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Fighting Terror After Napoleon: How Europe Became Secure after 1815

Fighting Terror After Napoleon: How Europe Became Secure after 1815

Fighting Terror After Napoleon: How Europe Became Secure after 1815

Beatrice De Graaf

Cambridge University Press (2020)


ISBN: 9781108895873

In this book Beatrice de Graaf focuses on the closing days of the Napoleonic wars and how the states of Europe, in particular the great powers including Great Britain, the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian Empires, pursued and formed an idea of European security for the oncoming 19th century. De Graaf brings together diplomatic, military, and social history with new archival research and international relations theories, to challenge some of the preconceived notions held about the Congress of Vienna by some contemporary scholars, when discussing this pivotal moment in international relations. Whilst many researchers in international relations do discuss the Congress of Vienna and how this helped to bring peace to the continent, they often skim over the effects of Napoleon’s return to France in 1815 and the subsequent Allied occupation of the country from 1815-1818 under the leadership of the Duke of Wellington.

This is where Fighting Terror After Napoleon comes into its own as it sheds a light on this period, the twilight days of the Napoleonic Wars. De Graaf commences with the build-up to the first fall of Paris in 1814 and shows how this more lenient occupation, as directed by Tsar Alexander I, gave way to a commitment to occupying France and ensuring that the country did not fall to either Bonapartism or Jacobin revolutionaries following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Using archival research de Graaf brings to life the ruminations of Europe’s leading statesmen as they tried to fashion a new European order which recognised the rights of property and the primacy of the Great Powers following the chaos of the last quarter century of war.

Some aspects of this book that are particularly notable include de Graaf’s analysis of Alexander I’s Holy Alliance and the construction of the almost forgotten Boulevard de l’Europe or the Wellington Barrier of fortresses. Regarding the Holy Alliance, de Graaf explores in some depth, the work of Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) and his theories of animal magnetism and mesmerism. This theory posited that a universal fluid connected all things and that when this was blocked, this caused maladies and problems in the body, although certain individuals could act as magnetisers and remove these obstacles. De Graaf shows how a mixture of these mesmeric ideas and Christian messianism helped to drive the ideals of the Holy Alliance, which places Alexander’s actions into a contemporary context. Showing that the Holy Alliance was not just a reactionary mystic union to defeat revolution, Instead, Alexander’s Holy Alliance was intended to be a conduit for his personal ‘magnetism’ and those of the other courts of Europe to work together in an accord and thereby remove the obstacles facing the political body of Europe. De Graaf highlights this rather more rational side to the Holy Alliance revealing a less knee-jerk reaction and passion for the past and more of an attempt by statesmen to formulate an idea of security from the zeitgeist of the late 1810s.

In addition, Chapter 8 of Fighting Terror After Napoleon deserves special mention as it includes some never previously examined records from Belgium on the construction of the Wellington Barrier. This series of fortifications were designed to facilitate the withdrawal of the Allied Occupation Army, as they would act as the first line of defence in the event of a revanchist attack on United Kingdom of the Netherlands or the German Princes by France, whilst avoiding the need to station thousands of allied soldiers on French soil. This was also intended to remove the humiliation of the Allied Occupation on France whilst providing security for the future. Through the author’s analysis, de Graaf brings this forgotten story back to life, demonstrating how this project was used to create the idea of security and to secure the place of the Netherlands in the new post-Napoleonic order. De Graaf’s ability to place contemporary thoughts on security in their early-19th century context makes this work a valuable addition to the growing post-Napoleonic literature. Clearly demonstrating the reconstruction process taking place in Europe following the upheavals of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and how the decisions taken by the diplomats of the Great Powers laid the foundations for international relations in the 19th century.

Owen Davis

January 2023