Chapter 20 Nation-States and Empires in Europe: 1814-1914

The royalty of Europe crowded into the great hall of Vienna’s royal palace on November 29, 1814. A hush fell over the audience as the composer Ludwig van Beethoven appeared on the stage. Many wondered how Beethoven, partially deaf, would manage to lead the orchestra. With his arms arching to the half-heard notes, Beethoven launched the musicians in the battle symphony, Wellington's Victory. A deep drum beat out a celebration of British general Wellington’s defeat of the French at Vittoria in 1813. The piece was followed by a new cantata, “The Glorious Moment.” Four soloists sang of Europe's united victory.[1]

            Beethoven's concert was just one of the many victory celebrations held during the Congress of Vienna. This conference brought the monarchs and nobles of Europe together to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat and the end of more than two decades of warfare. Every day, gilded carriages carried kings and queens, dukes and duchesses, and princes and princesses to the many balls and banquets[2] thrown by the noble families of the Austrian capital. “I do not see anyone without a title to his name,” marveled one observer. “There is literally a royal mob here.”[3]

            The “royal mob” was trying to restore the old days of royal splendor that the French Revolution had disrupted. However, the twin spirits of nationalism and liberalism would soon make such extravagant celebrations merely fleeting echoes of the earlier days of absolute monarchy.

After surviving the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars, Europeans longed for a prolonged period of peace. However, Napoleon had spread the republican principles of the French Revolution throughout Europe, sowing the seeds of a future conflict between monarchs and their subjects. Liberals demanded constitutions that guaranteed individual rights. Nationalists fought for an end to imperial rule. These two forces shook the political and social foundations of the European world in the 1800s.


1814            The Congress of Vienna begins

1826            Sultan Mahmud II ends the Janissary corps

1848            Revolution spreads throughout Europe

1861            Emancipation of the serfs in Russia

1870            Unification of Italy is complete

1871            Germany unifies

1876            The Ottoman Empire adopts a constitution

1905      The Revolution of 1905 in Russia