For other uses see Congress of Vienna (disambiguation).
The Congress of Vienna was a conference of ambassadors of European states chaired by the Austrian statesman Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, and held in Vienna from September, 1814 to June, 1815. Its objective was to redraw the continent's political map and settle the many other issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. The immediate background was France's defeat and surrender in May, 1814, which brought an end to twenty-five years of almost continuous war. The negotiations continued despite a final outburst of fighting triggered by ex-Emperor Napoleon's dramatic return from exile and resumption of power in France during the Hundred Days in March-July, 1815. The Congress's "Final Act" was signed nine days before his final defeat at Waterloo on June 18, 1815.
An unusual feature of the "Congress of Vienna" was that it was not properly a Congress: it never met in plenary session, and most of the discussions occurred in informal sessions among the Great Powers with limited participation by delegates from the lesser states. On the other hand, the Congress was the first occasion in history where on a continental scale people came together in place to hammer out a treaty, instead of relying mostly on messengers and messages between the several capitals. The Congress of Vienna settlement, despite later changes, formed the framework for European international politics until 1914.
Partial settlements had already occurred at the Treaty of Paris between France and the Sixth Coalition, and the Treaty of Kiel which covered Scandinavia. The Treaty of Paris had determined that a "general congress" should be held in Vienna, and that invitations would be issued to "all the Powers engaged on either side in the present war". The opening was scheduled for July 1814.
The five Great Powers
The three other signatories of the Treaty of Paris, 1814
Virtually every state in Europe had a delegation in Vienna – more than 200 states and princely houses were represented at the Congress. In addition, there were representatives of cities, corporations, religious organizations (for instance, abbeys) and special interest groups (for instance, there was a delegation representing German publishers, demanding a copyright law and freedom of the press).
Initially, the representatives of the four victorious powers hoped to exclude the French from serious participation in the negotiations, but Talleyrand managed to skillfully insert himself into "her inner councils" in the first weeks of negotiations. He allied himself to a Committee of Eight powers (Spain, France, Sweden, and Portugal) to control the negotiations. Once Talleyrand was able to use this to make himself a part of the inner negotiations, he then left this committee.
The major Allies' indecision on how to conduct their affairs without provoking a united protest from the lesser powers led to the calling of a preliminary conference on protocol, to which Talleyrand and the Marquis of Labrador, Spain's representative, were invited on September 31, 1814.
Congress Secretary Friedrich von Gentz would report, "The intervention of Talleyrand and Labrador has hopelessly upset all our plans. Talleyrand protested against the procedure we have adopted and soundly [be]rated us for two hours. It was a scene I shall never forget." The embarrassed representatives of the Allies replied that the document concerning the protocol they had arranged actually meant nothing. "If it means so little, why did you sign it?" snapped Labrador.
Talleyrand’s policy, directed as much by national as personal ambitions, demanded the close but by no means amicable relationship he had with Labrador. Talleyrand regarded Labrador with "Olympian disdain. The testy Spaniard would remark of Talleyrand: "that cripple, unfortunately, is going to Vienna." Talleyrand skirted additional articles suggested by Labrador: he had no intention of handing over the 12,000 afrancesados - "frenchified" Spanish fugitives who had sworn fealty to Joseph Bonaparte - with whom he had shady business connections, nor the bulk of the documents, paintings, pieces of fine art, and works of hydrography and natural history that had been looted from the archives, palaces, churches and cathedrals of Spain.
The most contentious subject at the Congress was the so-called Polish-Saxon Crisis. The Russians and Prussians proposed a deal in which much of the Prussian and Austrian shares of the partitions of Poland would go to Russia, which would create a Polish Kingdom in personal union with Russia and Alexander as king. In compensation, the Prussians would receive all of Saxony, whose King was considered to have forfeited his throne as he had not abandoned Napoleon soon enough. The Austrians, French, and British did not approve of this plan, and, at the inspiration of Talleyrand, signed a secret treaty on January 3, 1815, agreeing to go to war, if necessary, to prevent the Russo-Prussian plan from coming to fruition.
