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Ronald Blum
Lifelong Learning Academy
Sarasota, Florida
L SUNRISE, 1750-1815
Britain and Germany Fall in Love
Madame de Staël’s Germany
II. MORNING, 1815-1848
The German Confederation
From Zollverein to Parliament, 1834-48
III. NOONTIDE, 1848-1864
The Riddle of the Elbe
Palmerston and the German Revolution
The Watershed I, 1863.
The Watershed II, 1864
IV. EVENTIDE: 1864-1895
Prussian Hegemony, 1866-70
Bismarck and the German Empire, 1871-1890
The Zanzibar--Helgoland Treaty, 1890
V. NIGHTFALL: 1895-1914
The Kruger Telegram, 1896
The German Naval Laws, 1898-1900
The Boer War, 1899-1902
The First Moroccan Incident, Tangier, 1905
The Navy Scare, 1909
The Second Moroccan Incident, Agadir, 1911
The Haldane Mission, 1912
Looking into the Abyss, 1912-1914 .
This paper is a study of the historic unfolding of the special Anglo-German relationship,
from its dawn to its dissolution on the fields of Belgium. It describes when and how, from the
afterglow of Waterloo in 1815 to the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, the Anglo-German
relationship passed from friendship to mistrust, mistrust to hostility, and hostility to open warfare.
The fact that critical transitions in the relationship did take place over the course of the European
Century (1815-1914) is incontrovertible. The problem addressed here is how narrowly we can
describe the evolution and denouement of the Anglo-German relationship and establish the
watershed1 period which began its inexorable decline.
In 1914 the German and British Empires went to war, drenching the fields of France with
the blood of their young men. Though sharing common racial, linguistic, and religious ties, and
many cultural and historical connections, including the closest ties of kinship between their royal
families,2 the British and Germans waged a war of such sanguinary proportions as never before seen
by living men. To this day a legacy of bitter memory remains on both sides, despite post-World War
II alliances, democratic traditions, and close commercial ties. The memory is a virus dormant in the
body politic of both nations and may erupt in times of stress.3
Only fifty years earlier, Great Britain and Germany were enjoying a historic friendship
which had spanned over a century, since before the Seven Years' War, 1756-63. In 1888, the year of
Kaiser Wilhelm II's. accession4 the British and German Empires still considered each other to be
friendly powers, with a century5 of wartime alliances, peaceful commercial and cultural ties, and
generally good relations behind them. As late as 1901, there was still talk of an Anglo-German
Watershed: an important point or period of transition or division between two phases, conditions, periods, etc.
The British royal family belonged to the House of Hanover through Queen Victoria and to the House of Coburg-SaxeGotha , of the House of Wettin (anglicized to Windsor), through her husband, Prince Albert. One advantage of the 1648
Treaty of Westphalia, was that royalty seeking mates could generally find one in Germany with its abundance of prolific
and impecunious "royalty.” It was the Mother Lode of eligible brides.
I heard the bitterness first-hand from my sister-in-law, whose father, a British soldier, was killed in 1940; from
Englishmen and Scots in Coventry and Edinburgh in 1986; and from a German and an Englishman in Dresden in 1988.
The Englishman had been a bombardier on the pointless raid which destroyed that beautiful and historic city. At
Edinburgh Castle in 1986, as a West German military band played The Beer Barrel Polka, the young Britons around me
were singing: "Roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel of fun; roll out the barrel, we've got the Hun on the run."
Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert, b. Jan.27, 1859, d.June 4. 1941. I will refer to him as William II or the Kaiser.
The German Empire only came into existence in 1871, but Great Britain had longstanding alliances and friendly
relations with Prussia, Austria, Hanover. and other German states.
alliance, but by the end of the Great War bitter trench fighting, unremitting blockade, and ruthless
submarine warfare had utterly destroyed their traditional friendship.
At the onset of the Great War both nations had achieved great material progress and created
cultures emulated and admired by the world and by each other. Both had great literary and
humanitarian traditions, both were in the forefront of developing socially responsible governments
that attended to the human needs of their people as never before. Prussia's stern and powerful
military caste, the Junkers, dominated its society, and led the best army in the world. The British,
boasting a global empire and the greatest navy, had developed a strong liberal tradition and a
profound aversion to the mass shedding of European blood--especially their own. But by 1918
Britain, too, had created million-man armies, sacrificing them in their thousands on the Western
Front. How could it have happened? This paper argues that the sea-change in the Anglo-German
relationship took place during the watershed years of 1848-64.
In mathematics one deals with analytical relationships on their most fundamental level by
means of graphs which show not only how quantities depend on other quantities, but also where
they have their turning-points, or minimum and maximum values. These extrema may be absolute
like Mount Everest and the Dead Sea, or relative and "local" like the other peaks and valleys on the
earth’s surface. By analogy, if we could determine a numerical index for Anglo-German relations,
we might fix it in the Belgian context with Waterloo, June 18, 1815, its high point and the German
invasion of August 3, 1914, its nadir. The relationship was not a steady decline over the century, but
displayed various temporal turning-points, and it would strain credulity to claim that anyone of them
was the watershed. The physicist, however, thinks more in terms of "inflection points," where the
rate of change of a trend in some quantity, rather than the quantity itself, goes from positive to
negative. In physics this precisely signals a change in the balance of forces governing a
phenomenon. Applying the analogy to the Anglo-German relationship, we look for the juncture at
which the overall rate of change in the growth of the relationship turned negative.
I would argue that the historical inflection point of the Anglo-German relationship occurred
during the period which began with (British Foreign Secretary) Lord Palmerston's withdrawal of
support for German nationalism in 1848 and terminated with the ineffectual handling of British
foreign policy by (Prime Minister) Palmerston and (British Foreign Secretary) Russell in the Second
Dano-German War of 1864-5.6 German friendship for Great Britain and admiration for British
I will use the terms "First Dano-German War" for the 1848-1850 war between Denmark and Prussia, and "Second
Dano-German War" for the 1864 war between Denmark, Prussia and Austria.
principles had been on the rise until the former event: in the aftermath of the latter it was clearly
being overtaken by negative forces, although it continued to advance. By 1895 and the Kruger
Telegram, a major turning-point, the Anglo-German relationship had definitely entered its decline
on both sides of the North Sea. Thus, 1848-64 embraces the historical watershed for which this
paper is named. If pressed to specify the watershed, I would have to say that it took place between
Palmerston's implied threat of July 23, 1863, that Denmark would not fight alone against Germany,
and his denial of any bellicose intent on June 27, 1864, when he explained to Parliament that by his
declaration of the previous year he had really meant that France and Russia might help the Danes.7
This discussion is in five parts: (1) 1750-1815, the evolution of Anglo-German alliances
begun in the days of Frederick the Great and culminating in the Prussian General Blücher’s lastminute rescue of Wellington at Waterloo; (2) 1815-48, the Metternich era of positive Anglo-German
feelings between governments and peoples; (3) 1848-64, the watershed period of liberal revolutions
and the Schleswig-Holstein controversy; (4) 1864-95, an outwardly quiescent period of good official
relations but deteriorating public relations; Great Britain pursues imperial ambitions abroad and
"splendid isolation" at home, while Bismarck achieves stability in Europe; (5) 1895-1914, when
deteriorating Anglo-German relations trigger a naval arms race in the run-up to World War I.
We can describe the deterioration of Anglo-German attitudes largely in terms of their relationship to the "marker events" of the century. That is, those events which are critical and/or
harbingers, which had the greatest relative effect on the Anglo-German relationship. Either, like the
Kruger Telegram of 1895, they mark a key turning-point in attitudes or, like the German First Navy
Law (Flottengesetz), mark the point of departure for new political developments which will
significantly affect diplomacy, attitudes, and the course of history. Thus, the Bosnian Crisis of 1908
has been omitted as relatively less important to the Anglo-German relationship than the Kaiser's
visit to Tangier in 1905 and the naval scare of 1909, even though Bosnia involved a far greater risk
of bloodshed at the time. We shall see that contributory factors, such as public opinion, economic
competition, colonial rivalry, ideological differences, etc., displayed critical transitions which
anticipated, sometimes by decades, eventual diplomatic outcomes. However, I believe that the
Schleswig-Holstein affair was pivotal to the whole relationship, and such is the thrust of this paper.
Palmerston's speech of June 27, 1864, was exactly four weeks short of the halfway mark of the European Century,
however, you can carry this mathematical business only so far.
I. SUNRISE, 1750-1815
Britain and Germany Fall in Love
During the Seven Years' War, 1756-63, Great Britain, Hanover, and Prussia were allied
against the great continental powers: France, Austria, and Russia. At that time Germany was only a
"geographical expression" known as the Holy Roman Empire, a patchwork of small and smaller
states, cities, and bishoprics, the debris of the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). Typical of French scorn
for their petty particularism, Voltaire said that they were "ni saint, ni romain, ni empire,” neither
holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. These states were dominated by the Austrian Empire and the
House of Habsburg, which had supplied the Kaiser (Caesar) of the Holy Roman Empire
continuously since 1438.8 Only the Prussian Sparta under Frederick II, called the Great, had dared
to stand alone against Austria, and she would not have survived without British subsidies.
Before 1800, if the British knew about Germans at all, it was as Hanoverians, Prussians,
Bavarians, Hessians, and so forth: wonderful mercenary soldiers, steady in battle, obedient as cattle;
sold by their rulers at shillings the head. Frederick the Great, the philosopher-king, became a
popular idol to the British, not for his love of music, intellectual pursuits, or quondam friendship
with Voltaire, but because, as a plucky little fox among the hounds, he was able to fight the great
powers to a standstill. With the fortuitous demise in 1762 of the Russian Empress, Elizabeth,
Frederick narrowly avoided defeat.
His survival must have seemed an act of divine Providence, and his presumed championship
of Protestant interests made him a favorite in England. Many a public house carried a signboard
saying "The King of Prussia" or "The Protestant Hero." Even in the far-distant backwoods of
America, towns like King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, were named after him.9 But he later became
viewed as a devious opportunist who, as Lincoln said of Cameron, his Secretary of War, would steal
anything that wasn't nailed down—“with the possible exception of a hot stove.”
sentiments were later applied by the British to German Chancellor Bismarck in his turn.
The lone non-Habsburgs being the election of Charles VII, of the house of Wittelsbach (Bavaria), 1742-45.
Great Britain and Prussia in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Octagon, 1972), 108.
The same
Viennese and German chamber music was widely admired in 18th-century Britain, and the
naturalized Saxon, George Frideric [sic] Handel (d.1759), was a national hero in England. However,
none of this was seen as specifically German Kultur, of which the British knew little before 1800.
The English gentleman who could, in theory, read Homer, Virgil and Voltaire in the original, rarely
was able to read or speak German. However, beginning with Gellert's Swedish Countess (1752),
literary translations from German to English before 1800 came at the rate of one a year, few of them
memorable. Although Goethe was quite popular, only his Werther, Iphigenia, Clavigo, Stella, and
Götz von Berlichingen had appeared in translation by 1800. Werther, however, endured seven more
translations by 1807.10
The quality of translation, characterized as "poor to catastrophic" in the period 1750-1800
began to improve with the advent of William Taylor's Iphigenia (1796), Sir Walter Scott's Götz...
(1799), and Coleridge's Death of Wallenstein (1800). but there was a dichotomy in the British
response: on the one hand there was the image of a gentle, pious, pastoral Germany, and on the
other the emotionalism of the Sturm und Drang school and the Romantics. The Romantics revolted
against classical models and authority, and exalted the subjective, the irrational, and the emotional.
Their subject matter was most often national history, the beauties of nature, the passionate life.
Herein may lie the roots of 19th-century British ambivalence toward the good and the bad Germany.
The Germans, on their part, even the reactionary Austrians, who looked to Great Britain as a
counterpoise to France, were very friendly to the EngIish. Many were greatly influenced by French
Enlightenment models and ideas (the term, "Enlightenment," die Aufklärung, was coined by
Immanuel Kant). The French philosophes following Voltaire and Montesquieu who had spent much
time in England, often looked to Great Britain as the very model of a modern constitutional
monarchy. This influenced the thinking not only of German liberals but of royalty as well, as
notions of constitutionalism began to gain ground in Germany. Even Prussian-born autocrat
Catherine the Great in distant Russia considered herself a philosophe and adopted Enlightenment
ideas when they suited her purposes and did not cause political difficulties.
Mme. De Staël’s Germany
Although the first period of English interest in Germany had produced some good
translations, there was in the Napoleonic era (1793-1815) "a fatal compound of ignorance and
John Mander, Our German Cousins. Anglo-German Relations in the 19th and 20th Centuries, (London: J.Murray,
1974), 20
ambivalence bedeviling Anglo-German relations. German piety might be ridiculed at one moment;
German 'immorality' the next.11 In 1811 a burlesque of German drama, The Quadrupeds of
Quedlinburgh or The Rovers of Weimar, a Tragico-comico-anglo-germanico-hippodromonico Tale,
appeared at the Haymarket Theater in London with great success. The title itself expresses the
stereotype, common to both English and French writers of the period, of German literary and
philosophical heavy-handedness.
After 1815 and Blücher's timely appearance on Napoleon's right flank at Waterloo, the
Germans were increasingly seen by the English as brave natural allies, the French as natural
enemies. The year of Napoleon's decisive defeat in the Battle of Leipzig, 1813, saw a sea-change in
the British view of the Germans. In that year appeared De 1'Allemagne, the most important work of
the Swiss-born Madame de Staë1.12 A witty but serious study of German manners, literature, art,
philosophy, morals and religion, in which she made known the Sturm und Drang movement of
1770-1780, epitomized by the works of Goethe and Schiller, which exalted nature, feeling, and
individuality above rationalism. Unfortunately, she never completed her projected De l'Angleterre,
for it almost certainly would have contained some fascinating comparisons between the English and
the Germans. De 1'Allemagne's influence on British thought brought German culture into the
mainstream. Carlyle wrote that: "with all its vaguenesses and shortcomings, it must be regarded as
the precursor, if not the parent, of whatever acquaintance of German literature exists among us.13
Germany's War of Liberation of 1813 "released a flood of national sentiment reaching down
to the masses of the people for the first time … characterized by bitter hatred of the French,
glorification of war and dreams of German domination in Europe."14 Even then, Pan-Germans
looked forward to a Grossdeutschland to include all Germanic countries, even Switzerland, Holland,
and Denmark. However, by and large, Germany was content with the departure of the French, and
the old order returned. Nonetheless, there was a real change in national sentiment, symbolized by
the creation, in place of the old Holy Roman Empire, of the German Confederation.
Mander, Our German Cousins, p. 27
Née Austrianne-Louise-Germaine Necker, daughter of Jacques Necker, Louis XVI' s minister of finance. She is
considered by many the most brilliant woman of her time.
Mander, Our German Cousins, p.56.
Carr, Schleswig-Holstein, 1815-1848, A Study in National Conflict (Manchester: University Press, 1963), p.6.
II. MORNING, 1815-1848
The German Confederation
In the eighteenth century, even in the Danish-ruled duchies of Schleswig-Holstein, there were no
signs of German national feeling in the ramshackle Holy Roman Empire. In 1815, it was replaced
by the German Confederation, created at the Congress of Vienna, in response to the development of
national consciousness and economic integration in Central Europe and the need for political
stability among the German states. The German Confederation was a mini-United Nations
composed of 39 states, Austria and Prussia being the two super-powers.
Its Federal Diet in
Frankfurt am Main was an assembly of diplomats who voted as their governments instructed, with
the most vital issues requiring unanimity. The Diet remained the stronghold of German
“particularism,” and positive action was rare.15 Prussia, as the power considered potentially most
dangerous to the smaller princes, was usually in the minority.
Politically, Germany between the Congress of Vienna and the revolutionary year of 1848
was the bastion of Legitimate Sovereignty, of the right of the regal classes to the safe and secure
enjoyment of their prerogatives. The Congress of Vienna had awarded a large segment of the
Rhineland to Prussia as a potential barrier to future French aggression, but there was no anxiety in
Great Britain that any of the German states could be a threat to British interests. Prussia, so admired
for her struggle against Napoleon, was seen as an important buffer against the French. A post-war
baby-boom launched a demographic explosion—from 25,000,000 in 1817 to 35,000,000 in 1848 in
the area of the future German Empire—but that did not provoke any concern during these salad days
of the Anglo-German relationship. The saying "demography is history," had not yet been invented.
The years 1770-1830 were an era of exceptional intellectual and cultural creativity in
Germany. It was the age of Kant and Hegel, Goethe and Schiller, Mozart and Beethoven. Between
1815 and 1850, as liberal sentiment grew, there also grew German enthusiasm for things English.
Liberals looked to English models for constitutional government, businessmen esteemed her
economic prowess, and the ruling classes admired the lifestyle and power of the English aristocracy.
English literary models and the novels of Sir Walter Scott were widely popular, and every rising
burger aspired to have his children raised by an English nanny.
Even political movement in both nations seemed to be in the same direction, toward
constitutionalism, universal suffrage, and greater liberalism, albeit starting from vastly different
0tto Pflanze, Bismarck, i, 75. A German reader described it in a letter to The Times of London, January 19. 1864, as
"the German Diet, hitherto known for almost proverbial inactivity." Sound familiar?
points of departure. The arch-reactionary architect of German unity, Otto von Bismarck (1815-96),
had great admiration for English culture, spoke the language well, and read widely in English
literature and history. Bismarck once said: "All my habits and tastes are English,”16 and in his
Memoirs he wrote: "So far as foreign countries are concerned I have, throughout my life, had a
sympathy for England only and her inhabitants, and I am, in certain hours, not yet free from it; but,"
he added, "the people there will not let us love them."17
In the 1820s British universities were advocated on the German model, which would be open
to all classes without religious tests, have paid lecturers, and encourage free research. These German
ideas proved very attractive, and the Germans were viewed as the "idealists," the British as the
With a torrent of British-authored travel and history books on the subject of
Germany, "the [eighteen-]twenties can be described as altogether the most fruitful period of
intellectual interchange between England and Germany."18
As a result of the efforts of Coleridge, Carlyle and others, the study of German became
respectable, and "By the end of the [19th] century the educated Englishman knew as much German
as he knew French.” There was a revival of the ideas of a common origin and bond of sympathy
between the two "Teutonic" peoples. Thomas Carlyle, the biographer of Frederick the Great, wrote:
''Thirty millions of men, speaking in the same old Saxon tongue, and thinking in the same old Saxon
spirit as ourselves, may be admitted to the rights of brotherhood.”
