Birth Of Modern Europe.

Napoleon Arrives


This document aims to introduce the main features of European History in the period 1815 to 1848 and to understand and assess key events and to evaluate and analyse how Historians explain these events. The document is a step by step account of the History of ‘Modern’ Europe from the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 to the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914.

Rapid Change: The first part of the document deals thematically with the attempts to reconstitute European politics along Conservative lines after the fall of Napoleon’s Empire and also assesses the impact of rapid social, Political and economical developments in the first half of the 19th Century which led to the Revolutions of 1848.

Assessing Reform: The second part of the document takes a national or regional approach, assessing reform (or the lack of it) among the great European powers (Britain, France, Austria and Russia) and the emergence of two powerful new states (Germany and Italy).

Rising Conflicts: Finally, the document explores the very profound changes that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the emergence of international tensions and conflicts that led to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Understanding Europe: By completion, we should have a sound understanding of the main events and developments in European History including Political, social and economic history. We should also be able to contextualise explain and assess the main events in European History. Furthermore, we should also be able to analyse and evaluate evidence, including primary sources and historiographical trends in relation to the main events and developments in European history.

Restoration Or Not: After the defeat of Napoleon the question of what happens next in Europe arises. For Many French people the concept of full restoration seemed a logical choice. However, there were too many socio and economic problems in pre-Revolution France so full restoration was not really an option. There had to be changes but this time around, it had to be changes that resulted in a better Society for all.

Concert of Europe: The European restoration is an umbrella term for the French restoration, the Bourbon restoration, the Swiss restoration and Christian restoration. The process finds it’s foundations  with the ‘Concert of Europe’ (after the Congress of Vienna) or Congress System which established the Balance of power that existed in Europe from the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the outbreak of World War 1 (1914), albeit with major alterations after the Revolutions of 1848. Its founding powers were Austria, Prussia, the Russian Empire, and the United Kingdom, which were collectively known as the ‘Quadruple Alliance’. The Alliance was responsible for the downfall of the first French Empire. In time, France was established as a fifth member of the Concert. At first, the leading personalities of the system were Lord Castlereigh (UK), Austrian Chancellor Klemens Von Metternich, and Russian Tsar Alexander I.

Age of Metternich: The age of the Concert is sometimes known as the age of Metternich due to the influence of the Austrian Chancellors Conservatism and the dominance of Austria within the German confederation. The rise of nationalism, the unification of Germany, the ‘Risorgimento’ in Italy and the Eastern Question were among the factors, which eventually brought an end to the Concerts effectiveness.

The Napoleonic Code: The idea of a European federation was not new. The Concert of Europe drew upon ideas and notions of a balance of power in international relations; that the ambitions of each great power were curbed by the others. Europe had been constantly at war and Liberalism was spreading across the continent, which resulted in many states adopting the Napoleonic Code, which had been enacted in France in 1804 and forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of Religion, and specified that Government jobs go to the most qualified. It was the first modern legal code to be adopted with a pan-European scope and it strongly influenced the law of many countries formed during and after the Napoleonic wars. The code was a major step in replacing Feudal laws and one of the few documents that have influenced the world.

Restoration Initiation: Largely as a reaction to the radicalism of the French Revolution, the victorious powers of the Napoleonic wars decided to suppress Liberalism and Nationalism, which were perceived as war and Revolution mongering philosophies. A reversion to the status-quo of Europe prior to 1789 seemed to be the best way forward. Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed the ‘Holy alliance’ with the expressed intent of preserving Christian social values and traditional Monarchism. Every member of the Coalition promptly joined the alliance, except for the United Kingdom.

Demise of The Concert of Europe: After an early period of success, the Concert began to weaken as the common goals of the great powers were gradually replaced by growing Political and economic rivalries. Further erosion by European Revolutionary upheaval in 1848 with demands for revision of the Congress of Vienna’s frontiers along national lines the Concert unravelled and was gone by the latter half of the 19th Century amid successive wars between its participants. The Congress had a significant achievement in the form of Congress of Berlin (1878) which redrew the Political map of the Balkans, by the early 20th century, the powers were split in two, and World War 1 began.

European Unification: The Concert of Europe was the system where the great powers of Europe maintained peace and prosperity for over a century. These were maintained by careful Management of the balance of power so that when one country ‘bullied’ another then the remaining countries would come together in diplomatic and military alliance. This was a forerunner to the modern United Nations.

Sharing Europe: The primary objective of the Congress was to settle the many issues arising from the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. This objective resulted in the redrawing of Europe and establishing the boundaries of countries primarily France, Poland, The Netherlands, Germany, and Italy. The Congress was somewhat informal in that all of its meetings occurred face-to-face between the members with little or no representation by smaller states.

