228. While Europe is on fire
“The firefighters are doing their job and we just keep dancing.”Intermission.
There is a need to explain why the following is not ASB, taking into an account the OTL reputation of Nicholas I as a paragon of a conservatism. What struck me when I started doing more reading about him was a seemingly complete absence of any significant political ideas of his own . He was acting strictly within the pre-existing framework as was the case with his coronation in Warsaw, he was strongly against it . Taking into an account a terrible education that he got , it is not a big surprise that his view of the world boiled down to few basics:
“- Do you know, - said he after a brief silence, - what just came to my mind? … That there are no revolutions, and never were!”
«Если можешь, угадай,
Что нам скажет попугай.
То и скажет, полагаю,
Что вдолбили попугаю.»
Б. Заходер 
“Don’t spell out everything that comes to your mind”
an old play
OTOH, it is only fair to notice that, unlike his predecessor on the throne, NI was personally honest person with a strong sense of duty and quite sincere attempt to fix things that were going wrong. Pretty much like his father (and grandfather) who had a lot of the right ideas but no clue how to implement them. Another feature, which was not necessarily an advantage or even just a good thing for a head of the state, was his straightforwardness. He had all flexibility and subtlety of telegraph pole and tended to behave accordingly.
- Religion as a base of all virtues. Not something unique at that time but when placed into otherwise empty head without any extra knowledge, the results are well-known: education is considered a source of the dangerous “free thinking” and should be controlled and severely restricted.
- Extreme conservatism - Holy Alliance created by Alexander as a cornerstone of the foreign and domestic policy. Any deviation must be crushed or at least protested against. Actually, this course was one of the serious reasons for conflict with NIII (and resulting CW).
- Mantra of Russia being #1 military power in Europe. The parade ground drill as a top priority also was inherited from AI and eventually becoming a convenient ideological base for neglecting everything else (actually, by the 1850s Russian economy was lacking both technological base and money for the rearmament but why worry if everything can be solved by a bayonet charge).
- Continuation of the inherited insanities on the Caucasus and Danube/Balkans without ever bothering to ask question “why?”
So it is not unrealistic to assume that with a different set of the source data filling this specific mental void, a much less obnoxious and tragic (for Russia) figure would emerge with much more relaxed attitudes and more pragmatism than ideology. And ITTL the framework is different:
1848 and later
- There is no Holy Alliance and Russian foreign policy is much more opportunistic.
- No memory of the Napoleonic Wars and resulting mania grandiosa.
- Russia is noticeably more “liberal” than in OTL. Religion is still a “cornerstone” but not up to the same degree.
- Technology already started playing a noticeable role in the military affairs (the latest Ottoman-Egyptian crisis).
A big part of Europe being “on fire” with the financial/industrial crisis and revolutions, Britain and Russia were relatively OK.
Britain, after the first huge wave of the bankruptcies, started getting its industries back on track dumping its manufactured products into the European and American markets. There were already some
troubling symptoms which prompted Palmerston as early as in 1841 to write:
“ The rivalship of European manufacturers is fast excluding our productions from the market of Europe, and we must unremittingly endeavour to find in other parts of the world new vents for the products of our industry. The world is large enough and the wants of the human race ample enough to afford a demand for all we can manufacture: but it is the business of government to open and secure the roads for the merchant.”
With the growing number of the European countries trying to prevent their own manufacturing from a complete collapse by abandoning the free trade paradigm, this started sounding as a prophesy and the British government started looking more closely into the opportunities existing in Asia and Africa.
“Opening” of China did not provide the anticipated results. China was importing the British manufactured goods but not in the expected volumes and was opting for the “technological” things and know-how rather than for the textiles and household items.