It was widely accepted that the freedom-loving instinct was common to the Germanic races,
leading inevitably to democratic institutions. For a long time the German states and Prussia
benefitted from this notion of a basic love for democracy. It was not until the late 1840s that the
impact of German nationalism called this view into question.
From Zollverein to Parliament, 1834-48
Anglo-German commercial links had existed for centuries; after Waterloo fully one-third of
all British exports to Europe went to Germany. In the north of Germany, Hamburg in particular,
where commercial ties with Britain were traditional, sentiment was strongly pro-British and Liberal,
and as late as the 1880s an average of 42 per cent of Hamburg's trade came from Great Britain.
However, the sense of commercial rivalry became more pronounced in Germany in the Metternich
Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 9.
0tto von Bismarck, Memoirs (New York: Howard Fertig, Vols. I, II, 1966), i, 188.
Mander, Our German Cousins, 56-71.
era, 1815-1848, since the balance of trade ran so strongly in favor of England. In 1834 the formation
of the Zollverein (German Customs Union) gave rise to serious misgivings among British
commercial interests about German protectionism.19 Many viewed it as a purely political move by
the Prussians, who constituted two-thirds of the original Zollverein.
The Zollverein actually began as an attempt to stamp out smuggling between the various
provinces of Prussia. It became a free-trade agreement abolishing all internal customs and dues
within the country. In 1828, Hesse-Darmstadt signed the first inter-German customs union with
Prussia, while a second customs union was created in the south between Bavaria, Württemberg, and
the Palatinate and a third in central Germany between Saxony, Thuringia, electoral Hesse, and
Nassau. On January 1, 1834, these were among the eighteen states that formed the first Deutscher
Zollverein, which included all of southern and most of northern Germany, apart from Hanover,
Mecklenburg, and the Hansa cities. Hamburg and Bremen did not adhere to the Zollverein until
1888. The Zollverein led to an immediate and dramatic increase in trade, giving great
encouragement to railroad building, which further served to unite the nation in advance of its actual
political unification. Its success was an object lesson for all Germans of the benefits which
unification could bestow.
The British government, just as it tried to discourage formation of the Common Market a
century later, generally tried to discourage states from joining the Zollverein. The British free-trade
apostle Richard Cobden was one of the first to recognize that the Zollverein was the initial
instrument of German unity. Palmerston opposed the Zollverein, and regarded it as evidence of
German economic backwardness, because its mildly protective duties hampered British exports.
The Zollverein remained for the next thirty years a potent force in German affairs. In 1852,
Prussia was successful in excluding Austria from the Zollverein, and Bismarck used it repeatedly as
a weapon to coerce other German states and to enforce Austria's exclusion from Germany. Like the
Common Market of our own time, the Zollverein exerted a powerful attraction for economists and
political scientists. When the system of British imperial preferences began to be advocated in the
late nineteenth century, it was often referred to in the British press as a Zollverein, without italics;
convincing testimony to the power of the idea.
In Germany in the mid-nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution was coming on with a
rush. "Interest fought against interest, class against class, state against state, section against section,
and Catholic against Protestant ... To Englishmen, it seemed that improvement could come only
Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914, 41-47.
when reaction gave place to liberalism."20 By the mid-nineteenth century, among the German
middle classes, der Mittelstand, nationalism went hand-in-hand with liberalism. but Germany did
not have a real liberal movement until the 1840s.
When it came it took three main forms: bureaucratic, moderate, or radica1.21 The
"bureaucratic" liberals, like Baron vom Stein and Karl von Hardenberg, wanted to turn subjects into
citizens through legislation without any furidamental change in government. The "moderate"
liberals wanted to change the state into a constitutional monarchy. While rejecting absolutism, they
also distrusted universal suffrage, and this grudging constitutionalism became the philosophy of the
Mittelstand. The "radical" liberals were heirs of the French revolution and wanted a unified German
republic. Their movement really came to life in the disastrous 1840s, when a succession of bad
harvests and astronomical increases in food prices from 1844 to 1847 helped bring on the
revolutions of 1848. However, the radicals remained a minority, albeit a vociferous one, on the
periphery of the German liberal mainstream.
For nearly three centuries the royal families of Great Britain have been almost exclusively of
German stock, descended from the House of Hanover, an offshoot of the medieval Guelphs (Welf).
In Britain, the enthusiasm for things German reached a plateau in the 1840s, with the accession of
the Germanophile Queen Victoria22 in 1837 and her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840. The love
match between them was highly popular among the masses, but the British public regarded Albert as
an alien, and it was not until his premature death from 'typhoid fever in 1861 that they recognized
his sterling qualities.
Mander dates the beginning of the Anglo-German political estrangement "almost from
Albert's death due to the loss of his influence both at home and in Germany, the emergence of
Bismarck, and the rise of Prussian power. All his life Albert promoted the ideal of a liberal,
progressive "joint headmastership " of Europe by England and Germany, and tried to establish
dynastic and political ties between the two countries. That he ultimately failed must be attributed in
part to the untimely demise of the liberal Anglophile, Frederick III, Emperor of Germany, son of
William I and son-in-law of Albert, three months after Frederick’s accession in 1888. He left the job
of Kaiser to his unstable and quixotic son, William II.
Sontag, Germany and England, 44.
Pflanze, Bismarck, i, 11.
Raised by her German mother and a German nanny, Victoria spoke German for the first three years of her life.
Some appreciation of the warm relations between the English and German ruling classes can
be gained from a letter to Baron Heinrich Bunsen, the Prussian ambassador, dated October, 10,
1841. In it, the new Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel wrote:23
The union and patriotism of that [German] people spread over the centre of
Europe will contribute the surest guarantee for the peace of the world, and the most
powerful check upon the spread of all pernicious doctrines injurious to the cause of
religion and order, and that liberty which respects the rights of others. My earnest hope
is that every member of this illustrious race . … [will] exult in the name of a German,
and recognize the claim of Germany to the love and affection and patriotic exertions of
all her sons. I hope I judge of the feelings of every German by those which were
excited in my own breast … you will begin to think that I am a good German myself.
Granted this was written by an Englishman to a German, but the entire note clearly expresses his
heartfelt sentiment and personal regard for Bunsen, a liberal but a close friend of the Prussian king,
who later resigned the diplomatic service in protest against the conservative policies of his
To summarize, during the period between the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the Zollverein
in 1834, Anglo-German attitudes towards each other continued to improve. However, after 1834
they suffered from a growing uneasiness, based on German suspicion of British economic
imperialism and British suspicion of German nationalism and Prussian opportunism. Relations were
to enter their critical period after the failure of the Frankfurt Parliament in 1849 and the rise of
Prussia in the following decade.
Mander, Our German Cousins, 188.
Map 1. Denmark and the Elbe Duchies
after W. Carr, Schleswig-Holstein.
III. NOONTIDE, 1848-1864
Hat der Teufel einen Sohn, so heiszt er sicher Palmerston.
Had the devil but a son, his name were surely Palmerston.
-popular German rhyme
The Riddle of the Elbe
In 1848 the southern boundary of the Danish king's dominions extended to Altona, five miles from
the center of the free city of Hamburg, and well within the body of Germany proper. His two
southernmost possessions were the duchies of Schleswig (Danish: Slesvig; English: Sleswick) and
Holstein. The former was approximately half German, the latter, all German. Around 1000 CE these
two provinces had been the sparsely-populated northern forest marches of Lower Saxony. Schleswig
was a dependency of Denmark in the 13th and 14th centuries, but in 1386 it was united with
By the Capitulations of 1460, the ducal nobility elected the king of Denmark, Christian I,
Oldenburg, as duke of Schleswig and count of Holstein. However, Christian had to affirm that: (1)
he was ruler by election, not by hereditary right; (2) only his male heirs would be eligible to succeed
him; (3) only residents of the duchies could be appointed to high office; and (4) the ducal estates
would be consulted before taxes were levied or war waged.24 In the first two conditions lay the roots
of the dynastic disputes that plagued the duchies for the next three centuries. In 1665, the Danish
Lex Regia provided for female succession, another complication which blossomed in 1863.
In the late 16th century, Swedish intrigues with the dukes of Holstein-Gottorp against the
Oldenburg house, involved Denmark in three serious wars, with international ramifications. These
culminated in the treaty of 1721 ending the Great Northern War, which was signed by Great Britain,
Russia, and France and recognized the rights of the king of Denmark as duke of Schleswig-Holstein.
It also may have pledged him not to separate the two duchies. Even so, the rival ducal house of
Gottorp had married with the Romanovs, and Russian machinations prevented full royal sovereignty
until a cash payment in 1773, 52 years later, secured the renunciation of Gottorp. In the 1860s the
Danes were to argue that the 1721 treaty recognized the Danish conquest of Schleswig-Holstein,
Carr, Schleswig-Holstein, 21.
while the German nationalists maintained that it only represented the settlement of the rights of the
ducal house of Gottorp. That made a major jurisdictional difference, since all nations recognized the
right of conquest--i.e., official brigandage--while a mere property settlement meant that the German
Confederation not only had jurisdiction over Holstein, but also a legal right to prevent the separation
of the duchies.
In the beginning of the Schleswig-Holstein crisis, the bone of contention was the disposition
of Schleswig and whether it could be separated from Holstein in any way whatsoever. The Danish
crown was so exhausted by the Schleswig-Holstein struggles that full integration of the duchies into
Denmark was postponed until the 1840s, definitely too late, for in the preceding half-century,
Schleswig and Holstein had become steadily more Germanized. Whereas Schleswig was predominantly Danish in 1800, by 1860 Schleswig was more than half German-speaking, and the dominant
part of the population was German. While the Danish monarch was absolute in theory after 1665,
the duchies retained their peculiar institutions. Though generally more solvent than the Danish
govern-ment, the duchies were also more conservative, and even in recent times the largely rural
duchies remained bulwarks of conservative national sentiment, staunchly supporting the Nazis.
Despite the untidiness of the situation, until the nineteenth century, nationalist agitation was
practically unknown. Dynastic loyalties played a larger role, and Germans had been highly placed
in the Danish state since the 16th century, when the Holstein nobility obtained dominant influence
at the Danish court. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, the duchies were solidly loyal to the
crown, and to the Helstat (the combined Danish kingdom, duchies, and colonies), a loyalty secured
by enlightened reforms, liberation of the serfs (1805), new civil rights for farmers, and the creation
of a public school system throughout the Helstat. The duchies were little affected by the great
upsurge of German national feeling at the time, except for a small handful of faculty at Kiel
University, in a small, sleepy university town on the periphery of the German academic world.
Around 1810, with the first stirrings of Danish national sentiment, a move toward
“danization” of the duchies roused Schleswig-Holstein nationalism. It began in Kiel, initially
proclaiming Schleswig-Holstein as a bridge between Denmark and Germany, which were "natural
allies." When, in 1816, the Danish king appointed a commission to draft a constitution for
Holstein, but not for Schleswig, F.C. Dahlmann, historian at Kiel University and the ideological
founder of Schleswig-Holsteinism strongly opposed it. Researching the original charter of 1460 he
found the obscure statement: "We allow them to remain always together undivided.”25 However,
Carr• Schleswig-Holstein, 52. .
Carr maintains that this meant only that the individual duchies would not be partitioned among the
cadet branches of the royal house. Dahlmann and later German nationalists argued that it was the
proof that Schleswig and Holstein were never to be parted, hence the attempt to extend the Danish
constitution to Schleswig was illegal. In 1863 it was the heart of the jurisdictional dispute, which in
turn justified the "federal execution," that is, the occupation of Holstein by Austria and Prussia and
the latter's eventual annexation of Schleswig.
The ethnic problem was particularly complex in Schleswig, with its population of around
340,000 in 1835. There were three main ethnic divisions: North Schleswig where Danish was
spoken, South Schleswig, where German was spoken; and Central Schleswig which comprised the
rest of the duchy, and in which German and Danish were about equally represented. A third factor
was the Frisian population on the west coast, around 50,000 souls whose language was closer to
Old English than to German, but was dying out. In short, it was a Gordian knot, through which
Bismarck was to cut in classical fashion.
In May, 1840, a royal rescript ordered the Schleswig-Holstein government to use Danish for
legal and administrative purposes in those areas of North Schleswig where Danish was used in
church and school. "The rescript, more than any other event in those fateful years, ensured that
national animosity between German and Dane would thrust constitutional questions into the
background of the political arena throughout the 1840's."26 In May, 1842, Danish Liberals insisted
that the historical boundary of Denmark since 811 A.D. was the Eider river (see map) separating the
two duchies and began to demand "Danmark til Ejder," Denmark to the Eider. This "Eiderdanism "
found its counterpoise in Schleswig-Holsteinism, so that in the 1840s four distinct “isms” were
acting in the duchies: Eiderdanism, Scandinavism, Schleswig-Holsteinism, and Germanism,
unification of the two duchies with Germany.27
On November 14, 1842, a bitterly acrimonious and stormy debate erupted in the Schleswig
estates over the issue of allowing Danish to be spoken during its meetings. The repercussions were
felt throughout the Helstat as the national lines were drawn, and the radical Eiderdanes gained
influence in Denmark. However, after the dust settled, Hochdeutsch remained the official Ianguage
of the duchies, but the Issue, like the proverbial "cloud no bigger than a man's hand," persisted and
grew until it overshadowed every other consideration. Dane and German were now on a collision
course, and the Schleswig-Holstein cause was eagerly taken up by the press throughout Germany.
Carr. Schleswig-Holstein. 140.
Sandiford, The Schleswig-Holstein Question, 23.
The Schleswig-Holstein party, the Landespartei, maintained that: (1) the duchies were
independent states and entitled to choose their own language; (2) they were inseparable; and (3) the
Salic law of male succession to the dukedom applied.28 However, the succession of a duke of
Schleswig who was not also duke of Holstein would, in effect, separate the two duchies, which in
turn was clouded by the Capitulations of 1460. Here was the crux of the "riddle" over which many
genealogists and jurists broke their heads, since no one of these issues was indisputable enough to
provide grounds for resolving the others.29
This became a serious obstacle to the unity of the Helstat when, in August, 1845, the
daughter-in-law and first male grandchild of King Christian VIII died in childbirth. A Royal
Commission issued a declaration in July, 1846, known as the "open letter," declaring that female
succession applied in Lauenburg, Schleswig, and parts of Holstein, but the king assured the· duchies
that there was no intention of diminishing their autonomy or their union. Nevertheless, the open
letter "rocked the Helstat to its foundations," as the Schleswig-Holsteiners felt that their rights had
been trampled upon and that the divisibility of the succession augured the future division of
Schleswig-Holstein itself.
Rebuffed in their remonstrances by the crown, the Schleswig-Holsteiners turned to the
German Confederation, where they were greeted with open arms. The Schleswig-Holstein estates
then resigned en masse in August, 1846. It was the first step on the road to revolution. The duchies
did not feel themselves bound by the female succession, but in the event felt free to choose their
own duke, one who would unite them to Germany. Carr writes: "1846 ranks with 1813, 1848 and
1870 as a vintage year for German nationalism [when] 'Legitimists, liberals, radicals, Catholics,
Protestants, dogmatists, rationalists, pantheists, Austrians, Prussians, Saxons, Franks, Swabians,
Bavarians. all rose as one man' in defence of the duchies.'”30 In reprisal, in December, 1846, King
Christian dissolved the Schleswig-Holstein estates. They met again at the barricades on March 23,
On December 20, 1847, Christian VIII died and his son Frederik VII became king. On
February 28, 1848, Frederik issued a rescript with details of a proposed constitution which would
end the absolute power of the Danish crown and preserve the autonomy and indivisibility of
Schleswig-Holstein. On the same day news from Paris of King Louis-Philipe's overthrow arrived in
Carr, Schleswig-Holstein, 201. 236.
David F. Krein, The Last Palmerston Government (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1978) 121, quotes an unnamed
historian who said: "The Schleswig-Holstein question was darkened by a vast mass of irrelevant learning."
Carr, … 256.
Kiel; the constitution had come too late. On March 23rd the independence of the duchies was
proclaimed in the Rathaus of Kiel, and Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia announced his support. By
the end of April the Danes had been defeated and driven out of Schleswig with the help of Prussia
and the blessing of the Federal Diet. The First Dano-German War had begun.
Palmerston and the German Revolution
Borne on a tide of popular revolt against the governments of the German Confederation following
the overthrow of Louis-Philipe, a preliminary German parliament was haphazardly collected from
the various German state legislative bodies. On March 31, 1848, it met in Frankfurt to call for
nationwide elections with universal manhood suffrage.31 The Federal Diet hastily concurred, giving
the proceedings a show of legality, and the subsequent attempts of the various states to limit
suffrage and sway the voters had basically little effect, The 586-man National Assembly, or
Frankfurt Parliament, as it is usually called, was installed in the Paulskirche of Frankfurt-am-Main
on May 18, 1848, charged with writing a constitution for the new united Germany which it was to
call into existence. These were intoxicating times for German liberals.
The different shades of liberals composing the Parliament were truly united only in their
desire for German unity. Unable to agree on reform, endlessly debating their evanescent
constitution, they found political unity only in German nationalism and a ready target in Denmark.
As British historian A.J.P. Taylor said: "It was almost as though Italian nationalists regarded Malta
as their first essential aim."
Representatives of the Elbic duchies were enthusiastically seated in
the Parliament, and Foreign Secretary Palmerston telegraphed the British representative in Frankfurt
to "support as far as you properly can any plan . . . to consolidate Germany and give it more unity
and political vigor.”33 He was to have second thoughts once the Frankfurt Parliament's lust for
German power revealed itself.
British support cooled when the implications of German unity began to sink in: it would be
fatal to the settlement of 1815 and to the viability of Austria as a barrier to Russian penetration in
the Balkans and the Near East. In July, Prussia, under heavy diplomatic pressure from Great Britain
and Russia, agreed to the Malmö Armistice, and in September of 1848 the Prussian army withdrew
in the face of Palmerston's warning of possible British intervention. It was the Frankfurt Parliament's
Robertson, Revolutions of 1848, 148. The preparliament included two Austrians, 114 Prussians, and 72 representatives
from tiny, progressive Baden.
A.J.P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), 13.