Napoleons Legacy: Napoleon considered his greatest achievement that of establishing and consecrating the rule of reason. His Napoleonic code proclaimed the equality of all people before the law (but favouring men over women), personal freedom, and the inviolability of property. Napoleon furthered the myth of the ‘career open to talent’, which aided both middle classes and peasants. Property ownership was essential to the Political life of the nation; the accumulation of property was the accumulation of wealth, power, Political influence, and status. Napoleon helped to turn nationalism into an aggressive secular Religion by manipulating this patriotic energy and transforming it into a popular ideology.

Napoleons reforms extended into states conquered by France. The French imposed constitutions and state control over clergy and judicial systems. He created new forms of tax, standardised weight and measures, ended internal customs barriers, abolished guilds and proclaimed equality, freedom of worship and advocated personal freedom. Napoleon claimed that he was trying to liberate Europe but had only replaced old sovereigns with new ones, himself, or his brothers. He conquered countries for France and not for the good of the country but only for the glory of France. He pilfered valuable art and treasures by the wagon load and kept them himself or for the state. French conquests awakened nationalism in the German states and in Spain. Over 90,000 of his men died in battles and triple that number perished from wounds and disease.

Of the changes in the post Napoleonic period that profoundly transformed Europe, none had more important social, Political, economical and cultural consequences as the Industrial Revolution. Having begun in England in the middle decades of the 18th century, it accelerated in that country during the first decades of the 19th Century. It spread to Western Europe in particular, but affected other regions as well. The Industrial Revolution and its critics would help shape the modern world.

Metternich, Conservatism & Restoration: The feeling of anti French Revolution was strong in Political circles across Europe. The idea of a reoccurrence of these events anywhere else in Europe was to be avoided at all costs and the upper echelons’ of European politics needed to develop a plan to ensure that such events would never happen again. There needed to be a restoration of Monarchy, church and aristocracy in Europe but, this time around it had to be different from pre-Revolutionary times in order that disharmony was not inadvertently encouraged. Restoration had to be moulded to fit the demands of the Revolutionaries, reconstruct Monarchical power, control the church, and keep the aristocracy satisfied. Some thinkers felt that such changes would occur organically and very slowly without human interference. The post-Revolutionary Society would develop, in time, to become a Society acceptable to all citizens. Such changes would be natural and normal. However, the question of Religion remained an important one. What role should it play in the new Society if indeed it should play any role at all? Some theorists had their own ideas on ‘what happens now in Europe?’ and the most important of these were Edmund Burke, Joseph De Maistre, and Klemens Von Metternich.

Edmund Burke (1729-1727): Burke was an Irish political leader who served in Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. He was opposed to the French Revolution and is generally viewed as the philosophical founder of modern Conservatism as well as a representative of classical Liberalism. His publication ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’ (1790) is one of the best-known intellectual attacks against the French Revolution in the 20th century. It much influenced Conservatism and classical Liberal intellectuals who saw it as a critique of communism and socialist Revolutionary programmes. He vigorously defended Constitutional limitation of the Monarchy, denounced religious persecution, complained about British colonial control in America (supported American independence) and was widely respected by Liberals. He felt the French Revolution would fail in time because it ignored the complexities of human nature and Society. His contention was; “a Man’s right to food does not provide it.” He wanted Constitutional reform (not Revolution) and he further contended that the pursuit of liberty and rights of Man could be abused to justify tyranny.

Joseph De Maistre: De Maistre was a philosopher and one of the most influential representatives for a hierarchical Monarchical state after the French Revolution. He regarded Monarchy as both a divinely sanctioned institution and as the only form of stable Government. He called for the restoration of the House of Bourbon to the throne of France and also for the ultimate authority of the Pope. He argued that only a Christian Constitution could avoid the disorder and bloodshed of a Revolution. His theories influenced Conservative thinking and left wing intellectuals like utopian socialists. Along with Edmund Burke, he has been described as one of the founding fathers of European Conservatism.

Klemens Von Metternich: Metternich was a German born philosopher and important diplomat. He led the Austrian delegation at the Congress of Vienna, which divided post-Napoleonic Europe between the major powers. A committed Conservative he was keen to maintain the balance of power and he intensely disliked Liberalism. He was happy to apply underhanded means to achieve his ends. He was instrumental in the enforcement of ‘The Karlsbad Decrees’ (1819) which used censorship and a wide ranging spy network to suppress Liberalism and planted student spies in university lecture theatres to monitor and report radical opinion sharing. However, historians defend his policies as reasonable attempts to defend the balance of power in Europe and the preservation of the status quo in the face of Revolutionary challenge.

