The Congress of Vienna met not to make peace but to extend an existing one. Delegates, lobbyists and spectators from across Europe assembled in Vienna from September 1814 through June 1815 to redraw Europe’s borders and political rules at a moment when a majority of Europeans faced changes of ruler and regime.
While most great power conflicts in the negotiations were resolved before the Hundred Days, Napoleon’s return did spur delegates to hasten the final agreements, in order to present an official version before war recommenced. To bolster the settlement’s moral and political weight, the statesmen of the major powers decided to combine the numerous separate treaties among the various states into one massive document, the Vienna Final Act.
The signature page of the Austrian copy pictured here showcases one of the fruits of the Congress: the powers appear in alphabetical order according to the new diplomatic rules established there as a way of reducing disputes over precedence. The signatures, personal wax seals and coloured national binding threads contributed to the treaty’s lasting symbolic value.
The original was hastily signed on 9 June 1815 before the leading statesmen departed to join the Allied headquarters ahead of the climactic encounter at Waterloo, even before the final articles were included. The signatures and seals for the official states’ copies like this one had to be tracked down across Europe over the following weeks.