Last modified on September 26, 2018, at 14:57

Congress of Vienna

The Congress of Vienna was a conference held in Vienna between the major powers from September, 1814 to June, 1815. In the middle Napoleon returned from exile. The conferees agreed to raise vast armies against him and, after 100 days, he was defeated at Waterloo. The Conference then resumed.

The victors decided how to liquidate the Napoleonic system and restore the conservatives to their thrones. Central players were Lord Castlereagh of Great Britain, Prince Metternich of Austria, and Prince Talleyrand of France. Many other dignitaries attended, including Emperor Francis I of Austria; Tsar Alexander I of Russia; King Frederick William III of Prussia; the Kings of Denmark, Bavaria, and Württemberg; the Duke of Wellington; and Baron Wilhelm von Humboldt, among many others. The Ottoman Empire and the United States were not invited, but all the other European nations were there.

The purpose of the Congress was to work out a peaceful solution to the disruptions of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (Napoleon was in exile on Elba when it started); and reinforce the pre-war status quo regarding the Balance of Power in Europe.

The delegates followed two guiding principles: legitimate ruling families had to be restored to their thrones (and illegitimate ones put in by Napoleon removed); secondly, when old boundaries could not be restored compensation would be paid in terms of new territories. The goal was to restore traditions and achieve a stable balance of power.

Long-term results

The resulting "Vienna system", or '"Concert of Europe" successfully brought peace to Europe by means of firm, premeditated identification and elimination (or containment) of causes of war. The old instability gave way to political equilibrium and consensus, dynastic politics exited the international scene and wars of succession were eliminated, bellicose values bowed to the rule of peace and law, and effective, institutionalized machinery for international relations overcame the lack of viable solutions for interstate problems.[1]

The backward-looking delegates seriously underestimated the emerging force of nationalism, which was rapidly transforming many countries. People saw their nation and its culture and language as more meaningful to their nation than ruling families. However, Metternich, the Austrian chancellor, considered nationalism a cover for revolution and sought to curb its development through reactionary repression.

By 1848, however, nationalism was a powerful force. The Vienna system did keep the peace in 1848 but was breaking down because it was increassingly was incompatible with the goals of Prussia. Hostile acts and decay permitted the triumph of 19th-century Realpolitik, typified by Otto von Bismark and the revival of more sinister versions of former causes of war.

The success of Vienna in 1815 can be contrasted with the failures at Paris in 1919. to guarantee peace. The Congress of Vienna abandoned the kind of revenge, and retribution that had prevailed in Europe before 1815, but the Paris Peace Conference reintroduced these themes at the treaty level in its punishment of Germany. The contracting parties at the Congress of Vienna were strong and willing to enforce their will and decisions. The opposite was true following the Paris Conference, as Germany rearmed and threatened its neighbors.


The main provisions of the final Treaty of Vienna were:

  1. Austria would surrender Belgium to the Netherlands, receiving in compensation the Italian provinces of Lombardy and Venetia, and the Illyrian provinces along the Adriatic Sea. Austria also regained the Tirol, but lost its Polish provinces.
  2. Hapsburg royals were given the thrones of Parma, Modena, and Tuscany in northern Italy.
  3. Prussia gained Swedish Pomerania, two fifths of Saxony, and additional territory along the Rhine River, in addition to recovering Posen (part of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw) and some other territories which Napoleon had taken.
  4. Russia took the greater part of Poland, later known as "Congress Poland," and obtained Finland from Sweden and Bessarabia from the Ottoman Empire.
  5. Sweden was compensated with Norway, which was taken from Denmark to punish the latter for persistent loyalty to Napoleon.
  6. Britain kept nearly all its colonial conquests, securing permanent control from the Netherlands of Cape Colony in southern Africa, Ceylon, and part of Guiana; it also obtained Helgoland, part of Honduras, the Ionian Islands, and the islands of Malta, Mauritius, St. Lucia, Tobago, and Trinidad.[2]
  7. France, now under Bourbon King Louis XVIII, was dealt with in the second Treaty of Paris, in November 1815. All the Napoleonic imperial conquests were removed, and France returned to its 1790 frontiers. France was required to pay an indemnity of 700,000,000 francs and to support an occupation army for five years.
  8. The Bourbon kings were restored in Spain and in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, while the Kingdom of Sardinia was permitted to incorporate the former Republic of Genoa.
  9. The pope regained his temporal possessions.
  10. The neutrality of Switzerland, an independent confederation of 22 cantons, was guaranteed.
  11. The Holy Roman Empire, which Napoleon ended in 1806, was not restored.
  12. A Germanic Confederation was created, consisting of 38 states. It was to have a Diet of representatives chosen by the ruling princes and presided over by Austria, which largely dictated the policies of the Confederation.
  13. The Congress expressed a desire for reforms relating to the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, the opening of international rivers such as the Danube and the Rhine to free commerce and navigation, and the regulation of the rights of precedence among diplomatic representatives.

Further reading

  • Kissinger, Henry. A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-22. (1957)
  • Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy (1994)
  • Lawday, David. Napoleon's Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand‎ (2007) 386 pages excerpts and text search
  • Nicolson, Harold. The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity, 1812-1822‎ (1945); 320 pages; excerpts and text search
  • Schroeder, Paul. The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848 (1996) 920 pages; advanced history by a conservative scholar; excerpt and text search


  1. See Schroeder (1996)
  2. At the same time Britain retained control of Canada but failed to establish an Indian buffer state in the Ohio-Indiana-Michigan area when it failed to win the War of 1812 with the United States.