Bernhard von Bülow: Wikis


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Prince Bernhard von Bülow

In office
October 16, 1900 – July 13, 1909
Monarch William II
Preceded by Prince Hohenlohe
Succeeded by Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

In office
1900 – 1909
Preceded by Prince Hohenlohe
Succeeded by Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

In office
1897 – 1900
Preceded by Adolf Marschall von Bieberstein
Succeeded by Oswald Freiherr von Richthofen

In office
1897 – 1909
Preceded by Adolf Marschall von Bieberstein
Succeeded by Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg

Born May 3, 1849(1849-05-03)
Klein-Flottbeck, Holstein
Died October 28, 1929 (aged 80)
Alma mater University of Lausanne
University of Berlin
University of Leipzig
University of Greifswald

Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin von Bülow (May 3, 1849 – October 28, 1929), named in 1905 Prince (Fürst) von Bülow, was a German statesman who served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for three years and then as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1900 to 1909.

Bülow was described as possessing every quality except greatness. He had a round face with smiling blue eyes and a carefully trimmed moustache. He spoke several languages, was a charming conversationalist and was comfortably at home in high society with a capacity to entertain and impress even his opponents. Although highly ambitious, he was also vain and once he obtained power and position in the German government had no overaching ambition what to do with it, allowing others to guide policy. His character made him a good choice to work well with Emperor Wilhelm II, who required agreement and flattery from his senior ministers even if sometimes they then ignored his instructions. Bülow was a fine judge of mood and an expert flatterer, but could equally be cutting and contemptuous of both friends and enemies to others. He wrote four volumes of autobiography to be published after his death, which markedly altered public perception of his character as they included his candid and malicious descriptions of others. He was a fine debater in the Reichstag, although generally lazy in carrying out his duties. He was described by Friedrich von Holstein, who for 30 years was first councilor in the foreign department and a major influence on policy throughout that time, as having "read more Machiavelli than he could digest". His mother-in-law claimed, "Bernhard makes a secret out of everything."[1]


Family and early life

He was born at Klein-Flottbeck, Holstein, now part of Altona, a part of Hamburg. His father, Bernhard Ernst von Bülow, was a Danish and German statesman. His brother, Major-General Karl Ulrich von Bülow, was a cavalry commander during World War I who took part in the attack on Liège in August 1914.

In 1856 his father was sent to the Federal Diet in Frankfurt to represent Holstein and Lauenburg, when Otto von Bismarck was also there to represent Prussia. He became a great friend of Bismarck's son Herbert when they played together. In Rumpenheim castle he also played with Princess Alexandra, later Queen of England. At age thirteen the family moved to Neustrelitz when his father became Chief Minister to the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg. There he attended the local gymnasium, before attending universities in Lausanne, Leipzig and Berlin.[2]

He volunteered for military service during the Franco-Prussian War and became a lance-corporal in the King's Hussar Regiment. In December 1870 the squadron was in action near Amiens, and he later described charging and killing French riflemen with his sabre. He was promoted to lieutenant and invited to remain in the army after the war, but declined.[3] He completed his law degree at the University of Greifswald in 1872. Afterwards, he entered first the Prussian Civil Service and then the diplomatic service.

Diplomatic career

In 1873 his father became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the German government, serving under Chancellor Bismarck, and Bülow junior entered the diplomatic corps. His first short assignments were to Rome, St. Petersburg, Vienna and then Athens.[4] In 1876 he was appointed attaché to the German embassy in Paris, attended the Berlin Congress as a secretary[5] and became second secretary to the embassy in 1880.

