a slice each and the remainder was to form the independent Republic of Cracow.
Russia had played a major role in the defeat of Napoleon. She, therefore, had a greater claim to the spoils of war. Since Russia had conquered Finland from Sweden, She retains it. She also got Bessarabia. Besides, She also got a large share out of Poland. She, however, made this Poland a separate Kingdom under her. This Poland has granted a parliament under a constitutional rule-a potent proof of the liberalism of Tzar Alexander I (1777-1825).
Austria enlarged her boundaries with the additions of Lombardy-Venetia, Dalmatia, and some territories out of Germany. As a result, She increased her population by more than four million and emerged as a strong Central European Power. It is more significant when we note that she achieved all these after an inglorious rather disastrous war for twenty years.
Gains of Prussia
Prussia too came out from the Vienna Settlement with many additions to her previous territories. Thanks to her ally Russia, she annexed two-fifth of Saxony, a large block of the territory in Rhine Valley and a part of Pomerania. Since the King of Saxony had not joined at the battle of Leipzig, he too found his territories a prize for loot by the great powers.
Gains of England
England had no ambitions on the continent. She was essentially a naval and colonial power. She was, therefore, rewarded in a way that suited her-additions to her colonies and naval bases. Also, she acquired Helgoland-a naval base near the German coast and the Mediterranean bases of Malta and the Ionian islands. She also got Ceylon and Cape colony. Thus, the route to her great Indian Empire became very safe.
The Kingdom of Holland
Belgium was united and joined to Holland and the new Kingdom was bestowed on the prince (now made King) William (1770-1843) of Orange. This was a most unjust union in utter disregard of national feelings and was hard to survive for fifteen years. Similarly, Norway was taken from Denmark and joined to Sweden.
The important decisions during the Congress of Vienna are:
Holland and Belgium
The House of Orange was re-established in Holland according to the doctrine of legitimacy. The province of Belgium was annexed to Holland. Previously, this province was under the possession of Austria. While making this change in the map of Europe, the diplomats were of the view that Holland would be more powerful and that this state might be a strong barrier in the north of France.
Russia gained much from the Congress of Vienna. She retained the provinces of Finland and Bessarabia. In addition to the above, the Grand Duchy of Warsaw came under Russia. As a result of gaining these important territories, Russia acquired better standing in European politics than ever before.
As per the doctrine of the balance of power, Austria got the provinces of Lombardy and Venetia. It was the provinces of Northern Italy. In addition to this, the provinces of, Tyrol, Galicia, and Illyria also came under Austria. Consequently, she acquired a prominent place in Central Europe.
The expansion of the colonial empire was the main and foremost interest in England. Therefore, Colonial importance was the main attention to England. She occupied Helgoland in the North Sea, Malta and the Ionian Islands in the Mediterranean, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the Cape Colony in South Africa. In addition to this, she also got Tobago, Mauritius, St. Lucia, and Trinidad. Thus, England has become one of the strongest countries in Europe.
Prussia occupied about a two-fifths portion of the Kingdom of Saxony, the province of Pomerania from Sweden, and the large territories on both banks of the Rhine. In addition to this, she also acquired Westphalia, Posen (a city in Poland), Thorn, and Danzig.
There were nineteen cantons in Switzerland. Thus, at the Congress of Vienna, one representative from every Canton came to attend the conference. Besides, the Congress of Vienna adds three new cantons to this country and it establishes an independent federal government consisting of all the twenty-two cantons. All the European powers recognized the existence and neutrality of this federation.
During the Congress of Vienna, Denmark was punished because she gave a helping hand to Napoleon against the allies. Thus, her province came under the control of Sweden.
As per the principle of legitimacy, in Spain, it establishes the old House of Bourbons.
According to the principle of rewards and punishments, Poland also receives punishment. As a result, it divides the country into three parts, each of them came under the control of Russia, Prussia, and Austria.
Besides the political changes, the Congress of Vienna also passed some other important resolutions. They are as under:
The delegates at the Congress of Vienna have drafted an international constitution. Prior to this, there were many differences among the European countries in respect of the proceedings of the international conferences, the order of precedence of the delegates, their rights, and uniforms. But this constitution established some international traditions which gave a sound base for international friendship and co-operation. According to this constitution, all the seas were open for trade.
The members of the Congress expressed themselves against the slave system. They declared this system as unjust, immoral, and against human dignity. A resolution was passed against it. It was hoped that each country of Europe would make sincere attempts towards the abolition of the slave system.
Criticism of the Congress of Vienna
The terms of the Congress of Vienna (1815) clearly show that it was anything but a peace settlement of some of the most difficult problems of Europe. It appears that the diplomats of Europe were utterly blind and indifferent to popular wishes. The French Revolution had brought new ideas of liberalism and nationalism to the people of Europe.
However, the great Powers of Europe transferred provinces and territories from one autocrat to another, as if these tracts of lands were completely uninhabited and as if it were the private lands of their forefathers. All the decisions were without any respect for the wishes of the people.
The settlement was not based on any lofty ideals. Rather, the self-interest of the Powers was the key to the bargains and the agreements reached. The great monarchs gathered at Vienna had for years been denouncing Napoleon for his tyranny and for not respecting the rights of the people. But, now in their scramble for power, they had done the same thing for themselves.
Unnatural Unions and Annexations
The division of Poland into four parts, three of them assigned to three great powers, was a rape of her territories. Poland never reconciled to this barbaric treatment, and her people rose into rebellion in 1830 and 1863.
Besides, Norway came under the control of Sweden as a prize. Another bad aspect of the treaty was that they do not have any respect for the views of the smaller states. The settlement thus disregarded national claims and formed unnatural unions. Also, the smaller states need to sacrifice for the benefits of the larger ones. Thus, Finland and Bessarabia came under the control of Russia.
Germany and Italy ill-treated
A worse fate was perhaps in store for the people of Germany and Italy. For long Germans had desired a United Germany. But this was not in the interest of Austria. As a result, it divides Germans into thirty-eight states. But Austria was later to pay heavily for her misdeeds.
Similarly, Italians had to suffer long agonies before they could be saved from the clutches of the Austrians. Italy was also divided into a number of independent sovereign states. Papal misrule and Austrian tyranny continued to rule supreme over Italy for a long time to come.
Not only this, but Austria also occupied two of her provinces Lombardy and Venetia, and vacated them only by the knife of war. Thus, the formation of national unity in both Germany and Italy was delayed for a considerable time. The Congress of Vienna, in short, was a challenge to the spirit of nationalism and liberalism. The territorial changes, however, were too artificial to be permanent. The history of Europe in the nineteenth century is to a large extent the record of the undoing of the work of the Congress of Vienna.
Ushered in a Peaceful Era
The greatest desire of the tormented statesmen of Europe in 1815 was to make Europe peaceful. For twenty-five long years the people of Europe had suffered endlessly. They wanted a respite. Thus, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 ends the war and result in liberty and peace. Besides, the treaty helps to restore European trade and industry.
Source: Mohammed Rafi Komol & O. Jnanendra Singh
A Guide to History of Modern Europe 1789-1945.
Imphal, Khumanthem Babudhon, 2018,