The collapse of the French Empire and Napoleon's swift disappearance into exile left a void which 'the big four' – Russia, Prussia, Britain and Austria – were desperate to fill. Taking advantage of the riches left behind were important personalities that included Tsar Alexander, King Frederick William III of Prussia, Count Matternich, the Machiavellian Prince de Talleyrand [likened by Napoleon to 'shit in a silk stocking'] and the British Lord Castlereagh. Following in close succession were the sabre–rattling generals, heartened by their recent victories and obsessed with gaining as many fortresses and strong river boundaries for their countries as possible.
The final act was to dash many of the liberal hopes and dreams for a more equitable order throughout Europe, with fatal consequences for the future. The Congress itself gave birth to a new kind of power–politics, based around the five Continental Powers and at the expense of the weaker nations.
The Congress was the greatest party the world has ever seen – a huge gathering of two emperors, eleven sovereign princes, ninety plenipotentiaries plus court–loads of servants, cooks, secretaries, etc.
Zamoyski has written a detailed study of these intrigues and negotiations producing a marvelously heady brew that results in a fascinating and gripping read.