Bernhard von Bülow

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Bernhard von Bülow
Prince of Bülow
Bernhard von Bülow in 1899
Chancellor of Germany
Minister President of Prussia
In office
17 October 1900 – 14 July 1909
MonarchWilhelm II
DeputyArthur von Posadowsky-Wehner
Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Preceded byChlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Succeeded byTheobald von Bethmann Hollweg
State Secretary for Foreign Affairs
In office
20 October 1897 – 16 October 1900
ChancellorChlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Preceded byAdolf Marschall von Bieberstein
Succeeded byOswald von Richthofen
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Prussia
In office
20 October 1897 – 14 July 1909
Prime MinisterChlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Preceded byAdolf Marschall von Bieberstein
Succeeded byTheobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Personal details
Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin von Bülow

(1849-05-03)3 May 1849
Klein-Flottbeck, Duchy of Holstein, German Confederation
Died28 October 1929(1929-10-28) (aged 80)
Rome, Italy
SpouseMaria Beccadelli di Bologna
Alma materUniversity of Lausanne
University of Berlin
University of Leipzig
University of Greifswald

Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin, Prince of Bülow (German: Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin Fürst von Bülow German: [fɔn ˈbyːloː];[1] 3 May 1849 – 28 October 1929) was a German statesman who served as the chancellor of the German Empire and minister-president of Prussia from 1900 to 1909. A fervent supporter of Weltpolitik, Bülow devoted his chancellorship to transforming Germany into a global power. Despite presiding over sustained economic growth and major technological advancement, his government's foreign policy did much to antagonize France and Great Britain, which contributed significantly to Germany's defeat in the First World War.

Born into a prominent family of Danish-German aristocrats, Bülow entered the German foreign service after his father, Bernhard Ernst von Bülow, was appointed foreign secretary in Otto von Bismarck's government. He held several diplomatic posts, including German ambassador to Rome, before being appointed foreign secretary in 1897 by Wilhelm II. Three years later he was appointed chancellor following the resignation of the Prince of Hohenlohe.

As chancellor, Bülow promoted cautious and conservative domestic policies. In foreign affairs, he pursued an ambitious and expansionist policy. His open challenge to France's growing control over Morocco sparked the First Moroccan Crisis, which aggravated the French and the British and helped strengthen the Entente Cordiale. In 1908, Wilhelm's indiscreet remarks were published during the Daily Telegraph Affair, causing significant damage to German foreign relations and the Kaiser's prestige. Bülow was blamed for failing to prevent the blunder and, having lost the support of both the Kaiser and the Reichstag, he resigned in 1909 and was succeeded by Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg.

Bülow moved to Rome after his resignation. He came out of retirement in late 1914 to serve as interim ambassador to Italy, but was unable to bring King Victor Emmanuel III to the side of the Central Powers. Bülow died in Rome in 1929 at the age of 80.

Early life[edit]

He was born at Klein-Flottbeck, Holstein (now part of Altona, Hamburg). His father, Bernhard Ernst von Bülow, was a Danish and German statesman and member of an old House of Bülow, while his mother was a wealthy heiress, Louise Victorine Rücker (1821-1894). His brother, Major-General Karl Ulrich von Bülow, was a cavalry commander during World War I. Bülow attributed his grasp of English and French to having learnt it from governesses as a young child. His father spoke French, and his mother spoke English, as was common in Hamburg society.[2]

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. At 13, the family moved to Neustrelitz when his father became Chief Minister to the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, where Bernhard attended the Frankfort gymnasium, before attending Lausanne, Leipzig and Berlin Universities.[3]

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 was invited to remain in the army after the war but declined. 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.[3] His religion was Lutheran[4]

Early career[edit]

In 1873 his father became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the German government, serving under Bismarck. Bülow entered the diplomatic corps. His first short assignments were to Rome, St. Petersburg, Vienna and then Athens.[5] In 1876, he was appointed attaché to the German embassy in Paris, attended the Congress of Berlin as a secretary and became second secretary to the embassy in 1880.[6]