In 1884 he hoped to be posted to London but instead became first secretary at the embassy in St. Petersburg. On the way to his new assignment he stayed for a couple of days at Varzin with the Bismarck family. Bismarck explained that he considered relations with Russia much more important than Britain, and this was why he had posted Bülow there. Bismarck reported himself impressed by Bülow's calmness and demeanour during this interview.[6] In Russia he acted as chargé d'affaires, in 1887 advocating ethnic cleansing of Poles from Polish territories of the German Empire in future armed conflict.[7] Bülow wrote regularly to the Foreign Office, complaining about his superior, Ambassador Schweinitz. Schweinitz, however, was well liked, and Bülow only earned for himself a reputation as a schemer. In 1885 Holstein noted with admiration that Bülow was attempting to have Prince Hohenlohe removed as ambassador to France so that he might replace him, all the while exchanging friendly letter with Hohenlohe.[8]

On the 9th of January 1886, while still at St. Petersburg, he married Maria Anna Zoe Rosalia Beccadelli di Bologna, Principessa di Camporeale, Marchesa di Altavilla, whose first marriage with Count Karl von Dönhoff had been dissolved and declared null by the Holy See in 1884. The princess, an accomplished pianist and pupil of Franz Liszt, was a stepdaughter of the Italian statesman Minghetti and daughter of Donna Laura Minghetti who was highly respected in Roman society. Maria had been married for sixteen years and had three children. Bülow previously had numerous love affairs, but the marriage was intended to further his career. In 1888 he was offered the choice of appointments to Washington or Bucharest, and chose Bucharest as Maria objected to the prospect of traveling to America and leaving her family behind. He spent the next five years scheming to be appointed to Rome, where his wife was well connected. King Humbert was persuaded to write to the kaiser saying that he would be pleased if Bülow became ambassador there, and in 1893 he duly did.[9]

On 21 June 1897 Bülow received a telegram instructing him to go to Kiel to speak to Kaiser Wilhelm. On the way he stopped at Frankfurt while changing trains and spoke to Philip zu Eulenburg. Eulenburg explained that the kaiser wanted a new State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and urged Bülow to take the post, which was the same one his father had once held. Eulenburg also passed on tips about how best to manage Wilhelm, who lived on praise and could not stand to be contradicted. In Berlin, Bülow first spoke to Holstein who advised him that although he would have preferred the present Secretary, Adolf Marschall von Bieberstein, to stay in the job, the kaiser was determined to replace him, and that he would prefer the successor to be Bülow. Marschall himself said that although he did not want to go, it was inevitable and he would rather see Bülow as his successor. Perhaps Bülow might be able to find him an ambassador's post in due course? Chancellor Hohenlohe, desperate to retire because of old age, urged Bülow to take the job, with an eye to succeeding him as chancellor. Bülow urged Hohenlohe to continue in office for as long as he could.[10]

On 26 June Bülow arrived in Kiel and met Wilhelm. The kaiser advised that it would be one of the new secretary's main tasks to set about building a world class fleet capable of taking on the British, without in the process precipitating a war. Bülow asked for time to consider the offer, and on 3 August accepted. The two men formed a good working relationship. Rather than oppose the kaiser, as some of his predecessors had done, Bülow agreed with him on all matters, though sometimes privately relying on Wilhelm's bad memory and frequent changes of mind to take the action he thought best rather than what the kaiser had instructed. The post of Foreign Secretary was subordinate to that of the Chancellor, and in the time of Bismarck's chancellorship had been only a functionary. Under Bülow this was largely reversed, Hohenlohe being content to let Bülow manage foreign affairs with his principal adviser, Holstein. Wilhelm would call on Bülow every morning to discuss state affairs but see the chancellor only rarely.[11]

Bernhard von Bülow

Bülow also held a seat in the Prussian government: Although Wilhelm was emperor of all Germany, he was also king of Prussia. As Foreign Secretary, Bülow was chiefly responsible for carrying out the policy of colonial expansion (or Weltpolitik) with which the emperor had identified himself. He was welcomed by the Foreign Office because he was the first professional diplomat to be placed in charge since the forced resignation of Bismarck in 1890. Bülow had been wary of accepting the post if Holstein remained as First Councillor, as Holstein had in practice held great authority in recent years. However, Holstein (nicknamed the 'monster of the labyrinth') was regarded as indispensable because of his long experience in office, rank cunning and phenomenal memory of affairs of state throughout his time. Eulenburg advised Bülow to stake out a firm working relationship immediately on his arrival, and the two succeeded in working together.[12] In 1899, on bringing to a successful conclusion the negotiations by which the Caroline Islands were acquired by Germany, he was raised to the rank of Count.