Ottoman/Egypt schema also did not work out to the full intended e tent, at least so far: under the bad influence from the Northern neighbor Sultan Abdul refused to sign a free (for Britain) trade treaty and there were strong indications that, under the French influence, Muhammed Ali of Egypt is not going to adopt the proposed tariffs and abolish the monopoly system even if there will be orders from Istanbul. As of now, Egypt was a major exporter of the high quality cotton and its ruler was not going to make any moves undercutting his sources of income. The French did subsidize some of Egypt’s manufacturing and so did the Brits but in both cases it was a drop in a bucket with no visible chance to saddle Egypt with a big foreign debt allowing to control its government: the country kept maintaining a healthy positive balance of its trade and so far its only weak point, a dropping production of wheat , was not an area which either France or Britain could use as a leverage, especially taking into an account that this niche was already filled. The Ottomans somewhat adjusted to old tariffs and allowed British trade on the Danube but, even worse than in the case of China, the shining perspectives described by the enthusiasts, proved to be mostly a wishful thinking. Almost the only “enterprises” in Walachia were plants for processing production of its agriculture and for the rest the “natives” had very little interest and even less skills.
It looked like France already made some significant steps toward creating its own market base in Africa and even made a few not too significant but annoying acquisitions in Asia and the Dutch, backed by the French, had been holding their positions in South Africa and Indonesia. Which meant that Britain should not procrastinate and have to look for its own colonial acquisitions and dependent states. Africa started looking as the top priority both to secure the route to India and to get new markets.
One of the obvious staring points was the coastal Sierra Leone colony founded in 1808 for returning Africans after the abolition of slavery
. This holding could and should be expanded inland and there were outposts in Gambia and Gold Coast.
However, this was too little, especially in the terms of potential markets, so more areas had to be explored both on the Western and Eastern coasts of the continent, Madagascar being one of the seemingly attractive options.
Then, a renewed attempt must be made for “opening” Persia to the British trade. The earlier diplomatic attempts failed, especially after the British help against Russia proved to be ineffective. But perhaps it would make sense to try again, this time using a brutal force?
Afghanistan, even after the revenge campaign, did not look as a promising market which meant that the potential markets further in the CA were cut off even if it was not quite clear up to which degree the Russians are really
controlling the surviving khanates and if an access to them from the South through Persia and/or Afghanistan is realistic to start with. This had to be investigated by the special agents sent to the area as the “researchers”.
So far, Nicholas was quite happy with what was going on. There was a troublesome moment when situation in Prussia was seemingly deteriorating and Nicholas was fully prepared to help his father-in-law , if needed but the crisis was over without causing need for some drastic actions. In France things came to what was probably the best possible outcome from Nicholas’ point of view: son-in-law of the late Generalissimo became a President so what could be a better outcome? Restoration of the Bourbons? But they were never liked in Russia and their close links to Britain could create unnecessary problems. OTOH, Prince-President was a known figure and one of his first steps was to indicate that he is planning to continue his father’s foreign policy which included friendly relations with the Russian Empire.
Even more so because the younger brother of his wife, Josephine, Maximillian de Beauharnais, was married to Nicholas’ daughter Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia and now was not just the head of the “Russian branch” of the Dukes of Wurttenberg but also Prince Romanowsky and highly favored by Nicholas.
The credit for grain purchases was duly noticed and appreciated. Of course, the 4 years term prescribed by the French Constitution looked absurdly short but, OTOH, a lot of things could happen within 4 years and, to Nicholas’ pleasant surprise, it started looking like Oscar was capable of making things happening.
Of course, there were few bothersome things, how without them…
There were repeated British attempts to renegotiate the existing tariffs. Rejecting them while retaining the friendly relations was not an easy task especially in a view of the continued British attempts to encroach into what by now was something of the Russian traditional sphere of influence: the Black Sea markets and Persia. Nomenclature of the Russian-British trade also had been steadily changing. The Age of Steam and growing percentage of the fully metal ships decreased demand on the Russian hemp and flax and Swedish tar and the booming British metallurgy needed little of the Russian and Swedish iron. But demand for the timber still was high and even growing and the same goes for grain even if there was growing competition from the US and Argentine. OTOH, with the growing domestic manufacturing, the British imports into the Baltic Alliance mostly amounted to the colonial goods and some technological items. So both sides still had been interested in each other and, short of some embarrassing situations in not too remote past, remained reasonably friendly. Which, of course, did not mean that either side would miss an opportunity to get some advantage at other side’s expense. But se la vie
. Nothing personal, just business.
