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1864 - Second Schleswig-Holstein War

The British statesman Lord Palmerston is reported to have said: "Only three people... have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business the Prince Consort, who is dead a German professor, who has gone mad and I, who have forgotten all about it." Lytton Strachey wrote in 1921 of Prime Minister Lord John Russell that "With the advent of the dreadful Schleswig-Holstein question the most complex in the whole diplomatic history of Europe his position, crushed between the upper and the nether mill-stones, grew positively unbearable. He became anxious above all things to get Palmerston out of the Foreign Office." Strachey wrote "Within two years of Albert's death a violent disturbance in foreign politics put Victoria's faithfulness to a crucial test. The fearful Schleswig-Holstein dispute, which had been smouldering for more than a decade, showed signs of bursting out into conflagration. The complexity of the questions at issue was indescribable. ... Victoria threw herself into the seething embroilment with the vigour of inspiration. She devoted hours daily to the study of the affair in all its windings; but she had a clue through the labyrinth: whenever the question had been discussed, Albert, she recollected it perfectly, had always taken the side of Prussia. Her course was clear. She became an ardent champion of the Prussian point of view."

A Congress of European Powers, assembled at London in 1852, settled the succession to the throne of Denmark and to the German Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein upon Prince Christian of SchleswigHolstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg. On the death of King Frederick VII of Denmark, in November, 1863, Prince Christian succeeded to the throne of Denmark as Christian IX. and to the sovereignty of the German Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein; but the succession to the Duchies was claimed by Duke Frederick of Augustenburg, whose rights had been disregarded by the London Congress of European Powers. The people of Schleswig and Holstein, mostly Germans, for the most part sided with the Duke of Augustenburg, who also had the sympathies of the whole German nation.

In January, 1864, the Diet of the Germanic Confederation sent an army into Schleswig and Holstein, to support the claims of Duke Frederick of Augustenburg and to prevent the incorporation of those German Duchies with the Kingdom of Denmark; while Austria and Prussia, acting independently of the Federal Diet, also sent armies into the Duchies; and a war ensued between Denmark and the German powers.

The allied Austro-Prussian army under the Prussian General Wrangel, consisting of Austrians under General Gablenz and Prussians under Prince Frederick Charles, the nephew of King William I. of Prussia, crossed the Eider, February 1, 1864, and seized Altona. The Danes were forced back through Holstein and Schleswig into Jutland, amid continual skirmishing, in February, March and April, 1864. Finally the strongly-fortified Danish line of defense, the Dannewirke, was carried by storm, whereupon the allies overran the whole peninsula of Jutland, and the strong fortress of Diippel was taken by assault and bombardment, April 18, 1864; but the Danish fleet defeated the allied fleet off Heligoland, May 9, 1864.

Through the efforts of Great Britain a conference of the Five Great Powers convened in London and induced the belligerent powers to consent to an armistice, May 9, 1864; but hostilities were renewed June 26, 1864. The allies drove the Danes from the island of Alsen, opposite Diippel, June 29, 1864. A second armistice was concluded July 18, 1864; and by a preliminary treaty of peace, August 1, 1864, and a definitive treaty of peace, October 30, 1864, both concluded at Vienna, King Christian IX of Denmark relinquished Schleswig-Holstein to Austria and Prussia.

In 1865 Austria was disturbed by financial troubles. The Emperor Francis Joseph resolved upon political reforms. Concessions were to be made to Hungary, and a more liberal manner of administering the imperial government was introduced. The Emperor published a rescript suppressing the constitution for the purpose of granting independence to Hungary. During that year the Emperor visited Hungary. There was discontent in the other parts of the discordant Austrian Empire.

In 1865 King William I. of Prussia and Prime Minister Bismarck were involved in another quarrel with the Chamber of Deputies of that kingdom over the army budget. The Chamber of Deputies rejected the budget, whereupon the king prorogued the Prussian Diet and declared that he would rule without it. The king arbitrarily seized and disposed of the public revenue.

A dispute between Austria and Prussia concerning the sovereignty of the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, which those two great powers had wrested from Denmark in 1864, led to a short but fierce and decisive war in the summer of 1866. Austria seemed disposed to support the claims of Duke Frederick of Augustenburg to the sovereignty of the Duchies; but, in October, 1865, Prussia declared that, according to the late treaty with Denmark, the sovereignty of the two Duchies had been yielded to Austria and Prussia jointly. Prussia considered the favor of Austria for Duke Frederick of Augustenburg as indicating antagonism to the joint sovereignty of Austria and Prussia over the Duchies.

War between Austria and Prussia was averted in 1865 by the Convention of Gastein, negotiated by Count von Bismarck and the Austrian envoy, Count Blome, by which Prussia purchased the Austrian Emperor's rights in the Duchy of Lauenburg for two and a half million Danish dollars, while it was agreed to place Schleswig under Prussian control and Holstein under Austrian rule until the question of inheritance could be settled. Prussia was to hold the port of Kiel, which was to be free to the Austrian fleet. Prussia was not yet prepared for war and had merely consented to this settlement to gain time. This convention gave great offense to the German Federal Diet.

The quarrel very soon reopened. General Manteuffel, the Prussian governor of Schleswig, forbade all agitation in that Duchy in favor of the Duke of Augustenburg; while Austria sought to frustrate the Prussian scheme for securing the Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein, permitting the partisans of the Duke of Augustenburg in Holstein to do as they saw fit.

On January 26, 1866, Prussia formally protested against the Austrian policy in Holstein; and Austria replied that she would firmly adhere to her policy. This correspondence was followed by measures showing that the inevitable struggle between Austria and Prussia for supremacy in Germany was at hand and that the irrepressible conflict would soon have to be settled by "blood and iron." The quarrel over the disposition of the Duchies of Schleswig-Holstein was merely a pretext for war, the true cause of the struggle being the traditional Austro-Prussian contest which had been going on since the days of Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2013 18:55:30 ZULU