o far as Britain was concerned, the Crimean War was part of the wider Eastern Question that had existed since the time of Pitt the Younger. However, on this occasion the conflicts were not contained as they had been previously and so the situation degenerated into a war. It was one more foreign matter which broke yet another British government, showing the importance of foreign affairs.
The Crimean War began under the Earl of Aberdeen who was Prime Minister between 1852 and 1855; it ended under Palmerston who replaced Aberdeen when the latter's ministry was brought down by a vote of 'No Confidence' in 1855.
The Crimean War was the first war involving European nations since 1815: the aims of the peacemakers at the Congress of Vienna, to maintain a peace for at least 25 years, had been more than met. However, in terms of British history, during the entire period of Victoria's reign (1837-1901) there was not a single year in which the British army was not fighting someone, somewhere in the world.
The Powers involved in the Crimean War were, on one side
- Britain and France — on the same side for the first time in historic memory [see a Punch commentary]
- Piedmont-Sardinia, which joined the war effort in 1855. Cavour, the Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia was looking for allies to help him in the creation of the Kingdom of Northern Italy. He took Piedmont into the war in 1855 when it was more obvious that the Allies would win. Cavour was cold, calculating and Machiavellian in weighing up the situation. Also, Austria-Hungary's isolation helped Cavour's cause.
On the other side, opposing these powers, was Russia.
The Austro-Hungarian empire, ruled by the 24-year-old Franz-Joseph, who had succeeded to the throne in 1848, was called upon by both sides to help. The Emperor decided to stay neutral rather than offend either side and also in an effort to maintain friendly diplomatic relationships with all the powers. Austria-Hungary dared not get involved in the east because she feared Prussian expansion under Bismarck in the west.
Two of Punch's comments on Austrian neutrality: A Water Party and Austria still plays the Scotch Fiddle. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Austria-Hungary ended up diplomatically isolated, with no friends. Russia expected Austrian help after the help that the Russians had given to Austria-Hungary during the 1848 Hungarian revolt; Britain and France expected Austrian help to contain Russian expansion. However, because of Austria-Hungary's neutrality during the Crimean War, no-one would help her when she had problems firstly in 1861, with Italian Unification: with French help for Cavour, Austria-Hungary lost her Italian lands. Ten years later, in 1871, Austria-Hungary lost her hold over the Germanic Confederation and had a new, strong northern neighbour under Kaiser Wilhelm and Bismarck.
Austrian neutrality between 1854 and 1856, from which she emerged isolated, was the key to European history for the next 100 years. It sowed the seeds of the First and Second World Wars.
Last modified 6 May 2002