Tag Archives: Bismarck

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.

          

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The Reinsurance Treaty

The Reinsurance Treaty between Germany and Russia: a brief overview

Germany and Russia signed the secret Reinsurance Treaty that ensured they would each remain neutral if the other went to war with a third European power.

Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary had entered into a second Three Emperors’ Alliance in 1881. Like the one before it, the agreement was designed by the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, to isolate France from potential allies and avoid rivalry between his two neighbours over territory in the Balkans.

Continuing tensions between Austria-Hungary and Russia over this region led to the agreement’s collapse in 1887 and forced Bismarck to find another way to maintain French diplomatic isolation.

Germany had already formed the Dual Alliance with Austria-Hungary in 1879, so the Reinsurance Treaty was created to ensure Russia continued to side with Germany. In return Germany agreed to a Russian sphere of influence in Bulgaria and the Black Sea.

By the time the treaty came up for renewal in 1890, Wilhelm II had become Kaiser of Germany. He insisted that Bismarck resign the Chancellorship in March that year, and argued that his personal relationship with Tsar Alexander III would be enough to avoid any future problems with Russia. Bismarck’s successor Leo von Caprivi was also unwilling to seek a renewal of the Reinsurance Treaty, meaning that it lapsed.

Without the treaty to tie St Petersburg to Berlin, the Russian government began to forge closer relations with France. France’s improving diplomatic situation was formalised in the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1892. This opened up Germany to the possibility of a war on two fronts, making the failure of the Reinsurance Treaty a contributing factor to the outbreak of the First World War.

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.

          

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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.

          

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The creation of the North German Confederation: 1862-66

Although this revision podcast covers a much shorter period of time than the previous episodes in the series, the sequence of events that led to the creation of the North German Confederation laid the foundation for the unification of Germany just five years later.  This podcast begins with the introduction of Von Roon’s army reforms and the appointment of Bismarck to the role of Chancellor.  It then goes on to explain how Bismarck refined his system of Realpolitik through the Polish Revolt, the Schleswig-Holstein Crisis and the Danish War which in turn led to the Convention of Gastein.  This episode ends with the Austro-Prussian War and the Peace of Prague – the final stage in Prussia’s subjugation of Austria – and the creation of the North German Confederation.

          

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The unification of Germany: 1866-71

The final episode in this series of revision podcasts concludes the process of German unification.  Beginning with the aftermath of the Peace of Prague and the creation of the North German Confederation, it provides an overview of France’s attempts to gain territory (including the Luxembourg Affair) in the face of increasing Prussian dominance.  Following a discussion of the Hohenzollern Candidature and Bismarck’s editing of the subsequent Ems Telegram, the podcast finishes with an account of Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

          

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Wilhelm I declared German Emperor

Proclamation of Wilhelm I as the first German Emperor

On the 18th January 1871, Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed the first German Emperor. The creation of the federal Empire made Wilhelm the head of state and president of the federated monarchies that made up the 27 constituent territories.

Wilhelm had been made the President of the North German Confederation on its formation in 1867, and during the Franco-Prussian War took a leading role in the command of the German forces. With patriotic fervour as a result of the enormously successful German advance, in November 1870 the remaining states south of the river Main joined the North German Confederation.

The next month, on the 10th December, the Reichstag of the Confederation renamed itself the German Empire. Wilhelm was formally declared the German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles on the 18th January.  The title was accepted grudgingly by Wilhelm who would have preferred “Emperor of Germany” rather than “German Emperor”, but Bismarck warned that this would be dangerous as it suggested he had a claim to other Germanic lands such as Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland. He also refused to be titled “Emperor of the Germans”, since this would have suggested he ruled with permission from the German people rather than by “the grace of God”. As a believer in divine right, this suggestion was unacceptable to him.

Three months later, on the 14th April, the Reichstag adopted the German Constitution. This stated that the King of Prussia would be the permanent President of the confederation of states that formed the Empire. Therefore, the role of Emperor was directly tied to the Prussian crown.