The Unification of Germany

Treaty of Vienna

The signing of the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna

The ‘Final Act’ of the Congress of Vienna was signed on the 9th June 1815, nine days before Napoleon’s final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. The purpose of the Congress was to review and reorganise Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, in an attempt to achieve a lasting peace.

Having first met after the defeat and surrender of Napleonic France in 1814, the Congress continued in spite of the renewal of hostilities following the period known as the Hundred Days in which Napoleon returned from exile and took back control of France. Chaired by Metternich, the Austrian principal minister, the Congress was led by the so-called Four Great Powers of Austria, Russia, Britain, and Prussia alongside France.  In total over 200 states were represented in some way at the Congress, making it the largest diplomatic event of its time.  However, the key terms were discussed and decided by the Great Powers in informal meetings.

The Final Act of the Congress set in place a map of Europe that remained largely unchanged for the next forty years, and – some may argue – set the scene for the First World War. Indeed the delegates were often criticised in the later nineteenth century for focusing more on achieving a balance of power than on maintaining peace. Nationalism, for example, was largely ignored in the final settlement. Although this was a key factor in the disputes and conflicts that emerged later, it’s important to remember that the Congress did succeed in its primary aim of securing wider European peace for the best part of a century.

The origins of German unification: 1815-1848

This revision podcast presents the background of German unification.  Beginning with the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the podcast goes on to explore the opposing conservative and progressive factors at play in the early 19th Century.  In terms of conservatism, we consider the impact of Metternich, the role of the nobles and the influence of the church.  The growth of progressive factors such as the impact of the railways and industrialisation, the middle class, and the Zollverein are also considered.

     

Historiography: The failure of the German revolutions 1848-49

This revision podcast presents the key factors that led to the failure of the revolutions in the German states.  This is done through a consideration of the historiography of period.  Particular focus is put on the work of Eric Eyck, Karl Marx, AJP Taylor and Bob Whitfield and the different interpretations they reached about the reasons for failure.  Historical evidence is then presented that could be used to support their opinions.

          

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The changing balance of power: Germany 1849-59

This revision podcast considers the reasons for the changing balance of power between Austria and Prussia following the revolutions of 1848-9.  Beginning with the Erfurt Union and the subsequent Declaration of Olmutz, the podcast goes on to consider the impact of key international events including the Crimean War and Austria’s war against Italy.  It also assesses the impact of events in the German States themselves, paying particular attention to Austria’s failed attempt to join the Zollverein and the effect of Prussia’s economic boom.

          

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End of the Crimean War

The terms of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Crimean War

The Crimean War began in October 1853, having been triggered by disagreements between Russia and the Ottoman Empire regarding Russia’s right to protect the Orthodox Christian minority in the Ottoman-controlled Holy Land. Against a background of declining Ottoman power, Britain and France later joined the war to stop Russia gaining dominance around the Black Sea.

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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Franco-Prussian War

Why was there a Franco-Prussian War in 1870?

The Franco-Prussian War began with a declaration of war by the French emperor, Napoleon III.

The Franco-Prussian War marked the culmination of a long period of declining relations between France and the German state of Prussia. Prussia had defeated Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War three years previously, and France was concerned that the established balance of power within Europe was at risk.

In June 1870 Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a relative of King Wilhelm I of Prussia, was offered the vacant Spanish throne. Leopold accepted the offer, but Napoleon III complained that the appointment would mean France was surrounded by Prussian influence. In the face of France’s hostility, Wilhelm I persuaded Leopold to withdraw his candidacy.

Count Benedetti, the French Ambassador to Prussia, met Wilhelm shortly afterwards to demand a promise that the candidature would not be renewed. Wilhelm saw this as questioning his honour as a King, and refused to give the promise. He informed Bismarck of the meeting by telegram, and on 14 July the minister released an edited version – known as the Ems Telegram – in which he changed the tone of the conversation to give the impression that Wilhelm had offended the French Ambassador.

This pushed Napoleon, persuaded by the media and his wife, to declare war on Prussia on 19 July 1870. Prussia quickly secured the support of the South German states and, aided by superior military planning and rail links, mobilised quickly. France was defeated decisively within 4 weeks, and Emperor Napoleon III himself was taken prisoner. Although the Siege of Paris prolonged the conflict, the French government signed the Peace of Frankfurt in 1871.

The Franco-Prussian War

This low-budget (but reasonably informative) video presents an overview of the events that led to the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent German unification.

Railways in the Franco-Prussian War

This short video explains how Von Moltke’s planning enabled speedy Prussian mobilisation by using the railway network.