What were Bismarck's thoughts on Great Britain and the idea of an alliance with the Brits?

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,214
Welsh Marches
I don't think Britain gave two shits about Hanover or Brunswick in the timeperiod we are talking about. "Britain has no permanent friends or permanent enemies - only permanent interests." - Palmerston (the same Palmerston, who also did not do anything when Bismarck did his landgrabbing). Sure, they might have filed an offical complaint but they were never going to do anything about it, and the British have a nice and oppurtunistic tradition of selectively enforcing their alliances as it suits their geopolitical interests. Besides, Prussia and Britain were also traditionally on cordial terms, in a way (if not as strongly).

Otherwise I broadly agree with your post in the sense that he didn't percieve Britain to be a threat, but I think Bismarck might have been mildly friendly rather than uninterested in the British. At the Berlin conference Bismarck was apparently impressed by Disraeli stating "Der alte jude, das ist der mann!" I think Bismarck appreciated Britain, as it was the only European power that did not have a latent conflict with interest with Germany. And in fact, if you look at the kind of policy Bismarck pursued, it was broadly speaking very similar to what Britain had historically done (and kept doing during the 1800s). Limit the amount of war, avoid encirclement and try to stabilize the overall situation.

There was a natural commonality of interests, but no - an explicit alliance would not have worked probably. Both were too independent, and given Britain's antagonisms with Russia etc. together with the provocation of Russia and France, with their much greater armies might have effectively encircled Germany. Germany would have provoked France and Russia in exchange for... what exactly? The same army he would have had arrested...? The British did not have enough skin in the game in continental Europe to be a viable alliance partner, otherwise I think they might have tried it.

On the other hand, given how Bismarck's policy turned out when Wilhelm II kicked him out maybe he would have actually done a better job of pursuing closer ties.
It would have made an important difference, though, if Hanover was still under the direct rule of the British monarch; the law of successin there, which excluded Victoria from the Hanoverian succesion, worked to Bismarck's advantage. I wonder how things might have turned out if that had not been the case.
 
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Upland, Sweden
It would have made an important difference, though, if Hanover was still under the direct rule of the British monarch; the law of successin there, which excluded Victoria from the Hanoverian succesion, worked to Bismarck's advantage. I wonder how things might have turned out if that had not been the case.
Good point! When did Hannover stop beinf under British rule? My intuition says 1790s but I am not sure. Or did it change only with Victoria?

Yes, I agree, something like that might have complicated things for Otto...
 
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Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,214
Welsh Marches
Good point! When did Hannover stop beinf under British rule? My intuition says 1790s but I am not sure. Or did it change only with Victoria?

Yes, I agree, something like that might have complicated things for Otto...
It changed with Victoria, application of the Salic law brought the personal union of the two thrones to an end, with the Hanvorian throne passing to her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland.
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
9,967
It would have made an important difference, though, if Hanover was still under the direct rule of the British monarch; the law of successin there, which excluded Victoria from the Hanoverian succesion, worked to Bismarck's advantage. I wonder how things might have turned out if that had not been the case.
If Hanover had still been reigned over by a British monarch in 1866, both Britain and Prussia would have been faced with a choice of either war or a nervous neutrality. Britain's vital interests being elsewhere, Hanover was, in such case, unlikely to become involved in the Austro-Prussian War. Interestingly, had Hanover remained a kingdom not in the German orbit, it would have presented a foreign bridgehead from the North Sea to Hesse almost splitting Prussia in two.

I am not familiar enough with all the wacky politics of 1860s Germany, but a long historic connection between Hanover and Great Britain may have played some part in Prussia annexing the kingdom and making those Brunswickers "Prussian."
 
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Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,521
Japan
Partly. They had a long military connection with GB. Hanoverians used British drill and wore red up until the 1840s I think.

They were also the only army to give the Prussians a good drubbing so that probably gave rise to a bit of spite in their treatment.

That said the Brunswickers and Nassau Regiments kept their old identities even after becoming “Prussian” regiments.