In 1884, he had 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 with Britain and so he had posted Bülow there. Bismarck reported himself as impressed by Bülow's calmness and demeanour during the interview.[7] In Russia, he acted as chargé d'affaires in 1887 and advocated the ethnic cleansing of Poles from Polish territories of the German Empire in a future armed conflict.[8] Bülow wrote regularly to the Foreign Office, complaining about his superior, Ambassador Schweinitz, who, however, was well-liked. Bülow earned for himself a reputation as only a schemer. In 1885, Friedrich von Holstein noted that Bülow was attempting to have Prince Chlodwig von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst removed as ambassador to France to get the post despite meanwhile exchanging friendly letters with him.[9]

On 9 January 1886, still in 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 annulled by the Holy See in 1884. The princess, an accomplished pianist and pupil of Franz Liszt, was a stepdaughter of Marco Minghetti and the daughter of Donna Laura Minghetti (née Acton). She 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, DC, or Bucharest, and chose Bucharest, as Maria objected to the prospect of traveling to the United States and leaving her family behind. He spent the next five years scheming to be appointed to Rome, where his wife was well connected. King Umberto I of Italy was persuaded to write to Kaiser Wilhelm that he would be pleased if Bülow became ambassador there, which occurred in 1893.[10]

State Secretary for Foreign Affairs[edit]

On 21 June 1897 Bülow received a telegram instructing him to go to Kiel to speak to Wilhelm. On the way, he stopped at Frankfurt while changing trains and spoke to Philipp, Prince of Eulenburg. Eulenburg explained that Wilhelm wanted a new State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and urged Bülow to take the post, which his father had once held. Eulenburg also passed on advice about how best to manage Wilhelm, who lived on praise and could not stand to be contradicted. In Berlin, Bülow first spoke to Friedrich von Holstein, who was head of the political department of the German Foreign Office. Holstein advised him that although he would have preferred the present Secretary, Adolf Marschall von Bieberstein, to stay in his post, Wilhelm was determined to replace him and that he would prefer the successor to be Bülow. 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 position with an eye to succeeding him as chancellor. Bülow urged Hohenlohe to continue in office for as long as he could.[11]

On 26 June, Bülow met with the Kaiser, who 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 precipitating a war. Bülow asked for time to consider the offer, and on 3 August, he accepted. The two men formed a good working relationship. Rather than oppose Wilhelm, which some of his predecessors had done, Bülow agreed with him on all matters by sometimes privately relying on Wilhelm's bad memory and frequent changes of opinion to take the action that he thought best and ignore Wilhelm had instructed. The post of Secretary of State was subordinate to that of the Chancellor and under Bismarck's chancellorship, it had been only a functionary. Under Bülow, that 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 would rarely see the chancellor.[12]

Bernhard von Bülow

Imperial Secretary of State[edit]

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 with which the emperor was identified. He was welcomed by the Foreign Office because he was the first professional diplomat to be placed in charge since Bismarck's resignation in 1890.[citation needed] Bülow had been wary of accepting the post if Holstein remained as Imperial First Councillor, as Holstein had in practice held great authority in recent years. Holstein was regarded as indispensable because of his long experience in office, rank, cunning and phenomenal memory. Eulenburg advised Bülow to stake out a firm but working relationship immediately on his arrival, and both succeeded in working together.[13] In 1899, on bringing to a successful conclusion the negotiations by which Germany acquired the Caroline Islands, he was raised to the rank of Count.[citation needed]

In October 1900, Bülow was summoned to Wilhelm's hunting retreat at Hubertsstock, where Wilhelm asked Bülow to become Chancellor of the German Empire and Prime Minister of Prussia. Bülow queried whether he was the best man for the job. Wilhelm admitted he would have preferred Eulenburg on a personal level but was not sure he was sufficiently able. On 16 October, Bülow was summoned again to Homburg, where the Kaiser met his train in person. Wilhelm explained that Hohenlohe had announced he could no longer be and so Bülow accepted the job. A replacement State Secretary was necessary, which was first offered to Holstein, who turned it down since he preferred not to take a position that required appearing before the Reichstag. The post was given to Baron Oswald von Richthofen, who had already been serving as undersecretary 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.[14]


