The Franco-German War


August 13, 2022

The Franco-German War, also called the Franco-Prussian War (German: Deutsch-Französischer Krieg; French: Guerre franco-allemande) and known in France as the War of 1870, was fought between France and the North German Confederation under the leadership of Prussia, together with the southern German states of Baden, Bavaria, and Württemberg, as well as the Grand Duchy of Hesse between 19 July 1870 and 10 May 1871. After a series of French defeats in the opening phase of the war, almost half of the French force was surrounded at Metz, and the newly established French relief force was crushed at the Battle of Sedan, where French Emperor Napoleon III surrendered to the Germans. This led to the establishment of the Third French Republic. The war ended with an overwhelming German victory after German forces had captured Paris, and during the war Germany was united under Prussian leadership.


The Franco-German war of 1870-1871 had many and deep-seated causes. The French and Germans, like their governments, mutually distrusted each other. The North German Chancellor and Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck had lost all confidence in France, after the country nevertheless supported Austria in 1866 despite the fact that Napoleon III and Bismarck had agreed at a meeting in Biarritz in October 1865 not to interfere the dispute over Austria's claim to the Italian region of Veneto. France thus wanted to contribute to provoking a war between Germany and Austria, mainly on the basis of the dispute over the administration of Schleswig and Holstein after the Second Schleswig War through the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. In France, Prussia's increased in power after the Austro-Prussian War, it overestimated the reluctance to German unification under Prussian leadership that prevailed in the states of southern Germany and hoped, preferably with the help of Austria, to take "revenge for Sadowa". Added to this was Otto von Bismarck's promise to complete the collection with "blood and iron", as well as Napoleon III's and his entourage's belief that a glorious war could consolidate the dynasty and stop the growing opposition to the government's domestic policy. There were thus combustible topics on both sides. The trigger, however, was Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen's candidacy for the Spanish throne. The government of Spain offered Leopold the throne. The prince and his family had doubts, and he gave negative answers twice, in the autumn of 1869 and in the winter of 1870. His attitude was shared by King Wilhelm I of Prussia, who, as head of the house of Hohenzollern, took part in the negotiations. Bismarck was not involved in the negotiations, but followed them with interest, convinced that a connection between Prussia and Spain could keep France in check. Through secret agents, Bismarck managed to get the Spanish government to resume negotiations, and since he had won over Crown Prince Frederik to his cause, Prince Leopold was persuaded in May 1870 to change his decision and accept the offer of the Spanish throne. Before the royal election could take place in Spain, however, the plan became known in Paris. The French government, especially Foreign Minister Antoine Agénor de Gramont, who had hoped to inflict a diplomatic defeat on Prussia, demanded in an aggressive tone that the prince's candidacy be formally withdrawn by the government in Berlin. He had his ambassador, Count Vincent Benedetti, visit King Vilhelm in Bad Ems to get him to make such a declaration. The king, who wanted to end his life's work in peace, answered evasively that the matter did not concern Prussia, but only the prince personally, and on 13 July hastened to give Benedetti a share in the prince's definitive decision and his blessing of it. The telegram which the king sent Bismarck to inform him of his conversation with Benedetti (Ems depeschen) was published by Bismarck that evening in the newspapers. It happened in a lightly edited form; Bismarck made it look like the king had