Holy Alliance

views updated May 14 2018


The term Holy Alliance refers to several related phenomena. In the narrowest sense, the Holy Alliance was a treaty signed in Paris on 26 September 1815 by the emperors Francis I of Austria (also ruled as Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor), Alexander I of Russia, and Prussian king Frederick William III "in the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity." More broadly, the treaty represented an attempt by its composer, Alexander I, to establish new principles for international and domestic politics in Europe following the Napoleonic Wars. By the early 1820s, the expression came to mean the reactionary policies pursued by the three "eastern" empires against the threats of social and national revolution that persisted after the Napoleonic era. Despite occasional conflicts among the allies, this conservative coalition endured as a bulwark of the international order until 1854, during the Crimean War.

The "Holy Alliance of Sovereigns of Austria, Prussia, and Russia" departed from convention in emphasizing an overarching vision of international relations rather than concrete mutual obligations among the signers. The opening paragraph stated that the three sovereigns had recognized the "necessity" of basing their relations "upon the sublime truths which the Holy Religion of our Saviour teaches." They had reached this recognition during the preceding three years, when "Divine Providence" had showered blessings upon "those States which place their confidence and their hope on it alone." The treaty's only object was to announce that the allies would take guidance from Christianity's "precepts of Justice, Christian Charity, and Peace" in their domestic administration and relations with other states. As the text stated, Christianity must apply not only to "private concerns" but must also exercise "an immediate influence on the councils of Princes" as the only way to consolidate and improve "human institutions."

With these stipulations, the treaty then laid out three articles. The first stated that, following "holy Scriptures," the three rulers would be united by "a true and indissoluble fraternity," regarding one another as compatriots, obligated to help one another "on all occasions and in all places." They also pledged to act as "fathers of families" in relation to their subjects and armies, leading them in a "spirit of fraternity," to defend "Religion, Peace, and Justice." Article II declared that the only principle governing relations among the governments and their subjects "shall be that of doing each other reciprocal service." All rulers and subjects would regard themselves as "members of one and the same Christian nation." Thus, the monarchs would consider themselves as "merely delegated by Providence" to rule "three branches of the One family," since the Christian world had "no other Sovereign than Him to whom alone power really belongs." Additionally, the three rulers would advise their people to strengthen themselves in Christian principles and duties. The third article invited all powers recognizing the "sacred principles which have dictated the present Act" to join "this Holy Alliance."

The treaty had originated in the "great events which have marked the course of the three last years in Europe," a reference to a period in which Alexander had undergone an intense spiritual and political crisis that revolutionized the Russian ruler's understanding of politics and history. Napoleon's invasion of Russia in June 1812 and occupation of Moscow that autumn had confronted the Russian emperor with a mortal threat to his throne. Alexander defied his enemies' expectations by refusing to parley with Napoleon's representatives. By 19 October, events in Spain obliged Napoleon and his forces to evacuate Moscow and retrace their invasion route, crossing Russia's western border in mid-December, badly depleted by harsh winter weather, partisan detachments, and the following Russian army led by Prince Mikhail Kutuzov and Alexander. Having expelled the usurper from Russia, Alexander defied his advisors and allies by embarking on an all-out campaign to dethrone Napoleon. At the head of a broadening alliance, Alexander liberated the German lands in 1813 and led an international army into Paris at the beginning of April 1814. When the victorious allies—led by Russia, Great Britain, Austria, and Prussia—gathered at the Congress of Vienna in the fall of 1814, Alexander's power and influence had reached their zenith.

The turnabout in Alexander's fortunes reinforced an equally profound shift in his religious views. Previously an Enlightenment freethinker, Alexander had found consolation in Bible reading during the Napoleonic invasion at the prompting of his friend Prince Alexander Golitsyn. Golitsyn and others at court, including Roxandra Sturdza, soon introduced Alexander to a developing vein of Christian mysticism that had arisen in the Germanies among Catholics and Pietist Protestants alike. Such thinkers as Franz von Baader, Jakob Böhme, and Johann Jung-Stilling (whom Alexander visited in July 1814) saw the upheaval of the current age as the precursor to a new epoch of enlightenment and harmony under God's guidance. This new regime would replace the decadent old order destroyed by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. By the time he reached Vienna for the peace conference, Alexander seemed to believe that God had chosen him as the instrument for the creation of a new order of things. Many attributed this view to Baroness Barbara Juliane von Krüdener, an "awakened" Lutheran from Livonia who figured very visibly in Alexander's entourage.

