Bismarck: The Iron Chancellor
War with France 1870-1
Lecture 13
26 October 2010
Bismarck’s strategy 1866-70
German unity ‘from above’ with Prussian
leadership + dominance as prime goal:
• To make use of national movement as
‘integrating ideology’ to give artificial North
German Confederation a major task
• To safeguard monarchy by employing
‘Bonapartism’: Successful government
→ loyalty → legitimacy + no ‘peoples war’
Luxemburg Crisis (1)
• Grand-duchy of Luxemburg: Person union
with Holland + Prussian garrison s. 1839
• Napoleon III’s wish to acquire Luxemburg as
price for his mediation in 1866 → Strong
need to raise his own prestige in France
• Strong anti-French German public mood
• Bismarck’s fear of uncontrolled German
‘peoples’ war’ → Conference at London …
Luxemburg Crisis (2)
Conference at London, 1867:
• Luxemburg declared neutral + 5-power-guarantee
• France kept out of Luxemburg + Prussian garrison withdrawn
= No territorial gain for France + heavy blow for Napoleon
► Serious damage of Franco-Prussian relations
► Bismarck seen by France as German nationalist +
Prussian expansionist + strongly defiant to
French hegemony of Europe
► War between France + Prussia soon expected
Napoleon's strategy 1867-70
• Re-strengthen ‘Bonapartism’ by successful foreign
• To set-up a coalition of France + Austria + Italy
≠ Prussia (+ Russia)
But: Austria’s readiness for war only when Russia
sided Prussia
Italy’s excessive territorial demands incl. Papal
State at Rome under French military protection
= No formal coalition: Unsuccessful French plans
Hohenzollern Candidature Crisis (1)
Spanish revolution of 1868:
• Driving out Spanish Queen Isabella
• Moderate Spanish right’s search for new
monarch to safeguard monarchy
→ Offer of Spanish crown to Prince Leopold
of Hohenzollern = Catholic side-branch
of royal Prussian House of Hohenzollern
Hohenzollern Candidature Crisis (2)
Bismarck’ perception of candidature:
• Option 1: Hohenzollern prince as Spanish King →
One French army corps bound at Spanish
border in case of French attack on Prussia →
French ‘encircled’
• Option 2: Any other Catholic prince as Spanish
King supported by France → Replacement of
French troops in Rome by Spanish → Italy ready
for coalition with France → Prussia ‘encircled’ +
no German unity achievable
Hohenzollern Candidature Crisis (3)
• Bismarck’s secret encouragement of
Hohenzollern candidature
• Strong French critic after official publication of
candidature + desire for triumph, for
intimidation, humiliation of Prussia + creating
war-like mood
• Spanish renunciation of Leopold’s candidature
after strong French pressure: Such voluntary
step of Leopold not enough to satisfy French
negative ambitions towards Prussia
Hohenzollern Candidature Crisis (4)
• France’s demand of official renunciation from
King William I on behalf of Leopold for all time
= Overemphasising crisis + Napoleon’s
overplaying his hand
• France’s demand refused by King William but his
conciliatory reply to French ambassador
Benedetti at Bad Ems
• ‘Ems telegram’ amended by Bismarck to provoke
war with France → King’s action seemingly
more abrupt + dismissive than in reality
Hohenzollern Candidature Crisis (4)
Napoleon’s situation:
• Option 1: To suffer major diplomatic defeat
against Prussia → probably end of
Napoleon’s government
• Option 2: To escape into war → probably
good chance to defeat Prussia:
Declaration of war, 19 Jul 1870
Warfare (1)
• Strong anti-French feelings in all-Germany:
‘National uprising’ in North and South
• Neutral stance of Russia + Austria + Britain
• Quick mobilisation of Prussian + other German
states armies + well-trained troops under
Prussian General von Moltke
• France’s war declaration with no prior preparation
or military action → Slow mobilisation of French
army → early battles defeats
Warfare (2)
3 major series of operations:
• Battles leading to trapping of French army under
Bazaine in Metz (- October 1870)
• Surrender of Napoleon III at Sedan (2 Sep 1870)
• Investment of Paris (- 28 Jan 1871)
War Results
Founding of German Empire at Versailles, 18 Jan 1871
Treaty of Frankfurt, May 1871:
• Annexation of French provinces Alsace + (East-)
Lorraine by Germany
• Heavy French war indemnity
= New border line for military strategic reasons
= Strong German public pressure on Bismarck to
annex French territory as punishment
► Long-lasting French revenge feeling

HIST2086: `Bismarck`