The Holy Alliance: Metternich Becomes the Chief Opponent of Revolution


Source:  James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard, History of Europe (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1921), pp. 202-04.

This is an excerpt from Robinson and Beard's classic history textbook of 1921.  Though seemingly dated, the remarks are relatively straight-forward (and accurate) about the Holy Alliance.


388. Revolution and Reform Discredited. In June, 1815, the Congress of Vienna brought together the results of all the treaties and arrangements which its various members had agreed upon among themselves and issued its "Final Act," in which its work was summed up for convenient reference. A few days later the battle of Waterloo and the subsequent exile of Napoleon freed the powers from their chief cause of anxiety during the preceding fifteen years. No wonder that the restored monarchs, as they composed themselves upon their thrones and reviewed the wars and turmoil which had begun with the French Revolution and lasted more than a quarter of a century, longed for peace at any cost and viewed with the utmost suspicion any individual or party who ventured to suggest further changes. The word "revolution" had acquired a hideous sound not only to the rulers and their immediate advisers but to all the aristocratic class and the clergy, who thought that they had reason enough to abhor the modern tendencies as they had seen them at work. These classes often worked for a restoration of the old institutions which had been abolished.

367. The Holy Alliance (September, 1815. It was clear that the powers which had combined to reestablish order must continue their alliance if they hoped to maintain the arrangements they had made and stifle the fires of revolution which were sure to break out at some unexpected point unless the most constant vigilance was exercised. Alexander I proposed a plan for preserving European tranquillity (sic) by the formation of a religious brotherhood of monarchs, which was given the name of "the Holy Alliance." This was accepted by the emperor of Austria and the king of Prussia and published in September, 1815. In this singular document their majesties agreed to view one another as brothers. and compatriots, as "delegates of Providence to govern three branches of the same family." All the other European powers who were willing to recognize the sacred principles of the compact were to be welcomed cordially and affectionately into this "holy alliance."

The Tsar and Frederick William took the alliance seriously, but to most of the diplomats who had participated in the scramble for the spoils at Vienna, and who looked back upon the habits of monarchs in dealing with one another, it was an amusing vagary of the Tsar. It was not, as has often been supposed, a conspiracy of despotic monarchs to repress all liberal movements. It contained no definite allusions to the dangers of revolution or to the necessity of maintaining the settlement of Vienna. The name "Holy Alliance" came nevertheless to be applied by the more liberal newspapers and reformers to a real and effective organization which the powers opposed to change arranged after the Congress of Vienna. In this case the monarchs did not unite in "the name of the Most High" to promote Christian love, but frankly combined to fight against reform, under the worldly guidance of Clement Wencelaus Nepomuk Lothaire, Prince of Metternich-Winneburg-Ochsenhausen.

368. Metternich's Political Creed. Metternich, who was destined to succeed Napoleon as the most conspicuous statesman in Europe, was born in 1773 and had followed the course of the French Revolution from the beginning with hatred and alarm. All talk about constitutions and national unity was to him revolutionary and therefore highly dangerous. He led the forces of reaction for a whole generation, 1815-1848.

He was doubtless much strengthened in his hostility to reform by the situation of Austria, whose affairs he had been guiding since 1809. No country, except Prussia, had suffered more from the Revolution, which it had been the first to oppose in 1792. Should the idea of nationality gain ground, the various peoples included in the Austrian Empire--Germans, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Italians, and the rest--would surely revolt and each demand its own constitution. Liberal ideas, whether in Austria, Italy, or Germany, foreboded the destruction of the highly artificial Austrian realms, which had been accumulated through the centuries by conquest, marriage, and inheritance, without regard to the great differences between the races which were gathered together under the scepter of Francis I. Consequently, to Metternich the preservation of Austria, the suppression of reformers and of agitators for constitutional government, and "the tranquillity (sic) of Europe" all meant one and the same thing.

369. The Union of Four Powers. On November 20, 1815, Austria, Prussia, England, and Russia entered into a secret agreement to keep peace in Europe. In order to effect their ends the powers agreed to hold periodical meetings with a view to considering their common interests and taking such measures as might be expedient for the preservation of general order. Thus a sort of international congress was established for the purpose of upholding the settlement of Vienna.

The first formal meeting of the powers under this agreement took place at Aix‑la‑Chapelle in 1818, to arrange for the evacuation of France by the troops of the allies, which had been stationed there since 1814 to suppress any possible disorder. France, once more admitted to the brotherhood of nations, joined Metternich's conservative league, for fighting revolution, and that judicious statesman could report with pride and confidence that the whole conference had proved a brilliant triumph for those principles which he held dearest.



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