The Holy Alliance embodied Alexander's vision of the new international order. Its promulgation followed the deliberations of the Vienna congress, where Alexander's efforts to reshape Europe's territorial arrangements—especially in regard to Poland and Germany—had faced strong resistance from Lord Castlereagh, the British ambassador, Austrian chancellor Clemens von Metternich, and the French representative Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. The treaty's high-flown language inspired bemusement from Castlereagh, who called it "sublime mysticism and nonsense," while Metternich dismissed it as "a loud-sounding nothing." The latter, however, requiring Alexander's support in other matters, agreed to sign the document alongside Prussia. Britain's prince regent politely declined to adhere, while the Ottoman sultan (ruler of a considerable Christian population in the Balkans) and the pope were not invited to take part. Contemporaries and later historians saw in the Alliance a cover for Russian designs on European dominance, yet Alexander's own correspondence with friends and advisors suggests that he took his transformative mission very seriously.

Alexander's original vision for the Holy Alliance became more concrete after the Vienna congress, especially as unrest continued to challenge the post-Napoleonic settlement in Italy, Spain, and central Europe. In particular, Alexander showed a growing concern for the maintenance of domestic order, within the post-Vienna states (often restored monarchies), in addition to promoting harmony among them. These emphases solidified in the course of a series of international congresses among the leading European powers: at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, Troppau in late 1820, and Laibach in early 1821. At Aix, Alexander aroused British and Austrian opposition by urging the victorious allied Great Powers, now joined by Restoration France, to establish concrete terms for joint action in guaranteeing the new status quo. The British objected to the principle of intervention, while Metternich wished to avoid the reap-pearance of Russian troops in Europe, following their recent evacuation of France. By late 1820, however, Metternich moved closer to Alexander's interventionist position for the maintenance of order in Europe, as unrest broke out across the Continent, including nationalist agitation in Germany and Italy, as well as rebellions in Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Alexander himself moved closer to Metternich's legitimism at this time, following the October mutiny by his beloved Semyonovsky regiment in St. Petersburg, which he saw as a sign of a revived spirit of revolution that he had conquered only six years earlier.

At Troppau and Laibach, the Holy Alliance took on new form as a coalition comprising Russia, Austria, and Prussia—often opposed by Britain and France—united in their claim that defense of the "monarchical principle" justified intervention against any and all rebellion. Alexander's ideal of a new international order had thus become a reactionary weapon against all apprehended disorder, as Austrian troops suppressed rebellion in Italy while the allies imposed a conservative regime on the German states. This new orientation was reinforced in 1825 when Alexander was succeeded by Nicholas I, who shared his brother's hatred of disorder, if not his mysticism. Until the 1850s, the allies acted whenever they could against threats to the political status quo: against revolution in Poland in 1830–1831, against constitutionalism in the Germanies before 1848, and against revolutionary Hungary in 1849.

Nonetheless, general ideological accord masked deeper-lying and more practical tensions that ultimately broke the alliance in the 1850s. Austro-Prussian contention for dominance in the German lands became particularly acute after the revolutions of 1848, while chronic ferment in the Ottoman Balkans led to Austrian fears of Russia in that arena. These latter concerns compelled the Austrian government to support—with Prussia's assent—Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire in the Crimean War. This fundamental shift in Austrian policy ended the Holy Alliance and inaugurated an enduring Austro-Russian rivalry that culminated sixty years later in the outbreak of World War I.

See alsoAustria-Hungary; Congress of Vienna; Conservatism; Crimean War; French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars; Prussia; Russia.


Primary Sources

Hertslet, Edward, ed. "Text of the Holy Alliance." In The Map of Europe by Treaty: Political and Territorial Changes since the General Peace of 1814. London, 1875.

