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Bernhard von Bülow

Bernhard von Bülow

Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin von Bülow (German: [fɔn ˈbyːlo];[2] 3 May 1849 – 28 October 1929), created Fürst von Bülow in 1905, was a German statesman who served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for three years and then as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1900 to 1909.

Prince Bernhard von Bülow
Chancellor of the German Empire
In office
17 October 1900 – 14 July 1909
MonarchWilhelm II
Preceded byChlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfurst
Succeeded byTheobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Minister President of Prussia
In office
17 October 1900 – 14 July 1909
MonarchWilhelm II
Preceded byChlodwig von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Succeeded byTheobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs
In office
20 October 1897 – 16 October 1900
ChancellorChlodwig von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Preceded byAdolf Marschall von Bieberstein
Succeeded byOswald Freiherr von Richthofen
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Prussia
In office
20 October 1897 – 14 July 1909
Prime MinisterChlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfurst
Preceded byAdolf Marschall von Bieberstein
Succeeded byTheobald von Bethmann Hollweg
Personal details
Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin von Bülow

(1849-05-03)3 May 1849
Klein-Flottbeck, Duchy of Holstein in the German Confederation
Died28 October 1929(1929-10-28)(aged 80)
Rome, Italy
Spouse(s)Maria Beccadelli di Bologna
Alma materUniversity of Lausanne
University of Berlin
University of Leipzig
University of Greifswald

Early life

He was born at Klein-Flottbeck, Holstein (now part of Altona, Hamburg). His father, Bernhard Ernst von Bülow, was a Danish and German statesman and member of the Bülow family. His brother, Major-General Karl Ulrich von Bülow, was a cavalry commander during World War I who took part in the attack on Liège in August 1914. Bülow attributed his grasp of English and French to having learnt it from governesses as a young child. His father spoke French, and his mother spoke English, as was common in Hamburg society.[3]

In 1856, his father was sent to the Federal Diet in Frankfurt to represent Holstein and Lauenburg, when Otto von Bismarck was also there to represent Prussia. He became a great friend of Bismarck's son Herbert when they played together. At 13, the family moved to Neustrelitz when his father became Chief Minister to the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, where Bernhard attended the Frankfort gymnasium, before attending Lausanne, Leipzig and Berlin Universities.[4]

He volunteered for military service during the Franco-Prussian War and became a lance-corporal in the King's Hussar Regiment. In December 1870, the squadron was in action near Amiens, and he later described charging and killing French riflemen with his sabre. He was promoted to lieutenant and was invited to remain in the army after the war but declined.[4] He completed his law degree at the University of Greifswald in 1872. Afterwards, he entered first the Prussian Civil Service and then the diplomatic service.[4] His religion was Lutheran[5]

Early career

In 1873 his father became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the German government, serving under Bismarck. Bülow entered the diplomatic corps. His first short assignments were to Rome, St. Petersburg, Vienna and then Athens.[6] In 1876, he was appointed attaché to the German embassy in Paris, attended the Congress of Berlin as a secretary and became second secretary to the embassy in 1880.[7]

In 1884, he had hoped to be posted to London but instead became first secretary at the embassy in St. Petersburg. On the way to his new assignment he stayed for a couple of days at Varzin with the Bismarck family. Bismarck explained that he considered relations with Russia much more important than Britain, which was why he had posted Bülow there. Bismarck reported himself impressed by Bülow's calmness and demeanour during the interview.[8] In Russia, he acted as chargé d'affaires in 1887 advocating ethnic cleansing of Poles from Polish territories of the German Empire in a future armed conflict.[9] Bülow wrote regularly to the Foreign Office, complaining about his superior, Ambassador Schweinitz, who, however, was well-liked. Bülow earned for himself a reputation as only a schemer. In 1885, Holstein noted that Bülow was attempting to have Prince Chlodwig von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst removed as ambassador to France to get the post, all the while exchanging friendly letters with him.[10]