There were some silly things going on just across the border, in Poland. Surprisingly (or not), the ongoing crisis strengthened the “revenge party” clamoring for return of the lands lost since the early XVIII. The whole thing did not look quite rational and, of course, it was not but the Polish nobility was famous for being emotion-driven and insanity of a schema did not mean that something unpleasant is not going to happen. It was reported that the “revanchists” are making advances to Vienna proposing to leave alone an issue of Galicia in exchange for a tangible help ? Probably this all was a pure nonsense and so far King Joseph preferred to treat it this way expecting that, if push comes to shove, the army will remain loyal to its hero.
There were also some officers with the sincerely liberal ideas who resigned from the army and joined various causes. The most (and perhaps the only) remarkable figure of those was Brigadier General Jozef Bem who, besides clearly possessing military talents, also was an engineer, a mathematician and historian of some prominence ( a member of the Historical and Literary Society
of France). But it can be said that he was a classic “professional revolutionary”. In 1833 he went to Portugal
to assist the liberal Dom Pedro
against the reactionary Dom Miguel
, but abandoned the idea when it was found that a Polish legion could not be formed there. In 1848 he started with the attempt to defend Vienna against the imperial troops of Alfred I, Prince of Windisch-Grätz
, and, after the capitulation, hastened to Pressburg
to offer his services to Lajos Kossuth
Then, there was Austria, a greatest mess of all. The war in Italy was seemingly going in its favor and the uprisings in Vienna and Prague had been crushed but Hungary was a completely different story. To start with, Kingdom of Hungary was historically in a personal union with Kingdom of Croatia and, being a “junior partner” in this union, Croatia alway wanted to “upgrade status” by being a direct subject of the Hapsburg monarchy. Then, there was a very
mixed population in Transylvania with the pro-Hungarian Szeklers, generally pro-Hapsburg Germans, Rumanian majority with the mixed sympathies but a general wish for retaining its cultural identity (an issue to which the Hungarians historically were not too sympathetic). Then there were Slovakia, the western part of which was pro-Hapsburg and eastern pro-Hungarian, and the Serbs of Vojvodina who would rather prefer a direct autonomy under the Hapsburgs.
In other words, the revolting Hungary had to defend itself on all sides because its “oppressor-oppressed” relations within the Hapsburg monarchy were anything but uniform and required an individual approach in each specific case.
At the beginning the main problem of the Hungarian government (who initially wanted just an autonomy and union with Archduke of Austria) was an absence of its own army. There were some Hungarian troops throughout the empire but very few in Hungary and a strong Austrian presence on its territory. On May 7, 1848, the Hungarian government approved the formation of 10 battalions of honvéd (10,000 people); on June 29, the recruitment of 200,000 people was announced, of whom 40,000 immediately; in August, the establishment of a mobile national guard of 32,000 people was established. In September, the Hungarian government had only 18,000 people at its disposal; in October, the number of Hungarian troops increased to 25,000. The number kept growing over the time with the regular Hungarian units of the Hapsburg army joining the rebellion. In 1849 its regular troops amounted to 25 battalions, 18 hussar regiments (144 squadrons), 50 batteries (400 guns); plus there was honved militia - 147 battalions and various volunteers up to 190,000 total.
The long-term problem was Hungarian economy. The country was predominantly agrarian with very little in the terms of manufacturing and even less in the terms of a weaponry production. It did not matter too much on the first stages when the Hungarian army could rely upon the existing weaponry but in a long term the regular supplies of the arms and gunpowder would be necessary and so far it was not clear where and how to get them.
Of course, Nicholas could not completely ignore what was going around but he learned well and never forgot what the late Generalissimo told him: “never let your principles to be an obstacle”. Nicholas was personally
a honest person with the principles
but he was also a ruler of the Russian Empire and this capacity had a priority. So, while he generally disliked an idea of a revolution, he easily digested one in France: one form of a republic being replaced with a different form of the same with a seeming gain for the Russian Empire.
The events in Prussia were regrettable but all is well that ends well so his father-in-law received congratulations on his victory. The same sentiment had been expressed to the rulers of minor German states who dealt with their own cases of the revolutionary disease. Gustav of Sweden was, of course, congratulated but disturbance in Sweden was so minor that the only congratulation could be (and was) about his personal role in facing the angry mob. The Ottomans asked and got help against the rebelling Principalities, which allowed to consider his role as defender of the legitimate regimes being fulfilled.
