European Diplomacy before the First World War

The Alliance System in Europe 1871-1890

This revision podcast focuses on Bismarck and the International System (sometimes known as the Alliance System) he created from 1871 until his resignation in 1890.  Approaching the topic through a consideration of Bismarck’s foreign policy aims following the unification of Germany, the podcast explains how he attempted to isolate France, befriend Britain, and create a series of alliances with Russia and Austria-Hungary.

          

  • /
Update Required
To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.
Dropping the pilot

Why did Otto von Bismarck resign in 1890?

On the 20th March 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany formally accepted Otto von Bismarck’s resignation. His resignation had been demanded by the Kaiser a few days earlier and was submitted on the 18th. Bismarck’s exit from office two days later ended his decades-long domination of German and European politics, and ushered in the new age of Weltpolitik.

As Minister President and Foreign Minister of Prussia, Bismarck had overseen the unification of Germany in 1871. He then continued as Chancellor of Germany for almost two decades, throughout which Germany dominated European politics, and controlled the balance of power to ensure peace.

However the death of Kaiser Wilhelm I, which was quickly and unexpectedly followed by his son Frederick III, led to the young and relatively inexperienced Wilhelm taking the throne. Rather than allow his Chancellor to govern as he had done for the previous few decades, Wilhelm preferred to rule as well as reign which led to confrontations between the two men in the tussle for control.

The situation came to a head in early 1890, when they disagreed over social policy. While Bismarck was keen to introduce permanent anti-socialist laws, Wilhelm preferred to be more moderate. The stark difference in their positions became most obvious when Bismarck said he sought a violent confrontation in order to suppress the socialists. Wilhelm later took offence at Bismarck negotiating a new political alliance without his knowledge.

With their relationship in tatters, Wilhelm insisted that the 75 year old Bismarck submit his resignation. He was succeeded by Leo von Caprivi, and dedicated the rest of his life to writing his memoirs.

The breakdown of the International System from 1890

In this revision podcast we see how the ascension of Wilhelm II to the throne of Germany in 1890 led to the breakdown of the Alliance System created by Bismarck.  It explores how a number of factors led to increased European tensions through reference to key issues including Weltpolitik, the arms race, and nationalism.  These factors are assessed in order to explain the changing relationships between the European powers during the period.

          

  • /
Update Required
To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.

Causes of the First World War – the ‘Alliance System’

An overview of the Alliance System before the outbreak of the First World War including archive footage from the time.

Entente Cordiale

Explanation of the Entente Cordiale

A brief explanation of the terms and effects of the signing of the Entente Cordiale on 8th April 1904.

Causes of the First World War – Militarism and the ‘Arms Race’

Dreadnought

The launch of the Dreadnought

On the 10th February 1906 the British King, Edward VII, launched HMS Dreadnought – a revolutionary new type of battleship that made all other ships obsolete. She was the fastest and most heavily-armed ship in the world, and the name Dreadnought began to be used to describe a whole class of similar ships.

You might think that having the best ship in the world would make Britain the undisputed champion of the seas, but the launch of the Dreadnought arguably created more problems than it solved.  Ever since the British government adopted the Two-Power Standard as part of the Naval Defence Act in 1889, the Royal Navy had to have at least the same number of battleships as the next two largest navies in the world combined.  At that point it was France and Russia, but by 1906 Wilhelm II had become Kaiser of Germany and began aggressive military expansion and the development of a German Empire under his ‘World Policy’ or Weltpolitik.

But why was the Dreadnought a problem to Britain the Two-Power Standard?  The issue was that Britain now only had one more Dreadnought than every other country in the world.  With all other ships obsolete in the wake of the new design, it was too easy for other countries to catch up.  When Germany launched the first of its Dreadnought-style Nassau ships in 1908, Britain was forced to keep ahead by building more and more.  The naval arms race and the tension that followed was a major contributing factor to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Conflicts in the Balkans before the First World War

This revision podcast focuses on the ‘Eastern Question’ that affected the Balkans and threatened the European balance of power from the late 19th Century to the early 20th.  The episode stretches from the impact of the Congress of Berlin in 1878 to the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.  Particular focus is given to the rise nationalism and Pan-Slavism in the Balkan states and the effects of the Bosnian Crisis of 1908-9.

          

  • /
Update Required
To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.

The July Crisis and the outbreak of World War One

This revision podcast provides an overview of the July Crisis of 1914 that acted as the spark to World War One.  The episode begins with the events of 28th June when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was assassinated by the Black Hand Gang.  It then goes on to explore the impact of the assassination on the diplomatic actions of Germany and Austria-Hungary, including the ‘blank cheque’.  Finally, the podcast describes the actions of Russia, France and Britain as the major nation states of Europe fell in to war.

          

  • /
Update Required
To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.

Causes of the First World War – The July Crisis

Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary, this video explores the 6-week period known as the July Crisis.  It explains the concept of Germany’s ‘Blank Cheque’ and how the alliance system caused the nations of Europe to become embroiled in what was now a ‘world’ war.  Reference is made to the Schlieffen Plan and how this led to Britain’s declaration of war.