Britain and Europe in the 19th Century

Britain and France became allies after 1815, the same conditions were not the strictly the case for the un-unified states of Germany, Austria and Italy, who had diplomatic ties between smaller principalities and states, and were not all ceded to major powers in Europe. The peace of mid 1815 had ended 65 years of conflict on the continent, ushering in a relatively peaceful period for Europe, but not worldwide.

France having decided to use a defensive military policy, allied itself politically and militarily with Britain. Such alliances were not repeated by the other Major Powers, animosity towards France took a ‘wait and see’ approach as far as diplomacy was concerned. The German states still viewed France as a dangerous enemy.


Britain and Europe in the 19th Century

Britain and Europe in the 19th Century

Also Read: End of the Napoleonic Wars: Europe after Napolean

Europe and all its powers and states moved into an industrialized stage, with many countries consolidating new technologies, increasing cross border trade and development. But political matters and military matters, stayed very much the same, no major conflicts at first but deep distrust. The monarchs of Europe held on to their territorial possessions as they were aware that new ones could not be gained, nor old ones traded, in conflict or by political negotiation.

Conflict would occur, as descriptions of the peace in Europe at the time, have been described as an historical interlude. The European nations would go to war again, this time involving the rest of the world.


Britain and France 

Both France and Great Britain started creating political ties by the early 1820’s. The British government wanted to move forward on its relationships with its closest continental neighbor. Both countries were suffering economically, the skilled artisan levels in Britain were not high, most job skills were based in agriculture. Northern France had paid some reparations during the last Wars of the Coalitions, Napoleon’s last defeats took many millions that would be paid out by the Paris treasury, sorely needed funds that would have been necessary in the reforming of Frances economy.

The Northern French economic growth was slow, but it would happen. The French working population had been historically used to some short periods of prosperity, and many drastically poor periods of joblessness and inequality in society. The period of the late 1820’s off course brought on industrial competition in Europe, a forced evolution of factories, affecting the skills level of Artisans in France in a growing economic system. The French textile industry particularly, went through a boom. Great Britain too also went through a very prosperous period during the evolution of its industrial development period, being one of the earliest to develop in Europe.

Agriculture which had dominance in the British economy, where newer agricultural machinery was being invented, but was affected due to the seasonal conditions, was now superseded through job options for burgeoning new artisans, training and skills on new  industrial factory levels. Britain’s economy was one of the first to develop during the early 19th century, some states and countries would develop their industrial economies gradually over the decades in different ways. The invention of trains and the railway system, load carrying barges on waterways, especially in Britain speeded up their industrial development and trade, in a shorter time period than elsewhere in Europe. Countries became very industrially competitive as part of their own evolutions.

Industrialization also brought with it changes, the production of food and the accessibility to it, made life easier as population groups in both countries increased. Before the French Revolution this food and manufacturing shortage played a key role in the Revolutions beginnings.

The industrial changes in Britain and France and indeed elsewhere in Europe, brought about better financial stability and urbanization in population groups, but exploitation of workers by the upper classes still occurred as did the prolific use of child labour. Political movements and work conditions would change, the cities would see an increase in populations moving from the rural environment to the cities, though overcrowding did occur, worker exploitation and pollution levels increased. Increased wealth amongst population groups brought with it defined social class structures particularly in the cities.

Both France and the German states and Russia, would go through an industrial arms race, each state and government trying to outdo the other with new weapons technology and modern production facilities. War was still of concern in each nation with revenues growing in the arms trading business to the government and exports elsewhere in the world. But Russian would see its chances for expansion using military forces in the Baltic states using newer military technology.

The comment by historians that wars would cause an increase in new weapons technology was true, as the three nations developed better weapons technology throughout the century, generally the only two states to do so consistently in Europe.

Britain’s own war material production was also developed as was the reforming of their land army and navy, but purely for defensive purposes. British political doctrine was centered rather on defence than aggressive war. France and Germany and Russia exceeded Britain in terms of weapon production in Europe. The outcome would be further warfare in Europe and in the colonies.

