The Congress of Vienna (French: Congrès de Vienne, German: Wiener Kongress), also called Vienna Congress, was a meeting of ambassadors of European states chaired by Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich, and held in Vienna from November 1814 to June 1815, though the delegates had arrived and were already negotiating by late September 1814. The objective of the Congress was to provide a long-term peace plan for Europe by settling critical issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The goal was not simply to restore old boundaries but to resize the main powers so they could balance each other and remain at peace. The leaders were conservatives with little use for republicanism or revolution, both of which threatened to upset the status quo in Europe. France lost all its recent conquests while Prussia, Austria and Russia made major territorial gains. Prussia added smaller German states in the west, Swedish Pomerania and 60% of the Kingdom of Saxony; Austria gained Venice and much of northern Italy. Russia gained parts of Poland. The new Kingdom of the Netherlands had been created just months before, and included formerly Austrian territory that in 1830 became Belgium.
The immediate background was Napoleonic France's defeat and surrender in May 1814, which brought an end to 23 years of nearly continuous war. Negotiations continued despite the outbreak of fighting triggered by Napoleon's dramatic return from exile and resumption of power in France during the Hundred Days of March to July 1815. The Congress's "final act" was signed nine days before his final defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815.
The Congress has often been criticized for causing the subsequent suppression of the emerging national and liberal movements, and it has been seen as a reactionary movement for the benefit of traditional monarchs. However, others praise it for having created relatively long-term stability and peaceful conditions in most of Europe.
In a technical sense, the "Congress of Vienna" was not properly a congress: it never met in plenary session, and most of the discussions occurred in informal, face-to-face sessions among the Great Powers of Austria, Britain, France, Russia, and sometimes Prussia, with limited or no participation by other delegates. On the other hand, the congress was the first occasion in history where, on a continental scale, national representatives came together to formulate treaties instead of relying mostly on messages among the several capitals. The Congress of Vienna settlement, despite later changes, formed the framework for European international politics until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
The Treaty of Chaumont in 1814 had reaffirmed decisions that had been made already and that would be ratified by the more important Congress of Vienna of 1814-15. They included the establishment of a confederated Germany, the division of Italy into independent states, the restoration of the Bourbon kings of Spain, and the enlargement of the Netherlands to include what in 1830 became modern Belgium. The Treaty of Chaumont became the cornerstone of the European Alliance that formed the balance of power for decades. Other partial settlements had already occurred at the Treaty of Paris between France and the Sixth Coalition, and the Treaty of Kiel that covered issues raised regarding 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 Congress functioned through formal meetings such as working groups and official diplomatic functions; however, a large portion of the Congress was conducted informally at salons, banquets, and balls.
The Four Great Powers had previously formed the core of the Sixth Coalition. On the verge of Napoleon's defeat they had outlined their common position in the Treaty of Chaumont (March 1814), and negotiated the Treaty of Paris (1814) with the Bourbons during their restoration:
- Austria was represented by Prince Metternich, the Foreign Minister, and by his deputy, Baron Johann von Wessenberg. As the Congress's sessions were in Vienna, Emperor Francis was kept closely informed.
- Britain was represented first by its Foreign Secretary, Viscount Castlereagh; then by the Duke of Wellington, after Castlereagh's return to England in February 1815. In the last weeks it was headed by the Earl of Clancarty, after Wellington left to face Napoleon during the Hundred Days.
- Tsar Alexander I controlled the Russian delegation which was formally led by the foreign minister, Count Karl Robert Nesselrode. The tsar had two main goals, to gain control of Poland and to promote the peaceful coexistence of European nations. He succeeded in forming the Holy Alliance (1815), based on monarchism and anti-secularism, and formed to combat any threat of revolution or republicanism.
- Prussia was represented by Prince Karl August von Hardenberg, the Chancellor, and the diplomat and scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt. King Frederick William III of Prussia was also in Vienna, playing his role behind the scenes.
- France, the "fifth" power, was represented by its foreign minister, Talleyrand, as well as the Minister Plenipotentiary the Duke of Dalberg. Talleyrand had already negotiated the Treaty of Paris (1814) for Louis XVIII of France; the king, however, distrusted him and was also secretly negotiating with Metternich, by mail.
- Spain – Marquis Pedro Gómez de Labrador
- Portugal – Plenipotentiaries: Pedro de Sousa Holstein, Count of Palmela; António de Saldanha da Gama, Count of Porto Santo; Joaquim Lobo da Silveira.
- Sweden – Count Carl Löwenhielm
- Denmark – Count Niels Rosenkrantz, foreign minister. King Frederick VI was also present in Vienna.
- The Netherlands – Earl of Clancarty, the British Ambassador at the Dutch court, and Baron Hans von Gagern
- Switzerland – Every canton had its own delegation. Charles Pictet de Rochemont from Geneva played a prominent role.
