Sunday, 22 March 2015

German unification

The proclamation of the German Empire,
Hall of Mirrors, Versailles
18 January 1871

As well as the textbooks mentioned in previous posts,  I have used the Britannica CD ROM (2001),  Christopher Clark's excellent Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947 (Allen Lane, 2006), Steinberg Bismarck: A Life (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Hannah Pakula, An Uncommon Woman: The Empress Frederick, Daughter of Queen Victoria, Wife of the Crown Prince of Prussia, Mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II (Phoenix Press, 1997).  Go here for an excellent  discussion on Bismarck in Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time'. 

The kings of Prussia

Frederick I of Prussia in his
coronation robes (1701)
Public Domain
From the end of of the 17th century Brandenburg-Prussia, under its Hohenzollern kings was the largest German principality after Austria. The monarchy can be dated from January 1701 when Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg, was crowned Frederick I ‘King in [not yet 'of] Prussia’.  Under Frederick the Great Prussia had expanded its territory and during the War of Liberation in 1813 it had recovered its self-respect following its defeat by Napoleon.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Italian unification

This post owes a considerable debt to Robert Gildea's textbook, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914 (Oxford University Press, 2003) and to David Gilmour's very revisionist The Pursuit of Italy: A History of the Land, its Regions and their Peoples (Allen Lane, 2011.) I have also learned a lot from Giuseppe de Lampedusa's famous novel of the Risorgimento, The Leopard. You might be interested to learn more about the wonderfully operatic Italian national anthem, Fratelli d'Italia. Here is its history. You can hear it on youtube.   
Camillo Benso, Count di Cavour
one of the architects of Italian

In 1847 Metternich had famously called Italy 'a geographical expression'. Yet by 1861 the Kingdom of Italy had been created under King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont. In 1870 Rome was established as the capital. 

Cavour and Napoleon III

With Austria weakened by the Crimean War, Cavour, the Prime Minister of Piedmont,  aimed at expelling the Austrians from Italy and annexing the northern provinces of Lombardy and Venetia under Victor Emmanuel II. But neither he nor the king wanted a united Italy, which would be harder to control and might fall prey to democrats and nationalists. The man they most feared was Mazzini who commanded a revolutionary corps of conspirators, organizing a National Party in London in 1850. Nationalists increasingly recognized that Austria still remained a great power and could only be removed from Italy by military force, and that this would have to be under Piedmontese leadership with French assistance. In 1857 the veteran nationalists Garibaldi and Manin established the Italian National Society which cut itself off from Mazzini’s doctrinaire republicans.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Napoleon III

This post owes a good deal to James F. McMillan, Napoleon III (Longman, 1991)

Napoleon III

Early life 

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1808, the son of Napoleon’s brother, Louis King of Holland, and Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of Josephine. After 1815 he was brought up in Switzerland but as a young man he settled in Italy and became involved with Carbonari politics. With the death of Napoleon’s son, the duke of Reichstadt in 1832, he became the heir to the to the Bonaparte dynasty.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Europe after 1848: conservatism and change

This post and the subsequent ones are indebted to two text-books in particular: Robert Gildea, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914, 3rd edn. (Oxford University Press, 2003) and Michael Rapport, Nineteenth-Century Europe (Palgrave, 2005).

Europe post 1848: the New Conservatism

After 1848 the conservative order re-asserted itself, but it did not simply restore the old order. The growing pace of economic and social change made this impossible. The international scene also grew more threatening. Between 1848 and 1878 a series of wars reshaped Europe and destroyed the Vienna settlement. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Revolutions of 1848

Proclamation of the Roman Republic in the Piazza
del Popolo, 1849
Public Domain
The Frankfurt Parliament, Paulskircke,
with an imposing figure of 'Germania'
prominently displayed.
Public Domain
Much of the information for this post is taken from Jonathan Sperber, Revolutionary Europe, 1780-1850 (Longman, 2000) and Robert Gildea, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914, 3rd edn (Oxford, 2003). 

