The Holy Alliance (also called the Grand Alliance) was a coalition between the great monarchical powers of Russia, Austria, and Prussia. It was created after Napoleon”s final defeat at the hands of Tsar Alexander I of Russia and was signed in Paris on September 26, 1815. The alliance aimed to limit liberalism and secularism in Europe in light of the devastating French Revolutionary Wars, and nominally succeeded in doing so until the Crimean War (1853-1856). Otto von Bismarck succeeded in reuniting the Holy Alliance after the unification of Germany in 1871, but in the 1880s the alliance faltered again due to Russian and Austrian conflicts of interest concerning the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.
On the surface, the alliance was formed to infuse the divine right of kings and the values of Christianity into European political life, as pursued by the tsar under the influence of his spiritual advisor, Baroness Barbara von Krüdener. Approximately three months after the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna, the monarchs of the Orthodox (Russia), Catholic (Austria), and Protestant (Prussia) confessions promised to act on the basis of “justice, love, and peace,” both in domestic and foreign affairs, to “consolidate human institutions and remedy their imperfections.”
The Alliance was soon rejected by Britain (although George IV consented as King of Hanover), the Papal States, and the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Lord Castlereagh, the British foreign secretary, called it “an example of sublime mysticism and nonsense.”
In practice, the Austrian state chancellor, Prince Klemens von Metternich, made the alliance a bastion against democracy, revolution, and secularism (although it is said that as his first reaction he called it a “resounding nullity”). Alliance monarchs used it to prevent revolutionary influences (especially caused by the French Revolution) from entering their states.
The Alliance is usually associated with the following Alliances, the Quadruple and the Quintuple, which included the United Kingdom and (from 1818) France with the aim of defending peace in Europe and the balance of power in the European Concert, decided at the Congress of Vienna. On September 29, 1818, the Tsar, Emperor Francis II of Habsburg-Lorraine and King Frederick William III of Prussia met the Duke of Wellington, Viscount Castlereagh and the Duke of Richelieu at the Congress of Aachen to demand strong measures against the “demagogues” of the universities; measures that would be implemented in the Karlsbad Deliberations of the following year. At the Congress of Troppau in 1820 and the following Congress of Ljubljana, Metternich tried to unite his allies in suppressing the revolt of the Carbonari against King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. In 1821, the Alliance met in Ljubljana. The Quintuple Alliance met for the last time at the Congress of Verona in 1822 to discuss the problems caused by the Greek Revolution and the French invasion of Spain.
The last meetings revealed the growing antagonism between Britain and France, particularly on the Risorgimento, the right to self-determination and the question of the East. The end of the Alliance is by convention made to coincide with the death of Alexander in 1825. France, which had been associated in 1823, finally separated after the July Revolution of 1830, again leaving the Central and Eastern European bloc of Russia, Austria, and Prussia to suppress the 1848 uprisings. The Austrian-Russian alliance was broken in the Crimean War: although Russia had helped to completely stamp out the Hungarian revolution of 1848, Austria had not acted to support its ally, declared itself neutral, and even occupied the lands of Wallachia and Moldavia on the Danube, following the Russian retreat of 1854. From there on Austria was isolated, and suffered a downsizing of its role as a European power, losing first its influence on the Italian peninsula as a result of French-Piedmontese actions, then on the Germanic area following the defeat in the Austro-Prussian war of 1866.