The zone was divided by Switzerland into two main areas: the Germanic Confederation and the Italian lands.
1. The Germanic Confederation
This was a 'patchwork quilt' of thirty-nine states, all independent but linked through sending delegates/representatives to the Diet of Frankfort. These states were located between Austria and Prussia. Austria was President of the Diet (this was the western 'head' of the double-headed eagle) and Prussia — as a German state — also sent a delegate.
The Confederation was a new idea after 1815 to form a secure buffer zone against France. The French had found it easy to over-run the 349 states that had existed before 1789; the states had then been rationalised by Napoleon. The reorganised Germanic states were subsequently retained in a similar form by the Allies as a barrier to French expansionism. As members, Austria and Prussia created a balance of power but it created competition between the two for dominance.
Prussia, which had been enlarged by the Congress of Vienna, wanted to join up her lands and to control the Germanic Confederation but that would upset Austria which wanted to maintain supremacy in the area. Prussian aspirations came to fruition in 1870 with the Unification of Germany under Bismarck.
Austria-Hungary could not really afford to get mixed up with either the Germanic Confederation or Russia because she had conflicting interests in the east and west: to get involved with Germany would allow Russia to expand in the east and to get involved with Russia would allow Prussia to take control of the Germanic Confederation.
The Crimean War was a time of crisis for Austria-Hungary because all the Powers involved expected her to side with them. Austria-Hungary tried to stay friendly with them all by remaining neutral. At the end of the war, Austria-Hungary was isolated and friendless because of this neutrality.
Britain's interest was not predominantly in this area. She wanted to maintain the status quo — that is, a balance of power between Austria-Hungary and Prussia and also wanted to keep a strong buffer against France. However, the Royal Navy, Britain's main line of defence, was of no use on mainland Europe. Because of this, Britain was unable to prevent the Unification of Germany under Bismarck in 1870, for example.
2. The Italian Lands
These stretched from the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, southwards. After the Congress of Vienna, Metternich — the Austrian Chancellor who manipulated European diplomacy from 1815 to 1848 — called Italy "a mere geographic expression". Prior to the French Revolution, Italy consisted of eleven separate states under a variety of régimes:
- Venetia and Lombardy were both ruled by Austria-Hungary
- Piedmont-Sardinia ruled as a constitutional monarchy under the House of Savoy
- the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily was an autocratic monarchy under the control of the Spanish Bourbons
- the Papal States were an autocracy under the rule of the Pope
- San Marino was a republic
- Lucca, Parma, Tuscany and Modena were ruled by various members of the Hapsburg family
- Genoa was a republic but by 1815 ceased to exist as a separate nation
During the French Revolution Italy was over-run by the French and Napoleon created the Kingdom of Italy. As in the Germanic Confederation, so the multi-state Italian lands were easy prey for the French, and Italy became a French satellite. However, the French created a national unity which eventually led to the rise of Liberal Nationalism and finally to the Unification of Italy under the King of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1861.
In 1815 the victorious Allies decided to return Italy to the status quo ante bellum [the situation as it was before the war]: to give the states back to their legitimate rulers as the 'honest thing to do'. With the benefit of hindsight, this can be seen as a mistake because in 1848 there was a Liberal Nationalism revolt in the south under Garibaldi and his Redshirts and then in 1860 Italian Unification took place under Cavour after the Risorgimento. Italy became a constitutional monarchy in 1861 under King Victor Emanuel, following the work of Cavour in creating the new nation. There were problems that delayed the Unification of Italy:
- Austria-Hungary controlled large areas in the north of Italy and would have to be defeated, to be made to let go of those lands
- the Papal States cut a great swathe across the middle of Italy. No Italian Roman Catholic could attack those lands with impunity, and it they tried they could lose credibility — not to mention losing the support of the Church and risking excommunication.
Britain's attitude was to favour Italian unification because it would
- strengthen Italy to help to control France
- encourage Austria-Hungary to concentrate on the east and north of her empire
- create a strong Italy to help keep a balance of power in Europe.
Britain was able to get involved in the process of Italian unification because she had access by sea; Britain felt that she ought to be involved because of trade and her need to secure the overland route to India. However, there was a problem for Britain in her relationship with Austria-Hungary: to lose the friendship of Austria-Hungary could lead to difficulties with Turkey and the Eastern Question on Austria-Hungary's eastern border. Also, the weakening of Austria-Hungary in the west might upset the balance of power and allow Prussia to dominate the Germanic Confederation. It was clear that Austria-Hungary intended to keep her Italian lands for as long as possible — thus taking her attention away from Turkey and the eastern border.
Last modified 30 April 2002