European Diplomacy before the First World War
Since becoming a teacher, I’ve been disturbed by the number of people who claim that the First World War was caused by a sandwich. Having read a huge amount of sources about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, I’ve put together this video that presents a detailed look at the claim that Gavrilo Princip was able to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and cause the First World War because he went to buy a sandwich from Schiller’s Delicatessen.
My video was inspired by Mike Dash’s excellent article at http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2011/09/gavrilo-princips-sandwich/ – it’s well worth ten minutes of your time to read it.
On the 23rd July 1914, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia specifically designed to be rejected and lead to war between the two countries.
The ultimatum was delivered at 6pm by the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Belgrade, with a deadline of 48 hours within which the Serbian government had to respond. They accepted all but one of the numerous demands, which led Austria-Hungary to declare war three days later on 28th July.
Austria-Hungary had been concerned about the growing power of Serbia, and was keen to find a way to weaken the government and stop it taking over the Southern Slavic populations of the northern Balkans, and especially Bosnia, under the banner of pan-Slavism. To the government officials who favoured war, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on the 28th June was the perfect excuse.
Following the assassination, Germany had given Austria-Hungary assurances that it would support military action against Serbia, in what is known as the ‘Blank Cheque’ of 5th July. Acting with the knowledge that the strongest army in Europe was on their side, the Austro-Hungarian Crown Council began to discuss how best to justify a war against Serbia. They decided that an ultimatum containing unacceptable demands would be the best course of action, and finally agreed the wording on the 19th.
After Serbia’s refusal of the sixth point in the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary declared war. Although it was intended to remain localised, the network of European alliances that had developed from the late 19th Century soon saw the conflict develop into the First World War.
This is a different type of revision podcast as, rather than covering the details of events, it aims to provide a summary of key historians’ interpretations of them. The podcast tracks the changing historiography of responsibility for the First World War over time. Beginning with the attitude at the time of the Versailles Treaty, the podcast summarises the shift in interpretation through the inter-war period, the effect of World War 2, the 1960s and the Fischer Thesis, and post-Fischer revisionism. Historians whose work is briefly mentioned include G. Lowes Dickinson, Sidney Fay, AJP Taylor, Luigi Albertini, Fritz Fischer, Niall Ferguson and John Keegan.
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The Treaty of London recognised and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium.
In 1813 Napoleon’s rule of the Netherlands was ended by the combined armies of Russia and Prussia, and control was given to William Frederik of Orange-Nassau. Two years later, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, modern Belgium became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.
These southern provinces were predominantly Catholic, and a sizeable number of the inhabitants spoke French. However, William clearly favoured Protestantism and had tried to impose Dutch as the official language. This led to tensions which were exacerbated by economic problems that included high unemployment and arguments over the effect of free trade on the less developed south. A revolution erupted in 1830 that led to the states declaring independence on 4 October, although William refused to recognise the independent Belgium for over nine years.
In signing the treaty that formally recognised the existence of the independent Kingdom of Belgium, the Netherlands were joined by Britain, Austria, France, Russia, and the German Confederation. Furthermore, Britain insisted that the signatories also recognise Belgium’s perpetual neutrality.
The neutrality clause was of central importance in the outbreak of the First World War, since Germany violated Belgium’s neutrality when its forces crossed the border in the Schlieffen Plan. Britain thus claimed to be upholding the Treaty of London when it declared war on 4 August 1914 – much to the anger of German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg who couldn’t believe Britain would go to war over a ‘mere a scrap of paper’.
People’s Century was an excellent television series which focused on major events in the Twentieth Century. In this episode, soldiers from all sides of World War I remember the trenches, the tactics, and the terrible nature and scale of the slaughter that shattered the old world order. They remember recruitment, machine guns and mustard gas, aerial bombing, the trenches, Battles of Verdun and the Somme, conscientious objectors, military justice, American participation, and armistice.