The Crimean War and its Impacts on Britain and Europe

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2005 17 Pages

History Europe - Other Countries - Modern Times, Absolutism, Industrialization





2. THE WAR IN THE CRIMEA (1854 - 1856)





Historians consider the Crimean War from 1854 to 1856 as the turning point in the politics of the great European powers in the 19th century. The his- torian David Wetzel calls it “the most important of all the wars fought in Europe in the century”.1 Paul W. Schroeder comments: “The events of the Crimean War served to destroy … the existing international system in Euro- pe.”2

This research paper examines why and how this war happened and what the consequences were for Europe and especially for the foreign policy of Britain.3 It is driven by the thesis that the Crimean War was changing the policies of the European powers significantly to a new aggressive behaviour.

Therefore it is divided into three chapters. The first chapter deals with the question why the Crimean War broke out and how Britain became in- volved. Chapter II discusses the main events in the war. It does not look only on Britain’s policies, but also focuses on Austria-Hungary which played a key role in the war. The third and last chapter shows how the war affected the policies of the European powers. Especially the impacts on the British Empire are pointed out.

This research paper is based on a comprehensive bibliography containing primary and secondary sources and a scientific article on the topic. The majors works used for this paper are David Wetzel’s The Crimean War and Paul W. Schroeder’s Austria, Great Britain and the Crimean War.

1. Road to Perdition: From the Dispute over the Holy Places to the Ultimatum by Britain and France to Russia (1852 - 1854)

The independence of the Ottoman Empire was a vital element of British policy in the 19th century. The British Empire had important commercial interests in this region. It had a unique standing in the Middle East, because after the Convention of Balta Limam in 1838 Britain gained the right to freetrade into the Ottoman Empire. This special relationship grew quickly into political importance. As the historian David Wetzel judges: “Turkey was a good customer, therefore a good friend.”4

Hence the British Empire looked with serious concern to the so-called “Eastern Crisis” of 1853. The crisis had its roots in 1952 when the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians had a dispute over the Holy Places5 in Palestine.6 The Catholic Church was backed by France under emperor Napoleon III, while the arch-conservative Tsar Nicholas I and his Russian Empire wanted the Ottomans - who owned Palestine by that time - to hand over the keys to of the Holy Places to the Orthodox Christians.7

The Ottomans did not really care about the trouble between the Chris- tians and they tried to do their best to avoid serious trouble by their usual dodging and procrastination. But strong pressure from France forced them to make a decision about the dispute.8 After the French broke the Straits Convention of 18419 by claiming the permission to sail through the Dardanelles and after threatening the city Tripoli with their fleet the Ottomans decided to hand over the keys to the Catholics.10 Nicholas I. was outraged: He saw the Treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji of 1774 violated. The treaty guaranteed the religious freedom of the Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire and allowed the Russians to care for them. As David Wetzel states: “The Tsar made the treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji the basis for his demands on Turkey”.11

The struggle over the Holy Places also stirred up again Nicholas doubts about the capacity of Turkey to survive and keep peace in its own country. The “Eastern Question”12 was another time on the government agenda of Russia. Nicholas was thinking about dividing the country between the European powers and therefore searching help. He contacted the British Empire but received a negative answer. Lord John Russell, Foreign Minister of Britain, replied to the Tsar in February 1953:

“ In considering this grave question, the first reflection … is that no actual crisis has occurred which renders a solution of this vast European problem. … So that there is no sufficient cause for intimating to the Sultan that he cannot keep peace at home, or preserve friendly rela tions with his neighbours. ” 13

It is obvious, that Britain could not have an interest in destroying the Ottoman Empire. First, it had vital economic interests in the area (see above). Second it had to fear that Russia could occupy too much land in the vast Em- pire and hence come too close to India, the British colony. After solving the “Eastern Question” Russia could become a threat to India.14 Furthermore Brit- ain did not want Russia to control the Straits, because that would have given the Tsar the power to enter the Mediterranean Sea at any time. Right to this moment he was bound by the Straits Convention. Sidney Herbert, youngest member of the cabinet in Britain, pointed out the British foreign policy to- wards the Straits:

“ We all agreed as to the objects in view. We must have a power at the Bosporus to hold the keys of the Mediterranean from the East. This power cannot be Russia. We cannot allow Russia to encroach upon or to undermine the power which is vital to us there. ” 15

