Countless times as you read books and learned pamphlets on history, you will meet the French words Ancien Régime. It is an easy bet that many of us only half know what these two simple words signify. The translation is easy: in English – traditional method of government by royalty; in Spanish – el antiguo regimen.
Called by some ‘colonialism’ – a mistake – imperialism is a term frequently abused by being used pejoratively by politicians and journalists. For historians, the word can be applied to numerous epochs, in each of which there may be detected a shade of difference, always significant.
Persia, Macedonia, Ottoman Turkey, Spain, France, Soviet Russia and Britain have extended their respective domain over other societies at different times, giving way to imperial rule. Germany has attempted to rule over others, using force. Britain used commercial enterprise backed by a powerful navy. Spain used a powerful navy backed by the immense courage of the conquistadores. Persia used vast resources and her armies, while Alexander’s Macedonia used the outstanding personality and popularity of its leader to create an empire.
This international assembly could be said to have established the system of diplomacy that lasted throughout the 19th century, and a long way beyond. It set out to settle the affairs of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon, whom when it began was supposedly safely locked up on the island of Elba. Despite the Emperor’s escape and subsequent attempt at European domination – again – the Congress continued during the Hundred Days (March – to June, 1815) that led to Waterloo. After Bonaparte had been taken to St. Helena (where he died) the whole of Europe could, for the first time in thirty-five years, breathe freely again.