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The Wars between 1815 and WWI in Europe Essay

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Updated: Oct 28th, 2021

Even though the boundaries set during the Congress of Vienna endured relatively unchanged for about 40 years, the results of the treaty were unacceptable to all of the participants. Europe was a hotbed of political unrest and several internal revolutions followed, including the 1830 uprising in Paris, the 1825 Decembrist Revolt in Russia, and the Austrian Revolutions of 1849. The west was becoming more liberal, while the east moved to the conservative. The internal political unrest within European countries and the tendency toward expansion created a stressed environment resulting in several wars. Most of this was expressed on the foreign colonization front, rather than in Europe, but there were exceptions.

“France and Britain blundered into war with Russia in 1854 through a series of tragic misunderstandings, the responsibility for which was shared by all the governments concerned.” (Bruun, 1960, p. 93) Tsar Nicholas moved into Moldavia and Wallachia and secret accords with the Austrian and British governments for the disposition of the Ottoman empire were formulated in 1844 in London. These collapsed in March 1853. French interests were disregarded Britain pulled out partly because certain points were still not clear, but mostly to appease France. Nicholas could not retreat with dignity, since his army was already on the Turkish border. In July 1853 the Russians took the Danubian Principalities, and in September the British fleet moved on Constantinople. Then the Turks declared war on Russia, and allied navies entered the Black Sea. On 28 March 1854, France and Britain declared war on Russia. Nicholas withdrew from the Danube, but the Allies marched to the Crimean peninsula and attacked Sevastopol. In December 1854 Austria joined in, and the siege of Sevastopol forced the evacuation of the city on 11 September 1855. Nicholas, I died in March 1855 and Alexander II accepted peace terms at the Congress of Paris, 25 February-30 March 1856. As a result of the shamefully inadequate medical treatment on these battlefields, 80% of the deaths were from disease. When this was made public, policies were revamped.

The Italian War of 1859 raised national aspirations and roused the Poles to revolt in 1863; the Danish monarchs wanted to consolidate their realm, and culminated in the Danish War of 1864; and Prussian plans called for the unification of Germany, which caused the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Bismarck of Prussia established cordial relations with Russia and concluded an alliance with Italy in April 1866. Then Prussia moved troops into the duchy of Holstein in June 1866. Most of the German states were on the Austrian side. However, in Prussian military moves, Moltke destroyed the Austrian army in Bohemia at Königgrätz in July 1866. Prussian breech-loading rifles outshot Austrian muzzleloaders, and Moltke moved troops very quickly using the railways. The Austrians were also busy with the Italian army, and their victory came too late to get the troops back in time to fight off Prussia. The treaty of Prague on 23 August 1866 ended the German Confederation, and Austria was excluded. All northern states joined a North German Confederation under the Prussians, but south German states remained independent.

The French emperor, Napoleon III, declared war on Prussia on July 19, 1870, because he was advised that his army would win and make him popular in France once more. The Franco-Prussian War turned France into a republic, and Germany became an empire. Leading German princes acclaimed William I of Prussia as German emperor in the palace of Louis XIV at Versailles ( 18 January 1871) while the guns were still firing. The new empire was the North German Confederation of 1867, with the four south German states ( Bavaria, Würtemberg, Baden and, Hesse–Darmstadt) added. This was Bismark’s opportunity to create his great German empire and the first step on the road to World War I.

France endured another crushing defeat, and from 1871 to 1914 an extremely unstable peace endured. France was driven thereafter by the need to recover Alsace-Lorraine and Germany once again had imperialist ambitions. World War I was partly a continuance of this grievance.

All these little wars were costly and served to exacerbate the problems left by the unsatisfactory conclusions of the Congress of Vienna. It simply held off inevitable war. However, each war had its lessons, for good or ill, and while they did not change the borders much, they changed the character of war.


Bruun, G. (1960). Nineteenth-Century European Civilization, 1815-1914. New York: Oxford University Press. 2008. Web.

Franco-German War. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Library Edition: Web.

Taylor, A. J. (1950). From Napoleon to Stalin: Comments on European History. London: Hamish Hamilton. 2008. Web.

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