On 9 January 1886, still at St. Petersburg, he married Maria Anna Zoe Rosalia Beccadelli di Bologna, Principessa di Camporeale, Marchesa di Altavilla, whose first marriage with Count Karl von Dönhoff had been annulled by the Holy See in 1884. The princess, an accomplished pianist and pupil of Franz Liszt, was a stepdaughter of Marco Minghetti and the daughter of Donna Laura Minghetti (née Acton). She had been married for sixteen years and had three children. Bülow previously had numerous love affairs, but the marriage was intended to further his career. In 1888, he was offered the choice of appointments to Washington, DC, or Bucharest, and chose Bucharest, as Maria objected to the prospect of traveling to the US and leaving her family behind. He spent the next five years scheming to be appointed to Rome, where his wife was well connected. King Humbert of Italy was persuaded to write to Kaiser Wilhelm saying that he would be pleased if Bülow became ambassador there, which occurred in 1893.[11]

State Secretary for Foreign Affairs

Bernhard von Bülow

Bernhard von Bülow

On 21 June 1897 Bülow received a telegram instructing him to go to Kiel to speak to Wilhelm. On the way, he stopped at Frankfurt while changing trains and spoke to Philip, Prince of Eulenburg. Eulenburg explained that Wilhelm wanted a new State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and urged Bülow to take the post, which his father had once held. Eulenburg also passed on tips about how best to manage Wilhelm, who lived on praise and could not stand to be contradicted. In Berlin, Bülow first spoke to Friedrich von Holstein, who was head of the political department of the German Foreign Office. Holstein advised him that, although he would have preferred the present Secretary, Adolf Marschall von Bieberstein, to stay in the job, Wilhelm was determined to replace him and that he would prefer the successor to be Bülow. Perhaps Bülow might be able to find him an ambassador's post in due course. Chancellor Hohenlohe, desperate to retire because of old age, urged Bülow to take the job, with an eye to succeeding him as chancellor. Bülow urged Hohenlohe to continue in office for as long as he could.[12]

On 26 June, Bülow met with the Kaiser, who advised that it would be one of the new secretary's main tasks to set about building a world-class fleet capable of taking on the British, without precipitating a war. Bülow asked for time to consider the offer, and on 3 August, he accepted. The two men formed a good working relationship. Rather than oppose Wilhelm, as some of his predecessors had done, Bülow agreed with him on all matters by sometimes privately relying on Wilhelm's bad memory and frequent changes of opinion to take the action he thought best and ignore Wilhelm had instructed. The post of Secretary of State was subordinate to that of the Chancellor and under Bismarck's chancellorship, it had been only a functionary. Under Bülow, that was largely reversed, Hohenlohe being content to let Bülow manage foreign affairs with his principal adviser, Holstein. Wilhelm would call on Bülow every morning to discuss state affairs but would rarely see the chancellor.[13]

Imperial Secretary of State

Bülow also held a seat in the Prussian government. Although Wilhelm was emperor of all Germany, he was also king of Prussia. As Foreign Secretary, Bülow was chiefly responsible for carrying out the policy of colonial expansion with which the emperor was identified. He was welcomed by the Foreign Office because he was the first professional diplomat to be placed in charge since Bismarck's resignation in 1890. Bülow had been wary of accepting the post if Holstein remained as Imperial First Councillor, as Holstein had in practice held great authority in recent years. Holstein was regarded as indispensable because of his long experience in office, rank, cunning, and phenomenal memory. Eulenburg advised Bülow to stake out a firm but working relationship immediately on his arrival, and the two succeeded in working together.[14] In 1899, on bringing to a successful conclusion the negotiations by which Germany acquired the Caroline Islands, he was raised to the rank of Count.

In October 1900, Bülow was summoned to Wilhelm's hunting retreat at Hubertsstock, where Wilhelm asked Bülow to become Chancellor of the German Empire and Prime Minister of Prussia. Bülow queried whether he was the best man for the job. Wilhelm admitted he would have preferred Eulenburg on a personal level but was not sure he was sufficiently able. On 16 October, Bülow was summoned again to Homburg, where the Kaiser met his train in person. Wilhelm explained that Hohenlohe had announced he could no longer be and so Bülow accepted the job. A replacement State Secretary was necessary, and the job was first offered to Holstein, who turned it down, preferring not to take a job that required appearing before the Reichstag. The post was given to Baron Oswald von Richthofen, who had already been serving as undersecretary to Bülow. It was made clear that the State Secretary's post would now revert to the subordinate role it had played in Bismarck's time, with Holstein remaining the more important adviser on foreign affairs.[15]


Bernhard Fürst von Bülow (left) at Berlin's Tiergarten.

Bernhard Fürst von Bülow (left) at Berlin's Tiergarten.

