Caricature of Wilhelm I by Thomas Nast


In 1878, German Emperor William I (Kaiser Wilhelm I) is assassinated by anarchist Karl Nobiling. The 82 year old, bled profusely from his wounds until succumbing to them on 2 September. Here he was succeeded by his liberal son Frederick III.

The Honeymoon Years 1878-88

Frederick immediately approved a new constitution which granted him (as Emperor) limited power, while the chancellorship was to replaced with a British style cabinet responsible to the Reichstag.

During the first decade of his reign, Frederick's Germany began to expand in terms of economic production and became one of the biggest producers of mass industrialised goods in the world. Relations with France under, the liberal Third Republic were lukewarm and had began to improve by the middle of the decade. In European diplomacy, the establishment of the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy remained the major foreign policy development during the first decade of Frederick's reign along with the liberalisation of Germany which concluded in the strengthening of Anglo-German ties.

The 1880's saw several major diplomatic incidents between the great powers, such as the Schnaebelé incident on the Franco-German border. The death of Alexander II of Russia in 1886 only increased Anglo-Russian tensions as Alexander was seen as a ruler with whom the British could deal with. Succeeded by his conservative son, Russia became even more opposed to Britain. In Germany, the 1880's also saw Frederick III survive and recover from a risky operation to remove a tumour from his throat (he would rule until 1908.)

The biggest and by far most important incident of the 1880's was the 1889 overthrowal of the liberal French Third Republic by various reactionary elements lead by the popular and charismatic General Georges Boulanger who replaced republic with a monarch-less monarchy. The coup and reactionary France's foreign policy would bring it on a collision course with Britain from which it seemed inevitable that conflict would arise. France's conservative elements and their aggressive pursuit of their goals alienated Britain further from them and pushed them into the arms of the Germans who became Britain's principal ally within this period (indeed the two countries today share a close relationship).

Tensions Are Never Far Below The Surface 1889-1901

The 1890's also saw the end of France's diplomatic isolation as they signed an alliance with Russia which saw the balance of power began to shift, as the Triple Alliance began to square off with the Franco-Russian alliance (known as the Entente). France in a bid to support their ally from further British attack, and to compete with the British began to drastically expand their navy. Germany during the 1890's had several reforms made, including the lowering of male suffrage to 21, the creation of the Imperial Senate and Parliament and the redesigning of electoral boundaries . In Europe, France was rocked by the Dreyfus Affair and mass rioting after the government banned trade unions and restricted freedom of movement. The tensions between France and Britain exploded with the outbreak of the Fashoda War in 1898 which permanently damaged relations between the two nations and ruined any chance of reconciliation. The French further fanned the flames between the two countries by supplying military advisors, volunteers and armaments to the Boers during the Second Boer War. However the outbreak of the Boxer Rebellion in China lead to a brief period of detente before further French involvement in South Africa infuriated the British. In other parts of Europe, King Umberto I of Italy was assassinated by anarchists as was French ambassador to Italy, Guillaume La Croix which caused a sizeable rift between the two nations. However the beginning of the twentieth century was marked by two deaths which would have large effects on their respective nations for years to come. The death of Queen Victoria was expected and indeed the close ties which Edward VII had established during his time as monarch with other rulers helped Britain's influence spread. Perhaps however the assassination of Crown Prince Wilhelm in Bremen by an anarchist was the most important since it let his more diplomatically sensible and less egotistical son William to come to the throne. Wilhelm's death also meant that the culture of militarism in the Empire which could have been revived under his leadership was firmly shunted to one side (Wilhelm like his father was a conservative but unlike him was not a reactionary).

The Years of Build Up 1902-14

The two biggest events early on in this era, was the signing of the Anglo-German Alliance in 1904 and the First Pacific War (also referred to as the Russo-Japanese War) in which Britain and Japan fought against the Russians. The war was the first example of modern techniques being brought into a large scale war, as Japanese and Russian troops fought in huge numbers in China and the Anglo-Japanese and Russian navies fought each other in the Pacific. Britain's entry was caused by a diplomatic disaster known as the Dogger Bank incident when Russian ships fired on British trawlermen. The war which was a catastrophic disaster for Russia resulted in a resounding Anglo-Japanese victory (Britain severely hampered the Baltic Seas Fleet.) The early part of this era (1902-06) also saw the outbreak of the First Moroccan Crisis in which Boulanger tried to assert French dominance in Morocco further. The crisis was deepened by British and German hostility towards the French and although a settlement was eventually reached the damage was done and there was no chance of reconciliation between the two European Blocs.

