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Thread: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

  1. #1

    Default Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    I know this is slightly out of the napoleonic era (but there was a napoleon involved in this ) but this is the game with the closest timeframe to the Franco-Prussian war.

    Britain had been working in concert with France recently (Crimean war), wouldn't it have been in their interests to aid a friendly nation and stop a prussia that was growing in power and rapidly becoming hostile?
    Thoughts/reasons?


    P.S.
    it occurs to me that some members may say irrational things like "because Britian is cowardly", as this does not actually answer the question or make much sense, if that is the answer you have, keep it to yourself. I'd prefer actual reasoning (I.e the treaty of such and such, or because of X development).

  2. #2

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Bismarck. France sought Denmark, Austria, Bavaria, Southern German states, Italy and Russia as allies but all either were still smarting from recent history such as Italy and Russia or had been on the recieving end of Prussian aggression. Bismarck had goaded France into declaring war and made her look the aggressor.

    As for Britain, Gladstone was in the middle of reducing public spending, and military expediture was low. A war would have put his economic reforms in dire straits. There was also an attitude of self-determinism as far as the Continent was concerned. Most importantly, however, was that Bismarck leaked a document given to him by the French ambassador to Prussia after the Austro-prussian war stating that France would not impede Prussia so long as she could annex Belgium and Luxembourg. This was a direct violation of the Treaty of London (1839) which guaranteed their independence. Britain suspected French perfidy and a cool attitude toward the Franco-Prussian issues emerged. The Iron Chancellor had delivered a masterstroke.

    So basically Bismarck outsmarted everyone. France did not blame Britain for not intervening, there was no real expectation they would as this was not the period of the Entente cordiale. Relations remained as warm before the war as afterwards.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Thank you + rep

    If Britain had intervened, could the war have turned out differently; or would the prussians just have flattened the french and stalemated the british?

  4. #4

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Franco-British relations disintegrated after the Crimean War. Napoleon III made up with Russia and assisted the Russians in abrogating the Black Sea neutrality clause. Further, the French were bitter over the British dragging the war out with their attempts to reduce Russia to its pre-Petrine borders, something the French knew the Russians would never agree to. Considering it took them almost a year to gain a few miles of territory on the Crimean Coast and that the Russian fortifications around Kronstadt and St. Petersburg had proven more or less impenetrable, not to mention the public backlash from the raids on the Finnish coast by the British fleet, it's hardly surprising.

    EDIT:
    There was also a public perception amoung the French that the war was prosecuted only for the sake of the British, and that the British took all of the credit for what was, essentially, a French war.

    Essentially, any 'Pan-European' and 'Western unity' feelings the French might have experienced evaporated and the UK and France went back to their traditional stances of eternal squabbling. Of course, Franco-Russian relations fell out when the French started supporting Polish independence again and then things just got confusing.

    And that, gentlemen, is how we got WWI.
    Last edited by Swerg; April 07, 2012 at 10:40 PM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Quote Originally Posted by Swerg View Post
    And that, gentlemen, is how we got WWI.
    Indeed, the Franco-Prussian war was one of the reasons of WWI. Because Germany occupied the French territories of Alsace-Lorraine.
    “Words are dwarfs, deeds are giants.”
    - Dutch proverb

  6. #6

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Quote Originally Posted by Generaal van Holland View Post
    Indeed, the Franco-Prussian war was one of the reasons of WWI. Because Germany occupied the French territories of Alsace-Lorraine.
    Alsace-Lorraine was of little importance politically by 1914 though. It was only after the war started that it saw prominence again as a propaganda tool. Before that neither Alsace-Lorraine nor the "revanche" (payback) ever saw mention in any official paper, nor did they appear in any political rhetoric in the decades leading to the war. Reclaiming those provinces were more a dream than an actual geopolitical goal.
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  7. #7
    Aymer de Valence's Avatar Protector Domesticus
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    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Quote Originally Posted by don_Durandal View Post
    Alsace-Lorraine was of little importance politically by 1914 though. It was only after the war started that it saw prominence again as a propaganda tool. Before that neither Alsace-Lorraine nor the "revanche" (payback) ever saw mention in any official paper, nor did they appear in any political rhetoric in the decades leading to the war. Reclaiming those provinces were more a dream than an actual geopolitical goal.
    It was still a very volatile region though. I mean, just look at the Zabern Affair. Coincidentally, this took place in early 1914 aswell
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  8. #8

