For nearly two centuries there was a war between Russia and Turkey about every twenty years. In October 1853 the ninth of this series began. But from the outset it was radically different from its predecessors; for Turkey felt confident of the armed support of Britain and France. By March 1854 they had joined her as allies. The Emperor Nicholas stood alone, deserted to his intense chagrin even by his young protege, the Emperor Francis Joseph, whom he had saved from the Hungarians only five years before. Europe was ranged with the Muslim sultan against the Orthodox tsar.
Never before had the Ottomans had more than diplomatic support from the West, usually from France. Once, indeed, they had faced a momentary combination of Britain and France with Russia and had suffered the loss of their fleet at Navarino. The Habsburgs, their most ancient foe in Europe, had more than once been leagued with Russia against them, and, as recently as 1849, hand in hand with her, had quarrelled virulently with them over Hungarian and Polish refugees in Turkey. This last acute incident was a pointer to the future which gave much encouragement to the Turks and should have warned the Russians. Both France and Britain vigorously supported Turkey and sent their fleets to the Aegean. Stratford Canning, British ambassador at the Porte, even connived at the entry of Admiral Parker’s squadron into the Dardanelles, despite the Straits Convention of 1841, and provoked justifiable remonstrances from St Petersburg.
In 1840-1 for the first time the problem of the Straits had been recognised as an European concern and regulated by the five powers (cf. ch. x, pp. 256-8). Nicholas and Nesselrode, his Foreign Minister, joined with surprising readiness in this settlement, because they judged it impossible to renew their very favourable treaty of Unkiar Skelessi and wished to use the second Mehemet Ali crisis to divide Britain from France. Now in 1853-4 the far greater question of the future of the Ottoman empire was raised by Russia’s action and she was to find that it, too, must be regarded as the common concern of the powers, and no longer, as Nicholas and his predecessors had, in essentials, assumed, a matter to be determined by Russia with or without agreement with Austria. This new development in the relations of Europe with Turkey came to a head in the Crimean War. Herein, in large part, lies the importance of the war.
It was not brought about, as some have argued, by the deliberate cunning of Napoleon III in using the dispute with Russia over the Holy Places to fortify his new position as emperor by a glorious appeal to arms, or to divide the victors over his uncle by luring Great Britain into partnership and Austria away from Nicholas’s version of the Holy Alliance, or to engineer the collapse of the 1815 settlement and an appeal to nationalities for the benefit of the Italians and the Poles. Nor was the Crimean War caused, as others have argued, by the machinations of Palmerston and Stratford de Redcliffe, bedevilling the pacific half-measures of Aberdeen and stirring up an ignorant and bellicose public opinion to ‘back the wrong horse’. Still less was it brought about by British economic interests working to further their hold on Turkish markets and to avenge themselves upon Russia, their bugbear of high protection. War began because a nationalist and defiant Turkey would not yield to Russian demands which she held to be humiliating and threatening to the maintenance of her empire. France and Britain joined her, and Austria openly swung towards the allies because they were not prepared to allow Russia to settle her scores with Turkey by herself and to gain thereby complete ascendancy in the Balkans and Asia Minor.
The Russian demands upon Turkey arose out of the dispute over the Holy Places, which gradually became envenomed after the arrival in Constantinople (5 May) of a new French ambassador, the fiery and ambitious La Valette. The French position as protector of the rights of the Latins in the Holy Places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem had suffered through the increasing ascendancy of the Greeks during the previous half-century. This ascendancy was not unnatural since Orthodox pilgrims outnumbered the Catholic by a hundred to one. Already at the end of Louis Philippe’s reign France began to reassert her claims while the papacy and several Catholic orders displayed renewed activity. Louis Napoleon, anxious to conciliate Catholic opinion in France, took the matter much farther but he had no personal desire to make it a major issue such as might embroil him with Russia. In Constantinople, however, where the complicated negotiations were centred, intense rivalry developed between the French and Russian diplomats, encouraged by certain individuals in their respective Foreign Offices and certain newspapers. By October 1851 La Valette seemed on the point of success. Nicholas now intervened with a personal demand to the sultan for the maintenance of the status quo. The Porte, harried from both sides, addressed a note to France, in February 1852, which made concessions to the Latins and seemed to give full satisfaction to her. Almost immediately afterwards it secretly gave a firman to the Greeks which seemed to confirm their rights. But what might be promised, partly in writing and partly by word of mouth, in Constantinople might not be performed in Jerusalem, rent by ‘a continuance of desperate Irish rows between the diverse sections of the faithful’.
There followed a succession of shuffling attempts by the Turkish authorities in Palestine to give something to each of the Christian contestants. Threats and counter-threats were bandied about: the French navy might blockade the Dardanelles or be sent to Syria, and it went in fact to Tripoli; the Russian embassy might leave Constantinople; the Charlemagne, a new battleship, after a hot tussle, was allowed through the Dardanelles, bringing La Valette back to the Golden Horn. The British, while Stratford de Redcliffe was on leave, were not yet engaged. By the end of 1852 the confusion was worse than ever. The Russians were prepared to help the sultan against the French if he carried out fully what he had promised, but they feared that the Grand Vizier, Mehemet Ali, and the Foreign Minister, Fuad Pasha, were tools of La Valette. Nesselrode attributed the worst designs to Napoleon III, as he had just become after the plebiscite of November. Nicholas, who had welcomed ‘the man of 2 December’, was now inveighing against him for pushing the Turks to extremes and had no welcome for a restoration of the empire. Indeed, erroneously believing that his brother monarchs in Vienna and Berlin would follow suit, he refused to recognise ‘the dynastic numeral [le chiffre dynastique]’. Napoleon passed off the insult in Nicholas’s form of address with a clever repartee and further showed his moderation by recalling La Valette on long leave (11 January). Still, the affair of ‘the dynastic numeral’ rankled on both sides.
By the new year Nicholas was contemplating drastic steps. The sultan had broken his word; he must be made to keep it and to give guarantees for the future. Fear had thrown the Porte into the arms of France; fear would bring the Porte back into the arms of Russia. Nicholas recognised that Turkish resistance would probably lead to war, but was prepared to face that. During January two corps on the southern frontier were openly put on a war footing. At the same time he decided to send a special envoy to Constantinople to demand both a satisfactory settlement of the question of the Holy Places and also a treaty or convention guaranteeing the future by making explicit the Russian claims, under the Treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji of 1774, in relation to the immunities and privileges of the Orthodox church.
The idea of a special mission had originated with Nesselrode (25 December 1852) probably to deflect his master from some more drastic step.
The suggestion of a treaty or convention had been received from Reshid Pasha who was not then in office. Nicholas himself was pondering a sudden attack on Constantinople and, as his private notes show, was scheming in expectation of the collapse of the Ottoman empire. He contemplated, as the least bad of all bad possibilities, an arrangement which would reduce the Ottoman empire to Asia, give the Principalities and northern Bulgaria to Russia, independence to the rest of Bulgaria and Serbia, the littoral of the Archipelago and of the Adriatic to Austria, Egypt and perhaps Cyprus and Rhodes to England, Crete to France, the Aegean isles to Greece, and make Constantinople a free city, with a Russian garrison on the Bosporus and an Austrian on the Dardanelles. Convinced that the death of ‘the sick man’ impended and that preparations for what should follow must be made in advance, Nicholas broached similar ideas in four conversations (9 January to 22 February 1853) with Sir Hamilton Seymour, the British ambassador in St Petersburg.
