Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Europe after the Congress of Vienna

The two pictures above demonstrate the contradictory aspects of the period: the crushing of the Decembrist revolt in Russia in 1825 and the July Revolution in Paris in 1830.

The post-Napoleonic rulers committed themselves in practice to an attempt to turn the clock back or at least to preserve the status quo: an aristocratic society, supported by a middle class (enriched in France by the French Revolution and in Britain by the Industrial Revolution).
But could the clock be turned back? New ideas were striking at the roots of the traditional order. ‘Conservatism’ and ‘conservative’ were new words from France. ‘Liberal’ from Spain acquired a new currency as a noun. ‘Democrat’ and ‘democracy’ began for the first time to be used by some in a favourable way. ‘Left’ and ‘right’ acquired political meanings.

The main legacies of the period 1789 to 1815 were
(1) liberal ideas, particularly notions of civil rights, political constitutions, free political institutions and a free press, and
(2) the growth of national feeling.
In Italy, Germany, Ireland and Poland patriotism and nationalism became inseparably attached to revolution. Self-conscious `liberals’ included university students (especially in Germany), journalists, urban crowds, army officers and radical associations: (The Tugendbund (League of Virtue) and other Burschenschaften (student fraternities) in Germany, the Carbonari in Italy, and military clubs with constitutional ambitions in Russia). This is a period of secret societies and failed revolutions.

From 1821, the cause of Greek independence became a popular among liberals and nationalists elsewhere, including Byron and Delacroix (who painted the Turkish massacre at Chios 1821)

Austria, occupying or controlling much of northern Italy directly or through client states, intervened to crush liberal revolts in Piedmont and the kingdom of Naples in 1820. The restored Ferdinand I of Naples took his vengeance on the liberal revolutionaries. However in 1830 Guiseppe Mazzini (left) founded ‘Young Italy, a group that may have had as many as 50,000 clandestine members throughout the Italian peninsula.

Spain and Portugal
In 1812 the leaders of the Spanish resistance convoked a Cortes or national parliament. This was elected on a broad franchise. A majority of the delegates turned their backs on the king and the Church and drew up a constitution with a division of powers, basic civil liberties, equality under the law and a guarantee of property. These delegates were known as ‘liberales’ in opposition to the conservative ‘serviles’.

The restored Ferdinand VII reneged on his promise to respect this constitution. A coup by liberal army officers in 1820 forced him to swear allegiance to the constitution, but in 1823 France intervened militarily to oust the liberals and restore full power to Ferdinand. Ferdinand then unleashed a reign of terror against Spanish liberals. Hundreds were executed, and thousands were imprisoned or driven into exile.

In Portugal, the restored John VI accepted, then in 1822 repudiated, a liberal constitution. His son, Dom Miguel abolished the constitution in 1828, and persecuted liberals.

Prussia and Austria, the two Great Powers of the German Confederation, adopted a conservative authoritarian policy, in contrast to the (slightly) more liberal politics of the German states.

The German national movement of 1815-20 was largely made up of young men, many university students and many veterans of the War of Liberation. Its ideals were partly liberal and partly a nationalistic response to the French Revolution. At the Wartburg Festival of 1817, commemorating Martin Luther (depicted right)) students burned symbols of oppression: conservative books, the final act of the Congress of Vienna and sticks used by noblemen and army officers to beat their subordinates. In 1819 a deranged student fraternity member assassinated the playwright August von Kotzebue. In response Metternich inspired the German states to introduce the Carlsbad Decrees (1819) outlawing the Tugendbund and Burschenschaften, introducing strict press censorship and placing German universities under police supervision. In Prussia, the great Wilhelm von Humboldt, founder of Berlin University, resigned in protest.

Russia and Poland
Alexander I, who had shown some liberal sympathies, became increasingly reactionary. From 1816 secret societies spread in the universities, but the political goals of the conspirators were vague and their numbers were small. On Alexander’s unexpected death in 1825, the `Decembrist’ revolt of liberal army-officers sought to introduce constitutional monarchy. After it was crushed, Nicholas I exiled hundreds of the Decembrists to Siberia and inaugurated thirty years of reaction in Russia.