But the Hapsburg Empire and specifically Hungary was a different kettle of fish and so far Nicholas was carefully avoiding any political statement on the issue. Of course, on one side there was a principle
of legitimacy while on the other there was a potential. But that potential was a very tricky and politically complicated issue which, in the case of mistake, could produce the negative consequences much more serious than potential benefits. The events has to be watched carefully before making any further steps even if personally
Nicholas did not like the trickery and preferred the simple and straightforward actions. OTOH, an example of the recent Ottoman-Egyptian war convincingly demonstrated that maneuvers can be at least as effective as a bayonet charge.
So, while various parts of Europe still had been on fire or tried to deal with the economic crisis, the Emperor of Russia was busy giving the court balls. And this was a very serious business: an imperial ball occupied an intermediate position between the solemn imperial appearance and informal entertainment of the high society with the participation of members of the imperial family.
The scheme of the ball (as well as the behavior of the participants) was strictly regulated, starting from official and unofficial rules of conduct. This also applied to the dress code for men and women participating in the ball. There was an established schedule of balls, at least the "big" ones, held in the Winter Palace. Traditional balls were held in the winter season, starting with Christmas and continuing until the beginning of Lent.
First of all, it is the Big Ball in the Nikolaev Hall of the Winter Palace, or, as it was called, the "Big Ball of the Nikolaev Hall". The entire patrimonial, military and bureaucratic aristocracy of St. Petersburg gathered at this ball. It was an official ball, the main basis for the invitation to it was the "Table of Ranks".
Secondly, the Middle Ball in the Concert Hall of the Winter Palace. For this ball, more restrictive selection of the public took place and, as a rule, there was a so-called "three-class aristocracy", that is, persons who held the first three class positions in the "Table of Ranks". However, persons who were not part of the official hierarchy, but personally close, for one reason or another, to members of the imperial surname, could also be invited to this ball.
Thirdly, Small Balls in the Hermitage. As a rule, in terms of the number of guests, it was a very restrictive ball. Therefore, the very fact of the invitation to it was a direct evidence of belonging to the cream of the St. Petersburg aristocracy. This ball was given a special importance due to the mandatory presence of the diplomatic corps at it.
After the "winter" balls, "summer" were also held. When the Imperial Court moved to Tsarskoye Selo in May, several balls were organized there in the ceremonial halls of the Grand Palace.
“For the first time I saw the Great Tsarskoye Selo Palace in all the brilliance of the ball. We danced in the Great Hall, and in the gallery there was dinner for countless guests. Gilded wooden columns, intertwined with garlands in the taste of the last century, were burning with lights.”
The listed "formats" of the balls were mandatory and ritual. The frequency of their implementation did not depend on the desire or unwillingness of the sovereign. It was a tradition, the importance and significance of which was recognized by everyone: "This is a legend that should not be forgotten, and the balls continued: Concert, Hermitage, Anichkovsky"
Besides the official big balls there were small ones given by the imperial family for the inner circle. They were usually given in Anichkov Palace. The number of home balls was not strictly established and depended on many reasons. In the "good" years, there were several of them. Their main feature was that people personally pleasant to the imperial family or those who are part of the "inner circle" of the family were invited to such balls. Accordingly, these balls "distinguished themselves by a limited number of people invited and were somewhat homely, family-like.”
Children's balls were held for children of the aristocracy. Parents, as a rule, were not present at these children's balls. The children were watched by educators. However, there also had been “status” balls on which the young children of the imperial family had been present and these balls could be visited by the whole imperial family.
Members of the Imperial Family also attended numerous balls and dance evenings in the houses and palaces of the St. Petersburg aristocracy, in the Noble Assembly, in women's institutes. Speaking of numerous balls, it should be remembered that there was an informal regulation of balls that were acceptable or not acceptable for the members of the growing imperial family. It was a very subtle gradation, and periodically, due to character and temperament, "mistakes" were made when they attended the balls of a lower than acceptable status.