Mosse, ... The German Question, 16.
threat to disavow the armistice and above all its intransigence about Schleswig-Holstein which
earned for it the violent animosity of the Russian government and the scorn and disapproval of
Palmerston, and reduced British sympathy for the liberal and national cause in Germany. The
German liberal Baron Stockmar said of England at the time: "Our only natural friend has acted as an
enemy bent on our destruction."34
The biographer of Bismarck, Otto Pflanze, writes: "More than any other event of 1848, this
episode revealed the powerlessness of the [Franfurt Parliament]. The failure in Schleswig-Holstein
presaged the failure of the German revolution itself," and the experience “left a livid mark on the
liberal soul.”35 To this and the next generation of German nationalists the figure of "false, fleeting,
perjur’d" Palmerston, to paraphrase the bard, was the veritable embodiment of "perfidiose Albion,"
an expression36 frequently used by Adolf Hitler.
When the armistice expired in March, 1849, hostilities were resumed. but by June, 1849, the
Frankfurt Parliament was dead, destroyed by the triumphant forces of reaction led by the new
Austrian Chancellor Felix von Schwarzenberg. In July, 1849, Prussia and Denmark renewed the
armistice and signed peace preliminaries. The following year, under Russian and British pressure
and with Austria threatening hostilities, the Prussians made peace with the Danes and withdrew, and
the Schleswig-Holstein army was finally defeated by the Danes. As stipulated in the Punctation
("stipulation") of Olmütz between the Prussians and Austrians in November, 1850, Holstein had to
submit to the Danes.
In the wake of the failed revolution, despite the cordially reciprocated Anglo-German
feelings between 1815 and 1848, more and more Germans came to feel that the British were really
self-serving hypocrites with all their cant about free trade, liberalism, international agreements, and
so forth. After all, they said, when Britain was able to walk away from the Seven Years' War in
1761 with immense colonial acquisitions, she did not hesitate to do so, cutting off Frederick the
Great's subsidies and forcing him to sue for peace with Austria and France. That peace, after seven
years of punishing warfare, left Prussia where it had been at the beginning. "While one ally was
securing gains in every quarter of the globe, the other, after far greater sacrifices, was to be
Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-1914, 12.
Pflanze, Bismarck , i, 237, 25.
Albion derives from the Latin albus, white, an allusion to the white cliffs of Dover, perhaps. The phrase perfide
Albion refers to the German perception of habitual British treachery.
compelled to make humiliating concessions.”37 And as any historian can tell you, nothing is ever
In Prussia the Junker elite did not forget, and in his Memoirs Bismarck twice alludes to it.38
This legacy became even more bitter after Palmerston's policy in 1848 helped to discredit the shortlived Frankfurt Parliament. In Germany it outlasted the memory of Palmerston himself.39 Forgotten
was the fact that Palmerston's last-minute intervention prevented Austria's ruthless Prince Schwarzenberg from attacking Prussia in 1850.40 Prussia, too, was discredited in German eyes in 1850 by
the humiliating Punctation of Olmütz dictated by the Austrians with Russian support. In it, king
Friedrich Wilhelm IV agreed to drop his plans for a German union and demobilize his army. At the
time, Bismarck publicly took the king to task in the Landtag for having let slip the opportunity to
unify Germany by force ("What would Frederick the Great have done . . . ?"). Olmütz was the
Canossa that Bismarck invoked in 1866.
The First Dano-German War ended when Russia, France, and Great Britain pressured
Prussia into accepting the London Treaty of 1852, signed by Russia, France, Great Britain, Prussia,
Austria, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The right of succession in Holstein belonged to the male
heirs of Christian III (d. 1559), which ended with Frederik VII in 1863. The Lex Regia allowed the
royal Danish throne to go to Wilhelmine, daughter of Frederick VI (d.1839) and wife of Karl of
Glücksburg and their son, Christian. However, this was not accepted in Holstein, which claimed
that the ducal succession reverted to the heirs of Christian III's younger son, Johann of Sonderburg
(1564-1622), which would have enthroned the Augustenburgs who continued the male line
unbroken. Instead, by the Treaty of London, Frederik VII secured the succession of Christian of
Glücksburg as Christian IX, grandson through the female line, of the former Danish king, Frederick
VI, to the throne of Denmark. The Danish government undertook not to separate the duchies and to
consult the ducal estates concerning any constitutional union.
Palmerston's true feelings about German unification have long been a matter of dispute;
German historians by and large believed that he sold out the Frankfurt Parliament in favor of the
Lodge, Great Britain and Prussia, 116.
Bismarck. Memoirs. i, 370; ii , 255. He wrote: "A sudden transition [as] happened in the Seven Years' War has not
seemed to [England] reason for cherishing any nice scruples against the charge of leaving old friends in the lurch."
Priscilla Robertson. Revolutions of 1848: A Social History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952), 156. Among
other things Palmerston said he would treat a German navy as pirates, a fact which Grand Admiral von Tirpitz alludes to
bitterly in Chapter 2 of his Memoirs, vol. 1.
E. Mosse, The European Powers and the German Question, 1811-1871. (Cambridge, University Press, 1958), 39.
Schwarzenberg once said "A bayonet is good for everything except to sit upon."
status quo. The ties of religion, liberalism, and race were promoted by Prince Albert, but Palmerston
was not sentimental. The dynastic tie was more of an inconvenience than anything else since it
hampered his foreign policy, especially in 1863-64. Politically, Palmerston desired a strong
Germany, capable of checking France and Russia, as the best safeguard for Europe. Having no
interest in the Eastern Question, Germany would help defend Belgium and the Turkish Straits.
Unlike the French, the Germans would be solid reliable partners, especially coalesced around
Prussia. Therefore, it is doubtful that he was intrinsically antagonistic to German unity; only that
stability in Europe and the settlement of 1815 were more important to him.
Thus, due to the Frankfurt Parliament's refusal to abjure its claims on Schleswig, England,
the protagonist of German unity, became in practice the leading opponent of independence for the
duchies. German irredentism, if successful in Schleswig-Holstein, would undoubtedly lead to claims
on Alsace-Lorraine and attempts to alter national boundaries, antithetical to the order that
Palmerston was dedicated to maintain. German nationalism now seemed to him contrary to the
gentlemanly liberalism he espoused.
Had Schleswig-Holstein been divided on ethnic lines, with
North Schleswig incorporated into Denmark, British support might have been forthcoming, but
"Palmerston, although his patronage of Liberalism was genuine, was not prepared to assist in a
general subversion of the Treaty of Vienna.”41 German historians pointed out that the inviolability
of international boundaries did not inhibit his support for Italy in recovering Lombardy and Venetia
from the Austrians, and they thereby inferred inveterate English hostility to the establishment of the
German national state. This sense of betrayal remained and festered, exploding in 1895.
The Watershed I, 1863
After 1851, the Danish government tried to bind Schleswig more tightly to Denmark while
preserving Holstein's particularism. Additional language rescripts were promulgated, advancing
Danish in North and Central Schleswig, which had the predictable effect of further stiffening
German nationalism, so that Danish actually lost ground in east Central Schleswig. In October,
1855, a common constitution for the Helstet was announced. It brought forth bitter denunciations
from Schleswig-Holstein on the grounds that prior consultation of the ducal estates, as required by
the London Treaty, had not been held. In this the Schleswig-Holsteiners were supported by Berlin,
Frankfurt, and Vienna. In February, 1858, the Federal Diet declared the common constitution of
Donald Southgate, The Most English Minister: The Policies and Politics of Palmerston. (New York: St. Martin's
Press, 1966), 225.
Denmark to be illegal, and in August threatened federal execution in Holstein, unless Denmark
complied and gave a separate constitution to Holstein. The Danes avoided federal execution by
suspension of the common constitution in Holstein and Lauenburg , but not in Schleswig.
At this time, when Bismarck was packed off to St. Petersburg as the Prussian ambassador,
Wilhelm I, then regent for his demented brother Friedrich Wilhelm IV, and his new cabinet of
constitutional and moderate liberals were pursuing a policy of rapprochement with Austria and
Great Britain. Friendship with Britain was [still] a basic tenet of liberal politics, and Prussia was
conciliatory.42 All the while Germany and Prussia were growing in power; the national revival in
the summer of 1859 brought forth renewed demands for independence for Schleswig-Holstein.
In March, 1860, after Denmark rejected the constitutional proposals of the Holstein estates,
the Federal Diet again threatened federal execution. The situation continued to worsen until Britain,
France and Russia brought pressure to bear on Denmark to compromise, and once again, in August,
1861, the federal execution was suspended. Negotiations between Denmark and the "Dual Powers,"
Austria and Prussia, began in October, 1861, and in August, 1862, the Dual Powers demanded the
abrogation of the 1855 constitution for all of Schleswig-Holstein. A compromise was proposed by
the pro-Danish British Foreign Secretary, Lord John Russell, in his "Gotha Dispatch" of September,
24, 1862, in which he recognized the justice of the German position, recommending that Denmark
submit to the German Confederation in Holstein. Although approved by Otto von Bismarck, newly
appointed Minister-Präsident of Prussia, it was unacceptable to the Danes and evoked a storm of
protest in England. Deadlock was now complete.
In 1863, Frederick VII of Denmark issued his "March Patent" establishing a new constitutional arrangement without consulting the Schleswig-Holstein estates, which clearly presaged a new
attempt to incorporate Schleswig into Denmark. On July 9, 1863, the Federal Diet demanded
withdrawal of the patent by January 1, 1864, under threat of federal execution, and a return to the
Treaty of London or a settlement based on Russell's Gotha Dispatch. Preparations were begun for
the occupation of Holstein by Confederation forces. It was then that Palmerston inaugurated the
most crucial period of the "watershed" with his speech of July 23, 1863, in the House of Commons,
saying, in reply to a question from the Conservative Seymour Fitzgerald:
"I am satisfied . . . in desiring that the independence, the integrity and the rights
of Denmark may be maintained. We are convinced . . . that if any violent attempt were
made to overthrow those rights and interfere with that independence, those who made
Pflanze, Bismarck, I, 136.
the attempt, would find in the result, that it would not be Denmark alone with which
they would have to contend [italics mine]."
Palmerston later claimed it was an offhand comment, but the Danes took it quite seriously as a
guarantee of British support. They were to be undeceived in due course. Her resolve thereby
stiffened, Denmark informed the Diet that the patent would not be withdrawn, and that federal
execution would be regarded as grounds for war.
That Palmerston's statement was calculated seems to be the view of most British historians,
but Sandiford maintains that the statement was “only a hint of menace. . . the Danes had been
defiant long before 1863, and they were now resisting Britain's consistent plea for moderation.”
However, in diplomacy, "hints" are to ultimatums as salvos are to broadsides: perhaps not as
staggering, but loud and unmistakable. The Times report said that "Mr. S. Fitzgerald rose pursuant
to notice [italics mine]." In other words, Palmerston was ready for him; for a seasoned diplomat
like Palmerston, there could be no such thing as an offhand comment under such circumstances.
If Palmerston’s speech is compared with Lloyd George's Mansion House speech during the
Agadir Crisis of 1911, it can be seen that Lloyd George's bland comments, taking up less than a
column of print and mentioning no particular names, caused a tremendous diplomatic firestorm, as
they were intended to do. Clearly, Palmerston’s “hint” was the beginning of a disastrous policy of
bluff and bluster which led to votes of censure in Parliament a year later. If, in public affairs,
perception is all, then this statement was a crucial point in the watershed in Anglo-German relations.
During the next six months the Federal Diet laboriously produced an "order of execution"
against Denmark, which would be effective only if members of the German Confederation could be
found to enforce it; i.e., to occupy Holstein in the name of the Confederation. However, Britain,
France and Sweden seemed friendly to Denmark, and the Great Powers were preoccupied with
Poland, where an insurrection against the Russian government had broken out in January of 1863.
Napoleon III wanted to fight for Polish independence, but the British, though sympathetic, were torn
by their desire to maintain the Treaty of 1815 and its clauses regarding Polish autonomy, and
distrust for Napoleon, and refused to go that far. The Prussians and Austrians, worried about their
own Polish minorities, cooperated with the Russians, but Napoleon had more contempt for the
British than for the three monarchies, which later proved fatal to Danish hopes for British
intervention in the Second Dano-German War of the following year.
Sandiford, The Schleswig-Holstein Question, 59.
This promising beginning for the Danes ended abruptly on November 13, 1863, when King
Frederick VII suddenly died, and one week later the new king, Christian IX, was prevailed upon by
the radical Eiderdanes to hastily sign a new constitution which unilaterally abrogated the terms of
the London Convention. Thereupon Austria and Prussia were able to intervene as its upholders.
Perhaps wishing to be rid of Holstein, if that were to be the price of Danish unity, King Christian
recognized the right of the Diet to a federal execution in Holstein, but only if the Diet received his
ambassador and recognized him as Duke of Holstein. If not, it implied that the Diet did not
recognize his succession and he would resist the execution by force. but the Diet refused to recognize him until he suspended the constitution. Catch-22. The deadlock made conflict inevitable.44
In November of 1863, Great Britain, Russia, France and Sweden asked Denmark to rescind
the constitution. The Danes said they were doing so in due process, but a request for six weeks'
delay was refused in Berlin and Vienna, convincing the British that the Dual Powers were only
interested in manufacturing a casus belli. "The more disposed Denmark became to make
concessions," wrote The Times, "the less disposed were Austria and Prussia to give time for them.
[Denmark] is between two great parties, one of which says 'We wish to have one great united
Germany, and therefore let us go and attack Denmark;' while the other says, 'We wish to stop
democratic agitation in Germany . . . and therefore let us go and attack Denmark ."45
On December 19, 1863, the Danes, still refusing to revoke the constitution, withdrew their
troops from Holstein. Five days later Holstein was occupied by Saxon and Hanoverian forces
"despite the frantic opposition of the British government.”46 However, the Saxon and Hanoverian
troops occupying the duchies of Holstein and Lauenburg in the name of the Confederation refused
to invade Schleswig. After the federal execution took place, Friedrich August of Augustenburg,
proclaimed himself Friedrich VIII, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, and set up his court in Kiel. He
immediately attracted the wide support of Holstein revolutionaries and German liberals, and the
federal authorities did nothing to discourage them. Thus, the federal execution, ostensibly a pro
forma legal proceeding, became an act of hostility against the Danish crown, and took on the
character of an invasion.
The Times, December 12, 1863, 9d.
The Times, February 5, 1864, 5e.
Sandiford, The Schleswig-Holstein Question, 76.
Austria and Prussia, memories of 1848 still fresh in their minds, would not allow themselves
to be used by the Diet to achieve goals that would only strengthen the liberals. They were desirous
of a "federal execution" consonant with the principle of legitimacy, rather than an occupation of
Schleswig-Holstein by the Confederation, which would, in effect, rob the Danish king of his lawful
property and indirectly threaten the legitimacy and power of the Prussian and Austrian houses. In
Frankfurt, Austria and Prussia joined forces to deny the Augustenburg claimant, and in so doing
Austria accepted Prussia's position that the Diet was not competent to outvote them, which cost
Austria considerable support among the lesser Confederation states.
Prussian policy was ostensibly based on the fact that Christian IX was indisputably king of
Denmark and duke of Schleswig-Holstein and that the German Confederation had no right to
interfere in Schleswig, although federal execution in Holstein was compatible with the Treaty of
London. However, on December 22, 1863, Bismarck supported the Diet's earlier declaration and
said that unless Schleswig was exempted from the Danish constitution before the new year, Prussia
would consider itself released from the Treaty of London. Palmerston later pointed out to Bismarck
that the Danish undertakings of consultation and inseparability vis-a-vis the duchies were made in
separate notes to Austria and Prussia, and were not actually part of the London Convention. Thus, if
the Dual Powers renounced the treaty of 1852, they would still be under obligation to the other
signatories to respect Danish integrity, while the Danes would no longer be under any obligation to
carry out their undertakings. Bismarck, sighting along the barrel of a rifle, saw things differently.
The situation was tangled, indeed.
In England, Lord Russell did not resign himself to the federal execution, and although the
diplomatic mission he sent to Copenhagen to persuade Christian IX to a more moderate course was
a failure, he still believed the dispute could be settled peacefully and feared that the Germans had
ulterior motives in Schleswig. Also, a general war could give France opportunities to take over the
left bank of the Rhine, England's greatest fear. Palmerston considered the invasion of Schleswig as
an act of war which entitled Denmark to "our active military and naval support." but with 100,000
troops needed to defend the US-Canadian border, Britain had only 20,000 men available to take on
200,000 Germans. Even with Swedish and Danish forces, they would have been outnumbered two
to one. The British generally described the state of German public opinion at this time as insane
ravings and frenzy. British moral support for Denmark was overwhelming, except at Court; the
public would not hear of the justifiable arguments on the German side. Continued threats from the
Diet to abrogate the Treaty of London to interfere in Schleswig further galled the British public.47
The British cabinet was split on the matter, with the Queen doing her utmost in favor of
Germany and against the foreign policy of Palmerston and Russell, Great Britain itself was divided:
the right seemed to lie with Germany; sympathy came down on the side of Denmark. Sandiford
identifies no less than six distinct schools of British thought: Palmerstonian hawks, Mancunian
doves (Manchester liberals), Royalists who trusted the Queen to preserve the peace, Danophiles,
Germanophiles, and Disraelians "who totally condemn the policies of the liberals as a matter of
course.”48 The main reason the Palmerston ministry proved so ineffectual was that the composition
of the cabinet reflected these divisions, and in the absence of firm leadership by Palmerston could
not overcome them.
Palmerston's second ministry was a coalition between the leading forces in mid-Victorian
politics: Palmerstonians, Whigs, Mancunians and Peelites. Russell's dispatch of December 2, 1863,
to Berlin, critical of Prussia, was sent over the Queen's objections. Queen and Court felt that Great
Britain should force Denmark to fulfill her pledges rather than offend Austria and Prussia. The
dispatch was "the turning-point in the struggle between the Court and the Foreign Office for control
of British policy in the Danish crisis."49 It was the beginning of the ministerial rebellion against
Palmerston and Russell, "those two dreadful old men," as the Queen termed them. After that point,
Russell was never able to obtain cabinet acquiescence to the various forceful measures he was to
advocate in 1864, the year of decision.
The Watershed II, 1864
To forestall the Diet from provoking the other Great Powers by extending its jurisdiction to
Schleswig, Austria and Prussia cemented an alliance ostensibly to occupy Schleswig as a "material
guarantee" of Danish good faith, while continuing to maintain the rights of the Danish king against
the possible inroads of the German Diet.
But it is hard to believe that so astute a marksman as
Bismarck did not apprehend the possible appearance of a target of opportunity. By mobilizing an
army corps on the Saxon frontier he made it clear that he was prepared to fight Germany, i.e., the
rest of the Confederation apart from Austria, in support of the principle of legitimacy. Thus he was
The Times of London, November 20, 1863.