Cabinet (1900-1909)
Office Incumbent In office Party
Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow 17 October 1900 – 14 July 1909 None
Vice-Chancellor of Germany
Secretary for the Interior
Arthur von Posadowsky-Wehner 1 July 1897 – 24 June 1907 None
Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg 24 June 1907 – 7 July 1909 None
Secretary for the Foreign Affairs Oswald von Richthofen 17 October 1900 – 17 January 1906 None
Heinrich von Tschirschky 17 January 1906 – 7 October 1907 None
Wilhelm von Schoen 7 October 1907 – 28 June 1910 None
Secretary for the Justice Rudolf Arnold Nieberding 10 July 1893 – 25 October 1909 None
Secretary for the Navy Alfred von Tirpitz 18 June 1897 – 15 March 1916 None
Secretary for the Post Victor von Podbielski 1 July 1897 – 6 May 1901 None
Reinhold Kraetke 6 May 1901 – 5 August 1917 None
Secretary for the Treasury Max von Thielmann 1 July 1897 – 23 August 1903 None
Hermann von Stengel 23 August 1903 – 20 February 1908 None
Reinhold von Sydow 20 February 1908 – 14 July 1909 None
Bernhard Fürst von Bülow (left) at Berlin's Tiergarten.

Bülow's 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 for those accustomed to his irascible 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. He would, on Sundays, take long walks in the woods. In 1905, at 56, he led his old Hussars regiment at the gallop in an imperial parade 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".[15] 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 there, to say nothing of covering for the Kaiser's many undiplomatic gaffes. In a speech on November 1906, Bülow introduced the concept of "encirclement" to the Reichstag that triggered the Teutonic press to blame Der Krieg in der Gegenwart[clarification needed].[16] To Germany, the Triple Entente was a disaster, but he put a brave face on it.

Domestic policy and politics[edit]

Various reforms were also introduced during his reign, including an extension of the period in which workers could claim accident insurance (1900), the making of industrial arbitration courts compulsory for towns with a population of more than 20,000 (1901) and an extension of health insurance and further controls on child labour (1903). A polling booth law was introduced that improved the secret ballot in 1904. Two years later, payment for Reichstag deputies was introduced.[17][18]

In preparation for the 1907 election, Bülow created the "Bülow Bloc" of parties that were fervently antisocialist and anticlerical, devoutly patriotic, enthusiastically imperialist, and loyal to the Kaiser and the Fatherland. What Bebel labeled the "Hottentot election" was a disaster for the Social Democrats, who lost almost half their seats. However, Bülow was unable to turn the election coalition into a stable bloc in parliament[19]

Economic policy[edit]

Under pressure from the Junker-dominated Agrarian League, Bülow passed a tariff in 1902 that increased the duties on agriculture.[20][21] As a result, the German grain production became one of the most protected in the world.[22] Bülow's government also negotiated a series of commercial treaties with other European countries that came into force in March 1906.[23]

Foreign policy[edit]

Bülow served as foreign minister, 1897-1909. To gain a stronger voice in world affairs he encouraged Admiral Tirpitz's naval expansion policy. Expecting Britain to be defeated by Russia he planned to pick up some colonies of the British Empire. He miscalculated, and alienated Britain even more, as it moved closer to an alliances with France and Russia.[24]

Britain still held the balance of power in Europe. France and Britain had been colonial rivals and had a long mutual opposition, but King Edward VII was determined to boost British popularity in France by a personal tour. Serious negotiations for the Entente Cordiale began between the French ambassador to London, Paul Cambon, and the British Foreign Secretary, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne. As part of settling differences, France agreed not to dispute British control of Egypt if Britain agreed to France's claims to Morocco.[25]

