On this date in 1815 the delegates at the Congress of Vienna signed the final treaty setting the stage for European political history for 100 years and more. It is, without question, one of the most significant international political summits in European history. The Congress of Vienna reconciled the multiple conflicts of interest between the European powers and created a period of almost 40 years without major European conflicts. Peace came at a price, though. All the egalitarian, democratic, and liberal ideals of the French revolution were cast aside, and Europe stepped back to a political landscape much like that before 1789, setting the stage for revolutionary upheaval in 1848 – the year of revolutions.
On a more mundane note, the Congress was a cultural event without peer before or since. For ten months, Vienna entertained more than 200 delegates from all over Europe with a marathon cultural calendar. It consisted of daily balls and society events to cater to the vanities and emotional well being of its top guests. The Congress of Vienna played a pivotal role in anchoring Vienna’s image as a society of waltz dancing, cake eating bohemians who love life, and who use their culture to outshine their European rivals. In Prince Charles de Ligne’s famous words:
“Le Congrès danse, mais il ne marche pas.” (The Congress dances but it does not move forward)
After years of raging war, Napoleon Bonaparte had left Europe in tatters. While he was in exile on the Italian island of Elba, the European state system needed re-structuring. The First Treaty of Paris established a congress in Vienna where all participants of the war would decide on a substantial political re-order in post-war Europe. Vienna as the epicenter of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire with its vast territories and regional interests, seemed an obvious choice. In September 1814, about six months after the fall of Napoleon, Habsburg Emperor Francis I invited the European rulers and their key diplomats to the Congress of Vienna.
The Congress of Vienna was essentially concerned with:
- re-installing the absolutist monarchies in Europe before the French Revolution of 1789, also known as the Restoration
- legitimizing the ruling monarchies and fiefdoms
- re-structuring Germany’s internal affairs
- weakening France’s political power
- creating rules for mediating and managing conflicts among European rulers in a peaceful way.
It was not about the various peoples and their needs for freedom and prosperity, but of restoring the interests of the old European dynasties.
The five European super powers Russia, Great Britain, Prussia, Austria, and France were represented through their heads of state and senior diplomats at the Congress of Vienna. In addition, the other German courts, previously sovereign cities, Switzerland, and other European states sent delegates to Vienna. All in all, approximately 200 rulers and their diplomats flocked to the Austrian capital. The major players were:
Emperor Francis I was the Congress’ official host. Although he detested Napoleon Bonaparte he agreed to the marriage between Napoleon and his own daughter Marie Louise in 1810. His subsequent alliance with Napoleon against Russia ended in defeat. However, the Treaty of Paris of 1814 boosted Francis’ territorial powers. He came to rule the largest territory the Habsburgs and their predecessors had ever possessed. Prince Metternich, called the “coachman of Europe,” presided and played a key role in the difficult negotiations among the Great Powers, especially with France. Metternich said: “The first and foremost objective of our Government’s endeavors, and that of all allied Governments since the restoration of Europe’s independence, is to maintain the existing order, which is the fortunate result of this restoration.” His repressive politics worked for more than 30 years. However, for Metternich, 1848 (the year of the revolution) finally put an end to them. Metternich was also interested in strengthening France’s role in Europe and using it to counterbalance Russia’s power.
Tsar Alexander I was educated based on Rousseau’s liberal ideas, but was a weak and inconsistent ruler. At the Congress of Vienna, he promoted peaceful collaboration and order, obtained the neutral status of Switzerland and provided his new Polish territory with a liberal constitution. He invented the idea of the Holy Alliance (Russian, Austria, and Prussia), for mutual aid. Karl Robert (Vassilievich), Count Nesselrode, was the leader of the Russian delegation at the Congress. He turned into one of the most fervent promoters and defenders of the Holy Alliance.
Lord Henry Robert Stewart Castlereagh was, like Metternich, a strong conservative who detested Napoleon’s liberal ideas. Together with Metternich and Prince Talleyrand, he formed an alliance against Russia and Prussia. As a result, Russia won large parts of Poland. Prussia lost significant territories of Saxony. Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, was a British diplomat in France of British-Irish origin. He took over the negotiations at the Vienna Congress from Lord Castlereagh on 1st February 1815. He later led the coalition army in the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon’s final defeat, which ended nine days after the official end of the Congress.
Karl August Fürst von Hardenberg was State Chancellor of Prussia and one of the leading state reformers of the 19th century – liberal minded and a promoter of democratic principles with the monarchy. At the Congress of Vienna, he managed to achieve equal status for Prussia and re-position it among the leading European Powers. Wilhelm von Humboldt was a famous German philosopher and liberal reformer of the German educational system. At the Congress of Vienna, he successfully promoted Jewish civil rights but was defeated in his objectives to create a liberal constitution for the German Bund. King Frederick William III of Prussia was also in Vienna, playing his role behind the scenes.
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord: was the leader of the French delegation. He almost managed to position the defeated France as an equal negotiation partner at the Congress of Vienna. Napoleon Bonaparte’s escape from Elba and France’s defeat in the battle of Waterloo, however, thwarted his efforts.
On 9 June 1815, the five signatory states signed the Treaty of Vienna. You can see the newly created territories and their boundaries in the historic map below (click to enlarge). The battle of Waterloo was still raging on, ending in Napoleon’s defeat nine days later.
