A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 10


THE WORLD DRIFT TO WAR


consolidating their kingdom, a task which Germany postponed for some 500 years. It became more intense when Bourbon and Hapsburg ruled the two realms, and the aggrandisement of France during the reign of Louis XIV was largely at the expense of Germany, which about the time of his birth had suffered terribly during the Thirty Years' War.

In the 18th century a Hohenzollern, Frederick the Great, took the place of Louis in the centre of the European stage and, in spite of his admiration for French literature and his association with French scholars, spent much of his time in fighting France. Napoleon made Germany a battleground and then carved it up just as it suited his imperious will; but his mosaic did not last, although its memories did, Germany regained the upper hand in 1814, and the settlement of Europe in 1815, largely made by German statesmen, prepared the way for the transformation of the king of Prussia into the German emperor. For fifty-five years Prussian statesmen worked steadily at their task and when, in 1866, their armies had crushed Austria, their only rival within the German orbit, William I and Bismarck were prepared, even anxious, to face the anger of an alarmed and bellicose French emperor, the third Napoleon.

As in the Great War, the immediate cause of the Franco-Prussian struggle of 1870-71 was a comparatively unimportant event, in this case the succession to the throne of Spain. In 1868 the plight of that country under Isabella had become so unhappy that General Prim headed a revolution; the queen lied and the general set up a provisional government which decided to offer the crown to a foreign prince, its own royal family having become impossible. After the consideration and rejection of various candidatures, the crown was accepted in 1870 by the duke of Aosta, the younger son of the king of Italy, who had already declined it once. But one of the princes whose candidature had been tentatively invited was Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a kinsman of the king of Prussia. William I did not countenance, but quite unmistakably discouraged, the candidature, though Bismarck secretly encouraged it; France’s hostility to it was not disguised, and Bismarck was defeated. Leopold definitely refused the offer (July 12, 1870), but William had not definitely vetoed it. For a moment Bismarck believed that his own public career was at an end. But on July 14 he had the game in his hands.

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