Secondary Sources

Hartley, Janet. Alexander I. London and New York, 1994.

Martin, Alexander. Romantics, Reformers, Reactionaries: Russian Conservative Thought and Politics in the Reign of Alexander I. DeKalb, Ill., 1997.

Rich, Norman. Great Power Diplomacy, 1814–1914. New York, 1992.

Schroeder, Paul W. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. Oxford, U.K., 1994.

Zorin, Andrei. "Star of the East: The Holy Alliance and European Mysticism." Kritika (spring 2003): 314–342.

David McDonald

Holy Alliance

views updated May 18 2018


The Holy Alliance is the name given to the treaty signed on September 26, 1815, in Paris by the monarchs of Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Its maker and prime mover was Tsar Alexander I. In 1815 after the downfall of Napoleon, Alexander was at the height of his powers. A romantic, an idealist, indeed something of an evangelical who had experienced a religious conversion in 1812, Alexander had fallen under the influence of a spiritualist, Baroness Julie von Krüdener, the wife of one of his diplomats, and the alliance was the product of nightly prayer meetings between the two. The alliance called upon the three powers to deal with one other and with their peoples on the basis of the Christian Gospel so there could emerge a fraternal union of rulers and peoples that would forever rid the earth of the scourge of war. At the insistence of the Austrian chancellor, Klemens von Metternich, Alexander's ally in the war against Napoleon, "fraternal" was struck out and changed to "a paternal alliance of monarchs over their peoples," lest the former clause be interpreted by Russia in a manner that would conflict with the language of other treaties under negotiation at this time.

Two common criticisms of the Holy Alliance are that its members (which in time included most the sovereigns of Europe) forged it into an instrument of oppression against their subjects, and, more important, that Alexander used it as a base to attain hegemony in Europe. Neither criticism is persuasive. The first can be challenged on factual grounds. The aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Europeans in the aftermath of the devastation of the Napoleonic Wars ran to one thing and one thing only: peace. National rights, national liberties, and the like were at this time simply not matters of priority. Moreover, the Holy Alliance powers exercised considerable restraint after 1815, as demonstrated by the extent to which they allowed multiple revolutionary fuses to be lit before they stepped inin a real sense they allowed revolutions to explode (the Spanish and Italian revolutions of 18201821; the revolutions in France, Belgium, the Papal States, and Poland in 18301831; those in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy in 1848). Similarly, the argument that Alexander was bent on expansion in Europe overlooks the many things he did that pulled the opposite way. With a combination of threats and persuasion, he forced Prussia from the path of aggrandizement in Poland and onto that of cooperation with Austria. He resisted repeated appeals from the smaller German states for an anti-Austrian alliancea move that he believed would be inimical to the interests of the general peace. Finally, he continually urged Russians to respect Turkish interests in the Balkans and especially in Greece. The fact is that Alexander was a committed moderate statesman who happened to believe what he said, and what he said illustrates a point often forgotten by historians and political scientiststhat there is a place in the international system for principles and moral values.

See also: napoleon i; vienna, congress of


Knapton, Ernest John. (1939). The Lady of the Holy Alliance: The Life of Julie de Krüdener. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nicolson, Harold. (1946). The Congress of Vienna: A Study in Allied Unity, 18121822. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Schroeder, Paul. (1994). The Transformation of European Politics, 17631848. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

