xxxxxAs to be expected, the revolution in France in July 1830, which replaced the reactionary Charles X with the more moderate Louis-Philippe, had repercussions across Europe. The Belgians were the first to make a bid for independence. As we have seen, in the Vienna settlement of 1815 (G3c) their country, the former Austrian Netherlands, had been united with the Dutch United Provinces, ruled by William I. It was a union doomed to failure. The two peoples had a different language, culture and religion, and the Belgians bitterly resented the fact that the official language was Dutch, and that they were under-represented in the States General. The rebellion broke out in Brussels in August 1830, and quickly spread across the French-speaking south. War seemed inevitable, but the great powers stepped in and imposed an armistice. Then in January 1831 an international conference in London came out in favour of Belgian independence, due mainly to the diplomacy of the British foreign secretary Lord Palmerston, and the French ambassador in London, Charles Maurice Talleyrand. At first, William I opposed the settlement and attempted to take back the southern region by force, but in 1838 his parliament recognised Belgium and its borders, and in the following year the great powers guaranteed the permanent neutrality of the new state.




Map (Belgium): licensed under Creative Commons – Talleyrand: by the French painter Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758-1823), 1809 – Château de Valençay, France. Palmerston: by the Scottish painter Frederick Cruikshank (1800-1868), 1855. Map (Poland): licensed under Creative Commons. Author: Mariusz Pazdziora – Map (German Confederation): source unknown.

xxxxxAs we have seen, the violent revolution which broke out in France in July 1830 succeeded in toppling the reactionary king Charles X and replacing him by the constitutional monarch Louis-Philippe. Not surprisingly, it quickly sparked off popular risings in many parts of “congress Europe”. But this was not a revolution like that of 1789, far from it. The new French leader was not prepared to launch his country upon a political crusade. He was intent on giving France a much needed period of peace. Those Liberals who took up arms against conservative regimes or foreign domination - shored up by the Congress System - found themselves on their own. They met with success or they went down fighting.

xxxxxThe first to seek independence was Belgium, the former Austrian Netherlands. As we have seen, by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (G3c), this country, together with the United Provinces, was formed into the Kingdom of the Netherlands and placed under the sovereignty of the Dutch House of Orange. Established simply to provide a buffer state against French expansion to the north, it was a union doomed to failure. The two countries were separated by centuries of tradition, spoke different languages, and were divided by religious faith and racial make-up. From the beginning of the new state the Belgians of the south saw themselves as second-class citizens under the stern rule of their Dutch masters. Though they regarded themselves as more eloquent and cultivated than their “countrymen” in the north, they were denied appointment to the major offices of state, and they were obliged to accept Dutch as the sole language. Furthermore, though their population was much larger than that of the Dutch, they were allotted only the same number of representatives in the States General. Inspired by the example of the French, they felt the time had come to take up arms and fight for their independence.

xxxxxThe rebellion broke out in Brussels in August 1830 and spread so rapidly that the Dutch army was forced to abandon the country. The following month a provisional Belgian government was established, and in October this body proclaimed the country’s independence. The Dutch king William I put forward concessions, but by then the French-speaking people of the south were in no mood to compromise. A full scale war seemed inevitable, but was averted by the intervention of the great powers, influenced to a large extent by Britain and France. Towards the end of December they imposed an armistice, and then in January 1831, at an international conference in London, Belgium was recognised as an independent state, the separation being agreed by Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

xxxxxBut the crisis was far from over. The new national congress, having decided that Belgium should be a monarchy, had difficulty in finding a candidate. Eventually, the German prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was chosen, and duly ascended the throne in the July. This step was followed, however, by a Dutch invasion, and it took the intervention of a French army before peace was restored. The Dutch were forced to withdraw, but held on to some territory until 1838. William, bowing to the inevitable, then agreed to the settlement, and the following year the Dutch government recognised the southern Netherlands as an independent state. And it was in that year, 1839, that the five great powers guaranteed the permanent neutrality of Belgium. A new kingdom under a new dynasty, had been added to the nations of Europe.