Sandiford, The Schleswig-Holstein Question, 10.
Sandiford, The Schleswig-Holstein Question, 77.
able to argue that Prussia had taken a risk in supporting the treaty of London, which made it
necessary for Denmark also to adhere to the treaty. By enforcing the federal execution rather than
occupying Holstein as demanded by the Confederation, they were protecting, he said, the integrity
of the Danish king's patrimony. However, when pressed for firm guarantees by the Russian
ambassador, Bismarck used his customary stratagem of retreating behind the supposed deplorable
stubbornness of King Wilhelm. Palmerston and Russell were unconvinced by Bismarck's argument
that it was a choice between the invasion of Schleswig or revolution in Germany. They already
suspected that "[Bismarck] harbours … the bold idea of occupying the duchies with Prussian troops
for Prussian purposes.50
In the letters to The Times during the early months of 1864, one can read almost every
proposition put forward by historians since the event, not only from Englishmen, but from German
readers, too: "[We Germans] believe that the opponent cause is firmly maintained only by England
because she dreads German commercial rivalry.”51 "What disturbs the peace of Europe is the union
of antagonistic nationalities. You English see us as slow, dreamy, inoffensive; now, on a sudden, we
are accused of barbarous fierceness.”52 The German Diet was not happy about the Dynamic Duo’s
action either, since their policy was in competition with the liberal drive for unification on a national
basis: "The advance of the Austro-Prussians, in short, viewed with the eyes of the bewildered and
disheartened patriots about me, Is aimed . . . at the annihilation of the hopes and aspirations of
revolutionary Germany.”53
Chiefly as a result of her policy in Poland, Great Britain now found herself isolated on
Schleswig-Holstein. Her options were (a) complete neutrality, (b) war, (c) ineffectual dithering. The
last course was selected, with what results we will see. The queen and cabinet were unwilling to act
without French support, but the Emperor was annoyed and insulted by Russsell's negative response
to his initiative for a European congress to meet in Paris to revise the settlement of 1815.54
January 3, 1864, the French foreign minister informed the British ambassador that "The question of
Poland had shown that Great Britain could not be relied upon when war was in the distance." The
The Times, Jan. 12, 1864, 6.
The Times, Jan. 2, 1864, 10b.
The Times, Jan. 19, 1864, 8.
The Times, Jan. 27, 1864, 9d.
Krein, The Last Palmerston Government. 127. Napoleon III, whose English, like Bismarck's, was fluent, actually read
it in the London Gazette the day before Russell's official reply was delivered by the British ambassador and was doubly
insulted. That may have been the exact moment when the Anglo-French "alliance" really collapsed.
Anglo-French alliance was a dead letter, not to be revived for forty years. This was the precise
moment which "marked the end of the Palmerstonian age in British foreign policy and the beginning
of British isolation.”55
The crucial moment for Denmark came on January 16, 1864, when the Dual Powers
announced their intention to invade Schleswig if the Danish constitution were not suspended within
48 hours. The Danes refused, and three days later the joint forces of the Dual Powers pushed the
Hanoverians and Saxons out of the way and took over Holstein in preparation for the attack on
Schleswig, As late as January 6th, Russell had warned Count Bernstorff, the Prussian envoy, that
Great Britain "could not consistently with her honour allow Denmark to perish without aiding in her
defence."56 That was a strong statement, but with a rather obvious loophole; viz., the implication that
Britain might suffer something less than the "perishing" of Denmark. Indeed, Denmark did not
disappear, so in that sense Great Britain achieved her fundamental maritime aim of keeping the great
powers from bestriding the narrow passages of the seas. It would be unreasonable to tax any
statesman for failing to foresee a war that came a half-century later. They had quite enough to do
with the one they foresaw in 1864.
A new factor was introduced when, on January 31st, Austria and Prussia warned that they
might be compelled to scrap the 1852 treaty altogether: "in consequence of complications which
may be brought about by the persistence of the Danish government in its refusal to accomplish its
promises of 1851-52."57 Once hostilities were initiated, Austria and Prussia cited the hostilities
themselves as sufficient cause for (a) abrogation of the Treaty of London, and (b) the occupation of
Schleswig as a material guarantee for the payment of reparations for damages due to Danish military
action in resisting the occupation.58 The Dual Powers invaded Schleswig the next day, and by
February 6th Denmark's historic rampart, the Dannevirke,59 collapsed abruptly without resistance,
after being outflanked by Prussian forces.
On February 4, 1864, the British Parliament assembled to question the leadership about
Schleswig-Holstein. A lengthy report in The Times the next day shows that public reaction was
Mosse, The German Question, 164.
Mosse, ... The German Question, 162.
Sandiford, The Schleswig-Holstein Question, 92.
1t was a novel argument that once a trespasser has broken into your house, he has thereby nullified the laws that
previously kept him at bay and, if his entry is resisted he is justified in keeping your house as security for any damages.
A barrier fortification originally built in the 10th century against the Carolingians and considered impregnable after its
reconstruction in the 1850s.
mixed. The Earl of Derby remarked in debate that federal occupation of Holstein "is admitted to be
legal" for the purpose of securing Danish compliance with Treaty of 1852. but:
We have the King of Prussia taking up arms in strenuous defence of
constitutional rights and the Emperor of Austria joining in a crusade for the protection
of oppressed nationalities. (Renewed laughter and cheers.) But how could you [Russell]
expect that your interference would be effectual when you had alienated France,
offended Russia, and more or less quarreled with every Power in Europe? When you
had not a Power you could call your friend.60
Trusting in Palmerston's pronouncement of July 23rd, the Danes made a formal
appeal to Great Britain for aid. Palmerston not only did nothing, but prevented Russell from
sending the fleet to Copenhagen to avoid encouraging Napoleon to cross the Rhine. Russell,
moved by the appeals of the Danes for help, still wanted a naval demonstration, but he was faced
with an anti-Danish Court, a divided cabinet, a baffled Parliament, and a confused public opinion.
At the February 13th cabinet meeting, the peace party led by Lord Granville, the Queen's secretary,
prevailed against Russell's bold plan of January 27th for dispatch of naval forces to the Baltic. A
few days later, on February 18, 1864, a sensation was caused in London and Paris when it was
learned that the Prussian General Wrangel had exceeded his orders and occupied the town of
Kolding in Jutland. The British press unanimously saw the invasion of Jutland as "an unspeakably
shameless outrage perpetrated on a small country by two great powers who began the war on one
pretext and extended it on another.”61 It was explained ex post facto by Bismarck and Austrian
foreign minister Rechberg as a necessary reprisal for Danish seizures of German ships. This
outraged British public opinion and now Palmerston, too, advised the dispatch of ships to the
Baltic.The Channel Fleet was recalled to British waters, and Palmerston informed the Austrian
ambassador that he would not allow Austrian ships to enter the Baltic.
For a moment, on Sunday, February 21st, it appeared from an exchange of telegrams
between Paris and London that the Anglo-French collaboration might be restored, and that the
Russians, too, would support a British naval sortie into the Baltic. Urgent Prussian and Austrian
disclaimers of aggressive intent towards Denmark mollified the British, and the moment was lost
when Russell, shortly before midnight that day, informed the French ambassador that the cabinet
had accepted the assurances of the Dual Powers. "Thus ended the only serious attempt ever
The Times, February 5, 1864, 5e.
Sandiford, The Schleswig-Holstein Question. 104.
undertaken to bring about some form of armed mediation in the conflicts between Prussia and her
successive opponents.”62
To Disraeli's criticisms Palmerston answered that Austria and Prussia will occupy Schleswig
only as a material guarantee and again quotes Bismarck: "The government of the king, by basing on
the stipulations of 1851-52 the rights which in concert with Austria it is proceeding to enforce upon
Denmark, has by this very act recognized the integrity of the Danish monarchy, The Government of
the King, in proceeding to the occupation of Schleswig do not intend to depart from this principle."
However, Bismarck's putting it out that "War puts an end to treaties." was much resented in
Parliament. Palmerston's position was: "Having done our best by peaceful means to bring matters
to a settlement our task is at an end."63 So the essence of Palmerston’s Danish policy was: what
cannot be achieved by bluster, need not be achieved at all. It is hard to imagine an adjective like
"honorable" or "statesmanlike" applied to such methods: people died because of them. The ends of
Palmerston's foreign policy may have been "constitutional government in Europe, governed on
liberal principles by enlightened free traders” but its conduct was Realpolitik, pure and simple.
Reports of Austrian naval threats and Prussian brutalities evoked great public indignation in
Britain, as Bismarck purposely dragged out the negotiations for a peace conference without an
armistice to give the Prussian army time to smash Danish resistance. The London Conference
opened on April 25th, one week after the fall of Denmark's redoubtable Dybbøl fortress. The Dual
Powers refused for a fortnight to accept reasonable terms for a one month truce, which only took
effect on May 12th. Although Denmark was forced to loosen the blockade of the German coast,
Austria and Prussia were allowed to retain the duchies and Jutland.
When the London Conference met in May, 1864, encouraged by Russell's supportive
attitude, the Danes suicidally refused to extend the armistice past June 25th, as long as the armies of
the Dual Powers remained on Danish soil. Meanwhile, Prussia no longer recognized the integrity of
the Danish monarchy. She had withdrawn the proposal for personal union of Schleswig-Holstein
under the Danish king and now demanded complete separation. In the face of Prussia's victorious
demands, Great Britain effectively abandoned the 1852 Treaty of London. By the end of May the
Tsar formally ceded his rights in Holstein, and the 1852 Treaty was dead. On June 18th Bernstorff,
the Prussian ambassador, read a formal statement to the Conference, in which Prussia abjured the
Mosse, The German Question. 186.
The Times of London, February 10, 1864, 5d. Italics mine.
1852 treaty. The resulting crisis led to renewed Anglo-French discussions of an alliance to cover
both Denmark and Italy. The British government wavering between the conflicting principles of
nationality and treaty rights, was unable to co-operate wholeheartedly with either France or Russia.
On the 25th of June, therefore, the British cabinet decided against war over the division of
Jutland, leaving in abeyance the question of a threat to the independence of Denmark. Carried by
Palmerston's tie-breaking vote, the cabinet had elected to send a fleet to Copenhagen, but
Palmerston decided against it. On June 27, Russell and Palmerston made their statements in
Parliament, and it became clear that the British were for peace at any price. Palmerston explained
ingenuously that by his declaration of the previous year, that Denmark would not fight alone, he had
really meant that France and Russia might help them. Meanwhile, the Germans cheerfully grabbed
their guns and went back to war.
The subsequent motion of censure against Palmerston in the Lords was carried by nine votes.
A vote of censure in Commons failed by only 18 votes with the help of Cobden and Bright. With
this, the watershed in the Anglo-German relationship was passed; Creat Britain had come off with
neither honor nor advantage. The Prussian Junkers could respect the one or prize the other, but they
scorned what appeared to them the caitiff spirit which made threats, failed to carry them out, and
then had not even the grace to be ashamed.
The demise after only a dozen years of the 1852 Treaty, which nobody liked, was another
example of the shamelessly cynical principle of rebus sic stantibus, that treaties only remained in
force while the conditions that gave birth to them were maintained. That is, mutatis mutandis, a
treaty could be revoked or revised whenever it could be done with impunity. Bismarck's duplicity
was now clear to the British, but there was little they could do about it. His insistence upon
unacceptable terms for a personal union of the duchies and Denmark under King Christian were
rejected by the Danes, leaving only the options of a national Augustenburg solution to the German
question or the extension of Prussian power to Schleswig-Holstein. Either way, Austria was also the
diplomatic loser in the affair. To minimize their losses they declared for Augustenburg, and
Bismarck was forced to go along. However, he nimbly recovered his balance and presented
Augustenburg with a list of demands so long that he could not accept them, a frequent tactic of his
Machtpolitik. Prussia and Austria then created an intrinsically unworkable condominium over the
In Great Britain, Lord Russell was roasted in the oratorical fires of Disraeli's wrath, and it
was widely recognized that he had managed to have the worst of all possible outcomes: sacrificing
the Danes while antagonizing the Germans. The resulting reaction gave birth to British isolationism.
The future Lord Salisbury wrote in 1866 that: "The policy that was pursued in 1864 has undoubtedly
had the effect of severing [England] in great measure from the course of continental politics . . . The
general feeling in this country is in favour of abandoning the position which England held for so
many years in the councils of Europe."64
Thus the Schleswig-Holstein affair inaugurated the period of "splendid isolation " which was
to last 38 years until the Anglo-Japanese Naval Alliance of 1902. During the half-century to come,
Great Britain busied herself about the globe but, apart from Istanbul, remained relatively detached
from continental affairs. Mosse writes: "Poland and Schleswig did for British diplomacy what the
Crimean War had done for Russia . . . the partial withdrawal of England left Prussia and Austria
face to face, with Napoleon holding the balance between them.”
Although the Schleswig-Holstein crisis arose from Danish determination to detach and
annex Schleswig, Palmerston's ambiguous statements of support encouraged them to pursue their
obstinate and dangerous policy against the overwhelming might of the Dual Powers. Palmerston's
routine application of his standard technique of threatening one power with another was an idle one
and led the Danes to a national catastrophe. According to Palmerston's biographers, Southgate and
Ridley, he was unwilling to commit himself to French intervention for fear Napoleon would seize
the opportunity and the Rhineland as well. He firmly believed that ''the first serious encounter
between it [the Prussian Army] and the French would be little less disastrous to Prussia than the
Battle of Jena.”65 According to Southgate he "alternated between a world of romance in which the
Balance of Power operated according to theoretical specification and the realm of reality in which it
did not, and lingered long in a half-light of bluff which failed to deter the Germans but encouraged
the Danes to be stubborn.”66
In the wake of the Schleswig-Holstein affair there remained a growing estrangement
between the peoples. While national ties continued to expand, national friendship was clearly on the
wane. Both sides retained indelible impressions of the duplicity of the other, yet continued to
admire and emulate each other in many ways. Popular impressions of German brutality and British
hypocrisy remained and were reinforced by the press of both countries and, in Bismarck's case, by a
definite policy. British idealists could no longer profess to find an affinity in German liberalism;
Mosse, The German Question. 209. Watershed, p.39.
Ridley, Lord Palmerston, 570.
Southgate, Most English Minister, 509.
only realists like Palmerston could continue to applaud the Prussianization of Germany. "The
repeated failures of 'Palmerstonian' diplomacy and the 'meddle and muddle' of Russell had produced
. . . a profound distaste for 'unnecessary' interference in the affairs of the continent. Even the great
crisis of 1866 found England largely indifferent."67
For four hundred years, Britain had not fought a war in Europe except as an ally of a major
European power; and there was now no such ally available to help her in a war against Austria and
Prussia. When military might, as distinct from seapower, was needed to enforce her policies in
Europe she had always to rely upon one or more major continental powers as allies. In Poland in
1863 and Denmark in 1864, partly through her own efforts, Great Britain managed to find herself
isolated and without a major ally. Her policies proved counter-productive, and in the climactic
decade of German unification, 1863-71, contributed to a major shift in the European balance of
power and the watershed in the Anglo-German relationship.
British irresolution owed much to Queen Victoria's semi-hysterical interference and the
unconstitutional communications of cabinet decisions which she received regularly from Lord
Granville. However, had Palmerston and Russell been as enthusiastic for maintaining legitimate
German rights in Schleswig-Holstein, Denmark would have been far less recalcitrant and her losses
correspondingly diminished. Certainly, it would have worked wonders for the Anglo-German
relationship, which was not to recover from the impact of the Schleswig-Holstein affair.
107 Mosse, . . . The German Question, 365.
IV. EVENTIDE: 1864-1895
Prussian Hegemony, 1866-70
In 1864, Bismarck administered another major setback to the Austrians by reestablishing the Zollverein, due to expire in 1865, on the basis of Prussia's 1863 freetrade treaty with France, but without the Austrian participation which had been a
major goal of Habsburg foreign policy. He did this by insisting that Austria not
receive any special protection for her nascent industry, thus placing the onus of
refusal on the Austrians, a tactic of which he was a master. Once again, the customs
union had proven to be a factor of major political importance in the evolution of the
German Empire.
By the Convention of Gastein in 1865, Prussia and Austria agreed to place
Schleswig under Prussian and Holstein under Austrian administrations, but they also
reaffirmed their joint sovereignty over the duchies. Austria, after putting up for
several years with Bismarck's double-dealing in Germany and studied provocations in
their Schleswig-Holstein condominium, finally had enough, and in early 1866
"Bismarck reached the line of hard resistance."68 This came as no surprise to
Bismarck who had just created a three-month offensive alliance with the Italians to
make sure that when war came Austria would have to fight on two fronts. The result
was the Austro-Prussian War (also known as the Seven Weeks War) of 1866, which
Prussia won by the dramatic victory of Königgrätz (Sadowa) on July 3, 1866, thus
assuring her hegemony in Germany and Austria's exclusion. Great Britain (the Irish,
as always, excepted) rejoiced at the victory of Protestant over Catholic and the
downfall of reactionary Austrian despotism.
Otto Pflanze describes Prussia's political evolution into the German Empire
as a series of five "revolutions." The first four were: (1) the centralization
Pflanze, Bismarck, i, 267.
begun under the Great Elector, Friedrich Wilhelm I (1640-88), (2) Frederick the
Great's creation of Prussia (1740-1788) as a Great Power; (3) the liberalizing
reforms of Stein and Hardenberg (1807-23), and (4) the adoption of constitutionalism in Prussia in 1851 in the wake of the revolt of 1848. The fifth revolution, Bismarck's creation of the German Empire (1866-71), was now about to
take place.
Victory over Austria in 1866 gave Prussia the leadership over Germany
north of the Main river, which became the North German Confederation, with
its capital in Berlin. The former Austrian allies of the south, the Catholic
states of Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria were excluded. With Prussia's annexation of Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, Electoral Hesse, Nassau, and Frankfurtam-Main, Prussia now comprised two-thirds of the North German Confederation,
its territory stretching unbroken from East Prussia westward to the Rhineland. The king of Prussia was president of the North German Confederation,
Bismarck was its chancellor, and its constitution was Prussian-inspired. With
the acquisition of Kiel, the aftermath of the war of 1866 saw Prussia in possession of the entire German North Sea littoral, fulfilling the geopolitical conditions for a German navy in the northern seas.