Britain’s official attitude to the annexation was disapproval... see Gladstone. Which considering its location was about all it could do.
Public opinion varied from “whats a Hanover?” to “good for them” to “that’s not very nice of them”... but that was about it.
 
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pikeshot1600

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
9,967
@Edric Streona,

Britain was probably well out of continental obligations in 1866. Hanover would have been more a vulnerability than a strength. Palmerston and Disraeli - and the industrialists and merchant interests - had their attention on other things. And India was not that far removed from the mutiny after all.

German principalities and operetta politics must have seemed so un-British. What's a Hanover? What had been a Schleswig-Holstein?....I ask you!
 
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Edric Streona

Ad Honorem
Feb 2016
4,521
Japan
On a side note many of the former Hanover, Nassau and Brunswick regiments kept their Spanish battle honours from the peninsula war up until 1918.
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,302
SoCal
Good point! When did Hannover stop beinf under British rule? My intuition says 1790s but I am not sure. Or did it change only with Victoria?

Yes, I agree, something like that might have complicated things for Otto...
Hanover stopped being British in 1837 when Queen Victoria came to the throne, I believe. Women weren't allowed to inherit the Hanoverian throne.

It makes one wonder what would have happened had Vicky been a male (and not had the hemophilia gene). Would Britain have been as willing to allow Prussia to conquer and annex Hanover in 1866 in such a scenario?
 

Futurist

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May 2014
22,302
SoCal
I don't think Britain gave two shits about Hanover or Brunswick in the timeperiod we are talking about. "Britain has no permanent friends or permanent enemies - only permanent interests." - Palmerston (the same Palmerston, who also did not do anything when Bismarck did his landgrabbing). Sure, they might have filed an offical complaint but they were never going to do anything about it, and the British have a nice and oppurtunistic tradition of selectively enforcing their alliances as it suits their geopolitical interests. Besides, Prussia and Britain were also traditionally on cordial terms, in a way (if not as strongly).

Otherwise I broadly agree with your post in the sense that he didn't percieve Britain to be a threat, but I think Bismarck might have been mildly friendly rather than uninterested in the British. At the Berlin conference Bismarck was apparently impressed by Disraeli stating "Der alte jude, das ist der mann!" I think Bismarck appreciated Britain, as it was the only European power that did not have a latent conflict with interest with Germany. And in fact, if you look at the kind of policy Bismarck pursued, it was broadly speaking very similar to what Britain had historically done (and kept doing during the 1800s). Limit the amount of war, avoid encirclement and try to stabilize the overall situation.

There was a natural commonality of interests, but no - an explicit alliance would not have worked probably. Both were too independent, and given Britain's antagonisms with Russia etc. together with the provocation of Russia and France, with their much greater armies might have effectively encircled Germany. Germany would have provoked France and Russia in exchange for... what exactly? The same army he would have had arrested...? The British did not have enough skin in the game in continental Europe to be a viable alliance partner, otherwise I think they might have tried it.

On the other hand, given how Bismarck's policy turned out when Wilhelm II kicked him out maybe he would have actually done a better job of pursuing closer ties.
Makes one wonder if Germany should have tried harder to seek an alliance with Britain after France and Russia nevertheless conspired together in order to create an anti-German alliance in 1894. Interestingly enough, I have previously speculated that an eventual German-British alliance was a very real possibility had WWI been delayed by at least several years. Russia's Great Military Program was scheduled for completion in 1917, and once it would be completed Russia might seem a lot scarier in British eyes (even if perception and reality might be different). This could have motivated Britain to move more towards Germany assuming that Kaiser Bill didn't do anything else stupid to mess things up once again.

A different, later WWI with an Anglo-German alliance might have been better in the sense that, if the Anglo-German side would have won the war, they might have been more capable of enforcing the post-WWI peace in this scenario than the Anglo-French were at enforcing the post-WWI peace in real life.
 

sparky

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Jan 2017
5,234
Sydney
Russia wasn't a trading competitor for Britain , it was a trading supplier and a market
Germany was the trading competitor and winning markets
 
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