The Holy Alliance is a conservative union of Russia, Prussia and Austria, created to maintain the international order established at the Vienna Congress (1815). To the declaration of mutual aid of all Christian princes, signed in October 1815, subsequently all monarchs of continental Europe, except England, the Pope and the Turkish sultan gradually joined. Not being in the exact sense of the word a formalized agreement of the powers that would impose certain obligations on them, the Sacred Union nevertheless entered the history of European diplomacy as “a cohesive organization with sharply outlined clerical-monarchist ideology, created on the basis of suppression of revolutionary sentiments”.
After the overthrow of Napoleon and the restoration of the entire European world among the powers that considered themselves quite satisfied with the distribution of “rewards” at the Congress of Vienna, the desire to maintain the established international order arose and strengthened, a means for this was a permanent alliance of European rulers and a periodic convocation of free forms of political existence, then this desire quickly became reactionary in nature.
The initiator of the Holy Alliance was the Russian Emperor Alexander I, although in drafting the act of the Holy Alliance, he still believed it possible to patronize liberalism and grant the constitution to the Kingdom of Poland. The idea of an alliance was born to him, on the one hand, under the influence of the idea of becoming a peacemaker of Europe by creating a Union that would eliminate even the possibility of military clashes between states and, on the other, under the influence of the mystical mood that possessed him.
Signed on September 14 (26), 1815 by three monarchs – Emperor Franz I of Austria, King Frederick Wilhelm III of Prussia and Emperor Alexander I. At first, Alexander brought onto himself a hostile attitude in the eyes of Franz, and Wilhelm.
According to Metternich , who at first suspiciously referred to the idea of a Sacred Union, this “undertaking”, which ” even according to its culprit was just a simple moral manifestation, did not even have such significance in the eyes of the other two sovereigns who gave their signatures.
The same Metternich assures in his memoirs that “The Holy Alliance was not at all founded to limit the rights of peoples and to favor absolutism and tyranny in any form. This Union was the only expression of the mystical aspirations of Emperor Alexander and the application of the principles of Christianity to politics.
In England, the creation of the Holy Alliance was most suspicious. The parliamentary opposition, during the debate on foreign policy in the House of Commons, appealed on this issue with a special request to the government. Members of the Chamber demanded an answer to the question why the treaty was concluded without the participation of England, what the true meaning of this unusual international act was, whether it was directed against the interests of Great Britain and in what relation it was to other agreements between the allies on the anti-Napoleonic coalition.
Signifying the nature of the era, the Holy Alliance was the main organ of the all-European reaction against liberal aspirations. Its practical significance was reflected in the decisions of a number of congresses, on which the principle of interference in the internal affairs of other states with the purpose of forcibly suppressing all national and revolutionary movements and maintaining the existing system with its absolutist and clerical-aristocratic trends.
The post-war system of Europe, created by the Vienna Congress, contradicted the interests of the new emerging class – the bourgeoisie. Bourgeois movements against feudal absolutist forces became the main driving force of historical processes in continental Europe. The sacred union prevented the establishment of bourgeois order, and strengthened the isolation of monarchical regimes. With the growing contradictions between the participants of the Union, there was a drop in the influence on the European policy by the Russian court and Russian diplomacy.
By the end of the 1820s, the Holy Alliance began to decay, which was facilitated, by the retreat from the principles of this Union on the part of England, whose interests at that time strongly contradicted the policy of the Holy Alliance. A catalyst for the decay was also the conflict between the Spanish colonies in Latin America and the Metropolis, as well as the Greek uprising that was still going on. The liberation of Alexander I ‘s successor from the influence of Metternich and the divergence of the interests of Russia and Austria towards Turkey didn’t aid the downfall of the Alliance.
The overthrow of the monarchy in France in July 1830 and the explosion of revolutions in Belgium and Warsaw compelled Austria, Russia and Prussia to return to the traditions of the Holy Alliance, which was reflected, among other things, in the decisions taken at the Munich congress of the Russian and Austrian emperors and the Prussian crown prince which now held a different policy, more favorable to bourgeois liberalism, – the policy of non-intervention. Nicholas I, who at first tried to persuade the Austrian emperor to join forces against the “usurper” of the French throne, Louis-Philippe, soon abandoned these efforts.
Austria was unhappy with the Russian war in the Balkans : the Austrian Chancellor Metternich pointed out that the aid to the “Greek revolutionaries” was contrary to the principles of the Holy Alliance. Nicholas I sympathized with Austria for her conservative anti-revolutionary stance.
In the summer of 1849 , at the request of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, the Russian army under the command of General-Field Marshal Paskevich took part in suppressing the revolution of 1848-1849 in Hungary. Then Russia and Austria simultaneously sent letters to Turkey, which demanded the extradition of Hungarian and Polish revolutionaries. Having consulted with the British and French ambassadors, the Turkish sultan rejected the demand.
Meanwhile, Prussia decided to strengthen its influence in the German Union. This led her to several conflicts with Austria. Thanks to Russia’s support, all conflicts were resolved in favor of Austria. This led to a cooling of relations between Russia and Prussia.
But Russian-Austrian cooperation could not eliminate their contradictions. Austria, as before, was afraid of the prospect of the emergence of independent states in the Balkans, probably friendly to Russia, the very existence of which would cause the growth of national liberation movements in the multinational Austrian empire. As a result, in the Crimean War, Austria, directly not participating in it, took an anti-Russian position.
“Mémoires, documents et écrits divers laissés par le prince de Metternich”, vol. I
V. Danevsky, “Systems of Political Equilibrium and Legitimism”. 1882.
Ghervas, Stella, Réinventer la tradition. Alexandre Stourdza et l’Europe de la Sainte-Alliance, Paris
Nadler VK Emperor Alexander I and the idea of the Holy Alliance