Interest in overseas possessions, realized a centre of importance for many of the powers in Europe, as trade and more importantly raw materials became a priority in each economy. China and Africa in particular were common trading partners or Colonial possessions which were a source of minerals and metals, such as copper and tin.

The discovery of oil would become a major economic power leverage tool needed for increasing production facilities on more advanced industrial manufacturing machinery. Greater wealth was created in a relatively short time span, in the pumping and refining of oil around the world.


Russia and Central Europe 

Russia as a nation, although dominated by the Tsarist classes and families such as the Romanovs, remained a backward community during the changes in Europe during industrialization. Russia in the 19th Century was an Empire, the land mass of the country was multilingual, fifty percent were Russian speaking and multi-religious with the Russian Orthodox church being in the majority, very similar to the Christian Greek Orthodox Church.

The Orthodox Christians were somewhat privileged compared to other Russian Christians in the Empire, although different Christian groups, Protestantism and the like were not openly repressed by the Tsars, Alexander I and the later Archduke Nicholas I -Nicolai Nikolayevich, who both found such practices distasteful. Nicholas did not like or trust the Poles as they had rebelled in the states that had been bequeathed to Russian after 1815. Self determination would be a contentious issue by right in some states, especially in greater Poland.

The German Baltic populations were respected and loyal to Tsar Nicholas’s monarchy, especially as officers and officials in  administrative positions. The German Baltics were efficient in controlling the Latvian and Lithuania states, so were allowed to keep their German culture and preserve their culture and domination of both Slavic states. Education and the building of Universities were also conducted under Nicolas’s reign.


The Revolutionary Decemberists 

A revolutionary nationalist group called the Decemberists under a Pavel Pestel, formed to insist that all non-Russian citizens excluding the Poles should fuse themselves to the state under the dominant Russian national peoples, basically nationalization of non-Russian citizens.

Several splinter groups formed a part of the Decemberists, Slavs who believed that a federation of the Slavic people should include Ukrainians, who saw themselves as a separate nation, considering there were still many autonomous states that were very proud of their own autonomy in the German states and in Eastern Europe, it is not surprising that the Ukrainians also saw themselves as a free sovereign state. The Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko was a vocal representative of Ukraine who was arrested by Nichols’s state and sent into the army as an ordinary soldier.

The monarch did suppress nationalist movements where he thought it necessary, Nicholas forbade Shevchenko from writing or drawing and was sent to the Ural Mountains. Shevchenko’s actions did affect Ukrainian national consciousness at the time.

Smaller states such as Lithuania and Latvia, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Serbia and Croatia and others, would all become independent states. The Tsars would also repress any notions of democratic rights within Russia, citizens wanted freedom to have a change of government and inclusion in the decision making process, but this was contrary to Nicholas’s Russia politics.


The Russian Empire

Tsar Nicholas saw Russia as the dominant power in Eastern Europe early on. Russia had already taken some states within Poland, although his ambitions were at first for the whole of Poland to be brought under the Russian crown.

The Ottoman Empire was also seen as potential for his expansionist ambitions, whether this was to prevent the Turks from attacking into Russian territorial possessions or as a means of weakening the Ottomans is not clear. It is probable that Russian Empire expansionism was the greater cause. France, Britain and the Ottoman Empire would join in a coalition to prevent Nicholas from moving his forces across borders of the Ottoman realm.


The Crimean War (Oct 1854 -Feb 1856)

The Ottoman Empire during the mid-1800’s was in a state of decline. A disagreement of Christian minority rights by the Ottomans in Palestine, part of the Ottoman Empire, would spark off tensions between the Russian Tsar Nicholas and Emperor Napoleon III of France, who would not back down on the recognition of Christian groups.

Emperor Napoleon III also indicated that he would be the Roman Catholic protector and the Russian Tsar protector of the Orthodox Christians of Palestine. The Ottoman’s came to an agreement after working out their differences with the churches, but Tsar Nicholas I and Emperor Napoleon III stood firm. Tsar Nicholas I issued an ultimatum to the Ottomans, that all Orthodox subjects in the Ottoman Empire be placed under his protection.