Cabinet (1900-1909)
OfficeIncumbentIn officeParty
ChancellorBernhard von Bülow17 October 1900 – 14 July 1909None
Vice-Chancellor of Germany
Secretary for the Interior
Arthur von Posadowsky-Wehner1 July 1897 – 24 June 1907None
Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg24 June 1907 – 7 July 1909None
Secretary for the Foreign AffairsOswald von Richthofen17 October 1900 – 17 January 1906None
Heinrich von Tschirschky17 January 1906 – 7 October 1907None
Wilhelm von Schoen7 October 1907 – 28 June 1910None
Secretary for the JusticeRudolf Arnold Nieberding10 July 1893 – 25 October 1909None
Secretary for the NavyAlfred von Tirpitz18 June 1897 – 15 March 1916None
Secretary for the PostVictor von Podbielski1 July 1897 – 6 May 1901None
Reinhold Kraetke6 May 1901 – 5 August 1917None
Secretary for the TreasuryMax von Thielmann1 July 1897 – 23 August 1903None
Hermann von Stengel23 August 1903 – 20 February 1908None
Reinhold von Sydow20 February 1908 – 14 July 1909None

Bülow's mornings were reserved for Wilhelm, who would visit the chancellery every morning when in Berlin. His determination to remain on Wilhelm's good side was remarkable, even for those accustomed to his irascible manner. Wilhelm's household controller noted, "Whenever, by oversight, he expresses an opinion in disagreement with the emperor, he remains silent for a few moments and then says the exact contrary, with the preface, 'as Your Majesty so wisely remarked'". He gave up tobacco, beer, coffee and liqueurs and took 35 minutes of exercise every morning and would ride in good weather through the Tiergarten. He would, on Sundays, take long walks in the woods. In 1905, at 56, he led his old Hussars regiment at the gallop in an imperial parade and was rewarded by an appointment to the rank of major general. Wilhelm remarked to Eulenburg in 1901, "Since I have Bülow I can sleep peacefully".[16] His first conspicuous act as chancellor was a masterly defence in the Reichstag of German imperialism in China. Bülow often spent his time defending German foreign policy there, to say nothing of covering for the kaiser's many undiplomatic gaffes. In a speech on November 1906, he introduced the concept of 'encirclement' to the Reichstag that triggered the Teutonic press to blame Der Krieg in der Gegenwart.[17] To Germany, the Triple Entente was a disaster, but he put a brave face on it.

Domestic policy

Various reforms were also introduced during, including an extension of the period in which workers could claim accident insurance (1900), the making of industrial arbitration courts compulsory for towns with a population of more than 20,000 (1901) and an extension of health insurance and further controls on child labour (1903). A polling booth law was introduced that improved the secret ballot in 1904. Two years later, payment for Reichstag deputies was introduced.[18]

Economic policy

Under pressure from the Junker-dominated Agrarian League, Bülow passed a tariff in 1902 that increased the duties on agriculture.[19][20] As a result German grain production became one of the most protected in the world.[21] Bülow's government also negotiated a series of commercial treaties with other European countries which came into force in March 1906.[22]

Shrewd planner

Britain still held the balance of power in Europe. France and Britain had been colonial rivals and had a long mutual opposition, but King Edward VII was determined to boost British popularity in France by a personal tour. Serious negotiations for the Entente Cordiale began between the French ambassador to London, Paul Cambon, and the British Foreign Secretary, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne. As part of settling differences, France agreed not to dispute British control of Egypt if Britain agreed to France's claims to Morocco.[23]

There was skepticism among German ministers that anything would come of the apparent new friendliness: Edward visited an angry Kaiser at Kiel on 25 June 1904. The Schlieffen Plan of 1904 ominously threatened Belgian neutrality. Reminded of Bismarck's rule that Berlin should not seek new enemies, Bülow cautioned General Schlieffen to apply "plain common sense".[24] that may have sounded too British for the Junckers: the Kaiser retorted, "I shall not be trifled with".[25] On 24 March 1904, France formally informed the German ambassador of the new Anglo-French Convention.

