Vienna, Congress of 1814-15

Vienna, Congress of (1814-15)


an international congress that concluded the wars of the coalitions of European powers against Napoleonic France. It was held in Vienna from September 1814 to June 1815. Representatives of all the European states (except Turkey) participated. The leading roles at the congress were played by Russia (Alexander I, K. V. Nesselrode, A. K. Razumovskii), Great Britain (R. S. Castlereagh; later on, A. W. Wellington), and Austria (Francis I, C. Metternich). The Prussian delegation was headed by K. A. Hardenberg and W. Humboldt and the French delegation by C. M. Talleyrand. The major tasks of the Congress of Vienna were the reestablishment of feudal systems liquidated during both the Great French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars; the restoration of a number of overthrown dynasties; the struggle against the revolutionary and national liberation movements; the establishment of guaranties against the return of power of Napoleon and France’s resumption of wars of conquest; and the redivision of Europe in the interests of the victorious powers.

Because of the sharp diplomatic struggle, the negotiations—which were conducted amid uninterrupted balls, carnivals, masquerades, and theatrical performances— were extremely drawn-out. The words of the Austrian diplomat, Prince de Ligne, became a popular saying: “The congress dances but does not move forward.” Sharp differences among the allies emerged with respect to many problems regarding the restructuring of Europe—above all, the question of Poland and Saxony.

The tsarist government set as its goal the annexation of virtually all of the Polish territory: it planned to compensate Prussia for the loss of part of Poland by transferring Saxony to Prussia. This plan encountered the opposition of Great Britain, which feared any further growth in Russia’s power, and of Austria, which sought to prevent the consolidation of the positions of both Prussia, its rival, and Russia. The dissidence among the allies was exploited by Talleyrand, who proclaimed himself the protector of the principles of legitimism and of the rights of the small countries. Talleyrand managed to get France admitted to the closed conferences of Russia, Great Britain, Austria, and Prussia— the conferences that determined the entire activity of the Congress of Vienna.

On Jan. 3, 1815, Great Britain, Austria, and France signed a secret agreement directed primarily against Russia but also against Prussia (the Secret Treaty of Vienna of 1815). Russia and Prussia were forced to make concessions in the Polish-Saxon question.

The common danger that arose after Napoleon’s flight from the island of Elba and his landing in France on Mar. 1, 1815, to begin the Hundred Days promoted a rapprochement among the participants of the Congress of Vienna, and they formed a new coalition (the seventh) against Napoleon. The final (general) act of the Congress of Vienna was signed on June 9, 1815. It deprived France of all its conquests and provided for Belgium and Holland to be united in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which—along with Prussia and Austria—was to form a “barrier” against any new attempts France might make to start a war. A large portion of the former duchy of Warsaw went to Russia under the name of the Kingdom of Poland; Poznanń was left as a part of Prussia, Austria retained Galicia, and Kraków was proclaimed a “free city.” Prussia received almost half of the territory of Saxony, the economically developed Rhine province, and Westphalia: these grants greatly strengthened the position of militarist Prussia in Germany. In Italy, the Kingdom of Sardinia was reestablished; Savoy and Nice were returned to it. Lombardy and Venice went to Austria, which, along with Austria’s actual control over all the Italian states (except the Kingdom of Sardinia), ensured Austrian dominion in Italy. The Confederation of Switzerland was formed from 19 Swiss cantons and Switzerland’s “eternal” neutrality was guaranteed. The German states and some of Austria’s possessions entered the German Confederation, in which the dominant influence of Austria was ensured. Norway was separated from Denmark, Napoleon’s former ally, and given to Sweden. Great Britain, which consolidated and expanded its naval, colonial, and commercial predominance, retained most of the territory it had seized during the war, including the island of Malta, the Ionian Islands, the Cape Colony (in South Africa), and the island of Ceylon. One of the appendixes to the “Final Act” contained a ban on the trade in Negroes. The Congress of Vienna established, for the first time, uniformity in the nomenclature and seniority of the ranks of diplomatic representatives.

The Congress of Vienna consolidated the new correlation of forces that had taken shape by the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It also consolidated the leading roles of Russia and Great Britain in international relations, roles that were subsequently retained for several decades. The policies of tsarist Russia, bourgeois-aristocratic Great Britain, Hapsburg Austria, and the other participants were reactionary and expansionist at the Congress of Vienna. The congress completely disregarded national principles and in particular the rights of the small countries and peoples. The system of relations established by the Congress of Vienna was supplemented by the proclamation of the Holy Alliance in September 1815. However, the Congress was unable to liquidate the results of the revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The decisions of the congress had a complex class nature that reflected the peculiar interlacing of the feudal and the early-bourgeois reaction. The elements in the resolutions of the congress that were in open or latent contradiction with the principles of legitimism and that objectively preserved the possibilities for bourgeois development proved to be comparatively firm. The system created by the congress did not collapse at an even rate. As early as 15 years after the congress, the July Revolution took place in France and the independence of Belgium was proclaimed; the Revolution of 1848-49 followed, and still later came the unification of Italy and of Germany.


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