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Revolutions of 1830


achievements and failures
political impact

The revolutions of 1830 were a lengthy continent-wide crisis involving many forms of political change as well as outright revolution. On a more significant scale than 1820, these separate but interrelated outbreaks were a real turning point, ending the French Restoration and modernizing European politics.

Yet historians have often ignored or undervalued them. They have been seen simply as isolated, and often half-hearted, outbreaks in just a few states. And 1830 has been interpreted in simplistic terms of mechanical responses to the July Days, of conspiracies, or of the rise of the industrial bourgeoisie. In fact it had variegated causes and dynamics, reflecting differing conditions in individual countries.


The revolts were encouraged by the Parisian July Days, which breached the dam holding back separate and varying local grievances, both political and socioeconomic. They had roots in open political opposition, usually among liberal professionals (not capitalist entrepreneurs), to the increasingly reactionary policies of many restoration regimes. The latter's ignoring of aspirations for voice and ineffectual attempts at repression were crucial in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Portugal, and Italy, often turning moderates into opponents.

The economic crisis in the late 1820s was a reinforcing factor. A cyclical downturn and bad winters combined with surging population growth to produce rising food prices, falling wages, and declining consumer spending on artisanal goods. The resulting depression provided combustible material that was fired when elites were forced into direct action.


The outbreaks were initially driven by responses to government mistakes, whether political, as in Switzerland and Bologna, or military, as in Paris and Brussels, or by related liberal national aspirations, as in Warsaw. Such political responses to government provocation, often led by the press, stimulated spontaneous social explosions in the French provinces, Belgium, and Warsaw. With the middle classes able to make common cause with solid artisans, in a way not seen in 1820, revolts grew. Belgium and Switzerland thus did not need, or receive, French infiltration.

The shedding of blood, as in Paris and Brussels, helped to stimulate national fervor, while military conflict also intensified the crises. Unfounded beliefs that France would either aid revolutionary movements or force nonintervention on the conservative powers encouraged more radical developments than the initial desires for the open politics of the Napoleonic era. Social distress and domestic political ambitions carried things forward until success, fears of anarchy, or external intervention brought them to an end.


Despite the defeats of 1820 new troubles appeared late in the decade as the economic situation deteriorated, with rural disturbances in France, Ireland, and Wallonia. Politically there were organized liberal electoral victories in France, pressures for constitutional reform in Swiss cantons, and unions of oppositions in Belgium, Britain, and Brunswick. In Portugal there was armed resistance to the reactionary Dom Miguel.

It was not until the spring of 1830, however, that the real crisis broke. Its first phase saw conflict developing well beyond Paris following the very rapid change of regime there. Partial consolidation of these outbreaks followed in the winter of 1830–1831, but, in the following spring and summer, the movement began to run down. There was a long and painful aftermath.


The first signs of change came in Switzerland where the Ticinese government broke with its conservative leader and sponsored constitutional reform. Then, in May 1830, worried by mass petitions, the government of Vaud preemptively introduced a restrictive reform. This was badly received and raised the political temperature. There were also riots in Saxony and Greece.

The conflict between French liberals and Charles X then came to a head. The opposition had demanded the dismissal of Jules-Armand de Polignac, Charles's unpopular premier, on 16 March. Charles refused and called new elections only to lose more seats. Hence, in late July he issued the Four Ordinances, thereby dissolving the new Chamber of Deputies, calling further elections on a reduced franchise, and curbing the press.

These inflammatory changes led journalists and printers to protest and businessmen to shut shops and factories. Early disturbances were easily quelled, but when, on Tuesday, 27 July, police attempted to close newspapers they were resisted. The tricolor was flown, royal insignia torn down, and skirmishing started. The next day, faced with barricades throughout the city, the detested Marshal Marmont declared martial law and tried to use his troops to reassert control. Understrength, unprepared, and unhappy, his columns suffered heavy losses before finding themselves under sniper fire back in the Louvre. With morale falling, the army broke up as it retreated in disorder on St. Cloud.

This left Paris in the hands of a makeshift committee of deputies and others. They proved unwilling and unable to negotiate with Charles's new premier. The vacuum was filled by activists pushing Louis-Philippe, duc d'Orléans. Coming to Paris on Saturday, 31 July, he won popular approval to act as lieutenant general. Then, after Charles abdicated, Louis-Philippe was invited to take the throne. The Charter of 1814, by which the country was governed, was rapidly revised and, on 9 August, he took the oath as "king of the French." His unopposed regime rapidly secured its position in Paris.