- The Papal States – Cardinal Ercole Consalvi
- Republic of Genoa – Marquise Agostino Pareto, Senator of the Republic
- On German issues, Bavaria – Maximilian Graf von Montgelas Württemberg – Georg Ernst Levin von Wintzingerode Hanover, then in a personal union with the British crown – Georg Graf zu Münster. (King George III had refused to recognize the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and maintained a separate diplomatic staff as Elector of Hanover to conduct the affairs of the family estate, the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg, until the results of the Congress were concluded establishing the Kingdom of Hanover.) Mecklenburg-Schwerin – Leopold von Plessen
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 – e.g., a delegation representing German publishers, demanding a copyright law and freedom of the press. The Congress was noted for its lavish entertainment: according to a famous joke it did not move, but danced.
Initially, the representatives of the four victorious powers hoped to exclude the French from serious participation in the negotiations, but Talleyrand skillfully managed to insert himself into "her inner councils" in the first weeks of negotiations. He allied himself to a Committee of Eight lesser powers (including Spain, Sweden, and Portugal) to control the negotiations. Once Talleyrand was able to use this committee to make himself a part of the inner negotiations, he then left it, once again abandoning his allies.
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 30 September 1814.
Congress Secretary Friedrich von Gentz reported, "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, whom Talleyrand regarded with disdain. Labrador later remarked 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 – Spanish fugitives, sympathetic to France, who had sworn fealty to Joseph Bonaparte, nor the bulk of the documents, paintings, pieces of fine art, and books that had been looted from the archives, palaces, churches and cathedrals of Spain.
The most dangerous topic at the Congress was the so-called Polish-Saxon Crisis. Russia wanted most of Poland, and Prussia wanted all of Saxony, whose king had allied with Napoleon. The tsar would become king of Poland. Austria was fearful this would make Russia much too powerful, a view which was supported by Britain. The result was deadlock, for which Talleyrand proposed a solution: Admit France to the inner circle, and France would support Austria and Britain. The three nations signed a secret treaty on 3 January 1815, agreeing to go to war against Russia and Prussia, if necessary, to prevent the Russo-Prussian plan from coming to fruition.
When the Tsar heard of the secret treaty he agreed to a compromise that satisfied all parties on 24 October 1815. Russia received most of the Napoleonic Duchy of Warsaw as a "Kingdom of Poland" – called Congress Poland, with the tsar as king ruling it independently of Russia. Russia, however, did not receive the province of Posen (Poznań), which was given to Prussia as the Grand Duchy of Posen, nor Kraków, which became a free city. Furthermore, the tsar was unable to unite the new domain with the parts of Poland that had been incorporated into Russia in the 1790s. Prussia received 60 percent of Saxony-later known as the Province of Saxony, with the remainder returned to King Frederick Augustus I as his Kingdom of Saxony.
The Final Act, embodying all the separate treaties, was signed on 9 June 1815 (a few days before the Battle of Waterloo). Its provisions included:
- Russia was given most of the Duchy of Warsaw (Poland) and was allowed to keep Finland (which it had annexed from Sweden in 1809 and held until 1917).
- Prussia was given three fifths of Saxony, parts of the Duchy of Warsaw (the Grand Duchy of Posen), Danzig, and the Rhineland/Westphalia.
- A German Confederation of 39 states was created from the previous 300 of the Holy Roman Empire, under the presidency of the Austrian Emperor. Only portions of the territory of Austria and Prussia were included in the Confederation (roughly the same portions that had been within the Holy Roman Empire).
- The Netherlands and the Southern Netherlands (approx. modern-day Belgium) were united in a monarchy, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, with the House of Orange-Nassau providing the king (the Eight Articles of London).
- To compensate for the Orange-Nassau's loss of the Nassau lands to Prussia, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg were to form a personal union under the House of Orange-Nassau, with Luxembourg (but not the Netherlands) inside the German Confederation.
- Swedish Pomerania, given to Denmark a year earlier in return for Norway, was ceded by Denmark to Prussia. France received back Guadeloupe from Sweden in return for yearly installments to the Swedish king.
- The neutrality of Switzerland was guaranteed.
- Hanover gave up the Duchy of Lauenburg to Denmark, but was enlarged by the addition of former territories of the Bishop of Münster and by the formerly Prussian East Frisia, and made a kingdom.
- Most of the territorial gains of Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, and Nassau under the mediatizations of 1801–1806 were recognized. Bavaria also gained control of the Rhenish Palatinate and parts of the Napoleonic Duchy of Würzburg and Grand Duchy of Frankfurt. Hesse-Darmstadt, in exchange for giving up the Duchy of Westphalia to Prussia, received Rhenish Hesse with its capital at Mainz.