The beginning of the middle of this era (1906-10) saw several very important things happen, including the creation of Quadruple Alliance following Britain's signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1907 which saw it join the Quadruple Alliance. The following year in 1908, the creation of the Hanseatic League (officially known as the North & Baltic Seas Trade Association or NBSTA) saw the precursor of the various European Trade blocs which litter the continent these days. Signed by Denmark, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden and the UK the league established a huge volume of trade between the countries. The league would expand after both World War I and II and would become a leading trade organisation. 1908, in Germany however was marked by the death of Frederick III after a thirty year reign with his death being widely mourned throughout the nation and Europe. He was succeeded by his grandson William II who would go onto reign for forty-three years. 1908 also saw the Young Turk revolution within the Ottoman Empire, one of the Quadruple Alliance's trade partners which caused a brief delay in the creation of the Constantinople-Baghdad railway (eventually completed in 1924) and a serious fluctuation in the stock markets. The Bosnian crisis of 1908, showed the world that Russia and Austria-Hungary were well on the path towards the outbreak of war. Whilst resolved the crisis severely hampered the relations between the Austrians and the Serbs and Russians. While the crisis was eventually dealt with the strained relations between the Russians and the Austrians would only continue to deterioate and would become one of the leading causes of World War I.

1909 and 1910 saw several monarchial changes as in the Ottoman Empire, Abdul Hamid II was overthrown and replaced by his brother Mehmed V, while in the United Kingdom Edward VII was succeeded by his son George V.

The beginning of the 1910’s was marked by a serious diplomatic issue as one of the Quadruple Alliance’s trade partners, the Ottoman Empire was attacked by one of its members, the Kingdom of Italy in the Italo-Turkish war, for control of what is present-day Libya. While the other powers remained officially neutral, the Franco-Russian alliance provided weapons and equipment to the Ottomans in an attempt to have them join their sphere of influence, while the Quadruple Alliance attempted mediation. The war would result in Italian annexation of Libya and their military occupation of the Dodecanese islands. While the war would not seriously damage Ottoman-Quadruple alliance relations (the Ottomans remained neutral in World War I and II), they did lead to several months of speculation over which side the Ottomans would plump for. The following year also saw the establishment of the French protectorate over Morocco, the outbreak of the First Balkan War and the establishment of four party politics in America following the strong performance of the Progressives and Socialists and the abolition of the electoral college (by Theodore Roosevelt who had previously served as President for the Republicans following McKinlay's death and now served as Progressive President until his death in 1919.)

In France Boulanger at the age of seventy-six designated his successor as Charles Maurras. The most important event of them all though, was the assassination of heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sophie in Sarajevo by Serb nationalists. This acted as the trigger for the explosion of tensions into World War I.

1914-19-The War to End All Wars

World War I began on July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. This seemingly small conflict between two countries spread rapidly: soon, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, and France were all drawn into the war, largely because they were involved in treaties that obligated them to defend certain other nations. Western and eastern fronts quickly opened along the borders of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The first month of combat consisted of bold attacks and rapid troop movements on both fronts. In the west, France attacked first Belgium and then Germany. In the east, Russia attacked both Germany and Austria-Hungary. In the south, Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia. Following the Battle of the Rhine (September 5–9, 1914), the western front became entrenched in Western Germany and Belgium and remained that way for the rest of the war. The fronts in the east also gradually locked into place.

Several important powers remained neutral. The Ottoman Empire still recovering from the disastrous wars of 1911-13 remained neutral throughout the war despite various attempts from both sides to bring it in. While neutral it traded with both power blocs and provided bases for both alliances navies.

However upon proclaiming neutrality at the beginning of the war, Italy eventually entered on the side of the Allies in 1915 and attacked French colonial positions as well as mainland France and Corsica. Despite suffering heavy defeats the Italians would hold on through and would gain a large increase in colonial territory after the war.

The middle part of the war, 1916 and 1917, was dominated by continued trench warfarein both the east and the west. Soldiers fought from dug-in positions, striking at each other with machine guns, heavy artillery, and chemical weapons. Though soldiers died by the millions in brutal conditions, neither side had any substantive success or gained any advantage.

Despite the stalemate on both fronts in Europe, two important developments in the war occurred in 1917. In early April, the United States, angered by attacks upon its ships in the Atlantic, declared war on France. Then, in November, the Bolshevik Revolution prompted Russia to pull out of the war, thus greatly damaging France’s cause.

Although both sides launched renewed offensivesin 1918 in an all-or-nothing effort to win the war, both efforts failed. The fighting between exhausted, demoralized troops continued to plod along until the French lost a number of individual battles and very gradually began to fall back. A deadly outbreak of influenza, meanwhile, took heavy tolls on soldiers of both sides. Eventually, the governments of both France and Russia began to lose control as both countries experienced multiple mutinies from within their military structures.

The war ended in the late autumn of 1918, after the member countries of the Entente signed armistice agreements one by one. France was the last, signing its armistice on November 11, 1918. As a result of these agreements, Russia was broken up into several smaller countries. France, under the Treaty of Aachen, was severely punished with hefty economic reparations, territorial losses, and strict limits on its rights to develop militarily.