The vast majority of territories was re-distributed to the Great Powers as before the Napoleonic Wars. The big winner, however, was Russia, which obtained large parts of the Duchy of Warsaw (Poland). Germany was not successful in pushing through its aim to create a united German state. Austria received large territories in Italy, including Dalmatia, Friulia, Istria, Lombardy, and Venice; and re-obtained regions such as Croatia, Upper Carinthia, Salzburg, Tyrol, Vorarlberg, and Galicia (Poland). On the other hand, it had to resign from its territories in Brisgau and the Austrian Netherlands. Switzerland was structured into 22 cantons and obtained neutral status. Sweden lost Finland and Swedish-Pommern but retained its Norwegian territories.
At the time, the Congress of Vienna was considered a big success by the signatories. It had achieved its main aim, to re-create a balance of power in Europe pre-Napoleon. Friedrich von Gentz, Prince Metternich’s secretary of state, summarized: “The task of this Congress was difficult and complicated. It was about restoring everything that 20 years of disorder had destroyed, re-constructing the political system from the large ruins with which a terrible tremor had covered Europe’s soil. This big task is accomplished. As they part today, the Sovereigns have committed themselves to one single, simple and holy obligation: that of deferring all other considerations in relation to peace keeping, and of nipping in the bud every plan of destroying the existing order, with all available means.”
Following the battle of Waterloo, France ended up losing key territories and was forced to pay 700 million Francs of indemnity and return the European art treasures stolen by Napoleon. The Ottoman Empire (later known as the “Sick Man of Europe”) was excluded from the Congress and, therefore, continued on a path of stagnation and disintegration through the 19th century. Other key achievements of the Congress included the proscription of slave trade, and free international stream navigation.
There is no doubt that in terms of its stated aims the Congress of Vienna was an enormous success. Its goal was to create stability and prevent Europe-wide war by creating a finely tuned balance of power among the key states, and by creating neutral states, such as the Low Countries and Switzerland, to act as buffers between the major powers. But there was a big price to pay. Ethnic groups in gigantic empires such as Austria and Russia were lumped together under one polity with no chance at autonomy, nationhood, and self governance. Likewise the egalitarian and democratic ideals of the French Revolution were squashed as states returned to monarchic rule. Thus, while continent-wide conflict was eliminated, the impulse towards internal revolution and reform throughout Europe increased in intensity. In consequence, in 1848 all Europe erupted in revolution, following a domino effect, with only Great Britain escaping violent revolt.
The Viennese cooking tradition (not to be confused with Austrian cooking), developed from many different sources. Italian influence has been strong since roughly the early 17th century. In the 18th century, French cuisine became influential in Vienna, along with French etiquette and diplomatic language. The term “Wiener Küche” (Viennese cuisine) first appeared in German language cookbooks around the end of the 18th century. In the second half of the 19th century, cookbooks started to include Bohemian, Hungarian (particularly with Gulaschsuppe, originally a Hungarian stew), Italian, Jewish, Polish, and Southern Slavic features in Viennese cuisine. The croissant is also thought to have originated in Vienna after the defeat of the Turks in the Siege of Vienna (1529).
Classic Viennese dishes, many of which are well known outside Austria, include apfelstrudel, palatschinken (Viennese crêpes), sachertorte, and germknödel (sweet yeast dumpling). The Danish pastry is said to originate from Vienna, and in Denmark is called wienerbrød (Viennese bread), probably because it uses a certain kind of dough consisting of butter and flour in the classic cuisine referred to as “Viennese Dough.” This pastry is called “Kolatsche” (from the Czech kolá? from kolo for wheel) in Viennese.
But the great iconic dish is wiener schnitzel, thin cutlets of veal breaded and fried. Sadly for us, wiener schnitzel did not appear in Vienna until the mid 19th century, long after the Congress, so it cannot be considered symbolic of the times. There is hope though. Wiener schnitzel likely started out life as a variant of backhendl, breaded fried chicken, and this was a favored aristocratic dish at the time of the Congress. Backhendl is like versions of fried chicken found in many parts of the world, with the difference being that all the meat was boned. Nowadays the bones are usually left in. Lard was the common frying medium, and is still the best for truly crispy chicken. Vegetable oil is healthier, though. Your choice.
2 small chickens including livers
2 cups/200 g flour
2 ¾ cups/300 g breadcrumbs
5 eggs, beaten
lard or peanut oil
1 bunch parsley
Cut each chicken into 6 pieces, 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 breasts. Bone the thighs and drumsticks. Skin all pieces.
Line up three bowls containing separately flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. Designate one of your hands the dry hand and the other the wet hand. Using your dry hand, roll a chicken piece in flour to coat thoroughly and then place it in the egg (without the dry hand touching the egg). Use your wet hand to coat the chicken with egg and place it in the breadcrumbs. Use your dry hand to evenly and completely coat the chicken with breadcrumbs then place it on a wire rack. Do not press the breadcrumbs into the meat. If you do not keep the duties of your hands separated like this the egg eventually gets into the dry ingredients and they clump. Repeat for all the chicken pieces and the livers.
Put enough oil in a heavy skillet so that it is about ½ in/1.25 cm deep. Heat to 325°F/160 °C.
Fry the chicken in batches that do not overcrowd the skillet for about 20 minutes, turning once, until the coating is golden. Drain on wire racks. Salt to taste.
Briefly fry the parsley (30 sec) and use it to garnish the chicken. Serve with a green salad or potato salad.