Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 24 January 2022

The Proclamation of the German Empire in 1871

January 18th was the 151st anniversary of the proclamation of the new German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

I came by chance on an online video about the events leading up to and surrounding the formal proclamation. It is from a series about the Franco-Prussian War, but stands alone in its coverage of the day. The accounts brings out the improvised nature of the ceremony - presumably because of wanting to hold it on January 18th, the 170th anniversary of the coronation of the first King in Prussia and the fact that German forces were still engaged in fighting the French in the siege of Paris.

Up to the last moment there was a serious tussle over the new Imperial title between Kaiser von Deutschland, favoured by the Kaiser-designate and Deutsches Kaiser, the choice of Bismarck. The difference is, of course, not a just a matter or words, but had deep constitutional significance for the new union. In 1848-9 Wilhelm’s brother Friedrich Wilhelm IV, not lacking in Romantic neo- medievalism, refused the Imperial title proffered by the Frankfurt Assembly on the grounds that he did not want to pick his crown out of the dirt. Now in 1871 Bismarck, aware of the sensitivities of the other German ruling dynasties, predictably prevailed - as Wilhelm I was later to observe it was hard being Kaiser under Bismarck.

There is a short Wikipedia account of Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden, the son-in-law of the new Kaiser who proclaimed him to the assembled throng in the Hall of Mirrors at Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden

Crown Prince Friedrich, usually known in the Anglophone world as Frederick, was keen to revive medieval forms for the new German monarchy. It is recorded that he, together with his wife would look at books with illustrations of the insignia and emblems of the medieval Empire and he would say that these symbols must be brought back. 

When in 1888 he eventually succeeded his father as Kaiser there was to be a problem which did not confront either his father or his son, Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II. As the new ruler he wished to be styled Frederick IV, implying continuity with the Holy Roman Emperors and the fifteenth century Habsburg Frederick III, rather than using his Prussian regal numbering as Frederick III. Bismarck was insistent that the style Emperor Frederick IV would offend their ally the Austin’s-Hungarian Empire, and Frederick’s 99 day reign as both Kaiser and King was to be as Frederick III. 

That question touched upon the generally unspoken question as to whether the new Empire was German - or even pan-German - or whether it was in reality just a greater Prussia. The answer is, of course, that it was both. Prussia was far and away the largest constituent territory and had far more votes in the Imperial Council. The problems were, ironically, perhaps strongest in Prussia itself where in the east its Polish speaking subjects were content to be ruled by the King of  Prussia, but did not necessarily think of themselves as Germans, and resented a uniform language being imposed by the local administration. Similarly Rhineland subjects, added to the Kingdom in 1814-15 felt little in common with Berlin, and still less with Königsberg.

File:Wappen Deutsches Reich - Reichsadler 1889.svg

The cost of arms of the German Empire
This version was adopted in 1889

Image: Wikipedia 

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