By 1870 Bismarck was ready to take on the French. Though uneasy about
Prussia's future ambitions on the continent, Great Britain remained more concerned
about Napoleon III. Ever since 1859 and his annexation of Nice and Savoy as the
price of Italian unity, it was widely assumed in Whitehall, the Wilhelmstrasse, and the
Quai d’Orsay itself, that Napoleon's goal was the "natural frontier" of the Rhine, with
its German population; a goal which ran directly counter to his professed encouragement for the principle of self--determination of the nations. Bonapartism on the right
and revolution on the left had been the twin bugbears of Palmerston’s diplomacy.
Napoleon III had been repeatedly rebuffed in his eager attempts to snatch crumbs
from Bismarck's table with his repeated demands for "compensation" every time
German real estate changed hands. All he had ever managed to secure, apart from the
mistrust of Great Britain and Germany, was the destruction of the great fortress of
Luxembourg in 1867. In consequence, a sense of frustration and humiliation had been
steadily building in France. It erupted in the summer of 1870 over the Hohenzollern
candidature for the Spanish throne, when young Prince Leopold of HohenzollernSigmaringen was asked to accept the Spanish crown, vacant since the overthrow of
Queen Isabella in 1868.
Although the selection of a collateral branch of the Prussian ruling house for the
throne of Spain came as a surprise to Bismarck, he made the most of it. However, the
French were able to convince King Wilhelm to order his subject to withdraw (Leopold
did not want the crown anyway). The French then insisted on absolute written
guarantees that the candidature would never be renewed, which Wilhelm refused. On
July 13, 1870, Bismarck released the famous "Ems Telegram" describing Wilhelm's
refusal, which was subtly edited by him so as to infuriate both nations. The result was
that, as Bismarck desired, France delivered her declaration of war in Berlin on July
19th, making Prussia appear the victim of French aggression.69 (This guy is good!)
Prussia was now free to pose as the injured party, to enlist the aid of the German
states, and to secure the watchful forbearance of England, Russia, and Austria. Once
war broke out in July of 1870, both France and Prussia vied for British favor. When
Napoleon proclaimed his respect for Belgium, Bismarck released a draft treaty between
Prussia and France, showing Napoleon's Belgian intentions to be less than above
board. The British cabinet, after obtaining fresh guarantees from both sides on August
9th and 11th, then sat back and watched as the Prussian army proceeded to crush the
Bismarck may have been modern history's first and most successful "spin doctor." The critical
actions triggering this cataclysm involved human corruption of electronic information. On June 19,
1870, a cipher clerk's blunder led the Spanish government to believe that their delegate to Leopold
would not return unti1 July 9. He had actually wired them that he would return on June 26th. The
government expected Leopold to be confirmed as king by the Cortes before the scheduled July 1st
summer adjournment, thus presenting a fait accompli. Anyone who has spent a few weeks without
airconditioning in a baking Madrid summer can understand the Cortes' eagerness to adjourn. They did so
on June 23rd, and in order to reconvene them they had to be told what was afoot. The news leaked out
quickly and the French reaction was predictable.
French at Sedan, September 2, 1870, and capture Napoleon.
British opinion still favored Germany, especially as France was clearly the
aggressor, but the tide turned after Sedan, with the awareness of German supremacy
on the continent. Germanophile Sir Robert Morier, attaché at Great Britain's Berlin
embassy, rejoiced but worried that "arrogance and overbearingness are the qualities
likely to be developed in a Teutonic race under such conditions." Disraeli said: "This
war represents the German revolution, a greater political event than the French
revolution, . . . the balance of power has been entirely destroyed, and the country that
suffers the effects of this great change the most is England.”70
The crowning humiliation for the French was the proclamation of Wilhelm I as
German Kaiser (Emperor) in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.71 If the British had
shown as much support for the French in 1870 as she did for the Danes in 1864, the
outcome of the Franco-Prussian War surely would have been different. but British
concern for Belgian independence and obsessive distrust of Napoleon saw France,
not a unified Germany, as the main threat. Lulled by Bismarck' s pacific policies after
1871, it was to be another thirty years before this began to change.
Bismarck and the German Empire, 1871-1890
In the years after the Franco-Prussian War it was Bismarck's aim to achieve a
stable Europe, while Germany consolidated her unification. The main disturbance to
the tranquility of Europe was the perennial Eastern Question, which exercised
European diplomacy for most of the century. With Russia and Austria at odds in the
Balkans, and England maintaining the Bosphorus barrier to Russian egress from the
Black Sea, there was a community of interest between Austria and Great Britain.
When ambassador Odo Russell expressed to Bismarck Great Britain's concerns about
Russian repudiation in 1870 of the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris, the latter
told Russell that Berlin had no secret understanding with St. Petersburg, although he
Pflanze, Bismarck, ii, 247. The French might have taken Issue with Disraeli's insular viewpoint.
Pflanze, Bismarck, i, 504, writes of the controversy over whether Wilhelm would be styled “German Emperor” or “Emperor of
Germany,” which Wilhelm preferred as stipulating his authority over all of Germany. Bismarck forced him to choke down the other title,
and Wilhelm was so angry that after his coronation he brushed by Bismarck without even a look. You just can’t please some folks.
admitted to "an unconscious alliance" of friendship and gratitude for Russian forbearance in the Franco-Prussian War.
He then went on to say that Britain and Austria were Germany's natural allies, a
meaningless phrase. but Gladstone's government (1868-74) did not rise to the lure.
Gladstone was pacifistic and wanted money for domestic affairs, but another reason
for the refusal of an alliance was mistrust of Bismarck. Bismarck, disappointed,
reportedly said that he lost five years of his political life "by the foolish belief that
England was still a great power.”72 Although an alliance never came about, "for the
… years 1870-1900 Germany was repeatedly offered the privilege of defending
British interests against Russia with no other reward than a grudging patronage.”73
It was the "war-in-sight" scare of 1875, when Bismarck seemed to be threatening war with France, that first displayed in embryonic form the future realignment of
the powers, with Russia, Great Britain, and France on one side, and Austria-Hungary
and Germany on the other. On that occasion, Bismarck backed down, but like tectonic
plates slowly shifting the surface of the earth, the neutral Powers of 1864 were
gradually coming into a new alignment, which was to mature in the last decade before
World War I.
When Russia emerged victorious from the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8 and
dictated terms to Turkey in the treaty of San Stefano, the British and Austrians were
ready to fight to reverse it. The Congress of Berlin in 1878 rolled back the Russian
gains, with Bismarck acting as "honest broker." While nominally Russia's ally, Bismarck was scrupulously neutral and enabled all powers to avoid a major conflict. The
Tsar, however, felt that he was entitled to better from his erstwhile Prussian protegés.
Following the Congress, therefore, the reactionary entente between Prussia, Austria
and Russia, known as the Dreikaiserbund, or Three Emperors League, collapsed.
As a result, Bismarck's alliance proposal surfaced again in September, 1879,
when Bismarck was preparing to sign Germany's alliance with Austria-Hungary. He
Pflanze, Bismarck, ii, 258.
Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 211.
instructed Ambassador Munster to ask Disraeli (Prime Minister, 1874-80) what the
British attitude would be if Germany came into conflict with Russia and, according to
Disraeli, proposed an alliance between Germany, Austria, and Great Britain. Munster
wired Berlin that Disraeli said he "would enter with pleasure into an alliance with
Germany." However, by the time Munster's dispatch arrived in Berlin the Russians
were already conciliating the Germans and the initiative was not pursued.
Bismarck, as usual, had many irons in the fire, but "from [Foreign Secretary]
Salisbury's later remarks to Munster it is evident that the British government, had it
been asked the right question, would have responded favorably.”74 Sontag says that
"Salisbury readily promised that if Russia attacked Germany and Austria, England
would fight." It would seem that in 1879 England's isolation and distaste for Bismarck,
whom Disraeli fancied he could handle, did not equate to hostility towards Germans.
Sontag believes that Bismarck withdrew from the prospect of an Anglo-Austro-German
alliance, because he feared that Germany would thereby become not the arbiter of
Europe but rather the chief target of France and Russia.75
Great Britain, having come away from the Congress with the greatest gains of
any power, might have been expected to be grateful towards Bismarck. However, by
this time, British distrust of Bismarck was endemic, Disraeli exclaiming: "Bismarck,
more than Russia, is my problem, and I am firmly resolved to thwart him.”76 However,
this was ad hominem, rather than an expression of any institutionalized Germanophobia
in the British government.
Bismarck, for his part, thought “der alte Jude” was the
dominant figure at the Congress. The Congress did finally succeed in dispelling British
suspicion of German aims in Europe, although the distaste for Bismarck and his
ungentlemanly scheming remained. The impact of the humiliation of SchleswigHolstein proved quite durable, as Britain's Splendid Isolation looked to become a
permanent institution.
Pflanze, Bismarck, ii, 509.
118Sontag, Germany and England, 160ff.
Pflanze, Bismarck, l l , 431.
In the economic sphere, the depression of 1873 deepened over the decade,
causing demands in every country for increased protection from foreign competition.
After 1875, higher tariffs were adopted in the United States, Austria-Hungary , Italy, and
Russia, while the French began to subsidize iron exports. Only Great Britain and
Germany remained true to the principle of free trade. In Great Britain, the decline in her
relative global mercantile supremacy began at this time. After producing an average
annual value of £230 million in exports over 1870-74, Great Britain henceforth "was
forced to fight for her life in a new economic world.”77
German protectionist sentiment, guided by Bismarck, resulted in the German
Protective Tariff Act of 1879, which caused serious misgivings in England,
where exports had fallen from £256 million in 1872 to a low of £181 million. Foreign
competition had greatly intensified, especially from Germany and Belgium. Germany
was Great Britain's largest continental market, and its contraction was painful,
economically and ideologically, since Great Britain alone of the major trading nations
remained committed to Free Trade. Yet protectionist sentiment was growing in
Britain, although it was cloaked as a drive for "Free and Fair Trade."
Trade revived in 1880, with exports recovering to £233 million, but fell
again from 1884 to 1888, a period characterized as "the great depression of
the eighties." While Bismarck had a nightmare of coalitions, England was enjoying a nightmare of hostile tariffs and foreign competition: "In no instance
was this development felt more keenly than in the valuable American and Ger-man markets." Meanwhile, in, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and Sweden German
commercial penetration was growing; always, it seemed, at Britain's expense.
Just as Germany's growing Anglophobia of the 1880s was grounded in the
events of 1848 and 1864, England's Germanophobic reaction after the Kruger
Telegram of 1895 and the Boer War of 1899-1902 was being prepared by the economic
difficulties of the 1880s. The Germans were accused not only of "dumping" products
below cost abroad and of official government intervention to secure contracts and
Ross J. Hoffman, Great Britain and the German Trade Rivalry, 1875-1914, 6.
patents and forging trademarks, especially after their refusal to adhere to the international conventions on trade marks of 1883 and 1886 (neither did the United States).
The British Merchandise Marks Act of 1887, requiring the country of origin to be
stamped on imported manufactures, had a sobering effect. The country woke up to the
"Made in Germany" label, amplifying Great Britain's German trade hysteria.
The diligent German abroad and in England was seen as a mole undermining
the walls of Britain's economic bastions. The echoes of this controversy resonate with
the Asian-American trade controversies of our own time:
How could a people of insular conservatism, tenaciously individualist,
wedded to the outworn ways of doing things, their manufacturing
leadership passing, continue even to hold their own against another
people of superior genius for methodical exactness and laborious
energy, of better education, of higher talents in collective organization of national economic life, in such an age as had dawned?78
However, Great Britain's volume of trade was still relatively massive and remained
supreme up to World War 1.
Bismarck had a well-known aversion to colonial ventures, although he was
constantly importuned by various interests to acquire one piece of colonial real estate
or another. “Colonies, for Germany," he wrote in his diary on February 9, 1871,
“would be like sable coats on Polish noblemen who don't have shirts,"79 only a cause
of weakness and expense. However, in 1883-84, he became a convert to colonialism,
for reasons still unexplained. Perhaps the potential exclusion of German commerce
from the expanding colonial empires of the other powers forced his hand; perhaps it
was a sop to the commercial interests that had been hurt by the 1879 Tariff Act. In any
case, by 1885 Bismarck could note with satisfaction that, surrounded by friends in
Europe, (France excepted), it was the optimal time to seek colonial acquisitions.
Concerned by omens of imminent British annexation of what is today Namibia,
Hoffman, Great Britain and the German Trade Rivalry, 50, 94.
Pflanze , Bismarck,iii, 114.
Bismarck on April 24, 1884, the natal day of the German colonial empire, extended
"protection" to a German trader on that coast. This was followed by similar grants to
German traders in the Cameroons, Togoland, and later in East Africa. Not only the
British, but the Germans themselves were taken by surprise by this action, which
passed through Germany "like an electric shock.80 Further acquisition of Eastern New
Guinea in December of 1884 caused British resistance to stiffen, and Bismarck began
to promote a Franco-German entente in Africa to counter British power. Anglo-French
colonial frictions in Egypt made France receptive. From November, 1884, to February,
1885, the colonial powers met in Berlin under the chairmanship of Hatzfeldt, the
Anglophile German ambassador to Great Britain, to thrash out colonial problems in
Africa, confirming German gains on the basis of "effective occupation and preserving
free trade in the Congo and Niger basins."
In March, separate agreements with the British settled other colonial differences,
but this newfound rivalry abroad was reflected in a further worsening of attitudes in
both countries. Hoffman notes: "Official relations were excellent until the BismarckGranville quarrel over African colonies in 1884-85, the first spectacular clash of
economic rivals who had begun to crowd and jostle one another in many parts of the
world . . . Germany's upward climb in industry and commerce was a prominent topic of
public discussion in England by 1885.”81 However, despite their continuing rivalry,
Bismarck had studiously avoided friction with Great Britain. His presidency of the
Berlin West Africa Conference of 1884-85 secured recognition of Germany's
international interests, and colonial frictions abated. but Germany was now a colonial
power, and colonial powers need navies.
The Zanzibar-Helgoland Treaty, 1890
In the late Victorian era Anglo-German attitudes were marked in England by
increased concern in Britain at the sudden dominance of German military power and
the inroads of German commerce, and in Germany by growing Anglophobia
125Pflanze. Bismarck, iii, 127.
Hoffman, Trade Rivalry, 73.
Preussische Jahrbücher (1866-89), in order to weaken liberal and democratic
However, during the Victorian age in Britain, when the leading
ideology was neither political or national but religious, the Protestant connection with
Germany still loomed very large. In Germany itself the success of the Prussians was
causing the old concept of the Rechtstaat, the constitutional state, to give way
increasingly to the Machtstaat, based on power, both internally and externally.
By the end of his career Bismarck wished that he had never become involved in
the "colonial swindle.” Even the shipping interests of Hamburg were reluctant to
support the colonies economically, but for reasons of prestige colonial nations could
not simply divest themselves of their possessions. In January, 1889, as the campaign
of the revanchiste Georges Boulanger for a coup d'etat peaked in Paris, Bismarck
made his "famous written offer" of an alliance against France to the Conservative
Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, and even considered handing over some colonies to
Great Britain in return for an agreement. It was not accepted, but a close understanding existed between London and Berlin, and both powers considered France and
Russia to be their main threats. So when, a decade later, Chancellor von Bülow and
Counselor Holstein were to rebuff British alliance overtures they felt free to do so
because they dismissed as pure fantasy any talk of British rapprochement with
Russia, its imperialist competitor, and France, its ancestral enemy.83 Palmerston(?)
said: “Nations do not have permanent allies, only permanent interests.”
Herbert Bismarck, the Chancellor's son, went to London to resolve their
colonial differences, and Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, renewed the
offer to trade Helgoland for Southwest Africa. Salisbury also told Herbert that the
cabinet believed that an Anglo-German alliance would be "most healthy for both
countries" although the moment was "inopportune.”84 Thus Bismarck was receptive
when, in 1889, Lord Salisbury formally proposed a swap of Zanzibar for Helgoland.
James Hale, Publicity and Diplomacy, With Special Reference to England and Germany, 1890-1911,
(Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1964), 63. Hale writes that: "For Bismarck the press was never more than an agency to be bribed, bludgeoned, or cajoled to do his bidding," 83
Robert K. Massie, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the . . . Great War: Random House, 1991), 306.
Pflanze, Bismarck, iii, 312.
When William II became Kaiser in 1888, Anglo-German relations were quite
friendly. At that time Britain and Germany were living as fairly good colonial
neighbors, partly as a result of Bismarck's disenchantment with the colonies. The
Mediterranean Accords of 1887 binding Great Britain, Italy, Spain, and AustriaHungary to support the status quo in the Mediterranean against France, created a close
understanding between London and Berlin.85 On March 18, 1890, under pressure
from the Kaiser, Bismarck resigned. Count Leo von Caprivi, the new Chancellor, was
more honest but less agile than Bismarck, who had not scrupled to juggle secret
alliances with sworn enemies such as Austria-Hungary and Russia while securing
British forbearance by a restrained colonial and naval policy.
The 1890 Anglo-German Convention, reaffirming official cordiality and
temporarily reducing imperialist rivalry, had worked to silence commercial fears, and
under the Caprivi government Berlin dropped her protectionist policies and opted for a
new course of conventional tariffs and reciprocal trade agreements. So the last decade
of the century began with great promise for Anglo-German relationships. Due to
Caprivi's and the Kaiser's desire for an unqualified alliance with Austria-Hungary and
rapprochement with Great Britain, the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia was allowed to
lapse. On July 1, 1890, Germany and Great Britain ratified the Zanzibar-Helgoland
Treaty, Germany ceding its claims to Zanzibar and Uganda in exchange for the
Caprivi Strip in German South west Africa and the North Sea island of Helgoland.
The Kiel Canal was begun in 1887 and with its opening in 1895, the German
Navy was able to by-pass Jutland and transfer its warships directly between the Baltic
and North Seas. Helgoland was essential for the Kaiser's long-held plans for naval
expansion, covering as it did the North Sea approaches to the Kiel Canal and the
mouths of the Weser and the Elbe rivers. Helgoland and the Kiel Canal were crucial
strategic stepping-stones to the building of a great naval power. Effectively, by 1895,
the German littoral ran continuously 800 miles from the Dutch border, along the Frisian
coast, through Jutland via the Kiel Canal, and up the shores of the Baltic Sea to Memel
on the Russian border. It was to remain practically inviolate to naval assault through
two World Wars.
A.J.P. Taylor, Bismarck, the Man and Statesman (New York: Knopf, 1955), 225-6.