In October 1900 Bülow was summoned to the kaiser's hunting retreat at Hubertsstock. There Wilhelm asked Bülow to become Chancellor of the German Empire and Prime Minister of Prussia. Bülow queried whether he was really the best man for the job: The kaiser admitted that he would have preferred Eulenburg on a personal level, but was not sure he was sufficiently able. On 16 October Bülow was summoned again, this time to Homburg, where his train was met personally by Wilhelm. Wilhelm explained that Hohenlohe had announced he could continue as chancellor no longer, and this time Bülow accepted the job he had been seeking for many years. A replacement State Secretary was necessary, and the job was first offered to Holstein, who as expected turned it down, preferring not to take a job which required appearing before the Reichstag. The post was given to Baron von Richthofen who had already been serving as under secretary to Bülow. It was made clear that the State Secretary's post would now revert to the subordinate role it had played in Bismarck's time, with Holstein remaining the more important adviser on foreign affairs.[13]


Bernhard Fürst von Bülow (left) at Berlin's Tiergarten.

Bülow's good relationship with the kaiser continued as chancellor. His mornings were reserved for Wilhelm, who would visit the chancellery every morning when in Berlin. His determination to remain on Wilhelm's good side was remarkable, even amongst those accustomed to the kaiser's manner. Wilhelm's household controller noted, "Whenever, by oversight, he expresses an opinion in disagreement with the emperor, he remains silent for a few moments and then says the exact contrary, with the preface, 'as Your Majesty so wisely remarked'". He gave up tobacco, beer, coffee and liqueurs and took 35 minutes of exercise every morning and would ride in good weather through the Tiergarten. Sundays he would take long walks in the woods. In 1905, aged 56, he led his old Hussars regiment at the gallop in a parade for the kaiser, and was rewarded by an appointment to the rank of major general. Wilhelm remarked to Eulenburg in 1901, 'Since I have Bülow I can sleep peacefully'.[14]

His first conspicuous act as chancellor was a masterly defence in the Reichstag of German imperialism in China. Bülow often spent his time defending German foreign policy before the parliament; to say nothing of covering for the many gaffes of Wilhelm II.

The Moroccan crisis

In May 1905 Edward VII paid a private visit to Paris. France and Britain had been colonial rivals and had a long history of conflict, but Edward was determined to boost British popularity in France by a personal tour. President Loubet was invited to make a reciprocal visit to London in July. In Germany there was skepticism amongst senior ministers that anything would come of this apparent new friendliness, but serious negotiations for a formal alliance began between Cambon and the British Foreign Secretary, the Marquess of Lansdowne. As part of settling differences, France agreed not to dispute British control of Egypt, if Britain supported France's claims to Morocco. On 24 March 1904, France formally informed the German ambassador of the new Anglo-French Convention. Prince Radolin, the ambassador, responded that he felt the agreement natural and justified. The German press noted that the deal in Morocco did not harm German interests and that French intervention to restore order in the country might help German trade. Bülow assured the British ambassador that he was pleased to see Britain and France settling their differences. He informed the Reichstag that Germany had no objections to the deal and no concerns about German interests in Morocco.[15]