xxxxxToday, the Place des Martyres in Brussels marks the burial site of 600 volunteers who died in the fight for independence. They are rightly remembered for their contribution to the forging of a new nation, but the real architects were Lord Palmerston, the British Liberal foreign minister (illustrated on right), and Charles Maurice Talleyrand, the French ambassador to London at that time (illustrated on left). A general war was averted because of their determination to impose a peaceful settlement. Palmerston was in favour of a neutral constitutional monarchy which, upheld by the great powers, would ensure a friendly independent state - like the Dutch Netherlands - facing England across the North Sea. For their part, Talleyrand and his monarch, Louis-Philippe, had no desire to reopen a quarrel with Britain. They sought a period of peace for the development of France’s economy and the expansion of its trade. Thus these two liberal powers, united in their aim - albeit for different reasons - , stood their ground and won their case against the reactionary powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria (all three, be it noted, faced with possible rebellion at home!). It was a political triumph for Talleyrand and also for Palmerston, a statesman who, as we shall see, was to play an important part in Britain’s foreign policy during the opening years of Queen Victoria’s long reign (Va).

xxxxxIncidentally, Leopold I, the first king of Belgium, was related to the British royal family, being the widower of Charlotte, daughter of George IV, and in 1832 he married Marie-Louise of Orleans, daughter of Louis-Philippe. This made him acceptable to both Britain and France. In 1840 he helped to arrange the marriage between his niece, Queen Victoria, and his nephew Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.


Poland, Germany

and the Papal States


xxxxxBut if the Belgian revolutionaries were successful in their quest for independence, the rebels in the Kingdom of Poland (here illustrated), were certainly not. Desperate to regain their national status, they took heart from the rebellions in France and the Netherlands and followed their example. In November 1830 the capital city of Warsaw rose up in revolt, and within weeks the whole country was up in arms - and this at the very time when the autocratic Russian Tsar Nicolas I was planning to send a Polish army against the French and Belgian rebels! The small number of Russian troops stationed in Poland fled to their homeland, and the Poles found themselves free under a government of their own making. Independence was declared by the Polish diet and Tsar Nicholas was promptly dethroned. But, as on earlier occasions, the movement for freedom lacked the necessary unity. There was little or no co-ordination or common aim between the landed nobility, the democratic elements in Warsaw and the major cities, and the farm labourers who made up the bulk of the nation. An army was formed, but the revolutionary zeal of its soldiers could not compensate for their lack of training and their lack of equipment. Inxthe spring of 1831 the Russians launched their attack. The “rebels” were overwhelmed at Ostrolenka and within two days Russian forces were entering Warsaw in triumph.

xxxxxThe Poles paid a heavy price for their insubordination. Earlier, at the Vienna settlement of 1815, Tsar Alexander I had converted the Duchy of Warsaw - created by Napoleon - into a kingdom. He had remained its monarch, but he had given this kingdom a constitution and allowed the Polish Diet to have a voice in its own affairs, and some control over its army. In 1831 Tsar Nicolas swept all this away, and Poland was made a province within the Russian Empire. Furthermore, the country was saddled with an army of occupation, Russian was made the official language, and strict controls were imposed upon the press. In addition, estates were confiscated, a number of educational institutions were closed down, and many Poles were deported. But bound and gagged though they were, the Poles clung tenaciously to their hopes of nationhood. Revolutionary cells were set up across the country and a number of rebellions were organised - notably in 1846 and 1863 -, but it was not, in fact, until the First World War of 1914 -1918 that independence was finally achieved. Following the successive collapse of Russia, Austria and Germany, the Second Polish Republic was proclaimed in November 1918, and in 1919 the Treaty of Versailles put Poland back on the map of Europe.

xxxxxIncidentally, one consequence of the Russian crackdown was what came to be known as the Great Emigration. About 6,000 leaders of the uprising were forced into exile in the early 1830s, and these were accompanied or followed by a large number of Polish artists and writers. The vast majority took refuge in France, where Paris became the intellectual capital of the Polish people. ……

xxxxx…… And the Polish rebellion of 1830 also forged a long-lasting friendship between France and Poland. Both nations had taken up arms in the cause of freedom, but, in addition, the French remained ever conscious of the fact that, had the Poles not risen up when they did, their country could have been faced with a formidable attack by a reactionary Tsar bent on supporting reactionary monarchs.