The German public felt they had been swindled by the English, nor could the
government afford to make public its long-range naval ambitions. One immediate result
of popular German dissatisfaction with the treaty was the formation in 1891 of the
Allgemeine Deutscher Verband, forerunner of the Pan-German League, which was
relentlessly hostile to Great Britain. Its high priest was the popular and bellicose
Heinrich von Treitschke, the historian-philosopher (d.1896) who, "more than any other
single character in German political life is responsible for the anti-English sentiment
which blazed out during the Boer War.”86 His alpha and omega were Deutschland über
alles and Gott straf England. Though decidedly unfond of all non-Germans, his most
venomous diatribes were anti-English; e.g.: "English policy which aims at the unreasonable goal of world supremacy, has always . . . reckoned on the misfortunes of other
nations . . . Thanks to England, maritime law is, in time of war, nothing better than a
system of privileged piracy.”87 Beginning his career in the 1850s as a liberal champion
of German unity, Treitschke progressed to a doctrine of Prussianism, violence and
Weltpolitik, in which the end of German power justified any means. This became the
touchstone of nationalism and Anglophobia in Imperial Germany.
Hostility to Great Britain had been growing apace for many years, encouraged
first by the Bismarckian press, and later blossoming forth as a major movement under
the influence of Treitschke. For German intellectuals England was at once a reality and
a potent symbol, "invested with exemplary qualities and surrounded by emotional
In the 1850s and 1860s Treitschke "drew [for his students] idealized
pictures of England, describing her as a Germanic country which had won the blessings
of unity, strength, and liberty . .. a country Germans might study as a model, a national
life which Germans might set as a goal.”
After 1866 he became a fervent supporter
of Prussia and in his famous and immensely influential History of Germany in the
Nineteenth Century he pilloried Great Britain as Germany's remaining dangerous foe
and looked forward to a "final reckoning" with her.
J.A. Cramb, Germany and England (New York: Dutton, 1914), 78. Ultra-nationalist von Treitschke was
the descendant of a Czech Protestant family named Tršky. Over-compensating?
Adolph Hausrath, Treitschke, His Doctrine of German Destiny. G.P.Putnam, 1914, 213, 165.
Charles McClelland, The German Historians and England, (Cambridge University Press, 1971), 3.
Sontag, Gerany and England, ... , 323.
However, official relations remained "warm," Bismarck himself saying that
"England is worth more to us than Zanzibar and all East Africa,” a view shared by
Chancellor Caprivi.
The Helgoland-Zanzibar Treaty was the high point in Anglo-
German relations of the Wilhelmine era. The Times of London, which later became
staunchly anti-German after the Boer War, said that "never was a country which,
having won so much military glory as Germany, has shown less disposition to use its
power for offence instead of defence.”90
With the abandonment of the Reinsurance Treaty in 1890, from being one of
three in a system of five great powers under Bismarck, Germany became one of two
under his successors. In this situation Bismarck had always turned to England, and in
the 1890s this option was still open. but the opportunity was squandered by the construction of
Tirpitz' "risk navy," the blustering course pursued by Wilhelm II in the Boer War, two Moroccan
crises, and general puffery about Weltpolitik during the post-1900 period.
The Times of London, September 29, 1891.
V. NIGHTFALL: 1895-1914
The Kruger Telegram, 1896
British fears of Germany as a dangerous commercial rival first arose plainly in the
mid-1880s, but widespread national alarm did not really exist before the mid-90s.
Protectionist opinion strengthened with accelerating German competition and began to
look towards a system of imperial preferences, a British global Zollverein. German
commercial gains in the British Empire were most striking in South Africa, where
German shipping, trade, and railroad building were competing directly with the
British. Since 1888, German interest in the railroad from Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal, the landlocked Boer state, east to Delagoa Bay in Portuguese Mozambique, had
already jangled British nerves, suspicious of a possible Boer-German alliance.
In 1894, a native insurrection in Lourenço Marques (Maputo), capital of
Mozambique, brought both British and German armed intervention and a warning
from Berlin that Germany would not permit the Portuguese colonies to become
British. In the Transvaal, which the British considered an imperial preserve, the Boer
government clearly favored the Germans and severely discriminated against the
sizable numbers of British subjects in the country. With Treitschke and trade rivalries
providing the kindling, South Africa proved to be the flash point in the Anglo-German
In December, 1895, Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, chief lieutenant of Cecil
Rhodes, England's legendary capitalist-imperialist, led a raid of 700 free-lance
troopers into the Transvaal to overthrow the Boer government of Paul Kruger. On
January 2, 1896, Jameson surrendered to the Boers. The British government disavowed
the raid and brought Jameson home for trial and subsequent conviction, but German
public opinion was outraged by this unprovoked attack upon a Germanic nation. Some
sort of action was demanded of the Kaiser's government.
Before the Jameson Raid Maurice de Bunsen, British diplomat but grandson of
Prussian ambassador Baron von Bunsen, noted that "the relations with Germany
continue the same, viz., a coolness, if not more, between the Courts, a little bickering
between the people, and the most absolute cordiality and confidence between the
Governments.”91 All that changed with the publication of the Kaiser's telegram to
Kruger on January 3, 1896. The telegram's text was:92
I express to you my sincere congratulations that, without appealing to the help
of friendly Powers, you with your people and with your own energy succeeded,
against the armed bands which invaded your country as disturbers of the peace,
in re-establishing the peace and protecting the independence of the country
against attacks from without.
The Kaiser's action took the British public by surprise, and the deep wellsprings
of German Anglophobia which it revealed were a profound shock. The British
ambassador to Rome described it to the German ambassador von Bülow: "It was as if
a member of your club had suddenly slapped your face.”93
The pervasive mutual
Anglo-German antagonism, going beyond mere rivalry, almost may be said to date
from January 4, 1896, the moment the text of the Kruger Telegram became known in
England. Reaction was immediate and explosively hostile. Kennedy writes that "it was
without a doubt the most serious moment in the Anglo-German political relationship
since the Schleswig-Holstein crisis. An atmosphere of clenched fist and cocked pistol
replaced 'a little bickering,' [and] marked a turning point in the public relations of the
two countries.”94 It was all downhill from there.
The London press was inflammatory, the provincial press only less so. Windows
of German businesses were broken, there were appeals for a boycott of German goods,
and English and German sailors brawled in the streets. There was a revival of the
accusation that Germany preached hatred of Great Britain and the destruction of her
Empire as a patriotic duty. Coincidentally, in January, 1896, there appeared the first of
six installments in the New Review of Ernest E. Williams' sensationalist Made in
Germany, which later appeared in book form, trumpeting the German economic
Hale, Publicity and Diplomacy, 1 02.
Hale, Publicity and Diplomacy, 112, fn 26. This differs from the text as quoted in the Times of London,
hut I believe it to be more accurate.
Massie, Dreadnought, 231.
Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism. 220, 102.
menace. "By midsummer it had grown into an important national event . . . and shook
England as no similar piece of writing had yet done.”95
Nervousness subsided in 1897 with the economic upswing and by 1901 Williams
himself was now more alarmed about American competition than German. However,
the damage to Germany in the eyes of the public had been done. "Every piece of the
most remotely alarming news about German business was magnified by the antiGerman mood of 1896 . . . By 1904 the enmity of Germany was an idée fixe in the
British public mind; and it remained an unshaken and insuperable obstacle to any farreaching accord between the two nations.96
The Anglo-German relationship had become a zero-sum game in which every
gain by Germany meant a corresponding loss by Great Britain and vice-versa, and
analogies to Rome and Carthage were continually thrust upon the public. At length
there appeared the Saturday Review's "Germania esse delendam" article recalling Cato
the Censor's insistent injunction: Carthago delenda est, "Carthage must be destroyed."97
The Kaiser's lack of discretion was already well known. He was referred to in
the London press by sobriquets like His Impulsive Majesty; his own Foreign Minister
from 1911 to 1912, Kiderlen-Wächter, called him William the Sudden. The Kruger
Telegram was widely attributed to to a sudden impulse on the part of the Kaiser. The
German Foreign Office, in its dismay at Britain's reaction, did nothing to discourage
this interpretation. Actually, the Kruger Telegram was a carefully considered and
measured response to the increasing public pressure for support of the Boers.
However, everyone associated with the Kruger Telegram later disavowed authorship.
Friedrich Holstein, die Graue Eminenz of the German Foreign Office from 1890 to
1909, wrote in 1907 that "England, that rich and placid nation, was goaded into her
present defensive attitude towards Germany by continuous threats and insults on the
part of the Germans. The Kruger Telegram began it all"98
Hoffman, Trade Rivalry, 245. 96
Hoffman, Trade Rivalry, 280.
Saturday Review, September 11, 1897: “If Germany were extinguished tomorrow … not an Englishman in the world
who would not be the richer.”
Massie, Dreadnought, 223-4.
The German Naval Laws, 1898-1900
The Kruger Telegram was a turning-point in another respect. In 1885
Treitschke wrote: "Twenty years ago . . . I ventured that only those States which
possessed naval power and ruled territories across the sea could rank in future [sic] as
great Powers."99 In 1896 Tirpitz had opposed sending the Kruger Telegram due to
Germany's inability to mount any effective resistance to British sea power. However,
the German reaction to British hostility supported Tirpitz' naval aspirations, and led
directly to the expansion of the German Navy by the First Naval Law of 1898. After
the war he wrote:
The outbreak of hatred, envy, and rage which the Kruger Telegram
let loose in England against Germany contributed more than anything else
to open the eyes of large sections of the German people to our economic
position and the necessity for a German fleet."100
Up to 1914, the British navy had enjoyed over two centuries of relative and
absolute maritime supremacy unrivaled by that of any of its predecessors, ever since
the days of ancient Athens and its "wooden walls." It provided the critical protection
and vital links for the British Empire, the most far-flung global empire in history. The
period from the War of the Grand Alliance against France in 1689 to the defeat of
Napoleon in 1815 saw the development of British global naval dominance. During this
era, with relatively few exceptions, Great Britain achieved a series of victories over its
foes through superior daring and seamanship, culminating in the great battle of
Trafalgar, in 1805, a name which reverberates in naval history.
Throughout the nineteenth century British naval supremacy was unchallenged.
The German navy, on the other hand, had no such tradition, although the Germanic
peoples had long experience of the sea. The Hanseatic League of the cities of Bremen,
Danzig, Hamburg, Kiel, Köln, Lübeck, Riga, Rostock, et a1., formed a collective
Venice of the north, dominating the Baltic and North Seas from the 13th to the 15th
centuries. However, prior to the unification of Germany in 1870, no German state
Hausrath, Treitschke ... , 204.
Alfred von Tirpitz , My Memoirs (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1919), vo l . 1, 85.
developed an effective navy.
To comprehend Tirpitz and his influence, we must realize that the German sense
of being hemmed in on either side by France and Russia and upon the sea by England
was very real. It totally infuses the work of Ludwig Dehio, who states of the buildup to
World War I: "As we [Germans] ourselves knew that we were not seeking supremacy,
so it never occurred to us that Britain might force us into a war for supremacy.”101
However, since 1897 Tirpitz had been talking of the "danger zone," a time when the
British navy might launch a pre-emptive strike, so the possible consequences of the
arms race were obviously clear to him.
After the impotence of German threats during the South African crisis, many
Germans felt the need of a powerful navy to challenge British control of the seas and
make their influence felt. This resulted in Tirpitz’ rise to the position of Secretary of
the Navy and his creation of the German Naval League, the Deutscher Flottenverein,
in 1898, financed by arms manufacturer Friedrich Krupp.
In Tirpitz’ “Geheim
Sache" Memorandum of June 15, 1897, to the Kaiser, he recommended a navy of 16
battleships by 1905, ultimately 19 in all, designed to "unfold its greatest military
potential between Helgoland and the Thames," specifically targeting Great Britain.
The clarity and comprehensiveness of Tirpitz' plan and his natural political gifts
brought him success in the Reichstag. His recommendations were embodied in the
First Naval Law (Flottengesetz) of 1898.
In the words of Jonathan Steinberg, this
was "no ordinary piece of legislation; it began a new era [and] dominated Germany's
international relations," and was the most important event in the domestic politics of
Imperial Germany since the fall of Bismarck.102
The virulently anti-British climate of German opinion due to the Boer War
(1899-1902) and British seizures of German ships on the African coast was such that
Tirpitz was able to press for repeal of the First Navy Law and its replacement by the
Second Navy Law of 1900. The latter doubled the anticipated size of the fleet and
moved the planning horizon out to 1918. Whereas the statutory replacement time for
capital ships was 25 years in the First Law, in the Second Law it became 20 years for
Ludwig Dehio, The Precarious Balance, Four Centuries of the European Power Struggle (A.Knopf. 1962), 235.
Jonathan Steinberg, Yesterday's Deterrent, Tirpitz and the . . . German Battle Fleet, (MacMillan, 1965), 209.
cruisers. Thus, the building program was enshrined in law for years to come, and
virtually impervious to amendment. The memorandum annexed to the law stated the
risk theory: "Germany must have a battle fleet so strong that even for the adversary
with the greatest sea power a war against it would involve such dangers as to imperil
his own position in the world," even if Germany's fleet were defeated.103
The naval armaments race between Germany and Great Britain had its roots in
several factors, not the least of which were the personalities of the Kaiser and
Grossadmiral von Tirpitz, both emotionally wed to a big navy as the primary
instrument of world power and prestige. This was a fertile and continuing source of
tension, and imperiled Great Britain's adherence to the Two-Power Standard; viz., that
her navy should be superior to the combined navies of the next two largest naval
powers. Most authors cited here agreed that "the primary and most lasting cause of
Anglo-German rivalry was the rise of a German navy.”104
The Second Navy Law immediately elevated the German fleet-in-prospect from
the last rank, on a par with that of Austria-Hungary , to a position second only to that
of Great Britain. Furthermore, the new ships were to form a "High Seas Fleet," one
capable of keeping station on the open ocean, whereas the fleet originally envisioned
in the First Navy Law was primarily for coast defense, with more cramped quarters
and a narrower cruising range than the British ships of the day, which were designed
for global duties.
Unlike the German army, which was Prussian in the main, the German navy
was a truly national institution which could command the loyalty of all Germans. It
was relatively more egalitarian than the army, with more opportunity for advancement
for the sons of the middle class, like Tirpitz.105 National institutions like the navy and
the colonies assumed great political significance for the Reichsgründung, the
establishment of the national state. This was because German particularism, der
Partikularismus, an exclusive and obstructive attachment to one's own subgroup
within the German nation, was still alive and well, despite the union of 1871.
Bernadotte E. Schmitt, England and Germany, 1740-1916 (New York: Fertig, 1967), 176.
Schmitt, England and Germany, 173.
Tirpitz acquired the noble "von" in 1900 by order of the Kaiser.
German particularism had its historical roots in the division of the eastern
Carolingian empire into the five duchies of Swabia, Franconia, Bavaria, Saxony and
Lorraine, upon the demise of King Conrad in 918, a century after the death of
Charlemagne. Struggles among the feudal magnates and with foreign powers, and four
centuries of conflict with the papacy gravely weakened the central authority. By the
time of the Golden bull of 1356, although the papal influence was finally excluded, the
power of the Emperor had been so reduced, that the individual electors were
effectively sovereign in their own lands. For the next five hundred years Germany was
the battle-ground of Europe, with the result that, reminiscent of ancient Greece:106
German stocks are more foreign to one another than is the case
elsewhere. . . , civil wars were frequent and long-drawn-out [and]
caused the bitterest hatred between religions, professions, parties, and
classes, a phenomenon characteristic of the destiny of the Germans to this
very day, . . . It appeared that the Germans could be forced into some sort
of unity only in combat with an inner or outer foe. .. The ethnic diversity
of the Germans is the cause of their best qualities and of their most fatal ...
but precisely their stalwart individualism made the Germans politically
The centrality of the navy to German nation-building is comparable to the role of the
army in modern Israel It was the one institution that educated, socialized and indoctrinated a diversity of ethnic groups in a sense of nationhood and fraternity.
The effect of Tirpitz' legislative efforts on British opinion was not immedlate:
"Except for the grumbling of the Times and the Morning Post, there was no general
outburst of resentment, nor did [his] navy bill itself strike the British publicists as a
grave menace.”107 but Churchill later said that "with every rivet that von Tirpitz drove
into his ships of war, he united British opinion .... The hammers that clanged at Kiel and
Wilhelmshaven were forging the coalition of nations by which Germany was to be resisted and
finally overthrown.”108
Valentin, The German People, 6-8.
Hale, Publicity and Diplomacy, 226.
Massie, Dreadnought, xxv.
The Boer War, 1899-1902
In March of 1898 the English Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain,
approached the German ambassador, Count Hatzfeldt, about a possible defensive
alliance. This would have been a stunning reversal of Great Britain's Iongstanding
policy of "splendid isolation." Hatzfeldt equivocated, playing for time, because he
knew of the Kaiser's intention to pass the first Flottengesetz, and in order to do so a
putative enemy was required to convince the Reichstag. On November 20, 1899, when
the Kaiser arrived at Windsor Castle, present were Chamberlain and then State
Secretary of the Foreign Office Bernhard von Bȕlow. The two diplomats met privately
and Chamberlain pressed for an Anglo-German alliance.
Apparently thinking he had Bülow's assent, Chamberlain, in a speech at a
Unionist luncheon in Leicester on November 30, 1899, advocated a "natural alliance
between ourselves and the great German Empire," envisioning a new Triple Alliance,
to include the United States, which would contain Russian expansionism.109 Not only
was the speech coolly received by the British press and public, but von Bülow said
nothing of an alliance in his speech to the Reichstag of December 11, 1899, made only
chilly references to Great Britain, and mainly spoke in support of the second
Flottengesetz. Chamberlain, disappointed, dropped the projected alliance, only to
resurrect the proposal one last time a year later.
On January 9, 1901, Chamberlain renewed his offer and shortly thereafter, on
January 22, Queen Victoria died in the arms of her son Arthur and her devoted grandson, the Kaiser. Warmly renewing his British family ties, William II "was the hero of
the British crowds . .. [receiving] the acceptance and adulation in England he had
always craved.”110
In his farewell speech he said: "We ought to form an Anglo-
German alliance, you to keep the seas while we would be responsible for the land; with
such an alliance, not a mouse could stir in Europe without our permission, and the
nations would, in time, come to see the necessity of reducing their armaments.”
But von Bülow and Holstein did not share his enthusiasm; alliance discussions
languished and negotiations quietly died in the summer of 1901. Instead, Britain turned
Massie, Dreadnought, 268.