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Quote Originally Posted by Imperial Redcoat View Post
    It was still a very volatile region though. I mean, just look at the Zabern Affair. Coincidentally, this took place in early 1914 aswell
    Aye, but it also illustrates quite well the attitude of France, or rather the lack thereof. It remained fully an internal affair between the German Empire and the state of Alsace-Lorraine.
    Alsace-Lorraine wasn't a factor in the start of WW1. Or rather it was, but in reverse. The Germans feared France would go to war on the issue and attacked pre-emptively as such, but France itself had no concern on the matter. That France went to war over Alsace-Lorraine is one of the biggest canards about the origins of WW1.
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  9. #9

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Quote Originally Posted by underworld965 View Post
    Thank you + rep

    If Britain had intervened, could the war have turned out differently; or would the prussians just have flattened the french and stalemated the british?
    The British military was not what it would be in the 1880s, and it was a mere shadow of its former glory the Napoleonic Wars. Not only would it not have made a profound difference, it most likely would have been flattened by the Prussians.

    It was small and somewhat backwards, unfortunately; the British soldier was perfect, in concert with its Navy, for the many famous actions it did abroad, but it was woefully unready to fight a European war. The Crimean War illustrated this. Not only where the British overstretched, but they showed themselves to be behind in grasping the effect of modern technology on warfare; it took insubordination by the Coldstream Guards for the British to learn what their new rifled muskets were capable of*.

    Up until 1870 France was considered to have the Army in Europe, and was mimed and studied inexhaustibly. The Franco-Prussian war would show that the French Soldier and their Junior officers were rough and ready to fight a modern war, but their logistics, General's and staff, were not. If the French, thus far considered the best in Europe, were no match for the Prussians, what would make you think the underfunded and undermanned British Army would be? There would have been a trouncing, not a stalemate.

    *At the Battle of Alma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Alma) the British exhausted themselves in brave but reckless charges against Russian positions. A redoubt would be taken, and promptly lost to Russian reserves. The Coldstream guards, ordered to go into the fight after having just seen the Scots Fusiliers cut to shreds, showed a rare case of insubordination when they refused. The outraged Brigadier watched as Junior officers formed the Guard into lines at 1000 yards and fired volleys. Then was quite surprised to see the Russian musket-lines get devastated in short order. It would take many more battles before the utility of the minie rifle would become apparent to the British Army at large; and Alma sounded the death knell for the smoothbore musket -carried by the Russians even at that time.
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  10. #10
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    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Quote Originally Posted by don_Durandal View Post
    Aye, but it also illustrates quite well the attitude of France, or rather the lack thereof. It remained fully an internal affair between the German Empire and the state of Alsace-Lorraine.
    Alsace-Lorraine wasn't a factor in the start of WW1. Or rather it was, but in reverse. The Germans feared France would go to war on the issue and attacked pre-emptively as such, but France itself had no concern on the matter. That France went to war over Alsace-Lorraine is one of the biggest canards about the origins of WW1.
    It is so unfortunate. All of this deception and trickery led to a conflict on a scale of which no nation wanted (except Austria and their plan, but that's another matter). It is just as David Lloyd George said: "All nations muddled in to WW1". And so the fascinating saga about the causes of WW1 continues
    Last edited by Aymer de Valence; April 10, 2012 at 06:16 AM.
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  11. #11

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lowes View Post
    The British military was not what it would be in the 1880s, and it was a mere shadow of its former glory the Napoleonic Wars. Not only would it not have made a profound difference, it most likely would have been flattened by the Prussians.