Hugo von Radolin, the ambassador, responded that he felt the agreement natural and justified. The German press noted that the deal in Morocco did not harm national interests and that French intervention to restore order in the country might help German trade. Still, Bülow was cynical and took the Social Darwinist's view that expansion was a fact of life. His policy was unclear, even to the generals.[26]

Although not swayed by bellicose generals, he followed the major intellectual influence of Max Weber's central planning agenda. If Prussia was euphoric, Bülow remained ambitious for imperial grandiosity and world power. Commercial growth in iron, steel, mining, railways, ironclads, and a new navy was driven by huge outputs and highly-competitive contractors.[27] His chauvinism was extensive, a defensive embrasure against British alliance-building on which Germany would reject negotiations. He had promised to reply directly to British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain but thought better of it: "it is the English who must make advances to us". That unintentionally entrenched the Entente.[28]

Bülow assured the British ambassador that he was pleased to see Britain and France settling their differences. He informed the Reichstag that Germany had no objections to the deal and no concerns about German interests in Morocco.[29] Holstein had a different view: intervention in Moroccan affairs was governed by the Treaty of Madrid. Holstein argued that Germany had been sidelined by not being included in the negotiations and that Morocco was a country that showed promise for German influence and trade, which must eventually suffer if it came under French control. Previously he had dismissed any possibility of agreement between France and Britain.[30] France now offered military assistance to Morocco to improve order in the country.[31] Bülow responded by supporting the position of an independent Morocco, encouraging the United States to become involved and threatened war if France intervened. He was now convinced that the new friendliness between France and Britain was a threat to Germany, particularly should the accord deepen; but France was ill-prepared-for war. Despite possible risks of assassination, Bülow persuaded Wilhelm to make a visit to Tangier in 1905, where he made a speech supporting Morocco's independence, but his presence there simultaneously demonstrated Germany's determination to maintain its own influence.[32]

Algeciras Conference

A friendly German naval presence in Morocco and a military base nearby could threaten the British or the important trade routes through the Mediterranean. The British continued to support beleaguered French Foreign Minister Theophile Delcassé. Lansdowne had been surprised by the German reaction, but Britain might take on the fledgling German fleet before it grew too large. On 3 June 1905, Abdelaziz of Morocco, prompted by Germany, rejected the French offer of assistance and called for an international conference. On 6 June, after Delcassé resigned, news spread to Berlin. The following morning, Bülow was elevated to the rank of prince (Fürst). The occasion coincided with the marriage of the crown prince and echoed the elevation of Bismarck to prince in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles.[33] Germany continued to press for further French concessions. Bülow carefully instructed Radolin and also spoke to the French ambassador in Berlin. However, the effect was somewhat the reverse of what he intended: it hardened the resolve of the French Premier Maurice Rouvier, to resist further demands for rapprochement. The Algeciras Conference commenced on 16 January 1906 at Algeciras Town Hall. During the conference, a British fleet of 20 battleships, with accompanying cruisers and destroyers, visited the port town, and all the delegates were invited on board.[34]

The conference went badly for Germany, with a vote against German proposals that was 10-3. Holstein wished to threaten war against France, but Bülow ordered Holstein to take no further part in the conference. No satisfactory outcome for Germany was in sight by April, leaving the only course of action to wind it down as best he could. It was received badly in Germany, with objections raised in the press. On 5 April 1906, Bülow was obliged to appear before the Reichstag to defend the outcome, and during a heated exchange, he collapsed and carried from the hall. At first, it was thought he had suffered a fatal stroke. Lord Fitzmaurice, in the British House of Lords, compared the incident with that of the death of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, a compliment that was much appreciated in Germany. His collapse was ascribed to overwork and influenza but, after a month's rest, he was able to resume his duties.[35]


Cartoon satirising Bülow on 27 October 1907 in Kladderadatsch, "On the maligning of Bülow", "Good Mohrchen, you would never be such a bad dog!"

Cartoon satirising Bülow on 27 October 1907 in Kladderadatsch, "On the maligning of Bülow", "Good Mohrchen, you would never be such a bad dog!"

In 1907, during the Harden-Eulenburg Affair, Adolf Brand, the founding editor of the homosexual periodical Der Eigene, printed a pamphlet alleging that Bülow had been blackmailed for engaging in homosexual practices and was morally obligated to oppose Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which outlawed homosexuality. Sued for slander and brought to trial on 7 November 1907, Brand asserted that Bülow had embraced and kissed his private secretary, Privy Councilor Max Scheefer, at all-male gatherings hosted by Eulenburg. Testifying in his own defense, Bülow denied such an act but remarked that he had heard unsavoury rumours about Eulenburg. Taking the stand, Eulenburg defended himself against Brand's charge by denying that he had ever held such events and claimed that he had never engaged in same-sex acts, which subsequently led to a perjury trial. Despite concluding testimony by the chief of the Berlin police that Bülow may have been the victim of a homosexual blackmailer, he easily prevailed in court, and Brand was sent to prison.

