Saturday, 13 July 2013

Sleepwalking into war

The New York Times has a very interesting review of two books that are indispensable to our understanding of why war broke out in 1914: Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to War in 1914 and Sean McKeekin's  July 1914: Countdown to War. I hope both books get the publicity they deserve in the run-up to the commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Towards 1914: 2 (1905-14)

The first Moroccan crisis
The Entente had not been aimed at Germany, but it created problems for German policy makers. In March 1905 Wilhelm II made a deliberate attempt to break it. He paid a state visit to Tangier in which he made a speech emphasizing Germany’s commercial interests in Morocco and the importance of maintaining the independence of its Sultan. This was diplomatic bluster on Wilhelm’s part. Germany had no economic interests in Morocco and certainly did not want war. But it caused French and British diplomats to discuss the military possibilities of the Entente in the event of a war with Germany. The immediate outcome was the resignation of the French Foreign Minister, Delcassé, in June, 1905.

Germany succeeded in having an international conference called at Algeciras in 1906.
The conference confirmed the integrity of the sultan's domains but sanctioned French and Spanish policing of Moroccan ports and collection of the customs dues. There was now no hope of a Franco-German rapprochement and the Anglo-French entente was solidified. The crisis revealed to British statesmen the importance of France and was the effectual end of the policy of isolation. It also revealed Germany’s isolation, with only Austria-Hungary supporting its position.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The history of the telegraph

The European telegraph network, 1856
Having been forced to reveal a rather embarrassing ignorance about the history of the electric telegraph and the technology behind it, I'm delighted to have received information about this blog, which provides a very comprehensive history. Thanks, Jeremy.

The British telegraph network, 1852

Thursday, 7 March 2013

French commemorative coins

I've been shown a couple of very interesting coins commemorating the storming of the Bastille and Napoleon's victory over the Austrians at Marengo on 14 June 1800. Thanks, Alistair!
The standard, highly stylized, representation
 of the storming of the Bastille

Napoleon's victory at Marengo, showing his office
 of First Consul and the date in the revolutionary
 calendar 925 Prairial, Year VIII), then still in force

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Towards 1914: 1 (1894-1904)

'The All-Highest'; Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941)

The Dual Entente
The idea of a Franco-Russian alliance was not new as it had been advocated by panslavists and French nationalists, but it remained insignificant so long as Bismarck nursed Russia and encouraged French expansion overseas. As Russo-German relations cooled, the Reinsurance Treaty was allowed to lapse.

This did not mean an alliance was inevitable as there was considerable dislike in Russia of France’s republican constitution. However, the two powers were becoming increasingly close economically and hostile to what they saw as Britain’s expansionism.

In July 1891 the French fleet paid a symbolic visit to Kronstadt and diplomatic notes were exchanged. In August 1892 Russia promised to go to war if France were attacked by Germany alone and in return France promised to come to Russia’s help if she were attached by Germany (but not if she were attacked by Austria-Hungary). This agreement was full of significance for the future: Europe was now on the way to being organized into two armed camps. At the end of 1893 a diplomatic convention was signed (and ratified in 1894) to reinforce the military one. In 1894 Nicholas II paid a state visit to Paris. So secret was this alliance that the public did not become aware of it until 1897 and most French ministers did not know its precise terms until war broke out.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Towards 1914: Bismarck's Europe

For the complicated politics of the European alliances before 1914, I have been especially indebted to J. M. Roberts Europe 1880-1945, 2nd edition (Longman, 1989) and to Michael Rapport, Nineteenth-Century Europe (Palgrave, 2005).

'In the approach to the outbreak of the First World War, four factors were crucial: first, the ambitions and strategies of the great powers; second, the system of alliances, the danger of which was less to drag allies into the abyss than to make them concerned lest their opposite numbers renege on their commitments at the last moment; third, the balance of power in the decision-making process between military men and civilian politicians; last, the pressure of both nationalist and socialist anti-militaristic opinion, and the opportunity offered by the war to achieve the ultimate in national integration'. Robert Gildea, Barricades and Borders: Europe 1800-1914, 3rd edn. (Oxford, 2003), 429.

Between the Berlin Congress of 1878 and 1900 the Concert of Europe in effect came to an end as new occasions of conflict arose.

The condition of the military
Among the great powers of 1880 only Britain was not a land power. To continental countries armies were more important than navies. Military thinking was still obsessed with the idea of winning a decisive battle soon after the outbreak of war. It was assumed that wars would be short (as they had been in 1866 and 1870) and the five year experience of the American Civil War was discounted.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Feminism, socialism, anarchism

For this post I have used Michael Rapport's Nineteenth-Century Europe (Palgrave, 2005) and A Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century History, ed. John Belchem and Richard Price (Penguin, 1994). I have found the latter a very useful work of reference though the entry on Bismarck is disappointingly short.

The nineteenth century saw the advancement of political rights for men but the emancipation of women was hampered by the doctrine of separate spheres and by the double standard of sexual morality. This was attacked in John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869), the key feminist text of the 19th century.

