If Alexander I, like Paul I, also began his reign in a peaceful sense (the league of the Nordic powers was broken, the plans to fight against England put aside) the direction of government followed by Paul I in recent times of his kingdom was completely abandoned. And when the policy of the new tsar became a policy of active intervention, it was in an anti-Napoleonic sense.
Even now, as in the past, the old aspirations of Russian policy on the Turkish empire, now extended into even Mediterranean aspirations (constant, for example, will henceforth be Russian interest in the kingdom of Naples); but even now, as already in the politics of Paul I, ideological elements are mixed with the purely political motif, of a religious-monarchical mysticism, part sincere, part affected to cover precisely the calculation of interest. Paul I had initially taken Louis XVIII under his own protection and posed as the head of the united monarchical front against France; and in the young Alexander they are already being warned (eg, in the violent protest for the killing of the Duke of Enghien) those reasons that will then lead to the idea of the Holy Alliance. For now, at least, it is certain, however, that the Tsar was acting above all on the basis of the political calculation, fixed in the mirage of the East, of Constantinople: for this reason, worried about Napoleon’s plans for Turkey, he began negotiations with the England and Austria for a new anti-French alliance. The result of this action was the coalition of 1805.
The war, which took place on German-Austrian territory, culminated in the battle of Austerlitz (2 December 1805): full defeat of the Austro-Russians. But of the two losers of Austerlitz only Austria was forced to peace: Alexander I, retired to Russia, after hesitating for a moment and proposed peace to Napoleon, joined in alliance with Prussia, refused to ratify the peace treaty that his envoy, d’Oubril, had signed with Napoleon (20 July 1806), and was taking up arms again. Because even if the new ally folded very quickly (Prussian power was annihilated in a single day, in Jena and Auerstädt), the Russians offered very different resistance to the advance of the Napoleonic army: in Eylau (February 8, 1807) the the fate of the bloody battle remained undecided. Only in Friedland (June 14) was the fate of arms clearly unfavorable: but at this point, the abrupt upheaval of Alexander I occurred to close the game, who, having taken the initiative to negotiate with the winner, obtained the armistice, he met with him in Tilsit (25-26 June). The negotiations were concluded quickly: already in July the peace between France and Russia was signed (this one abandoned Corfu and Cattaro, occupied in 1806); moreover, on the same day the two emperors joined in secret alliance, directed against England. Alexander I joined the continental block. It has been said that in Tilsit the two monarchs had fully agreed, in the sense that Napoleon reserved hegemony over central-western Europe (Germany and Italy in particular), abandoning the East to Alexander. In reality, underneath all the fine words and the great demonstrations of friendship, of which the two men were lavish in those days, there was a deliberate misunderstanding, and precisely with regard to Constantinople: Tilsit was above all a truce, to which Alexander was especially induced by situation of the moment. Napoleon actually had no intention of abandoning the Turkish empire to the ambitious aims of the tsar.
The period following Tilsit, while seeing Russia, now an open enemy of England, engage in a war against Sweden – an ally of England – which resulted in the purchase of Finland (1808-1809), in fact at the same time reveal the first, immediate cracks in the Tilsit agreement in reference to the question of the East. It is true that with the new Erfurt convention (October 1808) Russia managed to secure Wallachia and Moldavia, already occupied in 1806; but in that same convention, on the other hand, he was unable to have his aims on Constantinople recognized; and, in the test of fire, the pacts of Tilsit and Erfurt proved their scarce effectiveness: in Napoleon’s war against Austria, of 1809, Russia, although it was legally forced to intervene on the side of the French, stalled, merely monitoring Galicia; at the time of the peace of Schönbrunn it opposed the enlargement – wanted by Napoleon – of the duchy of Warsaw with almost all of Galicia, managing instead to obtain a part of it itself.
And it was precisely the question of Poland – that is, of the grand duchy of Warsaw – which had been greatly enlarged with the peace of Schönbrunn, and became one of the profound reasons for that conflict which was to inevitably lead to open struggle between the two allies of Tilsit. Certainly a contrast exacerbated by various other factors, and evident in that gradual detachment of Russia from the system of the continental block, which would have ended with the peace of July 1812 between England and Russia; also exacerbated from a personal point of view by the prevarications – veiled refusals – of Alexander I when Napoleon I, having decided on a divorce with Giuseppina Beauharnais, asked for the hand of the Tsar’s sister, Anna: but essentially centered on the Polish question. Alexander I tries to counter the French influence in the grand duchy of Warsaw,
This leads to the war of 1812. To secure his back to the south, Alexander I, who in 1809 had resumed war against the Turks, concluded peace with the Sublime Porte with the Treaty of Bucharest (28 May 1812), giving up Moldavia. and to Wallachia and contenting oneself with Bessarabia; in April 1812 he had already made an agreement with Sweden; in July he makes an agreement with England. The war, which took place on Russian soil between June and December 1812, and which was initially marked by the advance of Napoleon as far as Moscow, but which later resulted in the disastrous retreat of the French (v. napoleon: Napoleon’s campaigns), marks the beginning of the collapse of the Napoleonic rule. And Alexander I left his state to continue the anti-Napoleonic campaign, in 1813, and 1814, in Germany and France, now an ally of Prussia and Austria again.
For a moment he appears to be the arbiter of Europe: especially in Paris, in April 1814, but also in Vienna, during the congress. And the legislator of a new order of peace he was able to appear when, in Vienna, he drafted and had the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia sign the manifesto of the “Holy Alliance”, this singular document in which the three monarchs affirmed their will to place the principles of the Christian religion at the basis of his own political action (see covenant, saint).
In fact, the real winner was Metternich and not the Tsar of Russia. Indeed, Alexander I had obtained most of the grand duchy of Warsaw, but he had had to abandon – against his totalitarian purchase plans – Posnania to Prussia, Galicia to Austria; and he had already had to give up Moldova. And when then from the pure territorial acquisitions one passes to the political evaluation of the general European situation, as determined by the peace of Vienna, it was evident that the initiative for action had passed into the hands of Austria, with Metternich, and of England., with the Castlereagh.
The sacred covenant of the Covenant itself, with that mixture of humanitarian mysticism derived from the Enlightenment and confused biblical recollections, was to end up becoming above all Metternich’s instrument of action. Not that Alexander, in proposing the manifesto, had not also moved for practical calculation, that is to co-honest with some of his aspirations with solemn affirmations: but in the final reckoning, those who more and better knew how to make use of the new order of things and of the Holy Alliance itself it was Metternich.
Indeed, in the classical period of the Holy Alliance and the concert of the great European powers, that is, in the period of the congresses, from Aachen to Verona, the Tsar was practically in the background; the direction of European life, which he longed for, was in other hands. Indeed, at the very end of his life, his politics had to suffer a serious setback.
The outbreak of the revolution in Greece offered Russia a sudden opportunity to resume its Balkan game and its fight against the Turks: and Alexander tried, since 1821, to be recognized by his allies, that right of intervention which ‘he recognized Austria in Italy, France in Spain; but here he collided, first in 1821, with the decided hostility of Austria, England and Prussia, then, in 1825, Austria and France: and the final result was the complete failure of his policy precisely in the question that had been most important to him, that is, the question of the East.