The Ems Dispatch
sometimes called the Ems Telegram
, caused France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
to declare the Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...
in July 1870. The actual dispatch was an internal message from the Prussian King's vacationing site to Bismarck in Berlin, reporting demands made by the French ambassador; it was Bismarck's released statement to the press that became known as Ems Dispatch
. The name referred to Bad Ems, a resort spa east of Koblenz
Koblenz is a German city situated on both banks of the Rhine at its confluence with the Moselle, where the Deutsches Eck and its monument are situated.As Koblenz was one of the military posts established by Drusus about 8 BC, the...
on the Lahn
The Lahn River is a -long, right tributary of the Rhine River in Germany. Its course passes through the federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia , Hesse , and Rhineland-Palatinate ....
river, then situated in Hesse-Nassau, a new possession of Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...
As a result of the Austro-Prussian War
The Austro-Prussian War was a war fought in 1866 between the German Confederation under the leadership of the Austrian Empire and its German allies on one side and the Kingdom of Prussia with its German allies and Italy on the...
of 1866, which involved German states on both sides as well as emerging Italy
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...
, Prussia had increased its power, as Bismarck had founded the North German Confederation
The North German Confederation 1866–71, was a federation of 22 independent states of northern Germany. It was formed by a constitution accepted by the member states in 1867 and controlled military and foreign policy. It included the new Reichstag, a parliament elected by universal manhood...
. France did not participate in that short war decided by the decisive Prussian victory in the Battle of Königgrätz
The Battle of Königgrätz , also known as the Battle of Sadowa, Sadová, or Hradec Králové, was the decisive battle of the Austro-Prussian War, in which the Kingdom of Prussia defeated the Austrian Empire...
(or Sadowa), which led to French demands for a "Revanche pour Sadova" (Revenge for Sadowa).
In early 1870, the German Prince Leopold, of the Roman Catholic cadet branch
Cadet branch is a term in genealogy to describe the lineage of the descendants of the younger sons of a monarch or patriarch. In the ruling dynasties and noble families of much of Europe and Asia, the family's major assets – titles, realms, fiefs, property and income – have...
-Noble jurisdictions:Prince Karl Eitel of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, and descendants of his nephew Ferdinand ruled over the Kingdom of Romania, as Karl Eitel did not have children...
, had been offered the vacant Spanish throne
. The government of French Emperor Napoleon III voiced concern over a possible Spanish alliance with the Protestant House of Hohenzollern
The House of Hohenzollern is a noble family and royal dynasty of electors, kings and emperors of Prussia, Germany and Romania. It originated in the area around the town of Hechingen in Swabia during the 11th century. They took their name from their ancestral home, the Burg Hohenzollern castle near...
that ruled the Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...
, protested against it, and hinted about a war. Following the protests by France, Leopold had withdrawn his acceptance in July 1870. This was already considered a diplomatic defeat for Prussia. The French were not yet satisfied with this and demanded further commitments, especially a guarantee by the Prussian king that no member of any branch of his Hohenzollern family would ever be a candidate for the Spanish throne.
On 13 July 1870 King Wilhelm I of Prussia, on his morning stroll in the Kurpark in Ems, was waylaid by Count Vincent Benedetti, the French ambassador to Prussia since 1864. Benedetti had been instructed by his superior, Foreign Minister Agénor, the Duc de Gramont
Antoine Alfred Agénor, Duc de Gramont was a French diplomat and statesman.He was born at Paris of one of the most illustrious families of the old noblesse, a cadet branch of the viscounts of Aure, which took its name from the Seignory of Gramont in Navarre...
, to present the French demand that the king should guarantee that he would never again permit the candidacy of a Hohenzollern prince to the Spanish throne. The meeting was informal and took place on the promenade of the Kursaal with the king’s entourage at a discreet distance. Politely and in a friendly manner, "with the courtesy that never failed him," the king refused to bind himself to any course of action into the indefinite future. After their exchange, "the two departed coolly."
From the meeting, the King's secretary Heinrich Abeken
Heinrich Abeken , German theologian and Prussian Privy Legation Councillor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin, was born and raised in the city of Osnabrück as a son of a merchant, he was incited to a higher education by the example of his uncle Bernhard Rudolf Abeken...
wrote an account which was passed on to Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...
in Berlin. Wilhelm described Benedetti as "very importunate." The King gave permission to Bismarck to release an account of the events.