The sudden change of regime in Paris had far-reaching effects. In France it prompted a wave of local unrest in cities and the countryside, leading to tax cuts and food subsidies. These troubles were echoed in Belgium and the Rhineland. In Switzerland there was a fever of protest against the constitutional dominance of urban aristocrats, while in Britain the first Whig government in fifty years emerged.

In Belgium news from Paris put the authorities on alert given long-running arguments about the discriminatory rule of William I, king of the Netherlands, and the maintenance of food taxes to pay for royal birthday fireworks. Nevertheless when, on 25 August, a middle-class demonstration, following an opera, degenerated into antiestablishment riots, the authorities failed to respond. Local burghers had to create a civic guard and negotiate, unsuccessfully, with William for administrative separation from the Netherlands.

Simultaneously radicals took control of affairs in Brussels. So, fearing anarchy, some middle-class elements appealed to the Dutch. Unfortunately when their forces entered the town on 23 September they encountered not burgher support but popular resistance for which they were unprepared. They thus found themselves under intermittent siege in the royal park until they decided to withdraw on 27 September. The shedding of blood led to a nationalist seizure of power throughout the country. William's acceptance of separation came too late to prevent this, and the use of artillery in Antwerp killed hopes of reconciliation.

Elsewhere Spanish exiles created a provisional government in Bayonne, while dissent flourished in Poland and central Italy. Several German rulers were either ejected or forced to concede constitutional change. In Brunswick the duke fled after crowds burned his palace. With England experiencing the beginning of the Swing Riots, by autumn the crisis had spread throughout western Europe.


From then on into early in 1831, many movements built on their initial breakthroughs. In Switzerland continuing popular mobilization, often threatening violence, forced Zurich, Vaud, Aargau, and other cantons to call constituent assemblies to rewrite their constitutions, giving more rights and influence to rural areas. The Swiss diet encouraged this "regeneration" by recognizing the right to change. In central Germany limited reforms went ahead in Brunswick, Hesse-Cassel, and Saxony, while there were liberal election victories in the south.

In Belgium a parliamentary congress declared the country independent, deposed William I, and began drafting a new constitution. This caused friction with the diplomatic conference called to discuss the Belgian situation. The limited frontiers offered at the conference led to a patriotic mobilization. Nonetheless, by the late spring a deal was done and the crown offered to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (Leopold I).

This might not have been possible because on 17 October 1830 Tsar Nicholas, whose daughter was married to the Dutch heir, had ordered the Russo-Polish army to be mobilized for a western intervention in December. So patriotic young Polish officers, already planning a rising for January, staged their putsch in Warsaw on 29 November. Although it took the local populace to rescue this uprising, the Russian Grand Duke Constantine and his garrison withdrew rather than risk confrontation. This prevented any Russian intervention in Belgium and allowed radicalism to flourish. By late January a parliament in Warsaw had deposed Nicholas and created a national "dictatorship." And the next month Polish forces checked an initial Russian push on Warsaw in battles at Grochów and elsewhere.

This was part of the way revolt expanded into the peripheries of Europe. Thus Hanover began to consider political change, and exiled liberals staged several desperately unsuccessful forays into Spain. More significantly, a liberal conspiracy in central Italy, partly encouraged by the unlikely Francis IV of Modena, finally led to an assault on the city in early February. Although this was easily repelled, Francis fled, allowing a revolutionary regime to emerge. It was soon loosely linked to Parma where a similar body had developed. Trouble also spread to Bologna in the Papal States where the calling of a committee of notables by the local pro-legate, or deputy governor, encouraged the creation of a provisional government. This became the hub of the United Provinces of Italy as Rome's northern territories threw off their allegiance. There were also signs of dissent in Greece and the Balkans.


Few of these new regimes were to be very long lasting because the revolutionary impetus was increasingly lost. In central Italy, Austrian troops were called in, and their defeat of an Italian sortie in early March 1831 forced the revolutionaries to evacuate Modena. A few days later Parma was also reoccupied. The remaining revolutionary forces then fell back on Bologna, only to be interned in the hope that this would avert foreign intervention. In fact, despite an Italian attempt to march on Rome, the Austrian advance continued, forcing a government retreat southward. At the end of March, a capitulation was arranged to prevent more bloodshed, as realization grew that France would not help. Alarmed by rising radicalism, Louis-Philippe had, that month, brought in a conservative ministry to reassure the powers. The French could then send a relief force into Belgium to stop a successful invasion by the aggrieved Dutch, forcing the weakened Belgians to agree to a treaty regularizing their position.