Massie, Dreadnought, 302.
to Japan to bolster its anti-Russian position in the Far East, signing the Anglo-Japanese
Alliance in 1902, and so marking the end of the period of splendid isolation. However,
the indulgent attitude of Chamberlain’s son, Neville, towards Hitler may have had
roots in his father’s diplomatic aspirations.
During the course of this diplomatic activity, public relations between the two
nations were growing more strained as a result of German criticism of Britain's open
aggression against the Boers, her concentration camps, and other policies in South
Africa. Germany may have been right, but it hardly endeared her to the British public,
and the antagonism grew apace. In particuIar, a speech by Chamberlain on October 25,
1901, contained a thinly-veiled aspersion upon the conduct of the German army in
1870, which gave rise to an unprecedented and violent German campaign of
Anglophobic vilification.
The impression made upon both peoples at the time was indelible. In Hale's
words: "In perspective, it stands out as the real turning point in public relations, just as
the breakdown of cooperation in the Far East marks the turning point in diplomatic
In retrospect, one may say that the later diplomatic conflicts were only
overdue governmental responses to the revulsion of feeling that had already occurred.
"After 1900 the two peoples were so mutually suspicious that cordial co-operation
between their governments would have been exceedingly difficult.”111
The Anglo-German antagonism burst into flame in the 1890s, but the foundation
for it was laid down in Germany during the 1848-90 period by the actions of
Palmerston, Bismarck, von Treitschke, and others. Was this diplomatic revolution
engineered from above or from below?
In the first period, German reactionary
politicians took cynical advantage of the German liberals' discontent to turn them in
the nationalist direction. However, the movement they fostered acquired a life of its
own. Not only were certain sectors of society swept up by Anglophobia -- the Junkers,
big industry, shipping, finance -- but society as a whole evinced a rising level of
hostility towards England, just as boiling water poured into a tub warms the whole
bath. The anti-English movement, once it had begun, was so broadly embraced, that
Schmitt, England and Germany,150.
ultimately it goaded the politicians to positions they were not truly eager to espouse.
To the popular reaction may be added: "the fixed purpose, the steady will, the
unflagging energy, the inexhaustible patience, the profound political insight, and the
rare diplomatic skill of Admiral Tirpitz."112
As one reads of von Bülow and Chamberlain waltzing around the notion of an
alliance, one has a sense of Alice and the Mad Hatter having a tea party in a busy
intersection, totally oblivious of the traffic whizzing by. Public opinion in both nations
had overtaken these two politicians long ago and was about to run them over. Alliance
at that point was no more likely than political union; events were forcing the
diplomats' hands. Von Bülow had to sidestep Chamberlain to get the Second Naval
Law through the Reichstag, the Kaiser reluctantly had to disembark at Tangier, and
other retrograde steps were taken, because the tidal waves of national feeling had taken
the decisions out of the domain of rational diplomacy. The hostility which exploded in
Germany in 1896 finally found an answering antagonism in England in 1901. After
1902 most British journalists "firmly believed that German hatred of Britain was
irreversible" and therefore resisted every attempt at governmental cooperation.113
The First Moroccan Incident, Tangier, 1905
In October, 1902, First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Selborne, informed the PM,
Lord Salisbury, that the new German battle fleet was targeted specifically against
England. With an Anglo-German alliance no longer feasible, it was time for England to
seek an understanding with other naval powers, Japan in the Far East and France in
Europe. On April 7, 1904, the Anglo-French Convention over Morocco and Egypt was
signed. What was ostensibly intended as a cordial understanding to remove sources of
friction between England and France became an informal alliance, the Entente
Cordiale, and a vast upheaval in the balance of power had begun.
With the tempo of naval construction speeding up, Admiral John A. Fisher
became First Sea Lord (1904-10, 1914-15). Ever since 1902, Fisher had looked upon
A. Hurd and H. Castle, German Sea-Power, Its Rise. Progress and Economic Basis (Greenwood Press, 1913), 96.
Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860-19111., 251, 255.
Germany as Great Britain's most probable naval opponent. As First Sea Lord he moved
quickly to increase the Home Fleet (renamed the Channel Fleet) from eight to
seventeen first class battleships. He also scrapped some 154 obsolete vessels with the
stroke of a pen. Then he instituted a program of thorough-going administrative and
naval reforms, the most significant of which was his advocacy of the all-big-gun
Dreadnought battleship.
Once the news of the Dreadnought's design reached Berlin, there was something
close to panic, since the Kiel Canal could not accommodate such a deep-draft vessel.
Fisher "exulted" that German battleship construction had to be suspended and that the
Kiel Canal was thereby converted into "a useless ditch.” It was not until July, 1907, that
work on Germany's first dreadnought, the Nassau, was allowed to go forward, and at the
same time the widening of the Kiel Canal began. By 1914 it was able to accommodate
The fact that German preparations were directed against Great Britain was by now
apparent. Tirpitz argued that the real bone of contention was not the fleet but commercial
competition, and that only strengthening the fleet would overcome British resistance. The
Chancellor, von Bülow, could not risk angering the Kaiser by openly opposing Tirpitz,
but on June 23, 1909, he instructed Wolff-Metternich, German ambassador to Britain
(1903–12), to work towards a naval entente. Three days later von Bülow was forced to
resign; his final advice: do everything possible to reach a naval accord with Great Britain.
In the wake of the defeat of Russia by Japan, both England and Germany were
relatively strengthened. Von Bülow decided to quash the budding Anglo-French alliance
by a studied provocation in Morocco, where the French were pressing to extend a
protectorate over the country. The provocation, on March 31, 1905, consisted of a visit
of a few hours by the Kaiser to Tangier where he received some bows, made a speech,
rode a horse, and then left immediately. The result was the most serious diplomatic crisis
since the Franco-German war scare of 1875. At German insistence, the Algeciras
Conference on Morocco was held in 1906 to resolve the controversy brought to the fore
by this incident.
In demanding this conference, even after they had forced the resignation of the
French Foreign Minister over the issue, the Germans blundered badly, underestimating
the strength of British fears of German expansion. The press of Britain immediately
fastened upon the significance of the first Moroccan crisis as an attack upon the Entente
Cordiale. A newspaper "brawl" reached crisis proportions in October, 1905, involving the
press of Great Britain, Germany and France. "The Algeciras Conference was the first to
be exploited [by the governments] for the instruction and enlistment of the masses.”114
Added to popular British resentment of Germany, still simmering from the Boer
War, was now the recognition that the balance of power in Europe had shifted with the
Japanese defeat of Russia and the first Russian revolution of 1905, and that it was
necessary to support the French more actively.115 The new Liberal British government,
elected in the January 1906 landslide, though not strictly obliged to do so under the terms
of the 1904 Convention, gave full support to French pretensions in Morocco. The end
result, in April, 1906, while superficially a recognition of several German demands, was
actually a diplomatic defeat for Germany and resulted in a significant strengthening of
the Entente.
This was followed two months later by the commencement of Anglo-Russian
negotiations for an entente, which was signed August 31, 1907. Although not formally
an alliance, the Triple Entente between England, France, and Russia confirmed German
encirclement paranoia and led the future Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg to state: "'You
may call it what you will, but the object [was a] supreme combination of states for
obstructing Germany.”116 The transformation of the Entente Cordiale into a de facto
alliance was a revolution in British foreign policy.
The first Moroccan crisis did not mark any new departures in public attitudes, but
confirmed and strengthened the shift that had already taken place in the aftermath of the
Boer War. Despite Germany's very restrained press reports during the Algeciras
Conference and studiously non-inflammatory behavior throughout, she faced overwhelming foreign press antagonism. Although Great Britain was clearly the winner at
the Conference, the end of the crisis brought forth a more conciliatory tone from the
Hale, Publicity and Diplomacy, 274-6.
Paul Kennedy, The Realities Behind Diplomacy: Background Influences on British External Policy, 18651980 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1981), 125.
Massie, Dreadnought, 601.
German press, suggesting an Anglo-German entente. However, these overtures were met
with suspicion and reserve; the Anglo-French entente was firmly supported by all classes
in British society. Von Bülow attacked this prevailing mood, saying that Germany had no
quarrel with Great Britain, but the British press, the mirror of public opinion, remained
unreservedly hostile, except for the Manchester Guardian. Wolff-Metternich said: "The
Entente Cordiale has stood its diplomatic baptism of fire and emerged strengthened.”117
The Navy Scare, 1909
On December 8, 1908, Reginald McKenna, First Lord of the Admiralty, gave the
British cabinet a request for six new dreadnoughts118 to be included in the Estimates
(budget) to be presented to Parliament in March, 1909, with six more for each of the
following two years. This request, 50% higher than anticipated, was due to McKenna's
strong suspicion that Germany had undertaken an accelerated battleship building
program in secret, one that was not publicly acknowledged in the Reichstag Navy Bills.
In the event, it appeared that this was untrue, but von Tirpitz did admit that certain
contracts had been let early in anticipation of the passage of later navy bills and in order
to save money and keep industries from laying off workers. However, the way in which
the reassurances were made only served to confirm British suspicions that the Germans
were stealing a march on them. The result, after McKenna's presentation of the navy
estimates to the House of Commons on March 16, 1909, and the ensuing debate, was a
tremendous uproar in the country, and a Conservative demand for eight battleships to
be laid down at once.
The Liberal government's attempt to reassure its own radicals that it was not
asking for too many ships miscarried when the public took it as a sign that the dovish
Liberals (as compared to the hawkish Conservatives) were not asking for enough
battleships. Ultimately, four ships were authorized with provisional authorization for
four more, if necessary. In July, after Italy and Austria-Hungary each announced the
building of four dreadnoughts, the remaining four British ships were authorized, to
Massie, Dreadnought, 367.
Dreadnought: a class of battleships or battle cruisers having as their main armament entirely of guns of one caliber.
which were added a battleship donated by Malaya and a battle cruiser by New
Zealand. As Churchill said at the time: ''The Admiralty had demanded six ships; the
economists offered four; and we finally compromised on eight.” The futility of the
Great Boat Race was beginning to dawn on the German General Staff, which wanted
the money invested in more army divisions.
The rumors of McKenna's report began to circulate in January of 1909, and the
effect on British public opinion was immense, with alarm in Parliament and hysteria in
the press. Although scare tactics were part of the annual run-up to the March naval
estimates, on this occasion the public reaction "reached the proportions of a great
national panic.”119
There were also important constitutional ramifications resulting
from the need to find new revenues to support ship construction. After David Lloyd
George, Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced his "People's budget" on
April 29, 1909, it was vetoed seven months later by the House of Lords, the first time
in 250 years that they had rejected a finance bill from the Lower House. Thus,
parliamentary battle lines were drawn, leading, on August 10, 1911, to the House of
Lords' abrogation of its veto power, under the threat of the creation of enough new
peers by the King to obtain the requisite majority.
Since 1903, with the publication of The Riddle of the Sands, by Erskine Childers, a
growing torrent of anti-German "invasion literature" had been battering at the
consciousness of the average Briton. There was an intimate reciprocity between the
English fear of invasion and the German fear of encirclement. Attempting to allay the
one reacted adversely upon the other, like a zero-sum game. The naval arms race kept
that cauldron bubbling on both sides. Every German barber, clerk, and waiter of
military age resident in Great Britain was considered a potential threat, with sword and
Pickelhaube120 under the mattress, awaiting the word from Berlin to open the gates to
England. In 1906 the London Daily Mail serialized The Invasion of 1910, by William Le
Queux, about a very bloody and brutal invasion of Great Britain by the Germans. Its
success was overwhelming: "newspapers sold out, again and again ... [and it] sold over
Ha1e, Publicity and Diplomacy, 331.
The sinister-looking spiked helmet was very practical: turn it upside-down, stick it into the ground, and
use it as a bowl or washbasin. The German name Pickelhaube means "pimple-cap.”
a million copies around the world.”121
Wild manifestations of Germanophobia appeared, and prevailing attitudes in the
country were deeply marked by anxiety, but peaceful in the main, although some were
advocating preventive war if Germany did not moderate her building program or Great
Britain did not increase hers. In January, 1909, at the height of the Naval Scare, the
play "An Englishman's Home," appeared to packed houses for 18 months (with army
recruiting booths in the lobbies).122 Its depiction of spike-helmeted troops from
"Nearland " brutally violating the home of a middle-class Englishman, caused a
sensation. The feelings which it and others like it inspired contributed to the growing
conflict with Germany.
At this point, it would appear that an Anglo-German entente, a cordial understanding and resolution of differences, was no longer possible. The governments
would have settled for a rapprochement, a settlement of disputes, such as slowing the
naval building programs, but even that seemed to founder on the deep-rooted fears of
both nations. In the prevailing climate of fear and mistrust the remedy prescribed in
both England and Germany was more Dreadnoughts, when the great need was not
battleships but statesmanship.
Massie, Dreadnought, 631-636. There even was a German version with a "happy" ending: the Germans
conquer England.
Massie, Dreandnought,638. The author was Guy du Maurier, father of novelist Daphne du Maurier.
The Second Moroccan Incident, Agadir, 1911
The period following the Navy Scare was one of increased Germanophobia and
anti-German agitation. The Tories, Balfour in the lead, played the anti-German card
with verve, and the great papers, The Times, Morning Post, Pall Mall Gazette, Daily
Telegraph, and the Daily Mail were all protectionist and anti-German. In Germany
itself commercial interests were increasingly alive to the danger of being shut out of
British imperial trade. Long before and after the Great War Germans were to continue
to believe that the War was a British plot to destroy an economic competitor, one
threatening to organize all of Central Europe from the Black Sea to the North Sea into
one great economic bloc.
By early summer of 1911 it appeared that Anglo-German relations had quieted
down; Edward VII, whom the Germans accused as the chief architect of Einkreisungspolitik, had died, and the two sides had agreed to an exchange of naval information.
Then, in the spring of 1911, on the pretext of unrest in Morocco, the French marched
on the Sultan's capital at Fez, while the Spaniards occupied the nondescript123 little
Atlantic coast town of Larache. In effect, the occupying powers tore up the Act of
Algeciras, a grave insult to Germany, still smarting from the diplomatic defeats of
1905, which saw itself as legally free to take up the Moroccan cudgels again, since the
rebus was no longer sic stantibus.
Germany opted for compensation rather than a risky attempt to restore the status quo,
which might invite British intervention under the Anglo-French Convention of 1904. To
display German determination and force the issue, the gunboat Panther was dispatched to
the Atlantic port of Agadir in southwest Morocco, where it arrived on July 1, 1911,
precipitat-ing the gravest pre-war crisis of all. The Panthersprung "was a symbolical act; at
the same time it was a tactical blunder of the first magnitude," giving rise to the feeling in
the government and press of the Entente nations that Germany always negotiated sword in
It was nondescript when I was there in 1984; it could scarcely have been more descript in 1911.
When, on July 9th, the Germans made their demands for compensation in the French
Congo, they were so extensive as to constitute aggression in British eyes. To give in would
be to smash the Entente and ratify German hegemony on the continent. On July 20, The
Times published Germany's sweeping demands on France, and British public opinion,
heretofore skeptical about France's Moroccan activities, swung solidly against Germany. On
the critical day, July 21, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey confronted WolffMetternich to ascertain his government's intentions, complaining of a three-week hiatus in
communications. Wolff-Metternich, knowing nothing, demurred, which Grey interpreted as
obfuscation. The result, that evening, was the famous "Mansion House" speech, in which
Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer, a liberal and heretofore thought of as a
compromiser or a Germanophile, set off a "rhetorical rocket,” a landmark in political
publicity.124 No names were mentioned but, in effect, Lloyd George's speech drew a line in
the sand of Morocco which Germany must not overstep, since "peace at that price would be
a humiliation intolerable for a great country like ours to endure." The British press the
following day was virtually unanimous in this interpretation leading some to suspect
that it was put about by an authoritative leak, probably Churchill, although it was never
German press reaction to this latest manifestation of Einkreisungspolitik was
predictably violent, and "No summary statement ... can adequately convey the
impression of bitterness and venom produced by [the German press].”
The result
was a war-scare crisis of major proportions. This was somewhat defused by a German
communication to the British Foreign Office of its limited aims in Morocco, and a
British government statement of interested detachment from the Berlin-Paris
negotiations, but the situation remained tense. The press was most provocative and
"had become so galling to statesmen on both sides of the Channel that any mention of
the press in diplomatic discussion resulted in bitter reproaches and recriminations.”
The settlement of October, 1911, brought a French pledge of a thirty-year Open
Door in Morocco, and the cession of 100,000 square miles of territory in the Congo, but
Massie feels that this speech caused the German government to moderate its demands, A contemporary
historian (Schmitt, p.331) said the speech was a "blunder," It certainly caused an uproar.
Ha1e, Publicity and Diplomacy, 396.
the German public was upset that they had strained for an elephant and only brought
forth a mouse. While the British government easily lined up press support of France,
the German press and Reichstag turned against the government, and press comment on
the final Moroccan agreements was overwhelmingly hostile. The whole business was
hardly worth a war, and only the encirclement theory seemed to explain Great Britain's
unquestioning support of France. The emotional power of this concept for the Germans
was no more understood by the British, than the Germans appreciated the British gut
reaction to threats to their naval supremacy. The anger on both sides was greater than
ever, British solicitude for preservation of its Empire being matched by Germany's
drive for "a place in the sun."
In Great Britain the aftermath included startled surprise at the enmity and bitter
invective emanating from Germany. Disclosure of British military and naval
preparations revealed how close they had been to the brink of war. Lord Grey, answering
domestic criticisms in his memorable speech in Parliament of November 27, 1911, said
that Great Britain had to adhere to the Entente, but was not necessarily anti-German. He
implied that the conflict arose because of Germany's aggressive policies. Distrust
between the two nations had grown so thick that the ostensible adversaries, Germany
and France, experienced less mutual tension than did the two "Teutonic" powers.
Kiderlen-Wächter and Jules Cambon, the respective foreign ministers of Germany and
France, came to be quite friendly on a personal leve1.
