September 01, 2015

1815: The Holy Alliance

On September 26, 1815 (September 14, Old Style), the three great powers that finally brought Napoleon to his knees – Austria, Russia, and Prussia – concluded an alliance.

Alexander I, who had not found the courage to introduce reforms in his own country, decided that, with the defeat of Napoleon, he could be a force for good across Europe. He convinced the king of France, Louis XVIII, to introduce a constitution, albeit one granting rather limited rights and freedoms, and he managed to have a large area of Poland incorporated into the Russian Empire, sincerely believing that, in so doing, he was giving the Poles, who had been deprived of their own state, autonomy and an opportunity to live in peace.

The idea of a Holy Alliance was dear to Alexander’s religious heart. He believed that God would protect legitimate rulers. In fact all the monarchs in the pact considered their primary task – maintaining peace and safeguarding their own power – to be “holy,” which is why they gave it the name they did. Gradually, all of Europe’s rulers joined, with the exception of the English king (who was not able to support unlimited power for monarchs, since he himself ruled jointly with parliament) and the Turkish sultan (who could not enter into a union of Christian states).

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