The collapse of the Polish revolt was more dramatic. The Poles suffered a major defeat at Ostrołęka in May, allowing Russian forces to attack Warsaw from the west. When, in mid-August, the Polish army withdrew into the city and did not oppose the Russians, indignant gentry radicals and the populace revolted against the moderate government. This made it easier for the Russians to take the city. By mid-October the whole country was in Russian hands, forcing thousands of Poles to flee abroad as resistance faded with the peasantry refusing to rally to the cause.

The Swiss reform movement ran into oftenviolent resistance in Basle, Neuchâtel, and Schwyz. In Schleswig-Holstein demands for a united diet were rejected by the Danes. Many concessions made in Germany were also revoked later in 1831. In Britain, the parliamentary reform movement, facing opposition in the House of Lords, had to resort to civil disobedience to help secure its ends.


All this left radicals unsatisfied and conservatives worried. So dissent and repression continued for some years. Seven liberal Swiss cantons felt they had to unite to defend their gains, prompting first a counterleague of reactionary cantons and then unsuccessful onslaughts on the dissident regions of Schwyz and Basle. The diet was able to negotiate acceptable deals and to dissolve the leagues but not to revise the confederal charter. The Reform Act, however, went through in Britain in June 1832. In Germany agitation for change continued, leading to the Hambach rally for national unification in May 1832 and, a year later, an attack on the diet. Thereafter the German Confederation imposed harsh controls on liberalism. These were underwritten at Münchengrätz in 1833 through a new alliance among the conservative powers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

Poland and Italy were more harshly treated. Poland was Russified, losing much of its old autonomy. In Modena conspirators were executed or interned by Austria. In the Papal States the new pope, Gregory XVI, refused to accept reforms urged on him by the Great Powers, preferring to create a new army, which, in January 1832, sacked his own cities of Cesena and Forli, until the French intervened. Repression and Austrian occupation were common elsewhere. In France the new regime found itself faced with worker risings in Lyon, republican attacks in Paris, and an abortive royalist rising in the west. In Portugal Dom Pedro seized Oporto in June 1832 but needed British help to win the resulting civil war. The final territorial deal over Belgium had to wait until 1838–1839 for acceptance by William, military success in 1831 having emboldened him to hold out for better terms. So the effects of the revolutions lingered on.

achievements and failures

Despite some defeats, the revolutions of 1830 did have significant outcomes. They partly blocked the emerging swing back to reactionary politics. Absolute monarchy was ultimately overthrown in Portugal and undermined in Spain. Liberal constitutional monarchy was established in France and the new state of Belgium. Political reform was successful in Finland, Germany, Switzerland, and, notably, the United Kingdom. The independence of Greece and Serbia was also confirmed. Socially the crisis facilitated mobility and, in Switzerland and Germany, peasant emancipation. It also encouraged industrial growth, as in Belgium.

The reason why things did not go as far as many had hoped lay, first, in the limitations of the revolutionaries. They were unprepared and could only respond to mistakes made by the authorities. Rarely did they have the time, resources, or vision to launch a successful move. And they could be naive about the ease with which domestic and foreign reaction could be overcome. In Iberia civil war proved necessary before liberalism could triumph. The fact that, as in Poland and Belgium, people were able only to agree on opposition to the existing order added to their problems.

Second, the international situation was unhelpful. French desires to avert a new Holy Alliance of autocratic powers made its leaders cautious especially as the eastern powers were largely untouched by the crisis. Equally, British support for change was limited. Hence nothing was done to block Austrian and Russian intervention. Nonetheless, the settlement of Europe achieved by the 1815 Congress of Vienna was weakened.

political impact

Moreover, 1830 had longer-term political effects. It encouraged new demands for unity in Germany and Italy. There were also Romantic national reawakenings in Poland and Switzerland. On the peripheries nationalism was more linguistic than political, as it was in Flanders and the Balkans.

The events of 1830 also aided the press and normal politics. Radicals had to rethink their way to revolutionary change, looking for new support—whether from friendly monarchies, from the popular involvement urged by the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, or by relying on class and socialism. As a result middle-class fears of revolt often grew. Yet, though conservatives came to realize that revolution still threatened, they failed to learn the lessons of 1830.

So new vistas opened up. And more people explored them. Hence 1830 encouraged the modernization of political life and debate. This was to become clear in 1848, when another and more extensive revolutionary wave coursed across Europe.

See alsoBelgium; Captain Swing; Charles X; Holy Alliance; Leopold I; Louis-Philippe; Mazzini, Giuseppe; Münchengrätz, Treaty of; Poland; Restoration; Revolutions of 1820.


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Di Scala, Spencer M. Italy from Revolution to Republic. 3rd ed. Boulder, Colo., 2004.

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Clive H. Church

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