Winning the War and Losing the Peace: Spain and the Congress of Vienna
The International History Review July 2021
When Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne in 1814, Spain attempted to return to the pre-war status quo. Domestically this suited an exhausted people, but internationally it proved disastrous. Elsewhere, ‘Restoration’ was understood more flexibly: that war with Napoleon had transformed the continent, and that things could simply not have gone back to the way they were. Previous interpretations for Spanish failure at Vienna emphasise weakness, either individual or collective, and these remain true. But weakness was not necessarily a barrier to diplomatic success. Instead, this article argues that Spain’s failure lies in its conceptualisation of itself as a pre-war state. This meant that, rather than co-operate and compromise, it clung jealously to narrow dynastic or retributive aims. The dissolution of the Cádiz Cortes excluded the political elite from government and further hampered efforts as the representatives from the other powers increasingly formed a European network with friends and contacts among this excluded Spanish elite. Its inability to collaborate saw Spain side-lined in the Seventh Coalition, and its subsequent short-lived incursion into France was widely condemned. It was a failure which not only affected Spain at Vienna, but one which also had longer-term implications for its place in Europe.