    It was small and somewhat backwards, unfortunately; the British soldier was perfect, in concert with its Navy, for the many famous actions it did abroad, but it was woefully unready to fight a European war. The Crimean War illustrated this. Not only where the British overstretched, but they showed themselves to be behind in grasping the effect of modern technology on warfare; it took insubordination by the Coldstream Guards for the British to learn what their new rifled muskets were capable of*.

    Up until 1870 France was considered to have the Army in Europe, and was mimed and studied inexhaustibly. The Franco-Prussian war would show that the French Soldier and their Junior officers were rough and ready to fight a modern war, but their logistics, General's and staff, were not. If the French, thus far considered the best in Europe, were no match for the Prussians, what would make you think the underfunded and undermanned British Army would be? There would have been a trouncing, not a stalemate.

    *At the Battle of Alma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Alma) the British exhausted themselves in brave but reckless charges against Russian positions. A redoubt would be taken, and promptly lost to Russian reserves. The Coldstream guards, ordered to go into the fight after having just seen the Scots Fusiliers cut to shreds, showed a rare case of insubordination when they refused. The outraged Brigadier watched as Junior officers formed the Guard into lines at 1000 yards and fired volleys. Then was quite surprised to see the Russian musket-lines get devastated in short order. It would take many more battles before the utility of the minie rifle would become apparent to the British Army at large; and Alma sounded the death knell for the smoothbore musket -carried by the Russians even at that time.
    By stalemate I meant more that the british wouldn't be able to get on the continent, but the prussians wouldn't be able to get at the british because of the british navy (Or would this not have even happened?). Thanks for the information, I'd never heard about that coldstream incident before either! I don't know if it would have made a different, but if the british had been standing with the french army on the continent at the beginning of the war would it have changed anything? Would the larger numbers have had any effect or would the Prussian behemoth just have steamrolled thru?

  12. #12

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    If the British had sent a fleet into the Baltic, that would have brought the Russians in on the side of Germany. Which would have been what we call a 'bad thing'.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    Quote Originally Posted by underworld965 View Post
    By stalemate I meant more that the british wouldn't be able to get on the continent, but the prussians wouldn't be able to get at the british because of the british navy (Or would this not have even happened?). Thanks for the information, I'd never heard about that coldstream incident before either! I don't know if it would have made a different, but if the british had been standing with the french army on the continent at the beginning of the war would it have changed anything? Would the larger numbers have had any effect or would the Prussian behemoth just have steamrolled thru?
    Oh I doubt ole' Otto would've given a second thought to your navy; realpolitik would've deemed further hostile actions unnecessary; he would've sued for peace from a clearly dominant position, and I suspect the ever-prudent Parliament would've agreed, as no real detriment to British prestige would've resulted.

    Alternatively, the Prussians would only have to fortify naval fortresses in the Schlesweig-Holstein area to make any move on the Baltic impossible without a land-based effort in concert; something I've already illustrated the British to be incapable of performing on their own at this time. The war would've petered out de-facto if not through the necessary paperwork. In other words, its all very farfetched, the British would have little reason to take on the Prussians, despite their warm relations with the French.

    Its also worth remembering that while HM Victoria maintained cordial (and by cordial I mean decidedly unofficial; they had no effect on the true diplomatic relations) relations with the Emperor, much of her family (and indeed her Husband) were Germanic and hailed from states allied to Prussia, or apart of the now-forming German confederation; dynastic ties wouldn't have played as strong a role as they would have in previous years, but Parliament had shown itself apt to respect their Queen's sensibilities.
    Last edited by Lowes; April 10, 2012 at 02:39 PM.
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  14. #14

    Default Re: Why did britian not aid france during the franco-Prussian War?

    France was considered the premier military power in 1870, so popular opinion in Britain thought they would win. the Royal Family was solidly pro-German (Victoria's son-in-law was Crown Prince and a key Prussian commander) and, third, why assist your key naval rival?

    StV

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