The Karlsbad Decrees (1819): The Karlsbad Decrees were a set of reactionary restrictions introduced in the states of the German confederation in 1819 after a conference held at Karlsbad, Bohemia. They banned nationalist fraternities, removed Liberal university professors, and expanded the censorship of the press. The meeting of the states representatives was called by Metternich after a series of events related to student unrest in Europe. Metternich feared Liberal and national tendencies at German universities, which might conduct Revolutionary activities threatening the Monarchy. The three main outcomes of the Karlsbad Decrees were press censorship, state supervision of universities and a central investigation commission. State officials had to ‘proof read’ anything that went to press prior to publication. The ‘diet’ (Parliament) could stop any publication that it felt was Revolutionary. The placement of spies at universities to ensure suppression of radicalism meant that no student or academic could encourage Revolutionary thinking under fear of severe punishment of expulsion and no further placement. An extraordinary commission of investigation to root out Revolutionary plots and preserve international peace within the German confederation had many powers to control Revolutionary movements, clubs, societies, or organisations.

The Congress System: There were a number of significant conferences in the process of establishing the Congress System. They began in 1818 at Aix La Chappelle and continued to St. Petersburg in 1825.

Aix La Chappelle (1818): The conference at Aix La Chappelle was held in the autumn of 1818 and was primarily a meeting of the Allied powers of Europe, which included Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia. The purpose of the meeting was to decide the question of the withdrawal of the army of occupation from France and the nature of the modifications to be introduced in consequence into the relations of these four powers toward each other, and collectively toward France. The quintuple alliance was endorsed at this conference.

Troppau (1820): This was a conference of the quintuple Alliance to discuss means of suppressing a Revolution in Naples (July 1820) and at which the Troppau Protocol was signed. This protocol stated that any European country, which underwent a Revolution, forced Government change would be expelled from the alliance. If the Revolution threatened the peace of Europe then war would be declared. The purpose of such wars would be state restoration.

Laibach (1821): The Congress of Laibach was a conference of the allied sovereigns held as part of the Concert of Europe. As a result of Troppau (1820) the three autocratic powers (Russia, Austria and Prussia) had issued a circular letter in which they reiterated the principles of the Troppau Protocol namely, the right and duty of the powers responsible for the peace of Europe to intervene to suppress any Revolutionary movement by which they might conceive peace as being endangered. Britain protested at Troppau and differentiated between the objectionable general principles advanced by the three powers and the unrest in Italy, which threatened only Austria and not Europe. The conflict did not prevent Austria from intervening in Italy but with Britain’s neutrality intact. The revolt in Italy was suppressed as a result of negotiations at Laibach by Austrian troops.

Verona (1822): While Britain and other European powers acted largely in Concert to date it was not until Verona that the unravelling of the Congress began to show. This was apparent in the way in which the main questions before this Congress were handled by participants. The Italian question, the Turkish question, and the Spanish question. The matter of Austrian rule in Italy was handled in the absence of Britain’s representatives, the Greek war of independence was justified in the view of Britain who recognised the Greek right of independence (British representatives were instructed not to commit beyond a supporting role) and a proposed intervention by France in Spain with uncompromising opposition by Britain to the intervention. Clearly from this Britain was starting to reconsider its role within the alliance and this was further aggravated by the fact that by withdrawing from the decision making process it remained without influence in the workings of the Congress Britain’s ‘neutrality’ did not stop the alliance from proceeding as it wished and this begged the question as to why Britain needed to be involved at all.

St. Petersburg (1825): This conference resulted in the final breaking down of the Concert of Europe. The five major powers met at this Congress but Britain had become very disillusioned and branded the Congress a ‘witch hunting organisation’ and departed. The other four continued their meetings and broke up in very bad terms. The main point of contention was how the Congress could enforce its powers. Member’s differences widened on different interpretations of peace and how it should be sustained. The outbreak of revolts also led to the final disintegration of the Concert of Europe. Two significant revolts were taking place in Spain and Naples in 1820 and it was these revolts that finally brought the Concert of Europe to its end.

The 1820 Revolution in Spain: The ‘Liberal’ Revolution in Spain was a Revolution that erupted and ran for five years. It started as a military insurrection in Porto that quickly spread nationwide. French forces invaded Spain three times to suppress the Revolution and the royal family went to Brazil to reign over the Kingdom from a Trans-Atlantic throne for thirteen years. After the defeat of the French, the Revolutionaries recalled the Monarchy and they returned to Portugal. The Liberal Revolution initiated the ratification of the Constitution that gave Spain its independence from France. The movements Liberal ideas had an important influence on the Portuguese Society and Political organisation. It caused a constitutional Monarchy to be set up in Portugal. The Revolutionaries also organised the election of a constitutional assembly, which debated the nature of a new Government. Professionals were elected and not merchants who had organised the Revolution.