In December 1852 Aberdeen had become Prime Minister. Lord John Russell was Foreign Secretary until February 1853 when Clarendon succeeded him. Aberdeen had been Foreign Secretary in Peel’s government in 1844 when Nicholas visited England and reached what he thought was agreement on the future of Turkey (see above, ch. x, pp. 259-60). Of this Nicholas had immediately reminded Lord John (16 December). In March 1854, when war had come, a British Blue Book published the Seymour conversations and part of the 1844 discussions with Aberdeen. It did much to stimulate or confirm the belief that the tsar was planning the dissolution of Turkey. Nicholas’s object, now, as in 1844, was an understanding between gentlemen (his favourite diplomatic panacea) about what should follow the collapse of Turkey. It was especially important that each should know what the other would not allow. The British government, on the contrary, though it did not instruct Seymour to cease handling these hot coals until 5 April, from the first denied the tsar’s assumption that the Ottoman empire was about to fall: any concert with Russia could only be to prevent collapse, not to hasten it by an agreement disposing in advance of the sultan’s territory.
Both parties did, indeed, agree that they could not allow Constantinople to fall to any great power, a Byzantine empire to be set up or Greece to be substantially enlarged. The British further consented, much to Russia’s satisfaction, not to make any other agreement, anticipating the fall of Turkey, without previous communication with St Petersburg. But they did not rise to Nicholas’s bait of Egypt or Crete, and they could only view with alarm his suggestion that the Principalities, Serbia and Bulgaria might be independent states under his protection and, with still greater alarm his avowal that, while he would not establish himself in Constantinople as proprietor (‘en proprietaire’), circumstances might force him to do so as trustee (‘en depositaire’).
As for France, Nicholas affected to disregard her and did not at this stage make any serious overtures to her. Austria, he declared, he could rely on (21 February)—a fatal misconception that was not shared by Nesselrode. Two days later he wrote to the Emperor Francis Joseph promising him support, if necessary, in arms should his demands on Turkey about Montenegro be refused. While Russia was preparing to summon Turkey to give her satisfaction, Austria was taking action to foil a Turkish attempt to subdue the ever recalcitrant Montenegrins. She concentrated troops for a temporary occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, sent a military mission to warn Omer Pasha, the Turkish commander, to withdraw, and dispatched Count Leiningen to Constantinople with an ultimatum requiring the immediate cessation of hostilities and the settlement of certain frontier questions. Within a fortnight of his arrival the Turkish government gave in (14 February) and patched up peace with Montenegro.
Within another fortnight the Turks were faced with another special envoy, Prince Menshikov (28 February). Would they yield a second time to threatening demands from the giaour? Menshikov was a grandee and Minister of Marine, but he had not been Nicholas’s first choice and was ill-fitted for his task. He arrived laden with voluminous instructions, which nevertheless gave him wide latitude, and accompanied by high naval and military officers, who openly reconnoitred even as far as Smyrna and Athens. Contemporaries blamed him for his intemperate and abusive behaviour, and some Russians for his dilatory lack of energy. His faults were exaggerated. Yet it is true that he began by insisting on the removal of the Foreign Minister, Fuad Pasha, and that he signally failed to settle matters, as Nicholas hoped, before the return of Stratford de Redcliffe. Menshikov was caught in the prevailing mizmaze of intrigue and Turkish delaying tactics and was victimised by rival dragomans and extremist counsellors in the embassy. ‘The old Turks’, the men of Unkiar Skelessi, were too old or unavailing and there were no other groups or individuals with the ear of the sultan who would stand out against the rising nationalist desire to resist Russian intimidation. This mood of defiance was typified by Mehemet Ali, the Grand Vizier, and Mehemet Rushdi, the Minister for War.
It hardened into determination the more the Turks felt that they would, in the last resort, receive French and British armed support. On 20 March, after news had reached Paris of the enforced resignation of Fuad Pasha and of the Russian military and naval preparations, the French fleet was ordered from Toulon to Salamis. Napoleon’s decision was taken in isolation from the British government, who had stringently overruled Rose, charge d’affaires at Constantinople, when he took it upon himself to summon the fleet from Malta. Napoleon, always prone to oscillate between extremes, seems to have swung far towards war as he almost at the same time swung in the opposite direction by sending de Lacour, a moderate man, with pacific instructions as his new ambassador to Constantinople. Although the British government did not send their fleet, they sent Stratford de Redcliffe. The Turks, like everybody else, feared him. But at this juncture his arrival (5 April) gave them hope that, if they stood firm, they would have his backing. ‘If the Russians are in the wrong, as I believe they are,’ wrote Stratford to his wife (27 April), ‘my business is to make the wrong appear, and to stand by the Porte, or rather make the P. stand by me.’
The Turks were further encouraged by the settlement of the immediate issue of the Holy Places on 22 April. This was brought about by amicable conversations between de Lacour and Menshikov with the assistance of Stratford de Redcliffe, who admitted that the Russians had had justifiable complaints. It cleared the ground for the main matter, a treaty or convention binding the sultan vis-a-vis Russia to the preservation of all the religious and spiritual immunities of the Orthodox church (the religious immunities included the upkeep of churches, religious buildings and pious foundations as well as the civil rights and exemptions of the Orthodox clergy; the spiritual immunities, included the right of the clergy to celebrate). Menshikov was empowered to offer the sultan a defensive alliance if he accepted the Russian proposals and incurred thereby the hostility of any of the powers. He did not, however, make the offer. It is difficult to suppose it could have succeeded. Stratford de Redcliffe would have exerted all his influence against it: if Turkey allied with any power it should be Britain, as he himself had proposed in 1849. Now he declared to the Russians that too close a friendship with the Turks would arouse as much suspicion in Europe as a rupture leading to war.
There was little likelihood of any friendship from the side of the Turks. They regarded Menshikov’s draft treaty or convention as incompatible with their sovereign independence and tantamount to recognising Russia as arbiter in all matters relating to the Orthodox in Turkey, a view strongly supported by Stratford de Redcliffe and de Lacour and later shared by Clarendon and Drouyn de Lhuys. Although Menshikov greatly modified his original terms, deferred his departure and in the end proposed a note from the sultan to the emperor instead of a treaty or convention, he failed to obtain anything. Changes in the ministry (12 May) brought Mustapha Pasha to the Grand Vizieriate and Reshid Pasha to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Menshikov’s brighter hopes were shattered when a Grand Council decided overwhelmingly to reject the Russian requirements (17 May). The final Turkish reply of 20 May referred only to the spiritual immunities and not in the binding form required. In consequence Menshikov left Constantinople on 21 May and diplomatic relations were broken off.
