European Royalty: Austro-Prussian/German Civil War (1866)

Figure 1.--

After the Napoleonic Wars, the two most important German srtates, Austria and Prussia vied for cintrol of Germany. Germany at the time ws divided into a multiplicity of states. The Napoleonic Wars, howecever, had fueled the sence of German nationalismm and pressure fir unificatiin steadily increased after the Wars. Russian intervention and tghe defeat of the liberals in the Revolutions of 1848 meant that one of the new conservative monarchies, Austria or Prussia would unify Germany. Bismarck's careful diplomacy meant that the war would a domestiv German conflict without French intervention. Some German states sided with Austria and the War is sometimes called the German Civil War. The central conflict, however, was between Austria and Prussia over the future of Germany. Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War essentially ejected Austria from Germany. Bismarck's diplomacy, however, meant that Austria was not permanently estraigned from Prussia.

The German Federation

The German states in 1815 as part of the peace settlement following the Napoleonic Wars formed a loose federation known as the German Federation. The two principal powers within the Fedeation were Austria and Prussia. As the 19th century progressed the desire for a real united German state grew throughout Germany. As this desire grew in strength Austria and Prussia vied as to who would be the state through hich a united Germany woul be organized.

Dispute Over Schleswig-Holstein (1864)

After victory in the war with Denmark, Austria and Prussia differed over the disposition of Schleswig-Holstein. Austria in early 1866 formally requested that Schleswig-Holstein be made an independent principlity within the Federation. When Austrian made this request at the German Federal Parliament (Frankfurt), Prussia withdrew from the Federation and seized the Holstein which had been occupied by Austria.

Bavaria Advocates Neutrality

Most of the German states wanted no part of a war between Austria and Prussia. Bavaria at the Federation Parliamnt tabled a resolution to expel both Austia and Prussia Federal Army. The Federal Army was mobilized to react, if either Prussia or Austria should attack any of the other German states. Of course the overwealming mlitary power of the German states was that of Prussia and Austria.

Resistance to War

Bismarck whom had earlier couceled aginst war, this time led the move toward war, a show down with the Austrains that he had planned for years. There was considerable resistance to war against Austria, even in Prussia. Liberals were against it and even some conservatives noting that the Austrain Monatchy like the Prussian monarchy ruled with divine right. The Crown Prince and his English wife thought the idea of war outrageous. Letters Princess Victoria wrote to her Mother Queen Victoria might well have been considered treasonous if Bismarck had been able to get his hands on them. She refers to "that wicked man". Queen Augusta is even more opposed to war. [Ludwig, pp. 268-269.] Bismarck with graet effort finally convinces Wilhelm I to order mobilization. [Ludwig, pp. 270-271.]


There was no danger of Russian intervention, depite the geo-political consequences of German unification. Tsar Alexander II was Wilhelm's nephew. Family ties meant a great deal to both Wilhelm and Alexander. Besides, Prussian had remained neutral in the Crimea War while Austria had sided with the British and French. There was no danger of Tsar Alexander siding with the French in 1870.


There was danger of possible French intervention. Here Bismarck's diplomacy was at its most brilliant. French intervention could have meant Prussia's defeat. Bismarck had forseen this, however, and knew that Napoleon III's primary interest was territorial expansion. Therefore Bismarck dangled possible annexation of Belgium and Luxemburg before him--notably territories that were not Prussian. [Ludwig, pp. 273 and 303-309.] This managed to divert Napoleon from opposing Pruissia's drive toward unification. Bismarck even played a role in promoting a short French Austrain War over Italy that helped to make French-Austrian cooperation difficult in 1866.

Prussian Strategy

Prussia tried to obtain allies within the Federation by offering territorial concessions. The Prussians offered the King George V of Hanover the reward of the Grand-Duchy of Oldenburg, as well as the Counties of Waldeck and Schaumburg-Lippe if he would withdraw from the Federation and fight with Prussia. King George V remained loyal to the Fderation. Some of the smaller principaliies joined the Prussians. The Prussian stategy in the War was mastemined by Wilhelm IV/I's Chancllor, the Count Otto von Bismarck. He used the War as an opportunity to rearrange the map of Germany and establish Prussia and the preeminent German state. The Prussians not only declared war on Austria, but all of the German states in the Federation that remained neutral. (Some Germans thus call this War the German Civil War or the Prusso-German War.)