The success of the popular rebellions in France and the Netherlands inspired the Poles to seek their own independence. In the Kingdom of Poland, created by Tsar Alexander I out of Napoleon’s Duchy of Warsaw, they had gained a certain amount of freedom to run their own affairs, but they wanted to rid themselves of their Russian masters. Warsaw rose in revolt in November 1830, and the rebellion quickly spread across the county. But whilst there was much enthusiasm for the fight, the revolutionary army was poorly equipped and trained, and there was a decided lack of unity. In the spring of 1831 the Russians launched an attack and, gaining a resounding victory at Ostrolenka, swiftly crushed the uprising. In revenge, Tsar Nicolas turned the Polish kingdom into a province of the Russian Empire, sent in an army of occupation, made Russian the official language, and tightened press censorship. But though bound and gagged, the Poles continued their fight. Further rebellions were organised - notably in 1846 and 1863 - but it was not, in fact, until the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, following the First World War, that Poland regained its place on the map of Europe.

xxxxxRebellion in Germany following the French revolution of July 1830 was limited and sporadic. For the most part the 39 member states were held in a vice by the reactionary governments of Austria and Prussia. In 1831 there were minor uprisings in the states of Hesse-Kassel, Brunswick, Saxony and Hanover, and some acts of protest in the Palatinate and at Frankfurt am Main, but they were swiftly put down. In June 1832 the Austrian chancellor Metternich evoked the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819, a set of articles designed to ensure the maintenance of despotic government, and all dissent was silenced. It was not until the middle of the century that another attempt was made to confront the established order.

xxxxxOther rebellions in Europe followed the Polish pattern, and were likewise un-successful. During the post-Napoleonic period in Germany, the 39 member states were officially united by the governing federal Bund, but in practice this body was simply used by the Austrian chancellor Metternich to clamp down on liberalism and nationalism. German democrats - and there were not many at this time - were ruthlessly hunted down. Some of the larger states in the south, such as Bavaria, Wurtemberg and Baden, had gained a modicum of independence, but elsewhere there was strict conformity to the dictates of the state. InxAustria and Prussia, for example, the people were held in a reactionary vice, though in Prussia the situation was to be somewhat mitigated in 1834 by the Zollverein, a German Customs Union which was destined to improve trade and industry and give promise of a possible path to political unification.

xxxxxIt was against this background that rebellions broke out in a number of states following the successful overthrow of the French autocratic Charles X. During 1831 there were sporadic uprisings in the states of Hesse-Kassel, Brunswick, Saxony and Hanover, and a protest meeting of radicals in the Palatinate, whilst at Frankfurt am Main a group of left-wing students attempted to seize control of the city, dissolve the Diet, and proclaim a German republic. The response of the authorities was predictable and swift. The uprisings were brutally put down, and in June 1832 Metternich evoked the Carlsbad Decrees, a set of articles introduced in 1819 to ensure despotic government was maintained in the federation. Promulgated via the Bund, these and other repressive measures included an increase in the powers of the police, stricter censorship, and tighter controls on the right of assembly. All these steps were highly successful. In Germany at this time there was no organised political opinion. It was not until the middle of the century that another attempt was made to confront the established order.

xxxxxNor, at this time, was any progress made towards independence in Italy. There, rebellion was confined to the Papal States, and was very quickly put down by the Austrians in March 1831, called in by Pope Gregory XVI to restore the status quo. The radical movement lacked co-ordination and leadership, and, unlike the days of yore, no French army arrived on the scene to give it support.

xxxxxBut whilst the fall-out from the French revolution of July 1830 was meagre - save for the independence achieved by Belgium - it did play its part in chipping away at the old fashioned edifice established by the Vienna settlement of 1815 and maintained by the Congress system that followed in its wake. The forces of liberalism and nationalism were not yet on the march in many parts of Europe, but they were there to be counted and occasionally felt. Their day was to come - in some countries at least.