The argument that the origins of the Franco-Prussian war can be laid at the feet of Bismarck and Napoleon III is presented here in a tight, chronological account of the diplomacy between France and Germany leading up to the war. Wetzel, a writer and editor, availed himself of both official documents and secondary sources in building his account. He gives his opinions of the sources in a lengthy annotated bibliography.
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Despite the title, the Prussian minister-president and the nephew of the first Napoleon have minor roles in abetting the war that would topple the emperor and unify Germany. The aging Napoleon III, after 22 years in power, was slipping. As the succession crisis in Spain (the ostensible cause of the war) played out, Bismarck was vacationing at his isolated estate in Pomerania. Wetzel's (The Diplomacy of the Crimean War) hero is William I of Prussia, who ultimately was willing to dissuade an ambitious young relative, Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, from accepting the Spanish throne. Hotheaded French ministers had feared that Hohenzollerns might be on both major borders. France had its own candidate, a son of the discredited former French king Louis Philippe, but he hadn't a chance. What the opportunistic foreign minister, the Duc de Gramont, wanted was to have William I back down, and to disavow any future intention to propose Leopold. The king bridled at that indignity. Napoleon, incited by a chauvinist press and clamoring ministers seeing war as a way to prevent Prussia from absorbing such south Germany states as Bavaria, acted against his interests. He needed time to salvage his economy and to survive into the young manhood of his only child. He would have neither. His army was inept and the Prussians were professionals. Wetzel closes his complete narrative with the French declaration of war, after which his "duel" would begin but not in these pages. Napoleon would be taken prisoner and die soon after in exile in England. Prussia would absorb the German states on the sidelines and William would become emperor of Germany. Bismarck would be acclaimed as the clever statesman whohoodwinked France into a losing war. The losing French politicians would write self-serving memoirs. The pages on the Spanish succession are boringly complex and the tangled negotiations leading up to the war will interest only specialists in the period. 13 illus. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.