Traditional January-February large and small imperial balls for Shrovetide ended with the last ball before the beginning of Great Lent. The end of the last ball before the beginning of Great Lent was a kind of ritual, which was repeatedly recorded by contemporaries. Under Nicholas I, on Sunday before fasting on Shrovetide, exactly at 12 a.m., the trumpeter trumpeted the rebound, and at the request of Nicholas I, the dances stopped, even if the trumpet sounded among the figure of the cotillon.
Now, there was a family problem: Nicholas did not really like dances and participated in a mandatory minimum but the empress adored
dances. As a result, the “family” Anichkov balls could be continue until 4 o'clock in the morning. Contemporaries recalled that when "the cotillon lasted too long, and the Empress did not want to end dancing, the emperor came up with a special means. The musicians were ordered to leave one by one, the orchestra weakened until the music finally fell silent. Everyone looked around in bewilderment, the ball stopped by itself."
Of course, the balls routinely included the dinners or suppers. Thus, in total, in 1848, tables were set at the imperial large balls 24 times for 7,226 people but this was peanuts comparing to the next year when there were 29 occasions with 11,532 participants. The largest single events involved over 2,240 people.
In between there were numerous balls given by the top aristocratic families so the “season” was quite taxing. French artist O. Berne, who personally observed the turbulent life of the St. Petersburg high society in early 1843, assessed the "labor costs" of the aristocrats as follows: "Finally, Shrovetide is over, fasting is coming, and we return to the path of the Lord. It's time - a few more such days, and half of St. Petersburg society would go to the next world."
Court balls had a very specific monetary component. The monetary calculation of the ball included a fairly extensive list, ranging from the cost of thousands of candles to buffet equipment and dinner facilities for ball participants. However, the cost of court balls, for all their splendor and luxury, was relatively low. This was due to the fact that "their organization did not require to make special purchases and there was no need to hire special servants to help. Wine was delivered by the Main Directorate of Estates, flowers - by numerous greenhouses of the Palace Department, the music orchestra was constantly maintained by the Ministry of the Court. What most struck the foreigners who received an invitation to court balls was the splendor surrounding them rather than the significance of the expenses incurred."
The circle of those invited to large imperial balls was formally determined by the ranks. In addition to court ranks, generals and officers (VII class and below - according to special lists), civilian ranks of I-III classes (sometimes IV), St. George's cavaliers, governors, leaders of the nobility and chairmen of zemstvo councils (who were in St. Petersburg), as well as spouses and daughters of those of these persons who had the rank of IV class and above, spouses of colonels and former ladies-in-waiting (with husbands) had the right to be present at the balls. If we follow only these formal signs, thousands of people, both men and women, had the right to attend the imperial balls.
As you can see from the numbers above 1849 was unusually busy in the terms of the balls and a number of their participants. Among other reasons, Nicholas wanted
to be visibly busy to minimize chance of being forced into some inconvenient commitment. 
 - If you can, try to guess what the parrot will tell us. - I assume that he’ll tell what it was taught to say.
 Or, if he had them, extreme reluctance to implement them, as was the case with serfdom reform: he understood the need but did close to nothing.
 This was a legacy left by Alexander and his rather questionable policy and NI considered this his duty
and played nice even if he himself had very strong negative feelings and his closest circle considered this procedure humiliating.
 A person assigned to oversee his and Michael’s education, general Lamsdorf, believed that education consisted of discipline and military training and his methods, besides “conventional” flogging included beating his charges’ heads against a wall.
 For the convenience of export, MA enforced an extensive cotton cultivation in the Lower Egypt thus cutting the grain producing areas.
 In OTL NI had very good relations with his wife’s family and liked visiting Prussian court with its atmosphere of a military camp.
 In OTL after the death of Alexander there were serious discussions about transferring the throne to the Duke of Reichstadt (who would be backed by Austria) so there were all types of ideas regardless of their plausibility.
 In OTL AIII came with a convenient formula “when the Emperor of Russia is fishing, European affairs can wait” but NI was not into the fishing or even a popular past time of the hunting (which was something of a sacred ritual in Russia).