14 points, Austria-Hungary, Crown Prince Wilhelm, German Chancellor, German Emperor, German Empire, Imperiial Chancellor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Kingdom of Prussia, Max of Baden, The Great War, United States, Woodrow Wilson, World War I, World War ii
Today as I type this it is Veterans Day in the United States. We honor all those that serve in the military. The chosen date for this remembrance and gratitude to our brave men and women who sacrificed their lives was the ending of World War I. The end of the War brought not only a temporary peace to Europe, war would once again engulf Europe and the globe 21 years later, it also brought down ancient monarchies and a way of life that had existed for over one thousand years. In my interest in European royalty and history I often contemplate when was the point of no return for the down fall of monarchs? Could the down fall of Louis XVI of France and Navarre been avoided? I ask the same question today in regards to the collapse of the German Empire and the Empire of Austria-Hungary.
The war dragged on for 4 years. During the War the bombastic German Emperor, Wilhelm II, was a mere figurehead with his role being delegated to traveling throughout the empire by train giving speeches to encourage and boost the moral of the troops. Any military or political decisions had been taken out of his hands at this point and were under the control of the General Staff. Even though Wilhelm’s rule was nominal he was the symbolic head of the empire and the focal point of the propaganda against Germany. Death to the Kaiser or calls to hang the Kaiser were familiar rallying cries within the Allied forces.
By November of 1918 the war was winding down and all hope for a German victory was lost. President Wilson, not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination, would not deal with these monarchical governments as a means of restoring peace. One of his famous 14 points for peace was that he would reduce German territory and practically dismantle the Austro-Hungarian empire. This placed great pressure on those in control in both Germany and Austria to rid themselves of the crown heads which stood at the pinnacle of symbolic power. It seems that the countries themselves were also tired of their hereditary leaders.
A year prior to the end of the War Austro-Hungarian emperor Karl tried to sue for peace using his brother-in-law, Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma as a intermediary, but to no avail. In November of 1918 as the German General staff, along with Wilhelm II, gathered at headquarters at Spa in the Netherlands revolt was growing in the military and Germany itself. I think Wilhelm’s actions and attitudes at this time show the depth of his denial that things were truly over. He thought he would be able to lead the army back into Germany to crush any of the rising revolts. It came as a shock to him to learn that the army, so tied to Prussian authority for centuries, refused the emperors leadership.
Even the German Chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, tried to persuade the emperor to abdicate the throne to one of his grandsons (the German Crown Prince was even more unpopular than his father) in an effort to try and save the monarchy, but the emperor refused. It was the night of November 9-10 that the emperor finally saw the writing on the wall and fled into the Netherlands seeking asylum. This came on the day when Chancellor Max of Baden announced the abdication of the emperor to the German people even though at this point the emperor still had not agreed to abdicate. It wouldn’t be until December when the emperor officially signed documents agreeing to his abdication, releasing all military and government official of their oath of allegiance to him. The monarchy may have been salvageable in 1917 but at that point the war was not lost so there was no reason for the emperor to abdicate. Sadly the reason for the emperor to abdicate came only when it was realized that any hope to win the war had been lost and by then it was too late to save the monarchy.
In 1918 the aim of the allied forces was to punish Germany and the 1919 Treaty of Versailles is an example of that. The harshness of the treaty is said to be a factor in the rise of Germany and the cause of World War II. States have learned a lesson from World War I. That lesson is to not punish a warring nation but to try and stabilize that country as soon as possible. If the monarchy could have been a stabilizing force for Germany at the end of the war, and if the allied powers would have been willing to work with these monarchies would it have been possible to avert the coming evil that proved to be much worse? One of histories unanswerable questions.