Revolution in Naples 1820: This Revolution is important because the Kingdom of the two Sicilies was ruled by a restored Bourbon Monarch Ferdinand 1st. Revolutionaries (including the Carbonari) forced Ferdinand to accept the Spanish Constitution. The Kingdom of Naples was within Austria’s ‘sphere of influence’ as assigned by the concert of Europe. The suppression of Liberal opinion caused an alarming spread of the influence and activity of a secret society known as the Carbonari, which, in time, took its toll on the Army. In a short time, a military Revolution broke out and Ferdinand was terrorised into signing a new Constitution. At the same time in Sicily, recovering its independence, a revolt had been suppressed by Neapolitan troops. These events alarmed the ‘Holy Alliance’ (a Coalition of Russia, Austria, and Prussia) who feared it might spread to other parts of Italy. The Revolution was eventually suppressed and an era of ‘savage persecution’ began.

The Demise Of The Congress System (1820-1822):  In 1820 Austria, Prussia and Russia form the Holy Alliance and unite in an attempt to eliminate the possibility of another Revolution in Europe as had taken place in France. The Troppau Protocol of 1820 gave the Holy Alliance the right to intervene to protect a legitimate Monarch and the Vienna settlement. In 1821 at Laibach, Ferdinand 1strequests intervention to restore his power in Naples but Britain objects on the basis that it was not a threat to security in Europe and the alliance was acting outside its remit by intervening. At Verona in 1822, the holy alliance opts to proceed with intervention and Britain splits with the other European powers over further intervention in Spain. The system of international cooperation instituted at Vienna had broken down in the early 1820s and the split between Britain and the alliance was the start of the demise. New economic, social, and political forces would further challenge the alliance.

Revolutions of another Kind: Three Revolutions had already begun in Europe since 1800. These were the Demographic Revolution, the agricultural Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution and all of these had social and political consequences.

1. Demographic Revolution: The post French Revolutionary peace that took place across Europe meant that less people were dying in warfare. Families were spending more time at home together and were more united. Along with these factors, there were serious advances in medication, which resulted in less people dying from plague or disease or illness. A significant fall in death rates meant that people were living longer and proliferating across Europe. As the Industrial Revolution progressed it meant that the food supply as more efficient and a dramatic reduction in subsistence problems. The combinations of peace, medicine, and food availability were the main contributing factors to the Demographic Revolution.

2. Agricultural Revolution: The agricultural Revolution was a period of agricultural development between the 18th century and the end of the 19th Century, which saw a massive and rapid increase in agricultural productivity and vast improvements in farm technology. Some of the most significant inventions that were either created or greatly improved were new ploughing machines, tools, harvesters and seed sowing equipment. Along with these tools and machinery there were also new attitudes to farming, specialisation and communal farming (land sharing). Governments also became more generous with common land and the benefits of self-sufficiency were appreciated by Europeans. As subsistence increased so did the accumulation of capital and suddenly small farmers were moving into earning extra income by starting small cottage businesses. The agricultural Revolution was well underway and heralding in the Industrial Revolution.

3. The Industrial Revolution: This is thought to have begun in the mid 1700s and continued for a century to the mid 1800s. It began, not in the cities but in the rural communities already reaping the rewards of the agricultural Revolution. More rural people benefiting from rural development had extra time and income to create new sources of wealth and started small home based businesses to bring in extra cash. These businesses were to be the inspiration for larger scale urban based Manufacturing that was both mechanised and bigger. The causes of the Industrial Revolution were a combination of factors but primarily the availability of new capital to invest in Manufacturing and technology.

At various locations throughout Britain, which led the way for the rest of Europe, the natural resources were ideal. With the ever-expanding population created by the Demographic Revolution there was no shortage of available workers. These workers were, for the most part, overworked and underpaid. They had moved from the rural communities to the urban areas where work was more available as their cottage industries were victim to large scale Manufacturing. New technologies meant production and the economy expanded rapidly. New machinery such as Hargreaves Spinning Jenny (1765) advanced the Revolution.

The ‘Jenny’ meant a faster process of creation and output at an industrial level that had deprived the farm workers of their source of additional income. The skilled weavers moved to work on the production line and left their own spinning wheels at home to gather dust. Arkwright’s ‘water frame’ (1769) meant that the spinning wheel became automated and consequently human input was diminished even more but, to the joy of the Manufacturers, so were costs. Communications and transport were also improving with the arrival of the steam engine, which brought new goods and public transport systems. Steamboats, steam engines, and railway track were all signs of the new, progressive industrial age. Finally, urbanisation had its consequences with social stratification problems, poor living conditions, and crime and health issues on the increase. The Industrial Revolution had arrived and brought with it a very high price.


About Gerard Hannan

Media Student at MIC/UL in Limerick, Ireland. Worked as a Broadcaster/Journalist in Limerick for over 25 Years and has also published four local interest books.

Posted on April 7, 2012, in European History. and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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