Both in London and Paris suspicions of Russia’s intentions, already aroused by her military and naval measures, were deepened when only a part of Menshikov’s instructions, and that the least important, was communicated to them. They concluded that the Turkish interpretation of Menshikov’s demands was justified. Further, a Russian armed counterstroke, probably in the shape of an occupation of the Principalities, seemed imminent. On 2 June the Aberdeen government ordered the Malta fleet to Besika Bay, just outside the Dardanelles, and Napoleon immediately followed suit. Palmerston was right when he said, in retrospect, that this signal encouragement to the Turks meant ‘the passing of the Rubicon’.
The Emperor Nicholas felt, as he said, that his face had been slapped by the sultan. He did, indeed, make another abortive attempt to reach an arrangement with the Porte direct (19/31 May), but it was accompanied by a threat to occupy the Principalities and followed by a heated Russian circular (30 May/11 June) couched in terms especially wounding to France. Yet the day before, Nicholas had opened out to the French ambassador on the same lines as earlier to Seymour and had sought to get into personal touch with Napoleon III.
Ever since January the tsar had had an attack on Constantinople, either from the Bosporus or by land through the Principalities and Bulgaria, in mind. By May, in view of the French attitude, now supported by Great Britain, he decided on a half-measure—the occupation of the Principalities as a gage until Turkey satisfied his demands. At the same time he asked Austria similarly to occupy Herzegovina and Serbia, an invitation that was declined. Nicholas did not intend to cross the Danube, but, if the Turks did not yield, the Principalities and Serbia might be declared independent. A general rising of the Christians would probably follow and ‘the last hour of the Ottoman Empire strike’.
Orders to cross the Pruth were given on 12/24 June and during July the Principalities and the line of the Danube were occupied by strong Russian forces. Nicholas publicly undertook to withdraw if the sultan accepted Menshikov’s final note and the western fleets also withdrew. This last condition figured in another heated Russian circular (20 June/2 July) inveighing against western support of Turkey.
If Palmerston, then Home Secretary, had had his way western support would have been still stronger. As the Russians crossed the Pruth, he was urging the dispatch of the combined squadrons to the Bosporus: a bold strong course was the safest way to maintain peace. This dubious recommendation, to which Stratford de Redcliffe was strongly opposed and Nicholas was not likely to have bowed, was not put to the test. The cabinet went forward into the maze of negotiations which now took place in Paris, Vienna and Constantinople. Too many projects were afoot, but the main outcome was that the negotiators at Constantinople were displaced and that agreement was reached in Vienna. Great Britain, France, Austria and Prussia concurred in a note to be sent by the sultan to the tsar which should settle the questions at issue and lead to the evacuation of the Principalities. Known as the Vienna note, it was the handiwork in part of Napoleon and in part of Buol, the Austrian Foreign Minister. It was skilfully designed to harmonise the interests of Russia and France without apparently trenching upon the sovereign rights of Turkey. Its main importance lay in its being the joint product of the four powers. The fate of the Ottoman empire was, thus, in a sense, recognised as an European question. Moreover, far from backing up the Menshikov mission as Russia had backed up the Leiningen, Austria led the concert of the western powers and Prussia followed her. This step, though not regarded by Nicholas or Nesselrode as inimical, was none the less a sign that the alliance of the three eastern powers was ending. The Austrians were already telling the Russians that they were not prepared to join them in a policy based on the imminent collapse of Turkey in Europe.
The draft note was sent to St Petersburg on 28 July and was promptly accepted, but in Constantinople it was received with vehement opposition. Nationalist and religious fervour had welled up on Russia’s entry into the Principalities. The extremists pressed on military measures and used the Constantinople populace for their ends. Encouragement was given by news of British public opinion, heading strongly against Aberdeen and pacification, and immense enthusiasm was aroused by the arrival in mid-August of the Egyptian fleet with 15,000 troops. News of Russia’s complaisance confirmed suspicions that the note was really her concoction. Stratford de Redcliffe did not believe in it—for it was not of his making—and he knew that his personal, as distinct from his official influence in favour of acceptance would have been disregarded. The utmost that could be salved was a reply requiring three amendments instead of plain rejection (20 August).
The amendments were designed to rule out any far-reaching Russian interpretation of the Treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji and any claim to protect the religious as well as the spiritual privileges of the Orthodox church. Nicholas was at first inclined to accept the Turkish modifications, but yielded to the unusual combination of the politic Nesselrode with national and Slavophile extremists. On 7 September he declared that the Vienna note must remain unmodified. Diplomatically he was in a strong position; for the other four powers, though not their representatives in Constantinople, were also still backing it.
Within a fortnight Russia’s position was ruined by a confidential commentary, drawn up in her Foreign Office, on the note and its Turkish amendments. It so interpreted these as to give fair warrant for the belief that the ‘old Nick policy of aggression and aggrandisement’ was in full control. It leaked out into the press, being published in London on 22 September, and immediately produced deplorable results both in government circles and among the public at large in Great Britain and France. Simultaneously, in Constantinople war feeling was worked up by mass demonstrations. The weak and intimidated sultan and the Sheikh al-Islam swam with the tide and the belligerent Mehemet Ali, now Minister of War, and Omer Pasha the Croat renegade in command of a large army in Bulgaria, had everything their own way. By the end of September the issue was decided. On 4 October the sultan announced war if the Principalities were not evacuated within a fortnight. The Russians of course refused to go and on 23 October 1853 the Turks began hostilities on the Danube and a few days later near Batum. The Russians undertook, at any rate provisionally, to remain on the defensive north of the Danube, but said nothing about the Caucasus.
These decisive events on the Golden Horn and the Danube confounded the diplomats’ further attempts at negotiation. Nicholas failed, despite personal visits to Francis Joseph and Frederick William, to bind either by written promises to benevolent neutrality. He likewise failed in an overture for a personal agreement with Napoleon III who held fast to Britain. The French, indeed, took the lead in pressing for the two fleets to be sent up from Besika Bay to the Bosporus, and on 23 September joint instructions were sent for the passage of the Dardanelles. Following Turkish requests, the French and British fleets moved, in part, into the Dardanelles and, in part, up to Constantinople itself. But Stratford de Redcliffe deferred full compliance with the instructions of 23 September until he received the British cabinet’s peremptory orders of 8 October to bring the fleet up to the Bosporus. British public opinion, as even Aberdeen privately confessed, would not allow the abandonment of Turkey. By 15 November the British and French fleets were concentrated at Constantinople.
The British government had refused a French proposal to enter the Black Sea; for that would have made war inevitable, as Nesselrode wrote to Brunnov, his ambassador in London. On the contrary, Britain told Russia that she would not enter the Black Sea as long as the Russians did not cross the Danube and did not attack any Black Sea port; but she could not abandon the Turks to their fate by undertaking to remain neutral. Nicholas’s immediate reaction was that this meant war. Nevertheless, he issued orders that Turkish ships were not to be attacked in port but only at sea. The Turks, not the Russians, first crossed the Danube. They won two minor successes before, on 18/30 November, at Sinope, a Russian squadron wiped out a Turkish flotilla and two transports believed to be bound for the Caucasus front. Sinope demonstrated the devastating effect of the new Paixhans naval shells against wooden vessels (cf. ch. XI, p. 281). Still more devastating was the effect of Sinope in the west.