Holstein had a different view. Intervention in Moroccan affairs was governed by the Treaty of Madrid made in 1880 between Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain. Holstein argued that Germany had been sidelined by not being included in the negotiations, and that Morocco was a country which showed promise for German influence and trade, which must eventually suffer if it came under Fench control. Previously he had dismissed any possibility of agreement between France and Britain. France now offered military assistance to Morocco to improve order in the country. Bülow responded by supporting the position of an independent Morocco, encouraging the United States to become involved and threatened war if France intervened. He was now convinced that the new friendliness between France and Britain was a threat to Germany, particularly should the accord deepen. France was ill prepared for war with Germany. Russia, a possible ally, had suffered recent defeats in the Far east and was already overstretched. Britain's strength was in its navy rather than any army which might intervene, and war in Europe on France's behalf went beyond the terms of the Convention. Despite possible risks of assassination, Bülow persuaded the Kaiser to make a visit to Tangier where he made a speech supporting Morocco's independence, although his presence there simultaneously demonstrated Germany's determination to maintain its own influence.[16]

The situation had changed from a colonial dispute to a matter of international alliances. A German military presence or naval base in Morocco could threaten the nearby British naval base at Gibraltar, or important trade routes through the Mediterranean. In Britain King Edward continued to support the beleaguered French Foreign minister, Theophile Delcassé. Lansdowne had been surprised by the German reaction, but now Britain became increasingly determined to continue the alliance with France. First Sea Lord, Sir John Fisher, suggested this was a golden opportunity to take on the fledgling German fleet before it grew too large. On 3 June the Sultan of Morocco, at German prompting, rejected the French offer of assistance and called for an International conference to discuss the future of his country. On 6 June 1905 the French cabinet met to discuss their position. Delcassé could get no support for the continuation of his policies and resigned. News spread to Berlin: the following morning Wilhelm visited Bülow in his office and raised him to the rank of prince (Fürst). The occasion coincided with the marriage of the crown prince and echoed the elevation of Bismarck to the rank of prince in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.[17]

Germany continued to press for a conference and for further French concessions. Bülow carefully instructed Radolin and also spoke to the French ambassador in Berlin. However, the effect was somewhat the reverse of what he intended, in that it hardened the resolve of the French Premier, Maurice Rouvier, to resist further demands. The international conference commenced 16 January 1906 at Algeciras Town Hall. During the conference, the British fleet of twenty battleships with accompanying cruisers and destroyers visited Algecira and all the delegates were invited onboard. The conference went badly for Germany, initially with a vote against German proposals 10-3. Holstein wished to threaten war against France, but Bülow drew back from this outcome and Holstein was ordered not to take any further part. No satisfactory outcome for Germany was in sight by April, leaving Bülow the only course of winding up the conference quickly as best he could. It was agreed that France and Spain would jointly supervise the Moroccan police force, with a Swiss inspector general appointed to command the force. France would control the Moroccan-Algerian border region. President Roosevelt congratulated the Kaiser on an 'epoch making success'.[18]

The result was received badly in Germany, with objections raised in the press and in the Reichstag. On 5 April 1906 Bülow was obliged to appear before the Reichstag to defend the outcome, and during a heated exchange, collapsed and had to be carried from the hall. At first it was thought he had suffered a stroke and that the attack would be fatal. Lord Fitzmaurice in the House of Lords compared the incident with that of the death of Chatham, a compliment much appreciated in Germany. However, fears that he had suffered a stroke proved groundless and the collapse was ascribed to overwork and influenza. After a month's rest the chancellor was able to resume his duties.[19]

State Secretary Richtofen had died shortly before the conference and been replaced by Heinrich von Tschirsky. Tchirsky and Holstein had disagreed, now culminating in Holstein offering his resignation, something he had done before when his advice was refused. On this occasion with Bülow ill, no one objected to his resignation and it was accepted.[20]


Cartoon satirising Bulow published October 1907 in Kladderadatsch titled 'On the maligning of Bülow', caption 'Good Mohrchen, you would never be such a bad dog!'.