On 24 March 1904, France formally informed the German ambassador of the new Anglo-French Convention. Prince Hugo von Radolin, the ambassador, responded that he felt the agreement natural and justified. The German press noted that the deal in Morocco did not harm national interests and that the French intervention to restore order in the country might help German trade. Still, Bülow was cynical and took the Social Darwinist's view that expansion was a fact of life. His policy was unclear, even to the generals.[26]

Although not swayed by bellicose generals, he followed a central planning agenda. If Prussia was euphoric, Bülow remained ambitious for imperial grandiosity and world power. Commercial growth in iron, steel, mining, railways and ironclads, and a new navy was driven by huge outputs and highly-competitive contractors.[27] His chauvinism was extensive, a defensive embrasure against British alliance-building on which Germany would reject negotiations. He had promised to reply directly to British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain but thought better of it: "it is the English who must make advances to us". That unintentionally entrenched the Entente.[28]

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.[29] Holstein had a different view: intervention in Moroccan affairs was governed by the Treaty of Madrid. Holstein argued that Germany had been sidelined by not being included in the negotiations and that Morocco was a country that showed promise for German influence and trade, which must eventually suffer if it came under French control. Previously he had dismissed any possibility of agreement between France and Britain.[30] France now offered military assistance to Morocco to improve order in the country.[31] 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 if the accord deepened, but France was ill-prepared for war. Despite the possible risks of assassination, Bülow persuaded Wilhelm to make a visit to Tangier in 1905, where he made a speech supporting Morocco's independence, but his presence there simultaneously demonstrated Germany's determination to maintain its own influence.[32]

Algeciras Conference[edit]

A friendly German naval presence in Morocco and a military base nearby could threaten the British or the important trade routes through the Mediterranean. The British continued to support beleaguered French Foreign Minister Theophile Delcassé. Lansdowne had been surprised by the German reaction, but Britain might take on the fledgling German fleet before it grew too large. On 3 June 1905, Abdelaziz of Morocco, prompted by Germany, rejected the French offer of assistance and called for an international conference. On 6 June, after Delcassé had resigned, news spread to Berlin. The following morning, Bülow was elevated to the rank of prince (Fürst). The occasion coincided with the marriage of the crown prince and echoed the elevation of Bismarck to prince in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.[33] Germany continued to press 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 by hardening the resolve of French Premier Maurice Rouvier to resist further demands for rapprochement. The Algeciras Conference commenced on 16 January 1906 at Algeciras Town Hall. During the conference, a British fleet of 20 battleships, with accompanying cruisers and destroyers, visited the port town, and all of the delegates were invited on board.[34]

The conference went badly for Germany, with a vote against German proposals that was 10–3. Holstein wished to threaten war against France, but Bülow ordered Holstein to take no further part in the conference. No satisfactory outcome for Germany was in sight by April, which left the only course of action to wind it down as best he could. The result was received badly in Germany, with objections raised in the press. On 5 April 1906, Bülow was obliged to appear before the Reichstag to defend the outcome, and during a heated exchange, he collapsed and was carried from the hall. At first, it was thought he had suffered a fatal stroke. Lord Fitzmaurice, in the British House of Lords, compared the incident with that of the death of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, a compliment that was much appreciated in Germany. Bülow's collapse was ascribed to overwork and influenza but, after a month's rest, he was able to resume his duties.[35]


Cartoon satirising Bülow on 27 October 1907 in Kladderadatsch, "On the maligning of Bülow", "Good Mohrchen, you would never be such a bad dog!"

