Vienna, Congress of, a conference held in Vienna after the Napoleonic Wars. It was never formally opened or closed, but negotiations began in 1814 and ended in 1815. The Congress restored some balance of power and succeeded in postponing a general European war for a number of years. However, its disregard of nationalism led to disputes and revolutions within a generation of its signing.
The Congress was supposed to include all the nations that had signed the Treaty of Paris in 1814, but Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain hoped to exclude the other powers from any real part in the settlements. They were largely successful, with one notable exception: Talleyrand, representative of the restored Bourbon monarchy of France, managed—by skillful diplomacy—to win a place in the inner council and to influence the proceedings.
Prince Metternich, the Austrian foreign minister, played one of the most important roles in shaping the policies of the Congress. The Duke of Wellington and Lord Castlereagh represented Great Britain. In addition to leading diplomats, many heads of state attended the gathering, but Alexander I of Russia was the only one to contribute much to the negotiations.
Bickering between the various powers slowed the proceedings. Napoleon's escape from Elba in March, 1815, brought matters to a head, however, and all settlements were signed in June of that year.
The main policy governing the Congress was that of compensation. The various nations and rulers were "punished" or "rewarded" according to the part that they played in the Napoleonic Wars.
The Congress recognized the earlier transfer of Norway from Denmark (which had not opposed Napoleon sufficiently) to Sweden (which joined in several alliances against Napoleon). Holland was awarded Belgium. These provisions violated nationalistic sentiment in Norway and Belgium and paved the way for future trouble. Austria gave up claims to Belgium and received Lombardy-Venetia and part of Poland. The Congress recognized Russia's right to retain Finland (seized from Sweden in 1809) and most of Poland. Prussia retained part of Poland and was awarded territory in the Rhineland and part of Saxony (which had supported Napoleon).
Great Britain was permitted to keep its colonies of South Africa and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), which it had seized from the Dutch during the Napoleonic Wars. Italy remained divided. The various German states were loosely joined in the German Confederation under the leadership of Austria.