- Austria regained control of the Tyrol and Salzburg; of the former Illyrian Provinces; of Tarnopol district (from Russia); received Lombardy-Venetia in Italy and Ragusa in Dalmatia. Former Austrian territory in Southwest Germany remained under the control of Württemberg and Baden, and the Austrian Netherlands were also not recovered.
- Habsburg princes were returned to control of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Duchy of Modena.
- The Papal States were under the rule of the pope and restored to their former extent, with the exception of Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin, which remained part of France.
- Britain was confirmed in control of the Cape Colony in Southern Africa; Tobago; Ceylon; and various other colonies in Africa and Asia. Other colonies, most notably the Dutch East Indies and Martinique, were restored to their previous owners.
- The King of Sardinia was restored in Piedmont, Nice, and Savoy, and was given control of Genoa (putting an end to the brief proclamation of a restored Republic).
- The Duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla were given to Marie Louise, Napoleon's wife.
- The Duchy of Lucca was created for the House of Bourbon-Parma, which would have reversionary rights to Parma after the death of Marie Louise.
- The Bourbon Ferdinand IV, King of Sicily was restored to control of the Kingdom of Naples after Joachim Murat, the king installed by Bonaparte, supported Napoleon in the Hundred Days and started the Neapolitan War by attacking Austria.
- The slave trade was condemned.
- Freedom of navigation was guaranteed for many rivers, notably the Rhine and the Danube.
The Congress's principal results, apart from its confirmation of France's loss of the territories annexed between 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 the district of Poznań, Swedish Pomerania, 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 less complex system of thirty-nine states (4 of which were free cities) was confirmed. These states formed a loose German Confederation under the leadership of Austria and Prussia.
Representatives at the Congress agreed to numerous other territorial changes. By the Treaty of Kiel, Norway had been ceded by the king of Denmark-Norway to the king of Sweden. This sparked the nationalist movement which led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Norway on May 17, 1814 and the subsequent personal Union with Sweden. 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 Papal States were restored to the Pope. 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 his support of Napoleon in the Hundred Days led to the restoration of the Bourbon Ferdinand IV to the throne.
A large United Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed for the Prince of Orange, including both the old United Provinces and the formerly Austrian-ruled territories in the Southern Netherlands. Other, less important, territorial adjustments included 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 Prussia annexed Swedish Pomerania. Switzerland was enlarged, and Swiss neutrality was established. Swiss mercenaries had played a significant role in European wars for a couple of hundred years: the Congress intended to put a stop to these activities permanently.
During the wars, Portugal had lost its town of Olivença to Spain and moved to have it restored. Portugal is historically Britain's oldest ally, and with British support succeeded in having 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 Spain would not sign, and this 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 to stand alone, Spain finally accepted the Treaty on 7 May 1817; however, Olivença and its surroundings were never returned to Portuguese control and this question remains unresolved. Great Britain 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 as well as Malta and Heligoland. Under the Treaty of Paris, Britain obtained a protectorate over the United States of the Ionian Islands and the Seychelles.
The Congress of Vienna has frequently been criticized by 19th century and more recent historians for ignoring national and liberal impulses, and for imposing a stifling reaction on the Continent. It 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 de-emphasized, so that a fair balance of power, peace and stability, might be achieved.
In the 20th century, however, many historians came to admire the statesmen at the Congress, whose work prevented another widespread European war for nearly 100 years (1815–1914). Among these is Henry Kissinger, who in 1954 wrote his doctoral dissertation, A World Restored, on it. Historian Mark Jarrett argues that the Congress of Vienna and the Congress System marked "the true beginning of our modern era". He says the Congress System was deliberate conflict management, and was the first genuine attempt to create an international order based upon consensus rather than conflict. "Europe was ready," Jarrett states, "to accept an unprecedented degree of international cooperation in response to the French Revolution." Historian Paul Schroeder argues that the old formulae for "balance of power" were in fact highly destabilizing and predatory. He says the Congress of Vienna avoided them and instead set up rules that produced a stable and benign equilibrium. The Congress of Vienna was the first of a series of international meetings that came to be known as the Concert of Europe, which was an attempt to forge a peaceful balance of power in Europe. It served as a model for later organizations such as the League of Nations in 1919 and the United Nations in 1945.
Before 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 main decisions of the Congress were made by the Four Great Powers and not all the countries of Europe could extend their rights at the Congress. The Italian peninsula became a mere "geographical expression" as divided into seven parts: Lombardy–Venetia, Modena, Naples–Sicily, Parma, Piedmont–Sardinia, Tuscany, and the Papal States under the control of different powers. Poland remained partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria, with the largest part, the newly created Kingdom of Poland, remaining under Russian control.
The arrangements made by the Four Great Powers sought to ensure future disputes would be settled in a manner that would avoid the terrible wars of the previous 20 years. Although the Congress of Vienna preserved the balance of power in Europe, it could not check the spread of revolutionary movements across the continent some 30 years later.