In 1907, during the Harden–Eulenburg Affair, 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 Bülow had embraced and kissed his private secretary, Privy Councilor Max Scheefer, at all-male gatherings hosted by Eulenburg.[citation needed] Testifying in his own defense, Bülow denied the accusation but remarked he had heard unsavoury rumours about Eulenburg.[citation needed] Taking the stand, Eulenburg defended himself against Brand's charge by denying that he had ever held such events and claimed 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 have been the victim of a homosexual blackmailer, he easily prevailed in court, and Brand was sent to prison.[36]

Daily Telegraph Affair[edit]

In November 1907, Wilhelm made a long-planned state visit to Britain. He had 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 had departed, Stuart-Wortley wrote an article for The Daily Telegraph about the conversations, submitted it to Wilhelm and requested approval for its publication. The English manuscript was passed to Bülow to review for publication. Wilhelm had asked Bülow not to pass on the article to the Foreign Office, but Bülow instead sent it unread to State Secretary Wilhelm von Schoen and requested an official translation and the addition of any amendments that might be necessary.[citation needed]

Since Schoen was away, it instead went to the undersecretary, Stemrich. He read it but passed it without comment to Reinhold Klehmet, who interpreted his instructions as meaning to correct any errors of fact but not otherwise to comment. The manuscript was returned to Bülow, still unread, to Wilhelm, who saw no reason not to publish. It duly appeared in print and caused a storm. In the interview, Wilhelm expressed many controversial and offensive opinions:

  • The English were mad as March hares.
  • He could not understand why they repeatedly rejected his offers of friendship.
  • Most Germans disliked the English and so his own friendly attitude put him in a "distinct minority".
  • He had intervened against France and Russia on Britain's side during the Second Boer War.
  • He had provided the campaign plan that was used by the British during that war.
  • One day, they might come to be glad Germany was building up its fleet because of the rise of Japan.[37]

Wilhelm thus managed to offend Japanese, French, Russian and especially British sensibilities. Even Germans were outraged, as he claimed to have helped the British with their war against the Boers, whom most Germans had supported.[38]

Bülow accused the Foreign Office of failing to comment properly on the article. The office responded that it was his role to decide on publication in such a situation. Although Bülow denied having read the article, how he could have failed to do so remained unclear because of Wilhelm's continuous record of public gaffes. Questions 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 Wilhelm. Bülow wrote to Wilhelm and successfully offered to resign unless Wilhelm could give him full support in the matter. Bülow arranged the publication of a defence of the events in Norddeutsch Allgemeine Zeitung, which glossed over Wilhelm's remarks and 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 Wilhelm had refused to accept his resignation.[39]

Bülow succeeded in turning away criticism from himself in the Reichstag and finished his speech to cheering from the assembly. Holstein observed that the nature of the comments meant that he could almost certainly not have defended Wilhelm for making them and that Bülow could not have done otherwise: disputing the factual accuracy of much of what Wilhelm had said and leaving blame for events squarely with him. His explanation was 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 Wilhelm to observe strict reserve, even in private conversations, or neither he nor any successor could assume responsibility.[40]

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

Wilhelm was due to be away from Germany during the Reichstag debate, on a trip to Austria, and received much criticism for not staying at home. Wilhelm queried whether he ought to cancel the trip, but Bülow advised him to continue with it. Holstein asked Bülow about Wilhelm's absence; Bülow denied advising Wilhelm to go. Matters were not improved when during the visit, Count Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler, the chief of the German Imperial Military Cabinet, died from a heart attack at Donaueschingen, the estate of Prince Max von Fürstenberg. On Wilhelm's return, Bülow persuaded him to endorse a statement that he concurred with Bülow's statements to the Reichstag. Wilhelm was now close to breakdown and considering abdication.[41]

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 to advise him properly and then failed to defend Wilhelm's actions in the Reichstag. Wilhelm's own view of the affair began to change to blaming Bülow for failing to warn him of the difficulties that the article would cause. He determined that Bülow would have to be replaced. 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, Bülow would have to resign. He was defeated by eight votes. On board the royal yacht, Hohenzollern, on 26 June, Bülow offered his resignation, exactly twelve years after accepting the office.