Both Britain and France wanted the Ottoman Empire maintained, whilst Russia saw the territorial client and expansionist advantages. Britain mediated between Russia and the Ottomans, Nicholas II agreed but the Ottomans wanted changes to the agreement, Nicholas rejected and prepared immediately for war.

The Ottoman Empire controlled the Danubian Principalities (Under an Ottoman *suzerainty-today part of modern Romania) in 1853. On the 18th of July 1853, Russian troops entered the Principalities. The preceding tensions between Russia and the Ottomans were fought during 12 separate wars between the 16th – 20th Centuries, the earliest being in 1611, known collectively as the Russo-Turkish wars.

Suzerainty is a small state that has been absorbed into a Major Power, but has its own autonomy, being indirectly ruled. The Ottoman Empire was defeated and had to accept terms set by Nicholas during the Russo-Turkish wars, the wars were one of the longest conflicts in European history.

On the 16th of October the Ottomans under Omar Pasha, sought assurances of assistance from France and Britain. Having received them, the Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia. An alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and the Italian kingdom of Sardinia went to war with Russia.


Action in the Crimea 

The Russian Army advanced on Sillistra (modern Bulgaria), the Ottomans put in a strong defence , halting the Russian assault. In a separate action, the port town of Kars was put under siege by the Russians, which the Ottomans tried to reinforce. A Russian fleet defeated the Ottomans at the Battle of Sinop in November 1853.

A minor skirmish also occurred at Kostence. The allied commanders decided to attack Russia’s main Naval base at Sevastopol, Crimea. After some further military preparations, an allied force landed and advanced on the peninsula. At the Battle of Alma the Russian forces were defeated after the allies had marched to a point just south of Sebastopol on 25 September 1854.

The famous Siege of Sevastopol commenced thereafter under appalling weather conditions for both sides. The Russian forces conducted a counterattack on the British forces at the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October and were repulsed but the British Army was depleted after the engagement. The Battle of Inkerman in November 1854 was fought to a stalemate, but there was no possibility of retreat from the mainland for the British-Franco coalition.

The small state of Sardinia sent an expeditionary force to the Crimea in 1855, joining the Franco-British and Ottoman alliance in the siege of Sevastopol which settled in, pinning down Russian forces, conditions again were terrible for both sides.

The Siege lasted 11 months, the French also launched a separate assault on Fort Malakoff on 8th of September 1855. The siege on the Fort at Malakoff was an important victory for the Allied alliance as the winning of the battle ended the Siege of Sevastopol after 11 months.

The Russians were hemmed in and isolated, with the prospect of a major European military attack, Russian forces decided to surrender in March 1856. The Battles at Malakoff, the little Redan and Great Redan although very bloody with many casualties, can be considered a great military feat by both the French and British forces combined.

The destruction of the Russian Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol, although drawn from unlimited Russian resources from both sea and land had been a defeat for the Russians and Nicholas I, as he had put so much emphasis on such a small geographical area, for no gain . The limited resources of the Allied alliance having been resupplied by sea, convinced him that further excursions against the Ottoman Empire would be met with the same reaction by the Allied alliance.

Tsar Nicholas completely removed his army and naval forces from Sevastopol and the Crimea, destroying all their equipment whilst pulling out. The Russians would hold no fortification on the Black Sea after Sevastopol.


The Peace Treaty of Paris

Hostilities were official ended between Russian and the Franco-British, allied alliance on 30th March 1856 in Paris bringing at and to the Crimean War. The Treaty was facilitated at the Congress of Paris.

Conditions of the treaty were the total neutralization of the Black Sea coast with the removal of all military fortifications, with provisions that no further naval fleet activity nor seaports could be built for access by naval forces by either side. Commercial trade would be guaranteed exclusively without hindrance.

The treaty diminished Russia’s influence in the region. The conditions for the return of Sevastopol and towns in Southern Crimea were militarily entirely restricted, with no storage or movement of military hardware being permitted on the Black Sea shoreline.



The Crimean War although restricted to one region on the Black Sea coast had major European significance as essentially the very end of expansionist ambitions of a Major Power had been ended after the Napoleonic Wars. The next conflicts that occurred in Central Europe would be the German Wars of Unification and the Franco-Prussian War, between 1851 – 1871.

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