This perfectly legitimate operation was denounced as a ‘massacre’, an infamous and cruel act of treachery and an unpardonable insult to national honour. The entire British press called for war, and public sentiment, which during the autumn had grown more and more anti-Russian, now ran beyond control. The news of Sinope coincided with the resignation of Palmerston (14 December) on the ground of opposition to a reform bill proposed by Lord John Russell. It was said to be really due to his disagreement with Aberdeen, the queen and the Prince Consort on armed support to Turkey. There was a howl for the return to power, or at least to office, of the strong man who would vindicate Britain against the tsar, and on 25 December Palmerston returned as Home Secretary. There was a prolonged outcry against the Prince Consort, popularly suspected of working for Russia against Palmerston, and the wildest rumours gained credence.
In the France of the Second Empire there could be no such ebullitions, but the effect of Sinope was strong. A £2,000,000 loan to Turkey was immediately settled. Napoleon was insistent that the two fleets must enter the Black Sea and that the Russian fleet must take no action against Turkey. This demand was jointly made to St Petersburg (22 December) and was followed on 3 January by the two fleets entering the Black Sea. After some delay Nicholas answered (4/16 January) with an inquiry whether the French and British admirals had also orders to stop Turkish action against Russia; if the reply was negative, his ambassadors were to leave Paris and London at once. Although Napoleon was now cherishing hopes of a peaceful outcome through a personal letter to Nicholas and would have preferred not to give an immediate reply, he yielded to British pressure and identical answers were given on 1 February. These were not satisfactory to Nicholas, and on 6 February Brunnov and Kiselev left London and Paris respectively, and a fortnight later Seymour and Castelbajac left St Petersburg.
The two western powers did not declare war until 28 March, but it was certain once they decided to deny the Black Sea to Russian but not to Turkish naval operations. Already on 12 March they had signed an alliance with Turkey and on 19 March the first French troops left for the Dardanelles. Britain and France signed a similar alliance with each other only on 10 April. Meanwhile their armies had begun to land on the Gallipoli peninsula and at Scutari where a subsidiary camp was pitched. The allies expected Russia to repeat the rapid advance on Adrianople and Constantinople effected in 1829. The Russo-Turkish war had now become a quadripartite struggle and Russia stood alone. She could not count on Austria even for neutrality. Orlov, sent by the tsar on a special mission to Vienna (28 January to 9 February), failed both in last-minute peace proposals and in securing any definite pledge from Austria.
The military operations were slow to develop. The Russians, dividing their forces between Europe and Asia, left themselves too weak for a quick decisive stroke and settled to the siege of the Danubian town of Silistria. Omer Pasha in Bulgaria would not risk another engagement. The British and French commanders-in-chief, Lord Raglan and Saint-Amaud, were instructed to defend Constantinople and, while it was not immediately threatened, concentrated on the administrative task of transporting and encamping their armies, postponing strategic decisions. In May the allies moved up to the Bulgarian port of Varna, still undecided between a defensive concentration or an offensive to relieve Silistria and liberate the Principalities. Before the decision was made the Russians withdrew from the Principalities and the allies had no further military objective in the Balkan Peninsula. This was the work of Austria.
Buol’s immediate object was to safeguard the lower Danube basin against Russia. His policy was so far anti-Russian and his position was strong. Russia was vulnerable to Austria all the way from south Poland to Bessarabia. Throughout the war part of her forces were kept on this frontier to meet possible Austrian hostilities. By May Austria had so deployed her forces as to threaten Russia’s position in the Principalities. Her third army was mobilised behind the Turco-Hungarian border, her fourth stationed in Galicia and an emergency levy of 95,000 men authorised. Already on 20 April Buol had signed an alliance with Prussia which gave Austria the right to call on her for 200,000 men and bound her to join in pressure upon Russia to evacuate the Principalities. This pressure Prussia in vain tried to make impartial by a simultaneous summons to the allies to evacuate the Black Sea. Buol addressed his demand to Russia on 3 June and Prussia endorsed it (12 June). On 14 June he signed a convention with Turkey which allowed Austria to occupy the Principalities for the duration of the war, and, in the event of disorders there, Herzegovina and Albania. On 23 June Russia raised the siege of Silistria. Her reply (29 June) partially yielded to the Austrian summons because Nicholas underestimated Buol’s anti-Russian disposition and overestimated Frederick William’s capacity to restrain Austria. He hoped, however, to gain some equivalent and meanwhile retained Moldavia. But he presumed too far on Austria’s loyalty. Buol had already sounded Paris about an alliance. He now prepared to concert measures with the allied commanders against the Russians in Moldavia. He agreed, also, on conditions of peace which Austria would support the allies in exacting. These were the four points, accepted by Francis Joseph (8 August) in a mood of impatience at Russia’s hesitations. Prince Gorchakov, however, had already arrived in Vienna with Russia’s promise to complete the evacuation. Buol did not now finish the negotiation with the west even when Russia rejected the' four points (26 August). The Russian evacuation and the Austrian occupation, which began on 22 August, gave Austria all Buol then dared take. Her best insurance against a renewal of Russia’s threat to the lower Danube would be a western victory with which she was associated. But Buol dared not risk the association until the victory was sure enough to make Russian counter-measures against Austria improbable.
When the evacuation of the Principalities lifted the threat from Constantinople, the Crimea became the new theatre of war. English rather than French, the choice probably reflected a sea-power’s instinct to exploit the command of the Black Sea, recently demonstrated by the bombardment of Odessa. The object was to capture the forts which sheltered the Russian fleet, and to destroy, at Sebastopol, an accessible concentration of Russian war material. The commanders in the field accepted the plan after a reconnaissance (19 August) which failed to reveal the number of Russian troops in the Crimea or to convince them that they could supply the expedition after it had landed. But a move had become essential; for cholera had begun to ravage the armies, the French by the beginning and the British by the end of July.
In the new campaign both sides fumbled (see also ch. XII, pp. 322-3). The Russians did not attack while the allied armies were vulnerable during the five days of landing on the beaches of Eupatoria. Their effort to block the allies’ march south at the River Alma (20 September) was defeated, owing to the irresponsibility of Menshikov, now the Russian commander, as much as to the solidity of the British infantry. On the other hand, the allies gained little, since they allowed Menshikov to escape with his army intact. Yet he wasted this advantage, letting the allies make a wide detour to the east unmolested, and take up positions (26 September) south of Sebastopol. Again the allies missed an opportunity. For six days they outnumbered the garrison and Todleben’s defences were unfinished, but they did not summon Sebastopol to surrender nor, even after the first bombardment (17 October), attempt an assault. At Balaclava (25 October) Menshikov was defeated in an attempt to cut off the British port of supply both from Sebastopol and from the French positions near Kamiesh to the west. But the allied victory was costly and hollow. Lucan had failed to manage the British cavalry as a whole so that, whereas the charge of the heavy brigade was an effective piece of generalship, that of the light brigade was extravagant heroism. The Russians, moreover, were left in command of the only metal road which connected the port with the British camp on the plateau. Divided counsels had again prevented pursuit and decisive victory.
