Germany 1815-1856


The Vienna Settlement

November 1814 - September 1815

The Vienna Settlement was led by Klemens von Metternicht, the foreign minister of Austria. The settlement dealt with the reorganization of Europe to achieve balance of power, restoration, legitimacy, and compensation after Napoleon's conquests of Europe.

German Confederation Established

Approx. 1815

A loose German Confederation of 38 states was established as one of the outcomes of the Congress of Vienna.

Wartburg Festival

Approx. 1817

Nationalist students converted the Wartburg Festival from a celebration of the tercentenary of Martin Luther's stand against the Pope and the fourth anniversary of the victory of Leipzig into a demonstration against the princes.

Carlsbad Decrees

Approx. 1819

The Carlsbad Decrees were Metternicht's reaction to the murder of the anti-liberal writer August von Kotzebue by a mentally iil member of a liberal student association. The Decrees:
- Provided inspectors for universities
- Ensured that student societies were disbanded
- Introduced press censorship
- Set up a commission to investigate 'revolutionary' movements.
Many historians, however, have argued that the Carlsbad Decrees were an overreaction.


Approx. 1834

A coalition of 18 German states, including the most powerful, Prussia, set up a customs union called the Zollverein, where trade tariffs amongst the states were abolished. By 1850, almost every German state had joined the Zollverein, effectively forming a single German economic market, allowing much more rapid industrialisation.

Friedrich Wilhelm becomes King of Prussia

Approx. 1840 - Approx. 1861

Friedrich Wilhelm IV became King of Prussia in 1860 and ruled until 1861. An intelligent and cultured man, he gave hope to liberals in Germany when he declared an amnesty for political prisoners and relaxed press censorship when he became King. In reality, he was a romantic dreamer who looked backwards to the 18th century and was a firm believer in the Divine Right of Kings. He was also indecisive at critical moments.

Economic Crisis: Start of the Revolutions

Approx. 1847

The failure of the potato crop in 1845 and 1846 and of the grain harvest in 1847 caused severe distress in Germany.
Prices rose, and serious shortages led to food riots. At the same time, unemployment was rising sharply as a result of a slump in trade and a wave of business failures.
Because of this, there were widespread outbreaks of unrest, including
- Rhineland: Attacks on millowners
- Thuringia and Saxony: attacks on factory machinery by artisans
- Vienna: a revolution in March which forced the resignation of Metternicht.
- Berlin: barricades were erected in the streets, and clashes between the army and the demonstrators led to the Prussian King, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, withdrawing his troops from the city. He appointed new liberal ministers and promised to call elections for a new assembly.
- Bavaria: in Munich, King Ludwig I was overthrown, mainly due to his personal unpopularity.

Germans Agree on the need for an independent Germany

October 1 1847

An assembly of liberals from south western states agreed on the urgent need for an independent Prussian parliament.

The Frankfurt Parliament

March 1848

Liberal nationalists in Germany now saw the chance to create a new, united Germany. At the end of March, liberal politicians met at Frankfurt in the Volparliament (preliminary parliament) to make arrangements for the setting up of a National Constituent Assembly.
A compromise was reached between the radicals and moderates which granted the right to vote to every citizen of majority age who was 'independent'.
Only men were allowed to vote, and it was left to each state to decide what constituted independence.

Schleswig-Holstein Affair

March 1848

There was a rebellion by the Germans in the duchies against the Danish King and the rebels appealed to the German Confederation for help.
Prussian troops entered Schleswig-Holstein to drive the Danish forced out. The action, however, had aroused opposition from other great powers such as Britain, and had not been supported by Austria.
There was an armistice, which the radical politicians in the Prussian parliament opposed, and called on supporters to demonstrate on the streets. The fact that said demonstrations were put down by Austrian and Prussian troops was a serious blow to the Parliament's claim to represent the will of the people.

New German Constitution

December 1848 - March 1849

- A federal union of Germany in which individual states and their princes would retain some of their powers over local affairs, but foreign policy, defence, and transport, would be controlled by the central govt.
- This central government would be controlled by a Kaiser and a Reichstag.
- Friedrich Wilhelm IV was elected Kaiser of the new Germany.

Friedrich Wilhelm IV elected as Kaiser

28th March 1849

Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia was elected by the Frankfurt parliament to be emperor of Germany, however refused to take the ‘crown from the gutter’.

League of the Three Kings

May 1849

Although Friedrich Wilhelm IV had rejected the offer of the crown of a united Germany, he had still hoped to unite Germany under Prussian leadership.
In May 1849, following the advice of his minister Radowitz, he persuaded the rulers of Saxony and Hanover to join him in a League of Three Kings.
This later expanded into a larger German union composed of seventeen other states (who were bullied into joining)
The foundations of the Union were shaky from the beginning;
Saxony would only join of Bavaria also became a member
Hanover’s participation was conditional on Austria being included in the federal state
The Union was a challenge to Austria’s dominance in Germany

Frankfurt National Assembly Dissolved

31st May 1849

It was dissolved because it could not get a good army together, it did not have German support, and it could not resist Austrian power.

Humiliation of Olmutz

November 29 1850

there was a crisis in the state of Hesse-Cassel, causing the Elector appeal to the Federal Diet.
The Diet authorised an Austrian army to march northwards into Hesse-Cassel, a serious challenge to Prussia.
Friedrich Wilhelm backed down, having been warned by Russia that it was prepared to support Austria in any conflict- however not without one last gesture involving a skirmish between Austria and Prussia.
Cooperation faltered between the two states.

Crimean War

1853 - 1856

The Crimean War broke out with Britain and France allied against Russia.
Austria, suspicious of Russian intentions in the Balkans, wished to intervene in the war and appealed to the Diet of the German Confederation for support. Friedrich Wilhelm IV was torn between his desire to maintain Prussia's alliance with Austria and his belief that war with Russia was to be avoided.
When the Austrian representative to the Diet asked for the mobilisation of half the federal army, his request was vigorously opposed by Bismarck, arguing that the war did not affect Germany's interests.
The other states agreed, and for once, Austria was outmaneuvered and isolated in the Confederation.