Thursday, January 18, 2007

18 January 1871

Today is the anniversary, in 1871, of the proclamation of Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, as German Emperor (Deutscher Kaiser), inaugurating the German Empire, which lasted until its untimely demise in the German Revolution of 1918, near the end of World War I.

Kaiser Wilhelm’s elevation took place in the middle of the Franco-Prussian War, while the Prussian and other German armies were besieging Paris. The birth of the German Empire was both figuratively and literally over the dead body of Napoléon III’s French Empire (related post here), as the proclamation of Wilhelm as Kaiser, in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, (subject of Anton Alexander von Werner’s 1877 painting Die Proklamation des Deutschen Kaiserreiches, reproduced above), rather tactlessly underscored.

Kaiser Wilhelm, quiet, courteous and retiring, and so much unlike his better-known, bumptious grandson, Wilhelm II – never at all wanted to be Emperor, being content to remain King of Prussia. However, the man in the center of the above picture, (the mustached fellow in the white cavalry uniform), his chancellor, Otto von Bismarck – insisted. Bismarck, the brilliant but unstable “Iron Chancellor," engineered three wars: (the Franco-Prussian War, the Austro-Prussian War, and the Danish-Prussian War); created the German Empire; and finally, stayed in power too long -- doing much too much to ruin his own creation.

Proclaiming the Empire at the Château de Versailles, home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, was singularly inauspicious, as any astrologer could have explained. As Sir Alistair Horne pointed out, this circumstance of the German Empire’s beginning– born in a palace dedicated à toutes les gloires de la France -- cursed the new German state’s whole existence, and was an mortal insult to France that would ultimately be avenged in oceans of blood.

But that was for another time. The assembled kings, princes and generals, plus all the politicians and hangers-on, loudly cheered their new Kaiser, and no doubt adjourned to enjoy some good champagne, assure their Kaiser of their loyalty, and congratulate the great Chancellor; before dispersing to their commandeered apartments in the vast palace, or their less-comfortable billets around besieged Paris. In the Hall of Mirrors, with the party over, the palace servants and attendants remained to clean up. In that same room, 48 years later, the bill would be presented.


louielouie said...

very infomative essay.
i always wondered what otto did to get that big boat named for himself.
mr. bismark meet mr. hood.
not nearly important or informative, tomorrow is the birthdate of one LL.
i of course share this date with notables such as Edgar Allan Poe, Robert E. Lee, (as a secessionist, i'm sure EJM I knows of him) Desi Arnez, Jr., Janis Joplin of your cuidad, and two other famous people Dolly Parton.
i'm sure there are others, as we all claim birthdays with the famous.
i will not be in any portraits, but will continue to voice my opinion from the back rows everywhere.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Yeah, dats the Bismarck with the boat.

Happy BD, LL, in advance. As for R.E. Lee...I wouldn't be at all surprised if a post appeared tomorrow, seeing as it's his 200th birthday.

Andrewdb said...

I thought that picture was the Return of El Jefe to his city.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Nah, in my throne room, I replaced the mirrors with ginormous posters of Jenny McCarthy and a Jumbotron.