On 14 July, the resignation was announced, and Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg became the new Chancellor. Wilhelm dined with the Bülows and expressed 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 out of opposition to the tax. For his services to the state, Bülow was awarded the Order of the Black Eagle set in diamonds.[42]

Later life[edit]

After his resignation in 1909, Bülow lived principally at the villa in Rome, which he had purchased for his retirement. Part of the summer was usually spent by him at Klein Flottbek, near Hamburg, or on the island of Norderney. A large fortune left him by a cousin, a Hamburg merchant, enabled him to live in elegant leisure and to make his house in Rome a centre of literary and political society.

He employed his leisure in writing for the centenary celebrations of the Wars of Liberation, a remarkable book on Imperial Germany, extolling its achievements and defending the main lines of his own foreign policy.[a][43] In a revised edition of his book on Imperial Germany, published after the start of the First World War, he omitted or altered many passages that seemed compromising in light of the war like his policy of lulling Britain into a false sense of security while the German Navy was being constructed. He was understood to be in deeply malodorous company with Wilhelm, who never forgave him his attitude and action with regard to a 1908 interview in The Daily Telegraph.[43]

Wartime diplomat[edit]

In 1914–1915, Bülow was the ambassador to Italy but failed to bring King Victor Emmanuel III to join the Central Powers. Italy had declared its neutrality at the outbreak of the war but intimated on 5 July 1914 through diplomatic channels that Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia was aggressive and provocative. On 9 December 1914, Sidney Sonnino addressed the Austrian Note to the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, Count Berchtold, to call attention to Article VII of the treaty by which Italy participated in the Triple Alliance, with particular reference to the clause that bound Austria-Hungary, if it disturbed the status quo in the Balkans even by a temporary occupation of Serbian territory, to come to an agreement with Italy and to arrange for compensations. The questions of the Trentino Agreement and Trieste were thus formally opened.[43]

Austria-Hungary manifested great reluctance to enter upon the question of compensations, but Germany was more alert to its own concerns. Bülow was, therefore, entrusted with the temporary charge of the German embassy in Rome since the actual ambassador, Flotow, went on sick leave (19 December 1914). Bülow at once plunged into active negotiations and was sympathetic with Italian demands for compensation. He had, however, to fight the intransigence of Hungarian Prime Minister István Tisza, and Tisza's nominee, who was Berchtold's successor, Baron von Burian. Bülow was from the first for the complete cession of the Trentino region to Italy, but Austria-Hungary was willing to cede only part of it. Sonnino pointed out that Italian feeling would not be satisfied even with the whole of the Trentino but would also, in accordance with its irredentism, demand Trieste. Bülow continued to urge that all he could mediate for was the Trentino but that Austria would fight to keep Trieste.[43]

In early April 1915, Italy's secret negotiations demanded the Trentino, Trieste and the Curzolane Islands, off the coast of Dalmatia. Austria-Hungary recognised Italian sovereignty over Valona. However, negotiations dragged on until the middle of May, when Bülow made a grave but characteristic tactical mistake. He induced the former Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti to come to Rome from Turin in the hope of preventing a rupture and bringing about the acceptance of the Austro-Hungarian terms.[43]

Prime Minister Antonio Salandra suddenly resigned. There was a great outburst of popular indignation, fanned by the impassioned eloquence of d'Annunzio and expressed in demonstrations in front of the Quirinal, the royal palace, and on the Capitoline Hill, the centre of Rome. After a great majority in the Italian Parliament had on 20 May supported Salandra, a general mobilisation was ordered on 22 May, and the formal declaration of war against Austria-Hungary followed on 23 May 1915.[43] The next day, Bülow left Rome.[43] He regarded his task as impossible in any case, and on returning, he remarked: "Morale and attitude of the German people: A-1. Political leadership: Z-Minus".[43]

Considered for chancellorship[edit]

He lived in Berlin, but after the peace he again resided in Rome for part of every year and spent the rest of the year in Germany. His name was mentioned in a ministerial crisis of 1921, as a possible chancellor.[43] Although many of the leading figures in the Reichstag, including Matthias Erzberger, hoped that Bülow would succeed Bethmann Hollweg, who resigned in 1917, he was entirely unacceptable to the vast majority of both the German people and the Reichstag.[43]

He died on 28 October 1929 in Rome.


