What did the Crimean war mean for Europe?

Here we consider the effect of the Crimean War across Europe in its balance of power, and (in greater detai)l upon the foreign and domestic policies in Britain

1. Russia and its place in the European Balance of Power

Peace negotiations began in 1856 under Nicholas I’s son and successor, Alexander II. Furthermore, the Tsar and the Sultan agreed not to establish any naval or military arsenal on the Black Sea coast. The Black Sea clauses came at a tremendous disadvantage to Russia, for it greatly diminished the naval threat it posed to the Turks. Moreover, all the Great Powers pledged to respect the independence and territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire.

2. Austria

Having abandoned its alliance with Russia, Austria was diplomatically isolated following the war. This led to its defeat in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and loss of influence in most German-speaking lands. Soon after, Austria would ally with Prussia as it became the new state of Germany, creating the conditions that would lead to World War I. The Crimean War ended the dominant role of Russia in SE Europe; the cooling of Austro-Russian relations was an important factor in subsequent European history.

3. France and Prussia

The Treaty of Paris stood until 1871, when France was crushed by the German states in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. Whilst Prussia and several other German states united to form a powerful German Empire, the Emperor of the French, Napoleon III, was deposed to permit the formation of a French Republic. During his reign (which began in 1852), Napoleon III, eager for the support of Great Britain, had opposed Russia over the Eastern Question. Russian interference in the Ottoman Empire, however, did not in any significant manner threaten the interests of France. Thus, France abandoned its opposition to Russia after the establishment of a Republic. Encouraged by the decision of the French, and supported by the German minister Otto, Fürst von Bismarck, Russia denounced the Black Sea clauses of the treaty agreed to in 1856. As Great Britain alone could not enforce the clauses, Russia once again established a fleet in the Black Sea.

4. The effects of the War in Britain
So far as Britain was concerned, the end of Crimean War had a number of results that were little to do with the war itself.
• foreign policy brought down another British government – this time that of the Earl of Aberdeen – and gave Palmerston a platform on which to rise to PM, a post from which he was to dominate English politics for ten years because he brought ‘peace with honour’. It enhanced Palmerston’s reputation.
• in 1854, the likelihood of an Allied victory were very high: they had well-equipped, sophisticated, professional western European armies. By December 1854/January 1855 the odds were against them: the roles were reversed. By Christmas 1854 the Tsar offered to supply one three-decker ship to send the Allies home. The Allies stared defeat in the face, with the potential consequences thereof. The massive public outcry in Britain was led by Roebuck, the MP for Sheffield and caused Aberdeen’s downfall. In February 1855 Palmerston came to office and the odds swung back to the Allies.
• it was an apparent, rather than a real victory for Britain. There were no lasting gains and no end to the Eastern Question; it was more of a truce and proved to be temporary
• for Britain, the war proved to be a very expensive mistake although initially it was popular and involved the public. Even Gladstone felt that it was a ‘just war’. However, it cost 25,000 lives and £76 million which had to be met out of increased taxation. Income tax had to be increased and this wrecked Gladstone’s plans to abolish it.
• the Indian Mutiny of 1857 was caused partly by Britain’s poor record of blunders, mismanagement and inefficiency in the Crimean War.
• the war highlighted the need for massive army reforms. Cardwell’s reforms finally took place between 1870 and 1872; they began updating the army
• nursing as a vocation for ladies was enhanced
• the importance of public health and hygiene was elevated
• the power of the press was demonstrated
• As noted above, Austria-Hungary emerged from the war diplomatically isolated. This was of vital importance over the next 50 years or so because it determined the course of European history and was partly responsible for the First World War. Austrian neutrality upset Russia, Britain and France because they all anticipated Austrian help. Her isolation subsequently led to Italian and German Unification because no-one would aid Austria-Hungary in her time of need. These two new nations upset the balance of power in Europe
• the Crimean War was the end of an era. Warfare in the future would be one of new technology, precluding the need for big armies and fleets. Britain concentrated on the navy, becoming isolated from Europe
• the opening of the Suez Canal in 1868 expanded Britain’s eastern interests. The Peace of Paris did not solve the problem
The war was important for Britain’s domestic affairs because a variety of issues were highlighted by the incompetence of the government and army during the war
a. the Crimean War and the conduct eventually led to a professional civil service and reforms in army organisation under Gladstone
b. the importance of public opinion which had begun to make its mark in the 1760s finally came to fruition
c. newspapers were using the new technology of the telegraph and were as yet uncensored
d. it demonstrated that the old diplomatic world of Vienna was at an end, and marked the emergence of a new European balance of power

Bamgart, Winfried The Crimean War, 1853-1856 (2002) Arnold Publishers
Ponting, Clive The Crimean War (2004) Chatto and Windus
Pottinger Saab, Anne The Origins of the Crimean Alliance (1977) University of Virginia Press
Rich, Norman Why the Crimean War: A Cautionary Tale (1985) McGraw-Hill
Royle, Trevor Crimea: The Great Crimean War, 1854-1856 (2000) Palgrave Macmillan
Schroeder, Paul W. Austria, Great Britain, and the Crimean War: The Destruction of the European Concert (1972) Cornell University Press
Wetzel, David The Crimean War: A Diplomatic History (1985) Columbia University Press

This entry was posted in A Level History, British Empire, Crimean War, Empire and Expansion, History, Imperial Expansion 1815-1870, Victorian and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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