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Congress of Vienna and the Restoration

With Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo (1815), the victorious powers faced a series of political problems: a king, Louis XVI, had been imprisoned and beheaded; the ideas of the revolution had spread; the Napoleonic dominion had spread over half of Europe. The traces left by these events could not be erased.

The victorious monarchies tried to reconstruct a Europe as similar as possible to the one before the French Revolution. This attempt of theirs is called the Restoration. Already in 1814 a great international congress had been convened in Vienna to decide on the new European order. The France of the new king Louis XVIII also participated; was the skilled minister Talleyrand managed to safeguard the borders of his country. He was supported by the Austrian Prime Minister Metternich. The objectives of the Congress were:

  • restore political regimes
  • guaranteeing Europe a lasting peace
  • the principle of legitimacy: the “legitimate” sovereigns who had been ousted by the revolutionaries or by Napoleon had the right to return to the throne.
  • the principle of equilibrium: the great victorious powers had to obtain mutually balanced advantages.
    The most important decisions made by Congress were:
  • France and Spain returned to the borders of 1789;
  • Holland and Belgium were united in the kingdom of the Netherlands;
  • Switzerland was recognized as a confederation of 19 cantons and neutral;
  • the 39 German states were reunited in the Germanic Confederation, taken by Austria, which tried to limit the influence and development of Prussia;
  • Russia got Finland and a large part of Poland;
  • England confined itself to consolidating its enormous maritime empire, acquiring important bases, including Malta, in the Mediterranean, and the Cape colony, in South Africa.
    A large influence on the Italian peninsula was attributed to Austria:
  • Veneto and Venice were united with Austrian Lombardy; thus the Lombard-Venetian kingdom was born;
  • Tuscany went to Ferdinand III of Lorraine;
  • Maria Luisa, former wife of Napoleon, was assigned the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza;
  • Francis VI of Austria-Este obtained the duchy of Modena and Reggio;
  • the kingdom of Sardinia was returned to the Savoy;
  • the entire State of the Church was returned to Pope Pius VII;
  • Ferdinand I of Bourbon returned to the kingdom of Naples;
    At the conclusion of the Congress of Vienna, the Tsar of Russia Alexander I entered into a pact of alliance with the kings of Austria and Prussia. Thus was born the Holy Alliance: a political-religious agreement with which the three sovereigns undertook to lend mutual help, in case of need.

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