David Wetzel

Holy Alliance

views updated May 14 2018


A declaration, in the form of a treaty, signed Sept. 26, 1815, by the Orthodox Czar of Russia, the Protestant King of Prussia, and the Catholic Emperor of Austria after the final victory of the Allies over napoleon i. Considered one of the most extraordinary documents in Europe's diplomatic history, it proclaimed the resolution to abide by the Biblical precept that all men are brothers. The sovereigns declared that they would on all occasions lend each other aid and assistance and would act toward their subjects and armies as fathers of families. The Holy Alliance went on to promise that governments and subjects alike would consider themselves as members of the same Christian nation and would admit no other sovereign but "God, our Divine Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Almighty's Word, the Word of life." Inspiration for this compact was once generally credited to Baroness Julie von Krüdener, a pietistic Protestant lady with great influence over alexander i; but it is now recognized that the Czar had been nurturing for some time the idea of breaking away from the Machiavellian conception of international relations, based upon egotistical interests and power politics. Francis I, Emperor of Austria, and Frederick William III, King of Prussia, to whom the treaty was first proposed, were bewildered by its high-flown mystic tone, but signed it because they did not dare to displease their friend and ally. Afterward the treaty was countersigned by most European rulers. The Prince Regent of England, however, declined to sign an agreement that could not be submitted for approval to Parliament, where the foreign secretary, Viscount Castlereagh, had called it "a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense." Pope Pius VII refused to sign because the manifesto considered meaningless any distinction between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. The Holy Alliance had no practical consequence, but the name became widely, if erroneously, used to designate the coalition of Great Powers established by the treaties of Paris (Nov. 25, 1815) in order to preserve peace upon the bases of the Congress of Vienna and the Paris agreement. Revolutionaries and liberals everywhere gave it the sinister connotation of a conspiracy of reactionary powers against freedom-loving peoples. The rise of international organizations in the 20th century led to new historical appraisals, which regarded the Alliance as a first attempt toward a world order governed by principles of Christian justice.

Bibliography: m. bourquin, Histoire de la Sainte Alliance (Geneva 1954), the best work. j. h. pirenne, La Sainte-Alliance, 2v. (Neuchâtel 194649), tries unconvincingly to prove that Alexander I used the Holy Alliance to frustrate British hegemony.

[g. de bertier de sauvigny]

Holy Alliance

views updated May 21 2018

Holy Alliance

Holy Alliance, an agreement among the monarchs of Russia, Austria, and Prussia made in Paris on 26 September 1815 after the Congress of Vienna tried to rearrange Europe in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. The alliance consisted of a philosophical pledge to carry out foreign relations on the basis of Christian morals. Eventually it was signed by all European rulers except the king of Britain and the pope. The United States feared that the European powers would use the alliance as a pretext to attempt to restore Spanish dominion over South America by force. Seeing the agreement as a threat to liberal regimes, the United States announced the Monroe Doctrine on 2 December 1823, arguing that any attempt by the European monarchies to impose absolutism in the Western Hemisphere would be interpreted as a threat to the security of the United States.

See alsoMonroe Doctrinexml .


Arthur Preston Whitaker, The United States and the Independence of Latin America, 1800–1830 (1941).

Dana Gardner Munro, The Latin American Republics: A History, 3d ed. (1960).

Donald Marquand Dozer, Latin America: An Interpretive History (1962).

Additional Bibliography

Lewis, James E. The American Union and the Problem of Neighborhood: The United States and the Collapse of the Spanish Empire, 1783–1829. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

                                       Hilary Burger

‘Holy Alliance’

views updated Jun 27 2018

Holy Alliance was the derisive name given to the declaration at Paris in September 1815 by Alexander I of Russia, Frederick William III of Prussia, and Francis I of Austria that they would govern and collaborate in accordance with Christian principles. The driving spirit was the tsar in the midst of a devout phase. Orthodox, protestants, and catholics should bury their differences and the other European monarchs (except the sultan) were invited to adhere. Britain, pleading her constitutional position, did not sign, though the prince regent expressed personal approval. Castlereagh, then foreign secretary, dismissed it privately as ‘a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense’, but defended it publicly in the Commons in February 1816 against Brougham, who denounced it as a mask for autocracy and pointed out that the same three powers had preceded their partition of Poland in 1793 with a similar declaration of high principle. Castlereagh replied that ‘it was certainly couched in language unusual in diplomatic documents but should be regarded solely as a pledge of peace’. No mechanism was included in the declaration and disagreements between the signatories soon appeared.

J. A. Cannon

Holy Alliance

views updated May 21 2018

Holy Alliance (1815) Agreement signed at the Congress of Vienna by the crowned heads of Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Its purpose was to re-establish the principle of hereditary rule and to suppress democratic and nationalist movements, which sprung up in the wake of the French Revolution. The agreement, signed later by every European dynasty except the King of England and the Ottoman Sultan, came to be seen as an instrument of reaction and oppression.

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