Tag Archives: Britain

Treaty of London 1839

The Treaty of London: Belgium independence and the First World War

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’.

Causes of the First World War

An explanation of the causes of the First World War…sheer brilliance.

The MAIN causes of the First World War (video)

This video is taken from BBC Bitesize revision, and it gives an excellent overview of the key long-term causes of the war.

The outbreak of the First World War

The failure of the Schlieffen Plan

What if the Schlieffen Plan had worked?

This documentary examines the counter-factual debate of what would have happened if the Schlieffen Plan had worked.  It opens with a review of the ‘real’ events, and then speaks to various experts to find out their opinion on how things could have been different.

WW1 railway mobilisation

Railways and their use in mobilising the First World War

Women WW1 home front

The British Home Front in WW1

German navy attack Scarborough

The German naval bombardment of Scarborough in WW1

Shortly after 8am on the 16th December 1914, the German Imperial Navy attacked the British seaside towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. 137 people died, and another 592 were injured as a result of the bombardment – most of whom were civilians.

The smaller German fleet always sought to avoid direct engagement with the British. Instead they focused on targeted attacks and, after an earlier fast raid on the seaside town of Yarmouth, sought to increase the use of such tactics. The hope was that this would draw out parts of the British fleet and German U-Boats could pick them off one by one.

The Germans had determined that an attack on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby would be possible after a U-17 returned from a reconnaissance mission. It was identified that there were few mines in the vicinity, and no coastal defences, which made the towns an easy target since they were within easy striking distance of Germany.

British Intelligence had already decoded messages that indicated the German battle fleet would be mounting the raid. However, British Admiral John Jellicoe opted to allow the raid to happen and then intercept the German ships on their return. This proved catastrophic, as the British underestimated the size of the German attack, which saw over a thousand shells being fired, and then failed to engage the enemy.

The British public was outraged firstly that the Germans had attacked civilians, and secondly that the Royal Navy had failed to stop them. However, ‘Remember Scarborough’ soon became a key message of the British propaganda campaign and vengeance was used as an incentive for recruitment.

Enlisting for the army in the First World War

A short video extract showing German and British attitudes to the outbreak of war, and how these influenced men to join the army.