`Congress’ Poland, the core Polish territory, was joined to Russia in 1815 as a `kingdom’ ruled by the tsar. Following the July Revolution, secret societies, whose members were mostly younger officers in the Polish divisions of the tsar’s armies, planned a coup in Warsaw. It took a campaign from February to October 1831 to suppress the revolt. After it was put down, Poland’s semi-autonomous status was revoked by Nicholas I and Poland was formally annexed to the Russian Empire.

Reaction and fear of unrest was also the pattern of rule by the Tory ministry of Lord Liverpool 1812–27. Dissenters and radicals campaigned against an unequal and corrupt parliamentary representation from `rotten boroughs’, Parliament suspended the Habeas Corpus Act for a year in 1816, outlawed public meetings and prosecuted radical journalists and publishers. In 1819 the `Peterloo massacre’ took place in Manchester, when demonstrators were cut down by the cavalry. Parliament passed further repressive legislation in 1819. But the repression eased during the 1820s and in 1832 a Whig government introduced the Great Reform Act, extending the franchise in the face of widespread conservative resistance.

For fear of a French descent from Ireland, Ireland had been annexed to Britain in 1800 to form the United Kingdom. Its Catholic population remained disenfranchised until 1821 and no Catholic could be a Member of Parliament until the Catholic Relief Act of 1829.

Louis XVIII, brother of the Louis XVI guillotined in 1793, was placed on the French throne in 1814. He fled during the `100 days’, and was again restored after Waterloo. In June 1814 he introduced a liberal constitution, the Charter, which recognized the fundamental principles of liberty, equality and property. There were to be two chambers: the House of Peers and the Chamber of Deputies. The former were to be appointed by the king and subsequently recognized as hereditary peers; the latter were to be elected by men, and from men, paying a set sum in direct taxes – a cens. Trial by jury and an independent judiciary were established. This constitutional experiment was cut short by the return of Napoleon from Elba. The result was a ‘White Terror’, the rounding up and murder of supporters of Napoleon and former Jacobins; Marshall Ney was executed by firing squad in December 1815. Under pressure from the Ultras (extreme royalists in the parliamentary bicameral chamber established under the Charter), Louis’ government took measures against ex-Bonapartists and reintroduced censorship. Nonetheless his subjects enjoyed more legal protection of their rights than did most other Europeans. The murder by a lunatic in 1820 of Louis’ nephew, the Duc de Berri (see Chateaubriand's account), however, sparked off fresh reaction under pressure from the Ultras. Censorship was intensified and the electoral franchise was restricted.

Louis was succeeded in September 1824 by his younger brother, the totally reactionary Duc d’Artois, Charles X, hero of the Ultras. His elaborate coronation at Rheims set the tone for his reign. His actions (such as the new law on sacrilege and compensation for émigrés) aroused a liberal opposition, resulting in the election of an unprecedentedly large number of deputies in 1827. In 1829 he appointed a government ministry consisting entirely of ultras, led by the Prime Minister, the Prince de Polignac.

At the beginning of 1830 Polignac sent an army to conquer Algeria – thus ensuring that the monarch’s best troops were out of the country. In the spring the king refused the demand of the majority of deputies that Polignac should be dismissed and instead dissolved Parliament and called new elections. But these elections returned a substantial majority of oppositionists. On 26 July the king issued four ordinances dissolving Parliament and imposing censorship of the press. This led to street demonstrations in Paris, the building of barricades and the unfurling of the revolutionary tricolour. The street fighting lasted from 27 to 29 July, the ‘three glorious days’ and is romantically portrayed in Delacroix' 'Liberty Leading the People' (see above). The king fled Paris. On 1 August he abdicated in favour of his grandson the duc de Bordeaux. A group of opposition deputies chose instead his cousin Louis-Philippe, duc d’Orléans, the 'Citizen King', who described himself as 'King of the French' rather than 'King of France'.

Belgian independence
The kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg under the rule of William I of Holland, was an artificial creation set up in 1815 to form a bastion against France. This was deeply unpopular in Catholic Belgium. Following the July Revolution, street demonstrations in Brussels at the end of August turned into clashes between demonstrators and royal troops. By November there was a provisional government of the newly independent Belgium. Dutch rule was overthrown in 1830 and in 1831 the neutral kingdom of the Belgians was established by the Great Powers, with Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (left) as king. (He was allowed to keep his Protestant faith.) In 1832 he married Louise-Marie, eldest daughter of Louis-Philippe.