Yet the allies had done enough to embolden Buol. Austria reopened negotiations in Paris (3 October), instructed her commander in the Principalities to let the Turks pass through into Russian Bessarabia and put her whole army on a war footing for a campaign in the following spring. Prussia, in alarm, made unavailing efforts to induce Austria to promise only to negotiate together with herself and the Germanic Confederation. She then turned to Russia whom she pressed to accept the four points. Russia had professed herself ready to negotiate on them when events in the Crimea sharply checked Buol. Preparations for an assault on Sebastopol on 17 November had exposed the allies to Menshikov’s field army, now reinforced from the Russian Danube army. He took the British by surprise on Inkerman ridge on 5 November. This was an infantry battle, reduced to a series of desperate encounters between small numbers by the character of the ground and by the fog and rain. The Russians were defeated but Sebastopol was saved. Thus a military decision was postponed and the armies condemned to a winter of disease and privation on the Chersonese plateau. Buol dared pursue his anti-Russian policy no farther. On 20 November Francis Joseph cancelled the general mobilisation order. The point when Austria might have declared war on Russia was now passed.
This was not at once evident. On 26 November Austria induced Prussia to extend to the Principalities the guarantee of her territory given by the April alliance and on 2 December she signed the Franco-British alliance. Buol, however, took this last step expecting it to be ineffective. Austria bound herself to declare war if Russia failed to accept the four points by the end of the year, but four days earlier Gorchakov, Russian ambassador in Vienna, had been officially told to negotiate on them. Furthermore, its significance was almost as much anti-Italian as anti-Russian. Austria was rewarded by Napoleon’s guarantee, in the convention of 22 December, of the territorial status quo in the Italian peninsula until the eastern complications were settled. Buol, in seeking to protect what he believed to be Austrian interests, tried to get advantages from all sides. It was an over-ambitious policy which left on both neutrals and belligerents the impression of duplicity and timidity.
Although the tripartite alliance did not alter Austria’s policy towards Russia, diplomatically it marked the opening of a new phase; for it became the starting-point of fresh negotiations with Russia. A series of conferences began in Vienna on 15 March. Nobody believed that they would in fact produce peace. Indeed, during the winter both France and Britain were stirred to a more military temper. Napoleon’s desire to fight to an effective finish was reflected in his decision to go himself to the Crimea from which Clarendon with difficulty dissuaded him. In Britain, an outcry against the mismanagement of the war and Roebuck’s parliamentary motion for an inquiry brought down the coalition government. Palmerston became Prime Minister, reforms were undertaken, and, after the resignation of Gladstone and his fellow Peelites (22 February), the new cabinet braced itself for its military responsibilities. The Cobdenite peace party had decisively failed and the working-class regarded the war as in a sense its own. Prince Albert’s visit to Boulogne (September 1854), ministerial visits to Paris (November) and Napoleon’s visit to Windsor (April 1855) eased the working of the Anglo-French alliance. Meanwhile on 2 March Nicholas had died and the inexperienced Alexander II come to the throne. The removal from the picture of Nicholas’s legendary ambition and temperamental rigidity encouraged the allies to hope that a decisive victory in the field might really produce a sound peace. Palmerston deprecated negotiation ‘in the middle of a Battle’ with the fate of Sebastopol still undecided. The British plenipotentiary, Lord John Russell, was more hopeful but failed to gain the preliminary alliance with Prussia which he regarded as essential. Turkey was evasive. Buol regarded the negotiations chiefly as a means of concealing his hand from both sides. Russia was dilatory—one of Gorchakov’s many references home suspended discussion for three weeks (27 March to 17 April)—yet wished to avoid a breakdown. The hope of Drouyn de Lhuys, the French plenipotentiary, that a rupture of negotiations would oblige Austria to come in on the side of the allies was unrealisable; since Buol’s influence was waning and Francis Joseph’s tightening control produced a stricter and more candid neutrality. Thus the negotiators muddled on with ‘deceptive amiability’ until the conferences were intermitted on 26 April and finally broken off on 4 June.
Yet they carried the powers some way towards the peace terms ultimately laid down. Russia conceded point one of the four points, that the protectorate of the Principalities should belong to the powers jointly, and point two, that international measures should be taken to improve the navigation of the Danube and assure its freedom. Point four, however, that Russia’s special relationship to the Orthodox should cease and their privileges be guaranteed by the powers jointly, was postponed. Contention had fastened on the third point providing for the revision of the Straits Convention of 1841. Whereas it was agreed that this implied a European guarantee to Turkey and recognition that a conflict between the Porte and any one great power was the concern of them all, divergence persisted on the naval arrangements themselves. The opening, or the partial opening, of the Straits, and a system of counterpoise to keep the rule of closure, but to admit so many western ships into the Black Sea as would offset any increase in the Russian fleet, and to allow Turkey to call up help at need, were all discussed. The outcome indicated that an arrangement to keep the Straits closed and to neutralise the Black Sea— an idea of French origin—was the only one likely to be both acceptable to the allies and imposable upon Russia. The repudiation by the French and British governments of their representatives’ acceptance of the counterpoise proposal removed both Drouyn de Lhuys and Lord John Russell from office. Finally, the conferences saw a decline in Austria’s influence. In the struggle against Russia, Britain now set the pace and the British pull upon Napoleon III grew stronger at the expense of the Austrian. It became increasingly plain that Austrian neutrality denoted the weakness of isolation and not the strength of an arbiter.
Military operations during 1855 were also moving towards a decision. The year had begun badly despite the improvements in the British auxiliary services and the arrival of considerable reinforcements. A bombardment of Sebastopol (9-19 April) was again fruitless and the plan to cut Russia’s sea communications by taking the Kerch peninsula was abandoned. Improvement began only when Napoleon’s proposed visit had been staved off and the fastidious Canrobert replaced by the bolder Pelissier. The Kerch expedition now succeeded (21 May), while the Sardinians, under General La Marmora, arrived at Balaclava to take up positions to the east of the British. The June assault on Sebastopol failed, but was the last failure. Raglan’s death (28 June) meant a change in the British command too and General Simpson’s arrival coincided with a renewal of confidence. On 16 August the French and Sardinians defeated the Russian field army at the Tchemaya. Next day the bombardment of Sebastopol was resumed, the final assault followed and on 9 September the Russians abandoned the town. The Russians had been defeated but were not overwhelmed. An objective of some local value had been taken, but the allies might well hesitate to advance into Russia while no one knew what resources she had for her defence. A real victory meant another campaign: peace at this point a virtual repetition, in the Turkish question, of the terms discussed at the Vienna conferences. The course of events in 1855 had, however, introduced extra questions.
Cavour’s political and the allies’ military needs had brought in Sardinia and the Italian question (see ch. XXI, p. 569). At first the Italians had seen the war as a contest between the liberal west and absolutist Russia with her traditional allies. In December 1853 the activities of Baron de Brenier, a Napoleonic emissary, in Turin lent plausibility to this interpretation. But it did not outlast Austria’s desertion of her ally. The first English soundings about Italian assistance (April 1854) consequently failed. Cavour, however, under pressure from the king, finally carried a policy of supporting the West, despite opposition, despite the French guarantee to Austria of 22 December and although the real value of any arrangements with the allies could not be written into them. On 10 January 1855 Sardinia adhered to the Franco-British alliance and on 26 January signed military and financial conventions with Britain and France. Whatever Cavour’s immediate motives (see p. 569), the risk he took in placing Sardinia temporarily in the same camp as Austria afterwards appeared as the measure of his statesmanship. All he had obtained was that Sardinia was an ally and not a subordinate (allie et non serviteur), that her army of 15,000 men should act as an independent force, and representation at the peace congress. But events proved him right in judging that Austria’s association with the West would be as barren as Sardinia’s might be fruitful.
