Gunboat Liberalism? Palmerston, Europe and 1848

Standing up for truth and justice - or mid-Victorian realpolitik? Klari Kingston looks at the twists and turns of British foreign policy leading up to the Crimean War.

The European Revolutions of 1848-49 tested the viability of the Balance of Power system, which endured as the only means of maintaining the status quo in Europe. In 1815, after the Napoleonic wars, the Great Powers assembled to formulate the Treaty of Vienna designed to guarantee that no power or revolutionary movement would dominate the Continent. The key signatories included Austria, Britain, Russia and a French representative.

Although it was Austrian Foreign Minister Metternich who became most identified with the post-war order, his fall, following the outbreak of the revolution in Vienna in 1848, left Britain and Russia, the only powers unaffected by revolutionary turmoil, to assume the role of peace- keepers in Europe. The traditional British Foreign Office mode of policy during the ensuing European turmoils endeavoured to maintain peace as long as possible, by virtue of applying the principle of non-intervention.

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