Wilhelm II: Prince and Emperor, 1859-1900

By Lamar Cecil | Go to book overview

event of an attack by Russia. The Reinsurance Treaty, which had a duration of three years, stipulated mutual assistance in the event that Austria- Hungary should attack Russia, or France attack Germany. The Kaiser alleged, probably truthfully, that he had not known of the treaty until the spring of 1890, when Bismarck had informed him of its existence. In Wilhelm's opinion, Bismarck had hoped that the revelation of so complex a web of treaties would lead to the recognition that only the chancellor could juggle the participants, and he would therefore have to be kept in office. Years later, the Kaiser declared that learning of these intricate secrets instead made him resolve to be rid of Bismarck.5

The Russo-German pact would expire on 18 June 1890, and even though Wilhelm was pessimistic about the future of Germany's relations with Russia, he was prepared to renew the Reinsurance Treaty. Caprivi, however, believed that Germany should adhere as closely as possible to the 1879 alliance with Austria-Hungary. To Caprivi and to his staff in the Foreign Office, the Reinsurance Treaty was incompatible in spirit (though perhaps not with the letter) with the Austro-German treaty and would compromise Germany's relationship with Vienna.6 As an inexperienced diplomat, the new chancellor felt that although Bismarck might have been capable of rationalizing and then upholding such a tortuous policy, he certainly was not. "A man such as yourself," Caprivi informed Bismarck, "can juggle five balls at the same time, while other people do well to limit themselves to one or two balls."7Caprivi also had to keep in mind the fact that the ex-chancellor, ever spiteful when crossed, could not be relied on to keep the Reinsurance Treaty secret, and its revelation would greatly embarrass Germany's relations with Austria-Hungary. The chancellor feared that should the, contents of Germany's treaties with Russia and the Habsburgs become known, German public opinion, to which he unlike Bismarck was highly sensitive, would take a hostile view of such an ambiguous, even duplicitous, system of alliances.8

Within a week of Bismarck's fall, Wilhelm changed his mind about the wisdom'of renewing the Reinsurance Treaty. The unanimously negative reaction of the Foreign Office to the renewal was influential, as were the efforts of Philipp Eulenburg, who for years had been working to undermine the Kaiser's faith in Alexander III.9 Especially persuasive was the advice Wilhelm received from General Lothar v. Schweinitz, who since 1876 had been the German envoy in St. Petersburg. Schweinitz saw the Kaiser on 27 March and urged him not to renew the treaty because of the effect it would have on Germany's relations with Austria.10 Wilhelm believed that he could hardly afford, on the heels of the crisis with Bis

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Wilhelm II: Prince and Emperor, 1859-1900
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Preface xi
  • Names Appearing in Text and Notes xvii
  • One - The Heir 1
  • Two - The Education of A Prince 30
  • Three - A Potsdam Lieutenant 55
  • Four - The End of A Reign 88
  • Five - The Ninety-Nine Days of Kaiser Friedrich III 110
  • Six - Bismarck in Trouble 125
  • Seven - 1890 147
  • Eight - Caprivi, Eulenburg, and the Fall of Waldersee 172
  • Nine - Caprivi and the "New Course" 189
  • Ten - Uncle Chlodwig 212
  • Twelve - Our Arrogant Cousin, Albion 263
  • Thirteen - Rule Germania 291
  • Fourteen - Greatness and Eternal Glory 319
  • Notes 341
  • Bibliography of Manuscript Sources 441
  • Index 453
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