Both Napoleon and Palmerston, in different ways, were thinking beyond Turkey in Europe. Napoleon hoped the war might restore Finland to Sweden and give liberty to Poland. France made advances to Sweden and Drouyn de Lhuys discussed Poland with Clarendon in London on his way to the Vienna conferences (April 1855). Later Napoleon spoke openly of changes in Italy and on the left bank of the Rhine. The English court and the Peelites suspected Palmerston of similar plans. Napoleon was too wavering and Palmerston too sceptical to lay real plans to turn the coming congress into the liberal counterpart of the Congress of Vienna. Yet Palmerston was prepared to seek widely dispersed securities against Russia: in Clarendon’s phrase to build ‘a long line of circumvallation’ around her. He looked first to the Baltic, where Napier’s fleet had made an impressive, if fruitless, entry. Sweden had a dispute with Russia on the Norwegian-Finnish frontier and seemed a likely ally. But King Oscar disliked the Scandinavian liberals’ enthusiasm for the western allies and in December 1853, in conjunction with Denmark, issued a declaration of neutrality. Then, as western military prospects improved and Palmerston showed some eagerness, Sweden took courage, and the king of Denmark declared he would follow her in any measure against Russia. Eventually, after the fall of Sebastopol had released forces for the renewal of naval operations in the Baltic, Canrobert succeeded in concluding a treaty (21 November 1855) which pledged Britain and France to assist Sweden if she was faced with Russian pretensions or aggression. Palmerston saw herein the means of ‘preventing Russia from establishing a great naval station... on the Coast of Norway’ or elsewhere in the Baltic. This advantage he would drive home by the destruction, proposed as early as March 1855, of the fortifications on the Aaland Islands.
Palmerston looked secondly to the Caucasus. In April 1855 he pronounced for Circassian independence from both Russia and Turkey. Early in the war Russia had invaded Turkey from Circassia, seized Bayazid, which commanded the British trade route into Persia, and now threatened Kars. General Williams, as British commissioner with the Turkish army, and a few British officers organised its defence. But on 28 November 1855 Kars fell. The ‘vital Importance’2 which Palmerston attached to Kars and to Circassia now began to be shared by an angry British public. Outside the Black Sea, Greece, if she could be made a stable kingdom loyal to the West, might be a further bulwark against Russia. But her instability proved incurable. Moreover, in the spring of 1854 King Otto had prepared to invade Turkey with Russia, who, under the treaty of 1832, was a protecting power like Britain and France. Allied troops then occupied the Piraeus (26 May). Though Palmerston refrained, reluctantly, from using the troops to compel reform, he hoped to do something by agreement with Russia as well as France when peace came to be made.
In the autumn of 1855 Palmerston was planning a new campaign to capture Cronstadt and drive the Russians out of Georgia and Circassia, but Napoleon, despite nationalist language about Italy and Poland, was bent on peace. The fall of Sebastopol satisfied the French public and still let Napoleon hope that moderate terms might permit him to repair his relations with Russia without losing the British alliance. The Paris Exhibition, with its foretaste of peace, provided cover for informal soundings by German emissaries. They carried peaceable assurances to St Petersburg as well as to Frankfurt. In December, Seebach, Nesselrode’s son-in-law and Saxon Minister in Paris, sounded St Petersburg on Napoleon’s behalf, and Gorchakov in Vienna approached the due de Momy.
Buol had resumed his part of mediator and already agreed with Bourqueney, French ambassador in Vienna, on a memorandum of terms to be presented to Russia (14 November). Britain had no share in these negotiations and, when the memorandum was presented for her acceptance, rejected it with some asperity. She even talked of continuing the war alone with Turkey and Sardinia. A more acceptable memorandum was, however, drafted (24 November) with the assistance of Seymour, now ambassador in Vienna. But it was not until late December that Austria could present the terms to St Petersburg as an ultimatum expiring on 18 January. Alexander II was ready for peace lest worse befall. The Swedish treaty, Napoleon’s language about Poland and Britain’s interest in Circassia led him to fear lest another campaign might end in territorial losses. Financial strain, difficulties in the recruitment and training of soldiers and rumblings of peasant discontent were also discouraging. On the other hand, the success at Kars permitted Russia to accept peace without humiliation. Alexander, however, disliked the Austrian mediation and still more the fifth point of the memorandum, which allowed the allies to make such demands additional to the four points as the fortunes of war justified. This Alexander rejected. Russia’s hesitation was Prussia’s opportunity. Throughout the conflict, although she had an army of 400,000 men, Prussia had played the part of a second-class power. She was weakened by divergences of view in government circles in Berlin, Manteuffel’s lack of mastery and, above all, the confused but restless activity of Frederick William. Yet the king never allowed Prussia to be dragged at the heels of Austria nor seriously endangered her relations with Russia. Thus Alexander welcomed her intervention as minimising the appearance of yielding to Austria. Buol needed support and at once proposed to include Prussia in allied deliberations on further measures if Russia rejected the ultimatum. Prussia accordingly supported the terms with the tsar (30 December and 6 January) and gained from Austria a promise to back her claim to admission to the peace congress. There followed Russia’s acceptance of the Austrian ultimatum (16 January), the choice of Paris as the place of the congress (23 January), the recording of the terms agreed upon in principle in the protocol of 1 February, the assembly of the congress and the declaration of an armistice (25 February) for land operations to last until 31 March.
Many of the results of the war had already appeared. The casualties had been relatively heavy. The French sent to the Crimea over 309,000 men, recruited under the conscription law of 1832. Of these 11,000 were killed or died of wounds and 21,000 died of sickness. The British sent out over 96,000 men, raised by voluntary enlistment. Of these 2755 were killed in action, 11,848 died of wounds and 17,799 died of sickness. The returns of the Russian medical department from July 1853 to July 1856 give their losses as 500,000. This figure seems too high considering that Russia, although she had an army of one million men on paper, in September 1855 had only 150,000 men in the Crimea and about 60,000 in the army operating in Asia. The Turkish casualties are not known. It was widely known that much loss could have been prevented and that there had been, especially in the British army, much avoidable distress. Press correspondents attached to the armies and, after 1855, using the submarine cable from Balaclava to Varna to telegraph their news, gave full and quick publicity to mismanagement. In Britain one consequence of the war was the reorganisation of army administration. Its several sections were brought together under the Secretary for War and the commander-in-chief. The militia, army clothing, the commissariat, the ordnance, with the engineers and the artillery, were transferred to the War Office or the Horse Guards from other departments or from autonomous positions. The Secretary for War lost his colonial business (1854) and took on the duties of the Secretary at War, whose office was eventually abolished by statute (1863). Of the auxiliary services, the Land Transport Corps was raised in 1855, the Director-General of the Army Medical Department was given extra powers, and the functions of the Purveyor General, controlling army hospitals, were defined. The Army Medical School, new surgical techniques, including the use of chloroform, new hospital techniques, with the modem nursing profession as shaped by Florence Nightingale, were all legacies of the Crimean War. Improvements in barracks, the development of training camps, after Aldershot had been bought (1853), and the extension of the government arms factories were incidental features of the modernisation of the British army. These changes were consistent with the wider movement towards a civil service freed from patronage and geared to efficiency begun in 1849 and carried forward during Gladstone’s first spell as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Finance was less affected than administration; for the cost of the war was small in proportion to the growing wealth of the country. Business was active throughout, there was capital for investment, and the munition industries provided extra employment. Gladstone, who prepared the two budgets of 1854, met the costs mainly by taxation; Sir G. C. Lewis in 1855 rather by borrowing. Of the £70 millions which the war cost about £38 millions were met by taxation, and the rest by loan. War finance meant in effect retention and increase of the income tax, which survived the date when it was due to end, 1860, to become a permanent part of the British taxing system.