In 1907, during the Harden-Moltke scandals, Adolf Brand, the founding editor of the homosexual periodical Der Eigene, printed a pamphlet alleging that Bülow had been blackmailed for engaging in homosexual practices and was morally obligated to oppose Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which outlawed homosexuality. Sued for slander and brought to trial on 7 November 1907, Brand asserted that the Chancellor had embraced and kissed his private secretary, Privy Councilor Max Scheefer, at all-male gatherings hosted by Philipp zu Eulenburg. Testifying in self-defense, Bülow denied any such act but remarked that he had heard unsavory rumors about Eulenburg. Taking the stand, Eulenburg defended himself against Brand's charge by denying that he had ever held such events, and against Bülow's insinuation by claiming that he had never engaged in same-sex acts, which subsequently led to a perjury trial. Despite concluding testimony by the chief of the Berlin police that Bülow may indeed have been the victim of a homosexual blackmailer, he easily prevailed in court, and Brand was sentenced to prison.

Daily Telegraph interview

In November 1907 Wilhelm made a long planned state visit to Britain. He attempted to cancel the visit because of the recent scandals, but it went ahead and was so successful that he decided to remain in Britain for a holiday. He rented a house for the purpose from Colonel Edward Montague Stuart-Wortley and spoke freely to its owner while he was there. After he left, Stuart-Wortley wrote an article intended for publication in the Daily Telegraph about his conversations and submitted it to Wilhelm requesting approval for its publication. Wilhelm passed the English manuscript to Bülow asking whether there were any objections to its publication. Wilhelm had asked that Bülow not pass on the article to the Foreign office, but he nonetheless did exactly this, sending it unread to State Secretary Schoen with a request to prepare an official translation and add any amendments that might be necessary. Schoen was away, so instead it went to under secretary Stemrich, who read it but passed it without comment to Reinhold Klehmet. Khlemet interpreted his instructions as meaning he should only correct any errors of fact and did not otherwise comment. It was returned to Bülow, who returned it still unread by him to Wilhelm, saying he saw no reason not to publish. It duly appeared in print, and an immediate storm arose. The article expressed Wilhelm's incomprehension that Britain repeatedly rejected his offers of friendship, observed that most Germans disliked the English, claimed that he had intervened against France and Russia on Britains side during the Boer war, that he had provided the campaign plan used by the British during that war, and observed that one day Britain might come to be glad Germany was building up her fleet. It managed to offend Japanese, French and Russian sensibilities as well as British. Germans were outraged that their emperor claimed to have helped the British against the Boers, who were perceived to be of German origin.[21]

The interview publicly revealed the wildness of Wilhelm's views and should not have been published. Bülow accused the Foreign office of failing to comment properly on the article. The Foreign office responded that it was the Chancellor's role to decide on publication in such a situation. Although Bülow denied having read the article, it remained unclear how he could have failed to do so given Wilhelm's continuous record of public gaffs throughout his life. Criticism arose as to Wilhelm's competence to rule and the role he should be permitted under the constitution. The matter was to be debated in the Reichstag where Bülow would have to defend his own position and that of the emperor. Bülow first wrote to the emperor offering to resign unless Wilhelm could give him full support dealing with this matter. Wilhelm, in a very weak position, readily agreed. Bülow then arranged publication of a defense of events in Norddeutsch Allgemeine Zeitung, which glossed over the unfortunate nature of Wilhelm's remarks and instead concentrated on the failings of the Foreign Office in not examining the article properly. It explained that Bülow had offered to take full responsibility for the office's failings, but the emperor had refused to accept his resignation.[22]

Bülow succeeded in turning away criticism from himself in the Reichstag, and finished his speech to cheering from the assembly. Holstein observed that given the nature of the comments it would have been virtually impossible to defend the Kaiser for having made them and that Bülow could not have done other than what he did, which was to dispute the factual accuracy of much of what the Kaiser had said and leave blame for events squarely with him, with the explanation that the comments had been made with the best of intentions and would certainly not be repeated. He declared his conviction that the disastrous effects of the interview would induce the emperor in future to observe that strict reserve, even in private conversations, which is equally indispensable in the interest of a uniform policy and for the authority of the crown, adding that, in the contrary case, neither he nor any successor of his could assume the responsibility. Obviously, the foreign office should also have spotted the mistakes.[23]

