Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon & the Congress of Vienna

Written by Adam Zamoyski
Review by Geraldine Perriam

This is an astonishingly rich work, packed with detail and analysis. Not simply about the Congress of Vienna, it establishes the historical context and explores the events surrounding the congress, and the author offers detailed vignettes of the main players, from Talleyrand to the Tsar of Russia, whilst managing to establish a sense of intimacy in the narrative.

We read of Castlereagh and his family, including his young nephew and niece, all setting out in the fog on Boxing Day, 1813, to cross to Holland where Castlereagh was to meet with the Prince of Orange. We are even told about Lady Castlereagh’s bulldog (the wonderfully named Venom) and the horrendous crossing in a bitterly cold gale. It is refreshing to read a more nuanced exploration of the capabilities and character of Talleyrand (Napoleon’s merde en bas de soie) and the machinations of Metternich.

Zamoyski claims that the consequences of the Congress of Vienna “include all that has taken place in Europe since”. Certainly, one sees an incredible similarity between the negotiations and machinations of the politicians and diplomats then and comparable events now. Finally, there are lots of lovely maps, sumptuous endpapers and extensive footnotes. It is impossible in such a short space to do the work justice. Highly recommended.