The revolutions of 1848 ignited the countries of Europe in a way that would not be repeated until 1989. Violence broke out because legal and parliamentary movements for change were frustrated. The only countries where revolution was avoided were those were adequate concessions were made in time (Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands) of where opposition was negligible and repression total (Russia).

Monday, 9 February 2015

France: the July Monarchy

Louis-Philippe by Winterhalter
Public Domain


On 31 July, following three days of fighting in Paris, the veteran general Lafayette, appeared on the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville with Louis-Philippe, the 57-year-old head of the Orléanist family. Both men were holding a large tricolour flag. When Lafayette embraced Louis-Philippe, the crowd gave both men a prolonged ovation. On 3 August Louis-Philippe opened the new session of the Chamber of Deputes as Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom. On 9 August he accepted the deputies’ invitation to be King of the French. He then mounted the throne, acknowledging that ‘the will of the nation has called me’.  This was the closest he got to a coronation. 

Supporters of the July Revolution compared it to Britain’s Glorious Revolution of 1688-9.  It was not a divine right monarchy and Louis-Philippe was designated king of the French not king of France. According to Lafayette, whose support was crucial, this was
‘a popular monarchy surrounded by republican institutions’.  
The tricolore replaced the white flag of the Bourbons as a sign that Louis-Philippe, who had fought at Jemappes and was the son of the revolutionary Philippe Égalité, was a ‘Citizen King’. He stood between France and a republic.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

France: the restored Bourbons 1814-30

'Charte constitutionnelle du 4 juin 1814'.
Page 1 - Archives Nationales -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons 

The monarchy restored 

Lous XVI had two younger brothers, Louis-Stanlslas, count of Provence (b. 1755) and Charles-Philippe, count of Artois (b. 1757), who had been in exile since 1791. Following the death of the little dauphin (‘Louis XVII) in 1795 Provence claimed the title Louis XVIII. At the time of Napoleon’s fall both brothers were living in England.

Because Napoleonic France was a police state, it is difficult to assess the state of opinion. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that there were people of royalist sympathies in all classes. As Napoleon’s troubled mounted, the Bourbons began to hope for a restoration. In February 1813 Louis issued a declaration from his English home, Hartwell in Bucks, promising pardon to those who served Napoleon or the Republic and compensation to the original owners of confiscated lands. On 12 March 1814 Anglo-Portuguese forces entered Bordeaux and the city proclaimed Louis XVIII.  This convinced the Allies that there was genuine support for a Bourbon restoration. On 31 March allied armies entered Paris. A provisional government was set up under Talleyrand and throughout France towns spontaneously proclaimed Louis XVIII. On 24 April Louis, now known as ‘le Desiré’ arrived back in France. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Europe after the Congress of Vienna

Attack on the Decembrists, 14 December 1825
 by Vasily Timm -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons
‘Liberty leading the people’ by Eugène Delacroix
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons

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;
  2. the growth of national feeling
  3. the rise of Russia as a great power.

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 and army officers. Many of them joined radical associations such as 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.

Spain and Portugal

In 1812 the leaders of the Spanish resistance had convoked a Cortes or national parliament, elected on a broad franchise. The delegates 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 João VI accepted, then in 1822 repudiated, a liberal constitution. His son, Dom Miguel abolished the constitution in 1828, and persecuted liberals.


After 1815 the 300 principalities that had made up the Holy Roman Empire had gone forever, to be replaced by the 39-state German Confederation. Medium-sized states such as Bavaria, Württemberg and Hanover grew in importance. Prussia and Austria, the two Great Powers of the 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 of them university students and/or 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 students burned conservative books, the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna and sticks used by noblemen and army officers to beat their subordinates. 

On 23 March 1819 a deranged student fraternity member assassinated the playwright August von Kotzebue, an agent in the service of the Tsar. In response Metternich summoned the ministers of the leading German states to Carlsbad, where they proceeded to adopt a series of resolutions  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.