The original delay of three weeks in German clarification of the Panther's purpose
was sufficient to arouse British suspicions and create the bellicose atmosphere that
prevailed during the crisis. The question still rernains: why were the usual diplomatic
channels not utilized instead of the provocative Mansion House speech? The answer may
lie in the British view of Germany as aggressive and devious and amenable only to
threats of force. The brutal image of Germans that had been created in the British press
dating back to the occupation of Jutland in 1864, now was reinforced by the crisis. As
Lord Grey wrote McKenna: "We are dealing with a people who recognize no law except
that of force."126 Such an extreme opinion would not be unexpected in the pages of the Daily
Mail, but is very revealing coming from a Liberal Foreign Secretary. It clearly reflected
Massie, Dreadnought, 735.
the attitude of the British public at large, and we can see the effect of this widespread
attitude in the uncritical acceptance of Belgian atrocity stories in World War I.127
Nonetheless, there was considerable disillusionment with the general foreign
policy of the Liberal government since the Tangier crisis of 1905. Discontented with the
forbearance towards Russia's reactionary government and the conversion of a friendly
understanding with France into a de facto entangling alliance, some eighty members of
Parliament discerned a deliberate dog-in-the-rnanger policy in the hostile relations with
Germany. As a result, a "current of conciliation" swept the country in the winter of
1911-12, including many who supported the Entente but deplored excessive hostility
towards Germany. This led directly to the Haldane mission, the last attempt to halt the
slide towards armed conflict, apart from the negotiations in progress when the Sarajevo
affair suddenly exploded into World War 1.
The Haldane Mission, 1912
The Agadir crisis had resulted in "prolonged enmity between Germany and
Britain [and] feeling had never run as high between the two countries as it did in the
months that preceded Haldane's visit."128 Richard Burdon, Viscount Haldane, was at this
time the British Secretary of War, having gained that office in the Liberal Cabinet of H.
H. Asquith in December, 1905. His tenure in that graveyard of parliamentary ambitions
had been extremely successful; he had reorganized the British Army into an Expeditionary Force of 150,000 men and a Territorial Army of 300,000 men, and extended the
General Staff system to the whole army. In 1873, at 17, Haldane, a Scot from an ancient
Danish family had gone to Germany, studying philosophy and religion at Göttingen and
Dresden, and becoming fluent in German. A patriotic Englishman, Haldane admired
German culture and believed firmly in the possibility of a peaceful understanding with
Germany. He was chosen by the British Cabinet to go on a "secret" mission as a last
resort to achieve some relaxation of the naval armaments race.129
Probably laced with a dose of Schadenfreude in retaliation for the Boer War atrocity stories.
Stephen Koss, Lord Haldane, Scapegoat for Liberalism (Columbia Univ , , 1969), 47-48.
Massie, Dreadnought, 807-817.
On February 8, 1912, Haldane arrived in Berlin where he spoke with Chancellor
Bethmann-Hollweg separately, and with the Kaiser and the Secretary of the Navy,
Admiral von Tirpitz. Germany offered to spread out the building of new ships in the 1912
Novelle (Supplementary Navy Bill) to one every third year over and above the two
regularly scheduled ships to be constructed, and on February 12th Haldane returned home
with an advance copy of the Novelle and, so he thought, a historic agreement in his
pocket. However, when British experts reviewed it in detail the German offer was
rejected, because the Novelle provided for 72 new submarines and a 20% increase in activeduty naval personnel.
The German government, with some justice, felt the British had reneged on a
commitment and would only renegotiate if Great Britain promised unconditional
neutrality in the event of a continental conflict. Britain's counter-offer of "no unprovoked
attack upon Germany and no aggressive policy towards her" was refused, and the last
best hope of an accommodation was lost. It is unlikely that at this point any English
statesman, including Haldane, seriously believed that agreement with Germany could be
reached on the crucial matter of naval armaments. As one sympathetic historian has
written: "the favorable moment was allowed to slip . . .
[von Tirpitz'] envious and
pompous swashbuckling became fatal to the German people."
The purpose of Haldane's historic mission was widely surmised in the
English press, and in the absence of any official explanation, rumors of a sell-out to
Germany abounded, with Haldane the scapegoat. In Britain, organs like the Daily News
and Manchester Guardian were skeptical and disparaging, but in Germany itself,
according to Koss, "Haldane's appearance thawed the iciness of the German press.”131
Even the most intransigent German publications like the provincial National Liberal journals
welcomed the visit and the good will it implied. The millions of readers on both sides were deceived
by their governments into seeing this as a promising gesture, rather than the ultimate failure of von
'I'irpitz' sterile policy of naval armament.
However, in 1912 as in 1901, when a historic opportunity arrived this policy,
ostensibly designed to bring England to the bargaining table under conditions favorable to
Veit Valentin, The German People, 558.
Kosss, Lord Haldane, 424.
Germany, proved itself bankrupt. In retrospect, Germany's naval policy appears more like
a pathological attachment to weapons as symbols of power rather than von Clausewitz'
rational "extension of diplomacy by other means."
A very significant result of all this was the British decision to move the
Mediterranean fleet to the North Sea to confront the Germans, leaving the de-fense of the Mediterranean to the French. While the British had accepted the affections of
France without offering her even an honest engagement in the form of a de jure alliance,
there was widespread British acceptance of a de facto commitment to the defense of the
Atlantic coast of France, since the French were making a crucial, if indirect, contribution
to the defense of the Home Islands. This move meant that no amount of insubstantial
enticements were likely to seduce Great Britain from her French connection, Any move
towards appeasement of Germany would certainly be viewed by the French as suspect,
while press scrutiny of Haldane's mission made it likely that the discreet conduct of even
preliminary diplomatic soundings by anyone likely to be well-received in Berlin was
impossible under the circumstances.
Looking into the Abyss, 1912-1914
The strain of the armaments race was beginning to tell on Great Britain and
Germany, and their governments would have welcomed a rapprochement and a slowing of
the naval building programs. but all efforts in that direction seemed to founder on the
deep-rooted fears of both nations and the Kaiser's absolute refusal to compromise his
freedom of action on the fleet. The most dramatic proposal came in March, 1913, when
Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, proposed a Naval Holiday, a
space of one year during which no building would take place. Tirpitz refused, saying
they could not possibly lay off so many workers for a year. Only in 1914, did the
Germans slacken the pace, apparently realizing that by their intransigence they were
actually losing ground; by then it was too late.
In fact, the Anglo-German battleship competition per se was, in effect, resolved
peacefully by mutual exhaustion. By 1914, in the face of British resolve, the Germans
had quietly given up on the costly naval armaments potlatch they themselves had
In early 1914, for the first time, Tirpitz suggested that any further increase in
the German navy would be a poIitical blunder.132 The "danger zone" had not been
passed, and the "alliance value" of the fleet had been to create an alliance of France,
Russia and Great Britain. Paradoxically, Germany had achieved her greatest colonial
expansion at a time when her navy was a quantité negligéable, She was to lose it all
when possessed of the second most powerful fleet in the world. Britain, astride
Germany's sea-lanes, paralyzed the German fleet in World War I with a distant
blockade of the gates to the North Sea rather than a traditional close blockade of the
Frisian coast, which Tirpitz had anticipated.
There was still a chance of détente in the last two years before the Great War,
although the gap between British and German perceptions of their national interests
remained as wide as ever.
In point of fact, the month the Great War broke out,
Germany and Britain were about to initial their agreements on the Berlin-Baghdad
railway, and the future of the Portuguese colonies in Africa, a document envisioning
the possibility of a sale of the colonies. Thus, peaceful accommodation was being
pursued to the very last minute. If another year of peace could have been secured,
Europe might not have attempted suicide. "Whatever Germany's motives may have
been, the fact remained that in July, 1914, Anglo-German relations were more cordial
than they had been at any time since the Boer War. It seemed that Germany and Great
Britain had cleaned the slate.
As late as July 31, 1914, five days before the war began, Sir Edward Grey
offered Bethmann-Hollweg to dissolve the Entente with France and Russia, if they were
to reject a good faith offer of peace from Germany and Austria-Hungary. This would
have realized a decade of German diplomatic effort. However, German violation of
Belgian neutrality four days later finally precipitated Great Britain into World War. It
was at dusk, August 3rd, 1914, that Sir Edward Grey, looking down from his window
at the lamps being lit in St. James's Park, said "The lamps are going out all over
Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”133
Woodward, Great Britain and the German Navy, 431.
Massie, Dreadnought, 907.
It is very likely that were France on the point of succumbing to German arms,
Great Britain would have been drawn in anyway, regardless of Belgium. However, had
"the thin red line" of British sharpshooters not been present at Mons in Belgium in
August, 1914, to blunt the attack of von Kluck's right wing, the outcome of the Great
War could have been different. In any case, the outcome could hardly have been worse.
Just as one may currently long for the stability and verities of the Cold War, one may
feel a nostalgia for the vanished splendor of the Wilhelmine era and a Germany,
whatever its flaws, that would never have tolerated a Final Solution or a Fuehrer from
the gutter in the seat of Bismarck. A true "peace without victory" would have had a
sobering and inhibitory effect on the militarists and imperialists without destabilizing
the entire fabric of European civilization. just as the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 had on
the United States and the Soviet Union.
Bethmann-Hollweg later wrote of the Agadir crisis: "War for the Sultan of
Morocco, for a piece of the Congo or for [the commercial interests of] the Brothers
Mannesmann would have been a crime . . . and [the public] would rightly string me up on
the nearest tree.”134 All the conditions for a great conflagration were then at hand, but for
Germany at the time the game was not worth the candle. Three years later, with a casus
belli in the Balkans, much closer to home, things were different. In 1914 Germany held
the diplomatic cards; had Bethmann-Hollweg been able to control the General Staff, he
might have both avoided war and scored a great diplomatic victory, purchased at the cost
of only one soldier: the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Massie, Dreadnought, 743.
This paper has focused on the decay of the Anglo-German relationship, tracing the
stages in its long decline. The question of why it happened, whether it was inevitable in
the broadest sense, has not been answered, although the history of how it happened offers
many opportunities for inference. Economically and ideologically the two nations were
on divergent and conflicting paths. In the view of British historian Paul Kennedy, the
most profound cause of estrangement was economic, with the ideological gap secondary
to it.135 The third major factor was the basic socio-political trend at work in the brittle
German political order. In 1912 the revolutionary Social Democrats became the largest
single party in the Reichstag with 34.8% of the vote and 110 of 397 seats. Had they been
less revolutionary they might have formed a leftist coalition government. Thus, pressure
to defuse German social problems by means of a victorious war was keenly felt by the
traditional ruling classes, After all, it worked for Bismarck.
Of course, the reasons adduced by Kennedy assume that reasons are always
reasonable, and that, of the seven deadly sins, pride, anger, envy, and avarice did not
play a role. When does an emotional response become a political reason? It is
something that would be worth knowing. The narrative of this paper has concentrated
on the documented actions and attitudes of political leaders and journalists, but the
more I study them, the more it is my conviction that massive emotional public
opinion, both in England and Germany, reacted strongly upon the national leadership
in demarcating the limits of the possible. Without the adverse reaction of the English
public to German Realpolitik, without the resentment of the German public of English
Einkreisung, there were numerous points along this dismal journey--1890, 1901, 1912,
even 1914--at which a démarche, even an alliance to preserve the peace, would have
been possible, sparing the world the tragedy of two great wars.
Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo--German Antagonism. 1860-1914, 464-66.
If there is any lesson to be drawn here, it is the long-term importance of
attitudes, embodying as they do moral judgements and the trust necessary to create
lasting agreements. As Sontag said: Bismarck "encouraged German belief in English
perfidy, and English belief in German brutality."136 The period of suspicion began
with the Schleswig-Holstein affair, in 1863-4, and by the time of Bismarck's
retirement, in 1890, Kennedy concludes that137
What 'Bismarckism' had done was to make every British government
from the 1860s to the 1880s, whether Liberal or Conservative, so
distrustful of Berlin's real motives in its external policy, and ... so
disapproving of its domestic-political arrangements, that a firm, public
and binding Anglo-German alliance was out of the question.
It took the politicians another decade to realize it,
During the years 1862-71 Germany knitted herself together under the firm but
dextrous hand of Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of Prussia, and rose up as a
Great Power, the greatest upon the continent. Britain's blustering but ineffectual
diplomacy during the Schleswig-Holstein crisis, particularly the period demarcated by
Palmerston's declarations in Parliament on July 23, 1863, and June 27, 1864, was worse
than no policy at all, since it accomplished only the alienation of the German masses
and governing elite.138 Much of this hinged upon Palmerston's character and diplomatic
leadership during the extended period 1848-64, beginning with the great liberal
revolution in Germany and Austria and ending with the Schleswig-Holstein debacle.
One effect was to impel Great Britain, after 1864, to a policy of isolation and
nonintervention, until aggressive German diplomacy in Morocco forced her out of it
again in 1904 and into the waiting arms of France. "The Schleswig-Holstein question thus
marked the end of Palmerstonianism as a method of British diplomacy and heralded the
advent of a new age with the Gladstonian slogan of “peace, retrenchment, and reform.”
R.J. Sontag, Germany and England, 355.
Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 204.
In the light of Bismarck's later moderation, I doubt that he would have taken Denmark, but, as in Alsace-Lorraine, the
army might have forced his hand. Perhaps it was Great Britain’s token resistance and public clamor that kept the
Austrian fleet out of the Baltic and the Prussian army out of Copenhagen after all?
In the Bismarckian era, 1862-90, there was a steady and perceptible warming of
the Anglo-German relationship, as the old Chancellor's commitment to European
stability became clear. Public attitudes did not improve for reasons already stated,
especially in Germany, but the statesmen came to trust one another and ponder various
forms of alliance. Had they succeeded in forming one at that time, public opinion might
gradually have swung around. To see that such a volte-face is possible, witness the
turnabout in Soviet-American relations in the Gorbachev years. The divisions between
English and Germans were not as deep as the divisions of the Cold War, and the gap to
be bridged was mainly one of mistrust.
However, during the Wilhelmine period, 1888-1914, English attitudes towards
Germany underwent a radical change. Their nagging uneasiness at German competition
and muttered disapproval of German methods suffered a rude shock in discovering the
depth of German disaffection at the time of the Kruger Telegram. The real awakening
came during the Boer War, a milestone in Anglo-German relations, when the British
responded to German hostility with equal warmth. By the time of the Naval Scare of
1909 they matched the Germans in stubbornness and perhaps surpassed them in venom,
so there was enough blame to go around. However, Germany's miscalculations of
British reaction to her Machtpolitik in Morocco resulted in solidifying the Entente.
Under the circumstances, the failure of Haldane's mission of 1912 was probably a
foregone conclusion.
That is not to say that the enmity made Anglo-German hostilities in World
War I somehow "inevitable," but merely to trace the course of its development.
The march to Armageddon arguably could have been arrested, perhaps reversed, even
during the last week of July, 1914, but it was not to be. Nor is this paper a
condemnation of Palmerston, however questionable his methods and disastrous his
results. Palmerston was past his prime, and the towering presence of Bismarck played
an even greater role. The disaster of Schleswig-Holstein was mainly diplomatic. In real
terms, Bismarck made no further claims on Denmark after the affair was settled and
behaved very circumspectly once the German Empire had been established. The
Palmerston cabinet of 1863-64 had indeed won "peace in our time" with the sacrifice of
a small piece of a small nation. In their defense it can be said that the stratagem, if
distasteful, was successful. It was Napoleon III who paid the price, and he had himself
to blame.
In and of itself, the Anglo-German naval armaments competition of 1898-1914 is
a relevant case study as the first modern armaments race. It was a blend of three factors:
(1) the contest depended intrinsically upon the national economic and high-technology
base which sustained it; (2) it was furthered by an alliance of powerful financial,
industrial, and military interests working to expand its scope; (3) any attempts to curb
the competition were obstructed by the widespread perception on both sides of a lethal
threat to the nation. The unfolding of the dreadnought race proceeded from the desire on
the part of respectable leaders to insure national security and prosperity, but once
begun, the armaments juggernaught acquired a momentum of its own, culminating in
catastrophe. In 1914 Great Britain went to war reluctantly, almost in disbelief, only
after the German attack on Belgium; she would have been more reluctant had
Germany's navy not appeared so inexorably menacing.
On November 21, 1918, after two-and-a-half years bottled up in the North Sea, the
German High Seas Fleet arrived in the Firth of Forth in Scotland. The "funeral
procession" of German fighting ships was the prelude to seven dreary months of
internment at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys under the terms of the Armistice. As soon as
it expired, at noon on June 21, 1919, German Admiral Reuter gave the order to scuttle,
and a half-million tons of warships disappeared into the sea, flying the imperial war
flag. The High Seas Fleet left behind a legacy of courage, devotion, efficiency, and
futility. Had even one-tenth of the marks invested in the High Seas Fleet gone into Uboats, the war could have had a different outcome. The fact that Germany was so
thoroughly defeated and its society destabilized, often by the very sailors of the High
Seas Fleet, was not a cause for rejoicing, when seen in the light of later events
Even as it subsided, the naval arms race had brought about a realignment of the
European powers which so unbalanced the political situation that a couple of pistol
shots in Sarajevo sufficed to ignite it. "The leash that Bismarck designed to restrain
Vienna in Balkan affairs was allowed to pull Germany itself into the abyss."139 The
Pflanze, Bismarck, iii, 443.
resemblance to the US-Soviet arms rac-e of the 1980s is both striking and unsettling.
Did our world, unbeknownst to ourselves, just barely avoid a far crueler destiny than
that which befell Europe in 1914? Was Cuba nearly our Sarajevo?140
The Anglo-German naval armaments competition aptly illustrates the most
seductive and the most dangerous aspects of the modern arms race. Seductive, in that
the resolution of the race is all the more elusive when it is the product of "respectable"
leaders with high-sounding goals, than when it proceeds from obvious brigands like
Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler. Dangerous, in that the end of the race is not
necessarily the end of the peril, if it results in an unstable truce among anxious nations
armed to the teeth.
Time after time in this dreary recital of Anglo-German relations in the European
Century we have seen human rights set aside in favor of sovereign rights and sensible
arrangements such as alliance, entente, arms control, non-aggression pacts, and the
like, defeated due to a lack of trust. Far-sighted persons on both sides argued for
incremental improvements to build trust, a technique which proved very effective in
our final decade of rivalry with the Soviets. This would have required a basic change in
the mind-set of influential individuals like the Kaiser, Admiral von Tirpitz, Edward
Grey, and Admiral John Fisher. With the leaders unwilling to take even small steps to
build trust and lead public opinion, reversal of the march to war proved impossible.
After the departure of Bismarck, there were no great diplomats, only a Great War.
A rhetorical question; I would rather not know the answer.
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Press, 1963. The definitive study of the origins of the controversy.
Childers, Erskine. The Riddle of the Sands. New York: Dover, 1976. This well-written and
engaging novel reflects the values and literary conventions of its day. However, its author
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