Bismarck took it on himself to edit the report, sharpening the language. He cut out Wilhelm’s conciliatory phrases and emphasized the real issue. The French had made certain demands under threat of war; and Wilhelm had refused them. This was no forgery; it was a clear statement of the facts. Certainly the edit of the telegram released on the evening of the same day (13 July) to the media and foreign embassies gave the impression both that Benedetti was rather more demanding and that the King was exceedingly abrupt. It was designed to give the French the impression that King Wilhelm I had insulted Count Benedetti; likewise, the Germans interpreted the modified dispatch as the Count insulting the King.
Bismarck had viewed the worsening relations with France with open satisfaction. If war had to come, now was as good a time as any. His editing, he assured his friends, "would have the effect of a red rag on the Gallic [French] bull." The edited telegram was to be presented henceforth as the cause of the war.
Text of the Ems Telegram
Sent by Heinrich Abeken of the Prussian Foreign Office under King Wilhelm's Instruction to Bismarck.
His Majesty the King has written to me:
Count Benedetti intercepted me on the promenade and ended by demanding of me in a very importunate manner that I should authorize him to telegraph at once that I bound myself in perpetuity never again to give my consent if the Hohenzollerns renewed their candidature.
I rejected this demand somewhat sternly as it is neither right nor possible to undertake engagements of this kind [for ever and ever]. Naturally I told him that I had not yet received any news and since he had been better informed via Paris and Madrid than I was, he must surely see that my government was not concerned in the matter.
[The King, on the advice of one of his ministers] decided in view of the above-mentioned demands not to receive Count Benedetti any more, but to have him informed by an adjutant that His Majesty had now received [from Leopold] confirmation of the news which Benedetti had already had from Paris and had nothing further to say to the ambassador.
His Majesty suggests to Your Excellency that Benedetti's new demand and its rejection might well be communicated both to our ambassadors and to the Press.
Bismarck's published version
After the news of the renunciation of the Prince von Hohenzollern had been communicated to the Imperial French government by the Royal Spanish government, the French Ambassador in Ems made a further demand on His Majesty the King that he should authorize him to telegraph to Paris that His Majesty the King undertook for all time never again to give his assent should the Hohenzollerns once more take up their candidature.
His Majesty the King thereupon refused to receive the Ambassador again and had the latter informed by the Adjutant of the day that His Majesty had no further communication to make to the Ambassador.
The French translation by the agency Havas
Havas is the second largest advertising group in France and is a "Global advertising and communications services group" and the sixth-largest global advertising and communications group worldwide, operating on the communications consulting market through three main operational divisions:*Euro RSCG...
altered the ambassador's demand to a question (il a exigé
) and did not translate "Adjutant", which in German refers to a high-ranked aide de camp, but in French describes only a non-commissioned officer
A non-commissioned officer , called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who has not been given a commission...
). This was the version published by most newspapers the following day, which happened to be July 14, the French national holiday
Bastille Day is the name given in English-speaking countries to the French National Day, which is celebrated on 14 July of each year. In France, it is formally called La Fête Nationale and commonly le quatorze juillet...
, setting the tone, letting the French believe that the king had insulted their ambassador, before the ambassador could tell his story.
France’s mistaken attitude of her own position carried matters far beyond what was necessary, and France mobilized. Following further improper translations and misinterpretations of the dispatch in the press, excited crowds in Paris demanded war, just as Bismarck had anticipated. The Ems dispatch had also rallied German national feeling, it was no longer Prussia alone, south German particularism was now cast aside.
Benedetti, the messenger for the Duc de Gramont’s demands for pointless guarantees (the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen family had withdrawn Prince Leopold’s candidature on 11 July 1870 with Wilhelm’s "entire and unreserved approval"), became an unseen bit-player, his own dispatches to Paris no longer mattered. In the legislative chamber, by an overwhelming majority, the votes for war credits were passed. France declared war on 19 July 1870. Later, the Duc de Gramont would attempt to throw upon Benedetti the blame for the failures of French diplomacy; in defense Count Benedetti published his version in Ma Mission en Prusse