The Austrian emperor Francis I (formerly Holy Roman Emperor Francis II) was the host. Among the many monarchs to attend the congress the most important were Czar Alexander I of Russia and King Frederick William III of Prussia. Fürst von Metternich was the chief Austrian negotiator and presided over the congress; Viscount Castlereagh and, for a time, the duke of Wellington represented Great Britain; the Russian delegation included Count Nesselrode, Count Capo d'Istria, and Carlo Andreo Pozzo di Borgo; among the Prussian diplomats were Karl August von Hardenberg, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Karl vom und zum Stein.
A peace settlement with defeated France had been reached before the congress convened (see Paris, Treaty of, 1814), but France was represented by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, who, by skillfully exploiting differences among the allies, soon obtained an equal voice with the four great victorious powers. All other European states, large and petty, that had legally existed before the Napoleonic upheaval were represented by an army of delegates and agents, but the important work was carried out in committees under the tutelage of the major powers.
The problems confronting the congress were extremely thorny and complex, for the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had swept away the entire structure of Europe. Although the principle of legitimacy—restoration of the pre-Revolutionary dynastic and territorial states—was often ceremoniously invoked, it was the determination to achieve a balance of power for the preservation of peace that guided congress decisions. The principle of national self-determination, although invoked in certain cases, was neglected in practice. The congress opened with a round of magnificent balls and entertainments, while its serious business was stalled by intrigues and rivalries.
Major territorial changes were unavoidable, partly because of previous secret agreements reached among individual allies and partly because of the pressure of power politics. Major points of friction were the settlement of the Polish question, the conflicting claims of Sweden, Denmark, and Russia, and the adjustment of the borders of the German states. Russia and Prussia were generally opposed by Austria, France, and Britain, which at one point (Jan., 1815) went so far as to conclude a defensive triple alliance. The shock of this crisis and of the return of Napoleon I from Elba so upset the delegates that the congress began to find solutions for its many difficulties.
In place of the defunct Holy Roman Empire or its several hundred princes, the German Confederation was created. The Confederation's constitution was accepted on June 8, 1815, and was incorporated into the Final Act of the congress, signed on June 9, nine days before Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The restoration of Louis XVIII in France and of Ferdinand VII in Spain was confirmed.
Italy was dealt with as a geographic rather than a political entity, and its hopes for unity were dashed. Naples and Sicily were reunited under Bourbon rule; the Papal States were restored; the duchies of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla were awarded to French Empress Marie Louise for her lifetime; Tuscany and Modena were restored to the house of Hapsburg-Lorraine; the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom was set up under Austrian rule to compensate Austria for its loss of the Austrian Netherlands; and the formerly Venetian part of Dalmatia also went to Austria. The kingdom of Sardinia was restored and recovered Savoy, Nice, and Piedmont, and it received Liguria with Genoa.
Poland was redivided among Russia, Prussia, and Austria, with Russia benefiting primarily; part of Poland, with Warsaw, was set up as a kingdom in personal union with Russia; Kraków and its surrounding territory were made a republic under the protection of Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Since Austria received Italian territories to compensate for Russian gains, Prussia was awarded much of Saxony as well as important parts of Westphalia and Rhine Province. Great Britain, more interested in acquiring strategic colonial territories, retained the former Dutch colonies of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Cape Colony, received parts of the West Indies at the expense of the Netherlands and Spain, kept Malta and Helgoland, and obtained a protectorate over the Ionian islands.
The former Austrian Netherlands was united with the former United Provinces as the kingdom of the Netherlands, under the house of Orange. Russia retained the formerly Swedish Finland. The congress confirmed the transfer of Norway from the Danish to the Swedish crown; W Pomerania, the claim to which Sweden had ceded to Denmark in the Treaty of Kiel (1814), was given to Prussia, which compensated Denmark with the duchy of Lauenburg. Bavaria received its approximate present-day boundaries, as did Württemberg and Baden. Switzerland was enlarged, and Swiss neutrality was guaranteed. As regards France, a new peace settlement was reached on Nov. 20, 1815 (see Paris, Treaty of, 1815). The Final Act of Vienna was subsequently ratified by the powers concerned, but several separate treaties were required to complete the settlement.
Although the territorial changes brought about by the Congress of Vienna did not endure long in entirety, they represented a practical if not always equitable solution and an attempt at dealing with Europe as an organic whole. The Quadruple Alliance and the Holy Alliance, designed to uphold the decisions of Vienna and to settle disputes and problems by means of conferences, were an important step toward European cooperation. The Concert of Europe, which functioned—even though imperfectly—through the 19th cent., may be credited to the Congress of Vienna.
An auxiliary accomplishment of the Congress was the adoption of standard rules of diplomacy. Serious defects, however, included the disregard of the growing national aspirations and the social changes that brought about the revolutions of 1848, and the failure to include the Ottoman Empire in the settlement and to deal satisfactorily with the Eastern Question.
See H. Nicolson, The Congress of Vienna (1946, repr. 1970); H. Kissinger, A World Restored (1957, repr. 1964); H. Spiel, ed., The Congress of Vienna: An Eyewitness Account (1968).
Its purpose was to settle issues and redraw the continent's political map after the defeat of Napoleonic France the previous spring, which would also reflect the change in status by the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire eight years before. The discussions continued despite the ex-Emperor Napoleon I's return from exile and resumption of power in France in March 1815, and 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 without the greater number of delegates from the lesser states.
The Congress was concerned with determining the entire shape of Europe after the Napoleonic wars - with the exception of the terms of peace between France and the Sixth Coalition, which had already been decided by the Treaty of Paris, signed a few months earlier.
Most of the work at the Congress was performed by the five main powers:
1. The UK was represented firstly by its Foreign Secretary, Viscount Castlereagh; then by the Duke of Wellington, after Castlereagh's return to England in February 1815; and in the last weeks, by the Earl of Clancarty, after Wellington left to face Napoleon during the Hundred Days.
On some issues, these powers cooperated with smaller powers and their representatives:
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. 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 30, 1814.
Congress Secretary Friedrich von Gentz would report that "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 Final Act, embodying all the separate treaties, was signed on June 9, 1815, (a few days before the Battle of Waterloo). Its provisions included:
Though none of the three powers were ready for war, the Russians did not call the bluff, and an amicable settlement was set on 24 October 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.
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.
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.