After Vienna the northern provinces of Lombardy and Venetial, the most economically advanced part of Italy, were put directly under Austrian rule, and most of the other states were clients of Austria.

After 1815 the secret society, the Carbonari, supported national independence and a republic. It formed a complex organization of local cells and an elaborate secret ritual. In 1820 and 1821 it launched unsuccessful risings in Naples and Piedmont.

In 1831 the exiled Giuseppe Mazzini founded ‘Young Italy, a group that might have had as  many as 50,000 clandestine members throughout the Italian peninsula.

The Greek War of Independence

From 1821,with the revolt in the Peloponnese,  the cause of Greek independence from Ottoman Turkey became popular among liberals and nationalists elsewhere, including Byron and Delacroix, who painted the Turkish massacre on the Ionian island of Chios that took place in March 1822. Gradually the great powers moved in the direction of intervention on the side of the insurgents. Even Metternich made this case an exception from his usual policy of support for legitimate monarchs.

‘Naval Battle of Navarino’
by Ambroise-Louis Garneray (1827)
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons

On 20 October 1827 a combined Ottoman and Egyptian armada was destroyed by a combined British, French and Russian naval force off Navarino Bay on the west coast of the Peloponnese. In 1828 Russia declared war on the Ottoman EmpireIn May 1832, the British Foreign Secretary, Palmerston, convened the London Conference. The three Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia) offered the throne of Greece to the Bavarian prince, Otto of Wittelsbach. Under the Protocol signed on May 7, 1832 between Bavaria and the protecting Powers, Greece was defined as a ‘monarchical and independent state’ though it had to pay an indemnity to Turkey.

Russia and Poland

Alexander I threw off his 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 the eighteenth century Poland had vanished, swallowed up by the three partitioning powers, Austria, Russia and Prussia. 'Congress' Poland, the core Polish territory,  was joined to Russia in 1815 as a 'kingdom' ruled by the tsar.   Following the July Revolution in France, secret societies, whose members were  mostly younger officers in the Polish divisions of the tsar’s armies,  planned a revolt 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.

The Belgian revolt

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.  

The European powers could not ignore these developments. The governments of Austria, Prussia and Russia wanted to check the Belgian revolution and preserve the position of 1815. However, Britain and France wanted to prevent intervention and summoned a five-power conference to meet in London in November 1830 just as the elections to the Belgian National Congress were taking place. In December the conference recognized the principle of Belgian independence and in January it issued a protocol proclaiming that ‘Belgium forms a perpetually neutral state’. 

In 1831 Leopold of Saxe-Coburg became King of the Belgians. In 1838 the Dutch accepted the 1831 treaty and recognized Belgian independence. The status of Belgium as an independent and neutral country was finally confirmed by the Treaty of London in 1839.


  1. The Vienna settlement was undermined by wars for independence in Greece and Belgium.
  2. However revolts in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Poland were suppressed.
  3. Among young intellectuals in particular, liberalism and nationalism were challenging the existing authorities.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Napoleon's letter to the Prince Regent

The letter Napoleon wrote to the Prince Regent, that I mentioned in the class, is going on display at Windsor. See here for the details.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Congress System

Europe after the Congress of Vienna
by The International Commission and Association on Nobility
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 
In September 1815 Tsar Alexander (who was still under the influence of Julie von Krüdener) pressured, Francis I, Frederick William III and all European rulers except the pope, the sultan and the Prince Regent to sign a Holy Alliance in which the rulers committed themselves to deal with each other and other peoples on the basis of Christianity. The pragmatic Castlereagh described it as 
‘a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense’.
A more realistic treaty was signed in November – the Quadruple Alliance Treaty. This set up the ‘Concert of Europe’ by which Britain, Russia, Austria, Prussia attempted to control events by regular consultation (summit conferences) among themselves. This is known as the Congress System.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Congress of Vienna

‘The reconstruction of Europe at the Congress of Vienna is probably the most seminal episode in modern history. Not only did the congress redraw the map entirely. It determined which nations were to have a political existence over the next hundred years and which were not…It entirely transformed the conduct of international affairs.’ Adam Zamoyski, Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna (HarperPress, 2007), p. xiii.