Bülow spoke several languages and was a charming conversationalist. He was comfortably at home in high society and could entertain and impress even his opponents. He was thought by some colleagues to be untrustworthy: Alfred von Kiderlen-Waechter referred to him as "the Eel".[44] Once he had obtained power and position in the German government, he had no overarching ideas of what to do with them, allowing others to guide policy. His character made him a good choice to work with Kaiser Wilhelm II, who required agreement and flattery from his senior ministers, even if they sometimes then ignored his instructions. 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 but was generally lazy in carrying out his duties. He was described by Friedrich von Holstein, who was for 30 years the first councillor 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".[45]


German orders and decorations[46]

Foreign orders and decorations[46]

Military appointments


  1. ^ Engl. translation, M. Lavenz, 1914; English translation 1916)


  1. ^ Duden – Bülow
  2. ^ Bülow Volume IV, p. 20
  3. ^ a b Massie p. 140
  4. ^ Biographie, Deutsche. "Bülow, Bernhard Fürst von - Deutsche Biographie". Retrieved 14 April 2017.
  5. ^ Massie pp. 140-41
  6. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bülow, Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin, Prince von". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 793.
  7. ^ Massie p. 141
  8. ^ Hostages of Modernization, ed. Strauss, 1993, p. 35
  9. ^ Massie p. 142
  10. ^ Massie pp. 142-43
  11. ^ Massie pp. 143–44
  12. ^ Massie pp. 144-146
  13. ^ Massie p. 146
  14. ^ Massie pp. 147-48
  15. ^ Massie pp. 148-49
  16. ^ 'The War in the Present', January 1909 by Schlieffen; E.M.Carroll, Germany and the Great Powers, p. 577-8; Ham, p. 95
  17. ^ Katharine A. Lerman (2003). The Chancellor as Courtier: Bernhard Von Bulow and the Governance of Germany, 1900-1909. Cambridge UP. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780521530576.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Clark, Christopher. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2012)
  • Gooch, G.P. Before the war: studies in diplomacy (vol 1 1936) online see chapter on von Bulow pp 187–204.
  • Hale, Oron James. "Prince Von Bulow: His Memoirs and His German Critics" Journal of Modern History (1932), 4#2 pp 261–277. online
  • Robert K. Massie (1992). Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-03260-7.; extensive coverage of German foreign policy
  • Lerman, Katherine Anne. Chancellor as Courtier. Bernhard von Bulow & the Governance of Germany, 1900-1909 (1990) 350pp.
  • Massie, Robert K. Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the coming of the Great War (Random House, 1991) excerpt see Dreadnought (book), popular history; pp 134–149.
  • Morrow, Ian F. D. "The Foreign Policy of Prince Von Bulow, 1898-1909." Cambridge Historical Journal 4#1 (1932): 63-93. online.
  • van Waarden, Betto. "Demands of a transnational public sphere: the diplomatic conflict between Joseph Chamberlain and Bernhard von Bülow and how the mass press shaped expectations for mediatized politics around the turn of the twentieth century." European Review of History: Revue européenne d'histoire 26.3 (2019): 476-504. online[dead link]
  • Winzen, Peter. "Prince Bülow's 'Weltmachtpolitik.'" Australian Journal of Politics & History (1976) 22#2 pp 227–242.

Primary sources[edit]

  • Bülow, Bernhard, Fürst von. Imperial Germany (1916) online
  • Bülow, Bernhard, Fürst von. Letters; a selection from Prince von Bülow's official correspondence as Imperial Chancellor during the years 1903-1909 online
  • Bernhard von Bülow (1932). Memoirs of Prince von Bülow Vol IV, 1849-1897. translated from German by Geoffrey Dunlop and F. A. Voight. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Chancellor of Germany
Prime Minister of Prussia

Succeeded by