Without help from Britain the Tsar tried to solve the conflict with di- plomacy first. He sent Prince Menshikov to Constantinople to stiffen the claims of the Russians over the Holy Places. But Menshikov’s diplomacy failed.16 To underline his demands to the Ottoman Empire, the Tsar sent his army in July 1953 to occupy the Danubian Principalities, Wallachia and Mol- davia.17 But also the diplomatic efforts after these happenings could not stop the road to war. Austria invited the powers to Vienna and tried to find a peace- ful solution: The outcome was the so called Vienna-Note18 in August 1954 which almost secured peace. But after the intervention of the British Ambas- sador Stratford de Redcliff in Istanbul the Ottoman government changed some parts in the note. For example it excluded the passage mentioning Kutchuk Kainardji.19

Hence the government in Russia rejected the Vienna Note. That led to a patriotic enthusiasm in Istanbul and the Sultan and his government were determined to throw down the gauntlet: On October 4th 1953 they declared war on Russia. After the so-called “massacre of Sinope” where the Russians wiped out a flotilla of the Ottomans and killed over 3.000 people and another failed diplomatic mission, Britain and France had to react.20 On February 27th an Anglo-French ultimatum, demanding the evacuation of the principalities, was sent off to St. Petersburg. When the Tsar refused, war was declared on March 27th from France and on March 28th from Britain.21 On April 10th 1854 the two countries bound themselves to each other to protect Turkey against Russia. According to David Wetzel this was a political event of the first im- portance, the first time in 200 years that Great Britain and France had fought on the same side.22

2. The War in the Crimea (1854 - 1856)

Fighting did not start at once. The first battles occurred in September 1954.23 Before looking at the military actions in the war, the research paper will analyse the diplomacy of the year 1954 and the role of Austria under Count Buol playing in it.

Although not taking part in the battles of the war, Austria played an important role concerning diplomacy and success for the allied powers.24 The monarchy felt the Russian threat through the occupation of the Danubian Principalities. But Buol refused to go into a war with his former friend in the Holly Alliance, Russia.25


1 David Wetzel. The Crimean War: A Diplomatic History. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. v.

2 Paul W. Schroeder. Austria, Great Britain and the Crimean War: The Destruction of the European Concert. (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972), p. xi.

3 This research paper is written in the course „British History of the 19th and 20th Centuries” at Vesalius College Brussels. Therefore it will have a focus in all chapters on British opinion, policy and impacts of the British Empire.

4 Wetzel 1985, p. 15.

5 The “Holy Places” are defined as the churches in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem. See ibid., p. 41.

6 Walter L. Arnstein. Britain Yesterday and Today: 1830 to the Present. Eight Edition. (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), p. 106.

7 David M. Goldfrank. The Origins of the Crimean War. ( London: Longman, 1994), pp. 77 - 81.

8 Schroeder 1972, p. 23.

9 The Straits Convention of 1841 was an agreement between the great powers and the Otto- man Empire in Europe. It stated that the Straits had to be closed to all warships when the Ottoman Empire was at peace. France got the permission to cross it and hence the convention was violated.

10 Wetzel 1985, p. 43.

11 Ibid., p. 50.

12 The „Eastern Question“ describes the question how to proceed with the weak Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Russia made often attempts to occupy whole Turkey, but it was never successful.

13 Kenneth Bourne. The Foreign Policy of Victorian England 1830 - 1902. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1970), p. 313.

14 Arnstein 2003, p. 107.

15 Wetzel 1985, p. 92.

16 Schroeder 1974, pp. 1 - 23.

17 R. L. V. ffrench. Blake. The Crimean War. (London: Sphere books, 1973), p. 8.

18 The Vienna Note intended to promise the Russians the protectorate over the Christians in the Ottoman Empire.

19 Schroeder 1974, pp. 41 - 60.

20 Winfried Baumgart. The Crimean War 1853 - 1856. (London: Arnold, 1999), pp. 96 - 98.

21 Goldfrank 1994, p. 264.

22 Wetzel 1985, p. 78.

23 W. Baring Pemberton. Battles of the Crimean War. (London: Batsford, 1962), p. 29.

24 It also played an important role before the war broke out, as you can see in the paragraph above (i.e. the Vienna Note).

25 Baumgart 1999, pp. 34 - 43.


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Title: The Crimean War and its Impacts on Britain and Europe