The Congress of Vienna was a conference between ambassadors from the major powers in  Europe that was chaired by the Austrian statesman Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (1773-1859), and held from September 1, 1814, to June 9, 1815. Its purpose was to redraw the continent's political map after the defeat of Napoleonic France the previous spring. The Vienna settlement was in two parts, interrupted by Napoleon’s return from Elba in 1815. The Congress's Final Act was signed on 9 June, nine days before Waterloo. Technically, the ‘Congress of Vienna’ never actually occurred, as the Congress never met in plenary session, with most of the discussions occurring in informal sessions among the Great Powers.
'Prince Metternich' by
by Thomas Lawrence -
Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons -

The Congress was concerned with determining the entire shape of Europe after the Napoleonic wars, with the exception of the terms of peace with France, which had already been decided by the Treaty of Paris (May 30, 1814). The treaties reflected the policies of the victorious powers that imposed it. The fact that it was held in Vienna was a personal triumph for Metternich, the dominant political figure of the post-Napoleonic era.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Napoleon: the downfall

Napoleonic Europe 1812, when Napoleon was at the 
height of his powers map en" by Alexander Altenhof 
(KaterBegemot) -  Own work. 
(Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

The Spanish crisis

The first major test of Napoleon’s rule was the Spanish crisis of 1808, when he placed his brother Joseph on the throne. The military presence of the French in Madrid led to a revolt  on 2 May. Its brutal suppression triggered off the Spanish War of Independence, known in British history as the Peninsular War, a popular counter-revolution which was exploited by the British. In August British troops under Sir Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal, and the ensuing war forced Napoleon to commit 300,000 troops to the country to fight the British and Portuguese armies and the Spanish insurgents.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Napoleon as administrator

Jacques-Louis David - ‘The Emperor Napoleon
 in His Study at the Tuileries’ -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons 
Here are some brief thoughts about Napoleon's achievements in France.


Napoleon created the agencies of centralized administration and the administrators to run them. These included the gendarmerie, the state-controlled paramilitary police force; the prefect, the head of departmental administration, appointed by the central government and accountable exclusively to it; a cadre of trained experts for the state, products of the École Polytechnique, founded in 1794; new state-run secondary schools, the lycées, whose curriculum centred on Latin and Mathematics.

Financial reform

In 1800 the Bank of France was founded and along with it the creation of a currency on the gold standard. A land register ensured that the propertied classes paid taxes and an efficient tax collecting system meant that the money actually reached the government.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Napoleon: the rise

‘Napoleon crossing the Alps’
by Jacques-Louis David
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons 

Napoleon institutionalized the changes brought about by the French Revolution and spread them throughout Europe. This makes him easily the most influential figure of the period. He was the heir both of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment and the changes he brought about outlasted his military defeat.

He was undoubtedly a dictator, but he also issued constitutions and through plebiscites claimed to represent the will of the people. (The device of the plebiscite was of course copied by Mussolini and Hitler.)

Spin-doctoring à la français

'Bonaparte on the Bridge at Arcole'
by Antoine-Jean Gros (1801) -
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons -
A totally fanciful portrayal of the
unsuccessful French attempt to capture the bridge.

If you would like more on how painters acted as Napoleon's propagandists, then you should find this site interesting.

 The battle of Arcola, 17 November 1796: a case study in propaganda

This is what happened as described in Philip Dwyer, Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769-1799 (Bloomsbury, 2007), 1-3, 248-58.

Arcola is a village in northern Italy, 32 kilometres east of Verona. French and imperial forces confronted each other there, separated by the river Alpone and a small wooden bridge. The countryside around was marshy and crossed by dykes as a defence against flooding. Napoleon believed he had to cross this bridge in order to take Arcola.