The French administration bore the additional demands of the war well and the Ministry of War showed adaptability in devising arrangements for calling up the reserve and in accepting inventions in preserving food for the provisioning of the troops. The government was chiefly concerned with the effect of the war on the loyalty of the investing classes and the industrial worker. The war was financed by loans, three being raised, in March 1854 and January and July 1855. Each was larger than the last and more readily taken up. As they were put up directly to public subscription their success seemed proof of confidence in the regime. Yet Napoleon was disinclined to try the financial strength of France too far and by the autumn of 1855 seems to have feared the bursting of the bubble. He was also nervous about the urban industrial worker; for the bad wine and corn harvests of 1853 and 1854 had sent food prices up and industrial depression, except in the ports of embarkation for the Crimea and favoured industries, caused unemployment. But on the whole the war revealed the unexpectedly good economic and social health of France.
Defeated Russia, by contrast, was affected to the point of revolutionary change, for the Crimean War brought to a head her immense internal problems. Within the framework of the tsarist regime a social and economic revolution took place. The ‘great reforms’ of the ’sixties, centring on the emancipation of the serfs of 1861 and the codification and modernisation of the law (see above, ch. XIV, pp. 369-80), all owed something to the consequences of defeat.
The unique alliance of Britain and France with Turkey brought more Europeans behind the Ottoman curtain and probably caused a more realistic Turkish approach to reform and westernisation. On the other hand, its cost had caused a fall in the value of the paper money, which had largely displaced coin, and so a steep rise in prices, distress and restiveness. No measures were taken to remedy the worsening financial mismanagement until 1859 when a council of finance was created. But it failed to check the arbitrary personal expenditure of the sultan and to produce a regular budget. Meanwhile immediate needs were met by foreign loans. Two loans were raised in 1854 and 1855 which were guaranteed by France and Britain. Turkey was to contract a dozen more before the next eastern crisis. From this time the European bond-holders became a new force with an interest in Turkish reform and their guaranteed rights opened the possibility of interference in Turkish internal affairs in case of default.
The congress opened in Paris on 25 February. Britain and Russia were the leading opponents. Clarendon and Cowley, the British representatives, felt isolated; for a rapprochement had already begun between France and Russia, and Walewski, the first French representative, was dubbed by Clarendon the third Russian plenipotentiary. Prince Orlov, supported by Brunnov, proved a good negotiator for Russia by his skill, courtesy and plain dealing. Britain fought for a system of securities which might prevent or postpone a renewal of Russian aggression upon Turkey. Her most substantial gain was the transference of southern Bessarabia from Russia to Turkey and its incorporation in Moldavia. The Treaty of Paris, 30 March 1856, thus pushed Russia back from the Danube mouths (articles XX and XXI). Palmerston attached great importance to this and vigorously combated the assertion that it was an Austrian rather than a British interest.1 The arrangement was, however, short-lived, lasting only until 1878. The treaty, in the second place, ended Russia’s claim to act in a special relationship to Turkey and her practice based on the claim. Europe, not Russia, was recognised as the protector of the Roumanian Principalities and the Orthodox Christians (articles XXII and IX). Europe guaranteed Turkish integrity and independence (article VII) and henceforward any power or powers in conflict with Turkey were to seek the mediation of a third party before resort to arms. A separate tripartite treaty, signed on 15 April, by Britain, France and Austria reinforced the guarantee. Thirdly, Russian naval preponderance over Turkey was ended; for the Black Sea was neutralised (article XI) and ceased to be a Russian lake. The Straits Convention of 1841 was replaced by a new convention which maintained the rule of closure, while the Porte was at peace. These naval arrangements were an especially sharp blow to Russian pride. Neutralisation and closure together were an effective restraint upon Russia, but there was nothing to prevent Turkey from keeping a squadron in the Straits or in the Sea of Marmora, and in time of war she could call up an ally through the Straits, who would find Russia unarmed and vulnerable. The neutralisation, however, lasted barely fifteen years. The Treaty of London in March 1871 sanctioned Russia’s denunciation of November 1870.
The Roumanian Principalities, reformed and contented, under Turkish suzerainty, were to provide a fourth barrier to Russian aggression. Arrangements for their reformed government were to be devised by a European commission which was to consult Moldavian and Wallachian wishes through their elected representatives (articles XXII to XXVII). These plans were confused by the raising of the question of Roumanian unity and independence. Napoleon suggested unity already in January 1856 and, although Palmerston deprecated it as difficult to execute and likely to provoke Austria as well as to weaken Turkey, Walewski proposed it on 6 March in the congress. The question being left open, in August 1858 the two Principalities acquired a modicum of administrative unity and in 1859 a common governor, but at the expense of Anglo-French amity and by no means to the discomfiture of Russia. Next, the treaty sought to strengthen Turkey herself by improving relations between the sultan and his Christian subjects. Palmerston had hoped to induce him to legislate both on this and on the Principalities under the advice of the ambassadors in conference at Constantinople before the congress met. But Stratford de Redcliffe, who was becoming increasingly independent and a growing liability through his quarrels with the French, was an uncooperative negotiator. The sultan, however, was induced to issue a hatti-humayun on 21 February. The treaty then took note of this action and of the sultan’s intention to communicate the document to his fellow signatories, who renounced interference, singly or collectively, in Turkish internal affairs. The hatti-humayun declared Christian and Muslim equal before the law, in access to public office, in freedom of religion and the right to maintain churches and schools, and admission to the army. The congress, therefore, admitted the sultan to ‘the public law’ of Europe and to the family of European powers. This provision, although it arose from the discussion of the relations between the sultan and his Christian subjects, in the treaty prefaced the guarantee of Turkish integrity and independence. Lastly, in the Baltic, Russia was obliged, by a separate Anglo-Russian treaty, to demolish the forts on the Aaland Islands.