However, in many parts of Europe women gained more rights in the family. The Custody of Infants Act in Britain (1839) allowed a separated wife to claim custody of a child under seven. From 1857 women in England and Wales were allowed to divorce their husbands, though not for adultery alone. From 1870 a series of Married Women’s Property Acts recognized the independent legal existence of married women. Similar laws were passed in France and Germany. From 1912 French women were able to sue fathers for financial support.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Mass politics and democracy

A democratic world?
The later 19th century has been seen as a period of modernization in which, according to the sociologist Max Weber (left), traditional authority increasingly gave way to legal-rational authority organized bureaucratically through impersonal institutions. In 1885 Sir Henry Maine pointed out in his book Popular Government
‘Russia and Turkey are the only European states that completely reject the theory that governments hold their power by delegation from the community.’
In other words, they were the only large states that did not have some kind of parliamentary institutions.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Religion and secularisation

The Church of Sacré Cour, Montmartre
Historians and sociologists have been interested in the phenomenon of ‘secularization’, which had usually been linked with ‘modernization’. The nineteenth century saw a continuous conflict (and sometimes attempts at reconciliation) between the forces of religion and those of ‘modernity’.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Napoleon III in exile

Camden Place, Chislehurst at the time of Napoleon III
I have been given the link (thanks, Caryl) to Frances Foster's MA thesis on Napoleon III. It's very scholarly, and well worth a read with lots of local information.


Before 1867
In 1806 the Holy Roman Empire was brought to an end following Napoleon’s victories over the Austrians. The last of the Holy Roman Emperors, Francis II, was now Francis I of Austria. After the fall of Napoleon (1814-15), Austria became once more the leader of the German states but following the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 she was expelled from the German Confederation.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Russia in the nineteenth century

The extent of the country
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Russia was geographically the world’s most extensive country and its empire was expanding. From 1809 Russia controlled Finland and in 1815 the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was subsumed into Russia. In 1800 Georgia was annexed. In 1859 the rest of the Caucasus was conquered and the Chechen hero Imam Shamil (right) captured. In 1860 the Amur and Maritime provinces were acquired from China and Turkestan from Persia in 1875. Turkmenistan was annexed in 1881. The Pacific port of Vladivostok was founded in 1860. The only territory lost was Alaska, which was sold to the United States in 1867 for $8 million.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

In Our Time: the Dreyfus Affair

Click here to listen to the excellent discussion on the Dreyfus affair on Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time' programme.

The Man on Devil's Island

Go here for the Telegraph's review of the excellent Ruth Harris's book on the Dreyfus case.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Postcards from the battle

Martine has drawn my attention to this site which shows a fascinating series of postcards depicting the battle of Champigny, also known as the battle of Villiers, one of the lesser-known battles of the Franco-Prussian War.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Rat du jour

'Along with the carrier-pigeon, the rat was to become the most fabled animal of the Siege of Paris [1870-1], and from December the National Guard spent much of its time engaged in vigorous rat-hunts. Even so, the number actually consumed was relatively few: according to one contemporary American calculation, only 300 rats were eaten during the whole siege, compared with 65,000 horses, 5,000 cats and 1,200 dogs. The elaborate sauces that were necessary to render them edible meant that rats were essentially a rich man's dish - hence the notorious menu of the Jockey Club, which featured such delicacies as "salmis de rats" and rat pie.'

From Alistair Horne, The Seven Ages of Paris (2002)

The Third Republic

As well as using the standard textbooks I have consulted the Britannica 2001 CD-ROM and my undergraduate copy of my old professor Alfred Cobban's History of Modern France, vol 2, 1799-1945 (Penguin 1961). Still excellent after all these years! I have also used a more modern work, Colin Jones, Cambridge Illustrated History of France (CUP, 1999).

The Republic proclaimed
When the news of the French surrender at Sedan reached Paris on September 4, crowds filled the streets and demanded the proclamation of a republic. The imperial officials put up no serious resistance; the Revolution of September 4 was the most bloodless in French history. For an outline of the Third Republic see here.

New biography of Bismarck

For the Telegraph review of Jonathan Steinberg's new biography of Bismarck, see here

Monday, 7 January 2013

German unification

The picture above is of the proclamation of the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles.

As well as the textbooks mentioned in previous posts,  I have used the Britannica CD ROM (2001),  Christopher Clark's excellent Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600-1947 (Allen Lane, 2006), and Jonathan Steinberg's Bismarck: A Life (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Update: Go here for an excellent  discussion on Bismarck in Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time'.

King William I
The Italian war provided an impetus for the unification of Germany that was to take place under Bismarck's leadership. There were clear parallels between the perceived predicaments of Germany and Italy and between Prussia and Piedmont, both constitutional monarchies with modernizing agendas. There was also a renewal of the French threat as, like his uncle, Napoleon III had successfully challenged the established European order. His invasion of Italy led to the mobilization of 250,000 men in various German states under the authority of the Confederation Diet and an outburst of patriotic feeling across Germany. But there was a difference from 1848-9. German liberals now realized that unification could only take place under the leadership of Prussia.

In 1858 the 62 year old Prince William of Prussia became regent for his brother, Frederick William IV, who had been incapacitated by a series of strokes. A liberalizing ministry took office inaugurating a new era of ‘parliamentary monarchy, enabling the liberals to win a landslide in the Landtag (upper house) elections of November 1858.