xxxxxThe Holy Alliance was the brainchild of Tsar Alexander I. Put forward in 1815, it called upon all European sovereigns to settle disputes in accordance with Christian principles. Vague and meaningless in political terms, it was hijacked by the forces of reaction, led by Alexander himself and the Austrian minister Prince Metternich.
ALEXANDER I AND THE HOLY ALLIANCE 1815 (G3c)
xxxxxAs we have seen, the Congress of Vienna, having completed its work, introduced a Congress System by which the Great Powers of Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia (and later France) were able to meet when needed to ensure that the terms of the settlement were strictly enforced. This early attempt at international co-
xxxxxNot officially part of this Congress System, but strongly associated with it, was the Holy Alliance, the brainchild of the Tsar of Russia, Alexander I. Put forward in 1815, this “Christian Union of Charity, Peace, and Love” called for an undertaking by all European sovereigns to settle any dispute in accordance with Christian principles, ruling their subjects like good fathers. In the harsh world of international politics, most statesmen gave it short shrift. ThexBritish statesman Lord Castlereagh (1769-
Castlereagh: by the English portrait painter Thomas Lawrence (1769-
xxxxxAlexander I (1777-
xxxxxAlexander I (1777-
xxxxxNot surprisingly, Alexander played a leading part in the Congress of Vienna, attending in person to savour his triumph and get his own way. He was seen as a liberator but, as one might expect, he supported the return of autocratic monarchies. Furthermore, his Holy Alliance, founded on Christian principles and seemingly full of liberal promise, was simply a reaffirmation that a monarchy, like daddy, knew what was best for his children (i.e. his subjects). Administered by Russia, Austria and Prussia, it eventually served as a means of meddling in the internal affairs of other states. The illustration here shows a meeting between Tsar Alexander (on the left), Emperor Francis (centre) and King Frederick William (on the right).
xxxxxNonetheless, in the first half of his reign he could certainly be regarded as something of an enlightened despot. This period saw the introduction of some promising liberal reforms, including the creation of eight ministries and a Council of State; the beginnings of an extensive state education system; the abolition of torture; and a certain relaxation in the rules governing serfdom, notably in the Baltic provinces. Even later, after the Vienna settlement, he provided a new constitution for his recently acquired territories, the “Congress Kingdom of Poland” and the “Grand Duchy of Finland”. By this time, however, he had become much firmer in his reactionary beliefs. He remained despotic but no longer enlightened.
xxxxxAlexander was an intelligent ruler who genuinely aspired to modernise Russian institutions, but, being indecisive by nature, he was obliged to lean heavily upon the advice of favourites, and this slowed down his reform programme. Frustrated and generally suspicious of others, he became inward looking, finding comfort in religious mysticism and regarding himself alone as the arbiter of his people. As we shall see, his opposition to Western and liberal ideas precipitated the Decembrist Rebellion, which broke out on the accession of his successor, the autocratic Tsar Nicholas I, in December 1825 (G4).
xxxxxIncidentally, Alexander’s sudden death in 1825 is clouded in mystery. It would seem that after a visit to the Crimea he was taken ill with malaria or pneumonia and died on his return to Taganrog, a port on the Azov Sea where he and the Empress were staying. However, after his death, the refusal of members of his entourage to open his coffin gave rise to the legend that he had not died, but had been secreted away to a religious retreat in Siberia.