The Prussians attacked Hanover first. Hanover was the principal German state in northern Germany east of Prussia. The Prussians struck before the outnummered Hanoverian troops could unite with those of Austria and the other southern German states where opposition to the Prussians was strongest. The first battle occurred in central Germany near Langensalza (Thuringia). Although the Hanoverians forces beat the Prussians in preliminary scrimishes, the generals realized they had no chance against the much stronger Prussian forces that were moving toward them and surrendered. Many Hanovarians resented the Prussian occupation and being goverened from Berlin. The Prussian for their part were distrustful of the Hanovarian population, especially the Catholics and social-democrats.


The Prussians next engaged the Austrian Army July 3 at Königgrätz and devestated it. The efficent Prussian Army backed by the kingdom's growing industrial power overwealmed the Austrians which was still operating with Napoleonic era tactics. The fate of the German Federation was sealed.

Peace Settlment

Prussia's military victory was so over wealming that Chancelor Bismarck could virtually dictate the pease. He used the opportunity to redraw the map of Germany and signifcantly expand the trritory of Prussia. Prussia annexed Hanover, Schleswig-Holstein, Hessen-Kassel (Kur-Hessen), Nassau, a part of Hessen-Darmstadt as well as the Free-city of Frankfurt/Main as new provinces. This was of major importance for the upcoming unification of Germany. The constitutions of several of these states were much more liberal and democratic than that of the Prussian state into which they were incorporated. The end of World War I is generally seen as the end of the German monarchies, but in fact the Prussians end the patrimonies of many princely German families in the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian War. The peace with Austria was generous. Bismarck insiated on this. King Wilhelm wanted a substantial emdeminity, annexation of Silesia, and a triumfal entry into Vienna. If he had got his way, Austria woulds have become the same implacable foe that France was to become after the hard peace terns ending the Franco-Prussian War. Bismarck would not have it. He had always resented the Austrains, but argues to the King, "Austria's rivalry of Prussia is no more worthy of punishment than Prussia's rivalry of Austria." [Ludwig, pp. 287-288] In the end, Bismarck insists on a generous peace making possible an eventual alliance between the two countries. King Wilhelm, however, always felt cheated. The dispute with the King was one of the few times Bismarck found himself supported by Crown Prince Frederich. [Lufwig, pp. 288-289.]

North German Federation

Bismarck organized a new North German Federation which it could dominate. The remaining, independant states in northern Germany (Dutchies Brunswick & Oldenburg, the Free-cities Hamburg, Bremen & Lübeck). The North German Federation, really a proxy for Prussia, negotiated with the southern states of Germany--principally Bavaria and Austria.

Franco Prussian War (1870-71)

The Franco-Prussian War is the 1870-71, conflict between France and Prussia that permitted the unification of a united Germany under the Prussian kingdom, overwealming the more liberal traditions of some other German states. The War was largely provoked by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (the Iron Chancellor) as part of his carefully crafted plan to unify German under Prussian leadership. This result was a huge, poweful state imbued with Prussian militarism and with the power to aggressively persue the new Germany's imperial ambitions. This fundmentally changed the European power ballance. The resulting defeat of Louis Napoleon by the Prussians in 1870 brought the Third Republic to power in 1871. One of the reforms they introduced were smocks for schoolboys, part of the new Republican ideal to reduce the influence of class and privlidge. The two northeastern provinces of France, Alsace-Loraine, were ceded to Germany in the Treaty of Frankfurt. These were both border provinces and there were already large numbers of German-speakers in both provinces, especially Alsace. The population was, however, largely French orientened--even some of the German families. The loss to France was so heart-felt in France that it almost made another war inevitable. One impact on boys' clothing was that when the Third Republic in 1871 mandated smocks in French schools, Alsace-Loraine were no longer part of France.

United German Empire

After the French-German War ended in a disastrous French defeat. The German states in 1871 proclaimed a new German Reich--the German Empire. The proclamation was symbolically made at at Versailles--the pallace of the French kings. The Empire included all of the German states of the German Federation, except Austria.


Ludwig, Emil. Bismarck: The Story of a Fighter (Little, Brown, and Company, 1927).

Christopher Wagner

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Created: May 19, 2002
Last updated: 5:19 PM 12/23/2010