Von Bülow, Emperor Wilhelm II, Rudolf von Valentini (left to right) in 1908

Wilhelm was again due to be away from Germany at the time of the Reichstag debate, this time on a trip to Austria, and received much criticism for not staying at home. The Kaiser queried whether he ought to cancel the trip, but Bülow advised him to continue with it. Holstein queried the Kaiser's absence with Bülow, who then denied advising Wilhelm to go. Matters were not improved when during the visit Count Hülsen-Haeseler, chief of the Military Cabinet, died from a heart attack while dancing in a red ballet skirt at Donaueschingen, the estate of prince Max von Fürstenberg. On Wilhelm's return Bülow persuaded him to endorse a statement that he concurred with the chancellor's statements to the Reichstag: by now Wilhelm was close to breakdown and considering abdication.[24]

Wilhelm withdrew from public appearances for six weeks, which was generally seen as an act of penitence rather than the consequence of his depression. Public opinion began to reflect on whether the chancellor had failed in his duty to properly advise the emperor, and then again failed to defend Wilhelm's actions in the Reichstag. Wilhelm's own view of the affair began to change, increasingly blaming Bülow for failing to warn him of the difficulties the article would cause. He determined that Bülow would have to be replaced as Chancellor. In June 1909 difficulties arose in obtaining additional finance for ongoing ship construction. Wilhelm warned Bülow that if he failed to carry a majority for imposing inheritance taxes he would have to resign. The tax was defeated by eight votes, and on 26 June Bülow offered his resignation, exactly twelve years after accepting the office of Chancellor also on board the royal yacht Hohenzollern. On July 14 the resignation was announced and Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg became the new Chancellor. Wilhelm dined with the Bülows, expressing his regret that the prince was determined to resign. He observed that he had been informed that some of those who voted against the inheritance tax had done so out of animosity against Bülow and his handling of the Telegraph affair rather than opposition to the tax. For his services to the state Prince von Bülow was awarded the Order of the Black eagle, set in diamonds.[25]

He pursued a policy of aggrandizement in the years preceding World War One.

Further career

From 1914 to 1915 Bülow was ambassador to Italy, but failed to bring her onto the side of Germany, or even to persuade her to maintain her neutrality. He regarded his task as impossible in any case, and on returning remarked: "Morale and attitude of the German people: A-1. Political leadership: Z-Minus." Although many of the leading figures in the Reichstag (including Matthias Erzberger) hoped that Bülow would succeed Bethmann Hollweg upon the latter's dismissal in 1917, the former Chancellor was overlooked. Prince von Bülow died on October 28, 1929, a scant day before Black Tuesday.

Political offices
Preceded by
Prince Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Chancellor of Germany
Prime Minister of Prussia

Succeeded by
Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg


  • Robert K. Massie. Dreadnought. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-03260-7.  
  1. ^ Massie p.138-139
  2. ^ Massie p.140
  3. ^ Massie p. 140
  4. ^ Massie p.140-141
  5. ^ New International Encyclopedia
  6. ^ Massie p.141
  7. ^ Hostages of Modernization, ed. Strauss, 1993 (unverified)
  8. ^ Massie p.142
  9. ^ Massie p.142-143
  10. ^ Massie p.143-144
  11. ^ Massie p.144-146
  12. ^ Massie p.146
  13. ^ Massie p.147-148
  14. ^ massie p. 148-149
  15. ^ Massie p.344-349
  16. ^ Massie p.349
  17. ^ Massie p. 360-363
  18. ^ Massie p.363-367
  19. ^ Massie p.367-368
  20. ^ Massie p.368-369
  21. ^ Massie p.680-687
  22. ^ Massie p.685-688
  23. ^ Massie p.689-690
  24. ^ Massie p.690-691
  25. ^ Massie p. 692-695

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