The Concert of Europe

Treaty of Paris | Congress of Vienna | The Holy Alliance | Quadruple Alliance | Aftermath

Treaty of Paris

After the long fall of Napoleon from the disastrous retreat from Russia to the Battle of the Nations, when all hope of victory had faded, Napoleon decided it was time to surrender to the allies. With the usurper finally out of the way, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia gathered together in 1814 in the most convenient spot (Paris) to discuss what should happen to France. Talleyrand (who once had been called by Napoleon, "crap in a silk stocking") represented France and von Metternich represented Austria.

Sketch of Talleyrand

The prevailing mood among the victors was that France itself must remain intact in order to maintain the balance of power in Europe. To this end, the terms of the peace were very generous. France returned to the borders of 1792; she regained most of her colonies; and was not forced to pay an indemnity. But, unfortunately for France, her old lover returned for one last fling. Napoleon returned on a ship from his exile in Elba and raised a new army. But he was quickly defeated after 100 days at the Battle of Waterloo. That France would again support Napoleon hardened the hearts of the negotiators somewhat. They met again and imposed harsher terms for France.

The Congress of Vienna

The Napoleonic Wars had taken a severe toll on the manhood of France and the countries of Europe. Hundreds of thousands of men died in battle or from disease during the campaigns. Many civilian people died from starvation and deprivation when their homes and countries were ravaged by war. The diplomats who met in Vienna were determined to avoid such a demographic calamity again. So they determined to work together to create a system to maintain peace and order.

Yet the ministers and representatives of the Congress of Vienna were realists. They knew that the martial spirit of Europe had not been bled dry. The last return of Napoleon was ample evidence that a nation could still be whipped into a war frenzy. The fifteen years of Napoleon preceded by the ten years of the French Revolution had taught them much of the collective and individual motivations and actions of men. Thus they proceeded with their deliberations with certain ideas in mind.

  • To restrict wars of aggression by France: France had been an aggressive force in Europe since Louis XIV.
  • That a balance of power must be maintained: It was felt that an equality of force among disparate European powers would create enough uncertainty that rulers would not be inclined to risk the use of aggressive force. It would make it more difficult for one nation to dominate Europe.
  • A system of rewards and punishments for past deeds must be in place: This would discourage European powers from future aggrandizement. (Not to mention the fact that it would reward the current participants in the Congress.)
  • Countries must be ruled by legitimate governments.
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These principles espoused mainly by Metternich were considered conservative. Some have said that the object of the Congress was to return Europe to status quo ante (or the way things were before the wars). But this was not true. The congress changed many borders. The Holy Roman Empire was left dismantled. Military and political organization was forever changed. The congress provided a new precedent for concerted action by nations and states to work to resolve issues peacefully. In fact, there would be no general European war again until the Great War of 1914 (WWI).

The immediate result of the Congress of Vienna was the growth of the major states of Russia, Prussia, and Austria, at the expense of Poland, Saxony, and Italy. Legitimate rulers were restored in many states including France and Spain.

The Holy Alliance

Alexander I, Tsar of Russia, had become mystical about this time. He believed that he had been appointed by God to destroy Napoleon. After the Napoleonic Wars he felt that the best hope for peace in Europe was to create an alliance where the states participating would swear to abide by Christian principles. Prussia and Austria joined with Russia in this alliance.

The Quadruple Alliance

In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars there was a mania for alliance building. The Quadruple Alliance was an effort to keep together the force that had finally destroyed Napoleon. The Quadruple Alliance included Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia. They agreed to meet periodically to resolve the problems of Europe. (France joined in 1818, making it the Quintuple Alliance.) Thus, congresses of Europe met until about 1822 when there was a falling out about the right of the alliance members to interfere in the politics of other states. Britain left, and the alliance withered away.


For many historians this period in European history serves as an aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Yet it was significant. It was the first time since the middle ages that Europeans had made any significant strides toward unity and continental peace. Yes, war and revolution would occur during the remainder of the century. But on the whole it was a peaceful period, and the people of Europe were generally grateful for the time of growth, stability, and prosperity which followed.


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The Renaissance

Age of Exploration

The Reformation

The Scientific Revolution

Thirty Years War

The Development of the English Constitution under the Stuart Kings

French Absolutism and Louis XIV

Peter I and the Modernization of Russia

Rise of Prussia and Austria

The Enlightenment

The French Revolution

The Age of Napoleon

Concert of Europe


Industrial Revolution

Liberalism, Socialism, and Marxism

The Unification of Italy and The Unification of Germany

The Age of Imperialism

Causes of the First World War

World War I: the Great War

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