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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 4.2 (2003) 313-342

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"Star of the East":
The Holy Alliance and European Mysticism*

Andrei Zorin

The document creating the Holy Alliance, described by the French publicist Abbé Dominique de Pradt as "the apocalypse of diplomacy," 1 is one of the most enigmatic treaties in the history of international relations. No wonder that time and again researchers have scrutinized both the preparations for and the conclusion of the treaty. 2

We can assume that the basic factual picture of the events has been clear for a long time. The memoirs of participants and witnesses 3 paint a sufficiently complete and consistent picture. The finishing touch was added in 1928, when [End Page 313] Werner Näf published and analyzed the text of the initial draft of the treaty, composed by Alexander I with remarks by the Austrian Emperor Franz. 4

The Russian emperor personally wrote the first draft of the treaty, which was edited by State Secretary Ioannes Antoniou Kapodistrias and his assistant, Aleksandr Skarlatovich Sturdza; 5 reviewed in Baroness Juliette von Krüdener's mystical circle, which Alexander frequented in the summer and fall of 1815; and then transmitted to his allies, the Austrian emperor and the Prussian king. Both sovereigns found the treaty's apocalyptic-messianic rhetoric quite disconcerting, and they were totally unreceptive to Alexander's vision of a foreordained union of their peoples and armies in a single Christian power. Prince Klemens von Metternich, the real director of Austrian foreign policy, was even more skeptical toward the project. In light of Russia's preeminent military and diplomatic authority after the victory over Napoleon, however, the monarchs of Austria and Prussia decided not to deny their august ally the fulfillment of his cherished aspirations. After Alexander agreed to remove the more radical formulas from the text, the treaty was signed on 14/26 September, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and the day before the anniversary of the coronation of the Russian emperor. Both of Alexander's allies presumed that they had signed some kind of confidential declaration of intentions. Nevertheless, three months later the Treaty of the Holy Alliance was promulgated by Alexander in St. Petersburg, together with the corresponding manifesto.

Even if the course and sequence of the key events in the history of the treaty are sufficiently well known and do not require special discussion, issues concerning the meaning and purpose of this peculiar diplomatic relic and its political, philosophical, and ideological sources are much less clear. What goals was the Russian emperor pursuing? He literally forced his allies to sign an act quite contrary to all their preconceptions about the structure of relations between states and then, breaking all existing agreements, publicized it. This question disturbed diplomats of the 1810s and continues to concern historians down until the present day. [End Page 314]

Almost all authors reconstructing the history of these dramatic months touch in some form or another on the relationship between Alexander and Baroness Krüdener. They met on 4/16 June 1815 in the German city of Heilbronn. Afterwards the baroness followed the sovereign by imperial invitation to Paris, where the almost daily meetings between the emperor and the prophetess continued right up to the signing of the treaty and Alexander's departure for the homeland. As a rule, this dramatic and well-documented episode is used either to support or to refute the theory that the baroness had a profound influence on the plan for the Holy Alliance. Many at the time believed this theory, which undoubtedly had its origins in Krüdener's own assertions.

The Leipzig pastor Wilhelm Traugott Krug, who visited Krüdener in 1818, wrote that he asked her "about the Holy Alliance, for which you, Frau von Krüdener, have been identified as the real inspiration. She only half agreed with this and said 'the Holy Alliance was the direct work of the Lord. He chose me as His instrument. Thanks to...


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