Reform, Reaction, and Revolution: The European States

Italian States

King Charles Albert of Piedmont

1831 - 1849

The king of the northern Italian state of Piedmont, Charles Albert, took up the call and assumed the leadership for a war of liberation from Austrian domination.

Austrians reestablish control in Lombardy and Venetia


King Charles Albert's invasion of Lombardy proved unsuccessful, however, and by 1849, the Austrians had established complete control over Lombardy and Venetia. Counterrevolutionary forces also prevailed throughout Italy. French forces helped Pope Pius IX regain control of Rome. Elsewhere Italian rulers managed to recover power on their own. Only Piedmont was able to keep its liberal institution.


Tsar Alexander I

1801 - 1825

Alexander I had been raised in the ideas of the Enlightenment and initially seemed willing to make reforms. With the aid of his liberal adviser, he relaxed censorship, freed political prisoners, and reformed the educational system. He refused, however, to grant a constitution or free the serfs in the face of oppression from the nobility. After the defeat of Napoleon, Alexander became a reactionary, and his government reverted to strict and arbitrary censorship. Soon opposition to Alexander arose from a group of secret societies.

Tsar Nicholas I

1825 - 1855

The Decembrist Revolt transformed Nicholas I from a conservative into a reactionary determined to avoid another rebellion. He strengthened both the bureaucracy and the secret police. The political police, known as the Third Section of the tsar's chancellery, were given sweeping powers over much of Russian life. They deported suspicious or dangerous persons, maintained close surveillance of foreigners in Russia, and reported regularly to the tsar on public opinion.

Decembrist Revolt


Although Alexander's brother Constantine was the legal heir to the throne, he had renounced his claims in favour of his brother Nicholas after the death of Alexander. His abdication had not been made public, however, and during the ensuing confusion in December 1825, the military leaders of the Northern Union rebelled against the accession of Nicholas. This so-called Decembrist Revolt was soon crushed by troops loyal to Nicholas, and its leaders were executed.

Polish uprising


Poland had a nationalist uprising in 1830 when revolutionaries tried to end Russian control of their country. Polish insurgents failed to get hoped-for support from France and Britain, however.

Suppression of Polish revolt


Polish insurgents failed to get support from France and Britain during their uprising. By September 1831, the Russians had crushed the revolt and established an oppressive military dictatorship over Poland.