Though none of the three powers were ready for war, the Russians did not call the bluff, and an amicable settlement was set on October 24, 1814, by which Russia received most of the Napoleonic Duchy of Warsaw as a "Kingdom of Poland" - called Congress Poland - but did not receive the district of Poznań, Grand Duchy of Poznań, which was given to Prussia, nor Kraków, which became a free city. Prussia received 40% of Saxony - later known as the Province of Saxony, with the remainder returned to King Frederick Augustus I - Kingdom of Saxony.
The Congress's principal results, apart from its confirmation of France's loss of the territories annexed in 1795–1810, which had already been settled by the Treaty of Paris, were the enlargement of Russia, (which gained most of the Duchy of Warsaw) and Prussia, which acquired Westphalia and the northern Rhineland. The consolidation of Germany from the nearly 300 states of the Holy Roman Empire (dissolved in 1806) into a much more manageable thirty-nine states was confirmed. These states were formed into a loose German Confederation under the leadership of Prussia and Austria.
Representatives at the Congress agreed to numerous other territorial changes. Norway was transferred from Denmark to the king of Sweden, this sparked the nationalist movement which led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Norway on May 17, 1814. Austria gained Lombardy-Venetia in Northern Italy, while much of the rest of North-Central Italy went to Habsburg dynasties (the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Modena, and the Duchy of Parma). The Pope was restored to the Papal States. The Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia was restored to its mainland possessions, and also gained control of the Republic of Genoa. In Southern Italy, Napoleon's brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, was originally allowed to retain his Kingdom of Naples, but following his support of Napoleon in the Hundred Days, he was deposed, and the Bourbon Ferdinand IV was restored to the throne.
A large United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created for the Prince of Orange, including both the old United Provinces and the formerly Austrian-ruled territories in the Southern Netherlands. There were other, less important territorial adjustments, including significant territorial gains for the German Kingdoms of Hanover (which gained East Frisia from Prussia and various other territories in Northwest Germany) and Bavaria (which gained the Rhenish Palatinate and territories in Franconia). The Duchy of Lauenburg was transferred from Hanover to Denmark, and Swedish Pomerania was annexed by Prussia. Switzerland was enlarged, and Swiss neutrality was guaranteed.
During the wars, Portugal had lost its province of Olivença to Spain and, at the Congress of Vienna, wanted it back. Portugal was historically a friend of Great Britain, and with its support succeeded in having their right to the re-incorporation of Olivença decreed in Article 105 of the Final Act, which stated that the Congress "understood the occupation of Olivença to be illegal and recognized Portugal's rights". Portugal ratified the Final Act in 1815 but the Spanish would not sign. Thus Spain became the most important hold-out against the Congress of Vienna. Deciding in the end that it was better to become part of Europe than stand aside alone, Spain finally accepted the Treaty on May 7, 1817, however, Olivença and its surroundings have never actually returned to portuguese control and this question is still unsolved. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland received parts of the West Indies at the expense of the Netherlands and Spain and kept the former Dutch colonies of Ceylon and the Cape Colony, and also kept Malta and Heligoland. Under the Treaty of Paris, Britain obtained the protectorate over the United States of the Ionian Islands and the Seychelles.
The Congress of Vienna was frequently criticized by nineteenth-century and more recent historians for ignoring national and liberal impulses, and for imposing a stifling reaction on the continent. The Congress of Vienna was an integral part in what became known as the Conservative Order, in which the liberties and civil rights associated with the American and French Revolutions were deemphasized, and peace and stability were purchased instead.
In the 20th century, however, many historians have come to admire the statesmen at the Congress, whose work had prevented another European general war for nearly a hundred years (1815–1914). Among these is Henry Kissinger, whose doctoral dissertation was on the Congress of Vienna. Prior to the opening of the Paris peace conference of 1918, the British Foreign Office commissioned a history of the Congress of Vienna to serve as an example to its own delegates of how to achieve an equally successful peace. Besides, the decisions of the Congress were made by the Five Great Powers (Austria, France, Prussia, Russia and the United Kingdom), and not all the countries of Europe could extend their rights at the Congress. For example, Italy became a mere "geographical expression" as divided into eight parts (Parma, Modena, Tuscany, Lombardy, Venetia, Piedmont-Sardinia, the Papal States, Naples-Sicily) under the control of different powers, while Poland was under the influence of Russia after the Congress. The arrangements that made the Five Great Powers finally led to future disputes. The Congress of Vienna preserved the balance of power in Europe, but it could not check the spread of revolutionary movements on the continent.