These arrangements did not represent the full realisation of Palmerston’s policy. From 17 February, when Clarendon arrived in Paris, until 8 March Britain was struggling to gain a wider programme and was defeated by Russia. She wanted the neutralisation of the Sea of Azov and the dismantling of the shipbuilding yards at Nicolaieff. The protocols recorded Russia’s assurance that she would use these places only for the small ships still admitted to the Black Sea, but they were not neutralised. Further, Britain was defeated over Circassian independence, though she gained the restoration of Kars to Turkey and a slight modification of the Russo-Turkish Asiatic frontier. Clarendon rather played down Palmerston’s Circassian project. Practicability apart, it was difficult to press when Russia took her stand on the terms of the Treaty of Adrianople of 1829 and, with French encouragement, on those of the February protocol which had not included it. He fought harder for a larger cession of Bessarabia. But Clarendon was a bad pleader for Napoleon’s support against Russia. On 8 March he gave way as the alternative to something very like a rupture with France after fighting Orlov single-handed for nearly a fortnight. The frontier was to be drawn as Russia wanted it, but still, Palmerston consoled himself, kept her from the ‘flotilla-bearing’ lower Pruth.
Austria had little reason to consider that the treaty fully safeguarded her interests in the Danube basin. She was obliged to evacuate the Principalities on the conclusion of a Russo-Turkish peace and did so in March 1857. The Bessarabian cession was a substantial gain, but the way opened to Roumanian unity and independence much lessened her satisfaction with the arrangements for the Principalities. The treaty set up an international commission for the improvement of the navigation of the Danube. This, too, was a gain, but she would have preferred the exclusion of the upper river and a riverain to an international commission. On both points she yielded to Britain.
Prussia entered the Paris negotiations after their crisis was passed. Her title to be represented was the revision of the Straits Convention of 1841, and her participation was strictly limited to its discussion. She was defeated in a ‘vaudeville travesty’ of a negotiation to avoid record in the treaty of this restriction.
France gained prestige but few tangible advantages from the congress and treaty. Napoleon was more interested during the congress in improving his relations with Russia than in taking precautions to confine her ambition. But at the same time he wished to maintain the alliance with Britain. His commitments both in the general treaty and the tripartite treaty of 15 April (from which at the last moment he sought to free himself) were undertaken rather as the means of preserving the alliance with Britain than the Ottoman empire. Nor had he much reason to be satisfied with the treatment of the broader questions in which he was interested.
After the treaty had been signed, the congress turned to these questions. Napoleon and Clarendon had already addressed Orlov about Poland. In November 1855 Napoleon had threatened to make Polish liberty a sine qua non condition of peace. Now, he and Clarendon sought only a public assurance of a change in Russia’s Polish policy and finally gave up even this. On Greece, Palmerston unsuccessfully tried to persuade France and Russia to join Britain in pressure on King Otto to improve his government. Italian nationalism fared little better than Polish and Greek liberty. Earlier schemes to give Parma and Modena to Sardinia, and to dispatch one of their rulers to govern the Roumanian Principalities, evaporated in the realities of the congress atmosphere. In the end, the Italian question was raised in speeches deploring generally the unsettled condition of Europe, and Clarendon’s indictment of Austrian, papal and Neapolitan misgovemment was toned down for the protocol. Finally, Britain, in the 23rd protocol signed on 14 April, gained a record of opinion in favour of resort to the mediation of a third power before recourse to war. This came from Clarendon off his own bat and foreshadowed the trend of his 1869 disarmament proposals (see p. 585) as well as reflecting the Cobdenite pacifism of the ’fifties. Another British idea for a resolution in favour of free trade in foodstuffs and raw materials was still-born. On the last day, 16 April, the Declaration of Paris on maritime law was signed. Britain made a virtue of necessity and accepted the principle that the flag covers the goods, gaining in return the formal abolition of privateering.
In diplomatic history the Crimean War acted as a solvent, and much that had been accepted as diplomatically normal disappeared. The policy of Nicholas and Nesselrode had presupposed Russo-Austrian co-operation. But Russia could no longer count on Austria. Austria’s attitude during the war, the help she gave in exacting the Bessarabian cession and the tripartite treaty she signed with Britain and France and valued chiefly as a bond of union were clear signs of this. Both Austria and Russia, moreover, had suffered a diplomatic decline. The ghost of ‘the gendarme of Europe’ had been laid. Russia like Austria was, in future, to be ‘the colossus with feet of clay’. Russia like Austria turned to France. ‘All our efforts’, wrote Nesselrode, ‘must be directed to the retention of Napoleon’s goodwill’ as the only safeguard against the renewal of a hostile coalition. Yet though both Austria and Russia turned to France, the reversal of alliances of 1756 could not be repeated in 1856. Within three years Austria was at war with her new ally of 1854 and 1856, and Prussia, who had begun to mobilise during the war of 1859 on his behalf, seemed to Francis Joseph his only loyal friend. Alexander too had found France a difficult partner. From the beginning he had feared to be drawn in the wake of Napoleon’s ambition. Yet the treaty which he signed with Napoleon on 3 March 1859 promising neutrality in a possible Austro-French war came dangerously near to entangling him both in Napoleon’s support of nationalities and in his operations to upset the Vienna settlement. Alexander too was to remember Prussia and that she alone of the great powers had not been hostile during the war. In 1863 the Russo-French friendship foundered on the Polish rock and the Russo-Prussian association was revived. Thus the Crimean War had broken up the eastern pattern of European relations only so that it might reappear, but as a group pivoting upon Prussia or Germany rather than one turning upon the Russo-Austrian axis.
Similarly the war had reshaped the eastern question. It had postponed the collapse and partition of Turkey and set up a defensive wall round her empire, in which the tripartite alliance and, more especially, the Franco-British alliance should have been the reinforcing steel. The struggle would never again lie simply between the Russian tsar, greedy for territory, and the sultan his defenceless victim, still less between Orthodox and Muslim. Yet western sentiment would in future be stirred by the struggle of Roumanian, Serb or Bulgar for freedom from an alien rule and for administrative safeguards or constitutional rights against arbitrary oppression. In Russia imagination would respond to the bond between Slav and Slav; for the war had destroyed the treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji and rendered tsarist paternalism towards orthodox Christians out of date. Moreover, the essential antagonisms of interest remained and Russo-British hostility was unabated. It was nowhere expected that the arrangements of 1856 would be permanent. Alexander II set himself to reverse the Bessarabian and Black Sea concessions. Gorchakov, Foreign Minister from 1856, was confident of success and made a habit of speaking of the treaty as ‘a screen full of holes’. For Palmerston and Clarendon it was ‘defective’ in leaving Russia too formidable, but they thought ‘the future must take care of itself’. Nor had they any confidence in the tripartite treaty, which had originated after all with Austria, and still less in the alliance with France. In Palmerston’s phrase ‘a summer season’s’ partnership, its value was exhausted by 1860 while the tripartite alliance was to prove a dead letter. The conflict then between Britain and Russia had been broken off but not settled. In a new eastern crisis Britain might find herself alone and faced with a dilemma: the old anti-Russian course would entail opposition to nationalist and constitutionalist causes with which she sympathised, and a new liberal course would involve an anti-Turkish policy of allowing Russia a free hand which was against her interests. Never again could Turkey rely upon the support in arms of Britain or France or Austria against Russia. If the new starting-point, made in the declaration of the common concern of the great powers in the Turkish question, meant anything at all, it would mean concern to agree among themselves on such modifications of Turkish integrity and independence as might stop up the antagonism between Britain and Russia and the parallel antagonism, foreshadowed in the Crimean War, between Austria and Russia.