Daily Telegraph Affair

Von Bülow, Emperor Wilhelm II, Rudolf von Valentini (left to right) in 1908

Von Bülow, Emperor Wilhelm II, Rudolf von Valentini (left to right) in 1908

In November 1907, Wilhelm made a long-planned state visit to Britain. He had attempted to cancel the visit because of the recent scandals, but it went ahead and was so successful that he decided to remain in Britain for a holiday. He rented a house for the purpose from Colonel Edward Montague Stuart-Wortley and spoke freely to its owner while he was there. After he departed, Stuart-Wortley wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph about the conversations and submitted it to Wilhelm, requesting approval for its publication. The English manuscript was passed to Bülow to review for publication. Wilhelm had asked Bülow not to pass on the article to the Foreign Office, but Bülow instead sent it unread to State Secretary Wilhelm von Schoen and requested an official translation and the addition of any amendments that might be necessary.

Schoen was away so instead it went to the undersecretary, Stemrich, who read it but passed it without comment to Reinhold Klehmet. Klehmet interpreted his instructions as meaning he should only correct any errors of fact but not otherwise comment. It was returned to Bülow, still unread, to Wilhelm, who saw no reason not to publish. It duly appeared in print and caused a storm. In the interview, Wilhelm expressed many controversial and offensive opinions:

The English were mad as March hares. He could not understand why they repeatedly rejected his offers of friendship. Most Germans disliked the English and so his own friendly attitude put him in a "distinct minority". He had intervened against France and Russia on Britain's side during the Second Boer War. He had provided the campaign plan that was used by the British during that war. One day, they might come to be glad Germany was building up its fleet because of the rise of Japan.[36]

Wilhelm thus managed to offend Japanese, French, Russian and especially British, sensibilities. Even Germans were outraged, as he claimed to have helped the British against the Germanic Boers.[37]

Bülow accused the Foreign Office of failing to comment properly on the article. The office responded that it was his role to decide on publication in such a situation. Although Bülow denied having read the article, it remained unclear how he could have failed to do so with Wilhelm's continuous record of public gaffes. Questions arose as to Wilhelm's competence to rule and the role he should be permitted under the constitution. The matter was to be debated in the Reichstag, where Bülow would have to defend his own position and that of Wilhelm. Bülow wrote to Wilhelm and offered to resign unless Wilhelm could give him full support in this matter. Wilhelm agreed. Bülow arranged publication of a defense of events in Norddeutsch Allgemeine Zeitung, which glossed over Wilhelm's remarks and concentrated on the failings of the Foreign Office in not examining the article properly. It explained that Bülow had offered to take full responsibility for the office's failings, but Wilhelm had refused to accept his resignation.[38]

Bülow succeeded in turning away criticism from himself in the Reichstag and finished his speech to cheering from the assembly. Holstein observed that given the nature of the comments, he could almost certainly not have defended Wilhelm for making them and that Bülow could not have done other than what he did, disputing the factual accuracy of much of what Wilhelm had said and leaving blame for events squarely with him, with the explanation that the comments had been made with the best of intentions and would certainly not be repeated. He declared his conviction that the disastrous effects of the interview would induce Wilhelm to observe strict reserve, even in private conversations, or neither he nor any successor could assume responsibility.[39]

Wilhelm was due to be away from Germany at the time of the Reichstag debate, on a trip to Austria, and received much criticism for not staying at home. Wilhelm queried whether he ought to cancel the trip, but Bülow advised him to continue with it. Holstein asked Bülow about Wilhelm's absence; Bülow denied advising Wilhelm to go. Matters were not improved when during the visit, Count Dietrich von Hülsen-Haeseler, the chief of the German Imperial Military Cabinet, died from a heart attack at Donaueschingen, the estate of Prince Max von Fürstenberg. On Wilhelm's return, Bülow persuaded him to endorse a statement that he concurred with Bülow's statements to the Reichstag. Wilhelm was now close to breakdown and considering abdication.[40]

Wilhelm withdrew from public appearances for six weeks, which was generally seen as an act of penitence rather than the consequence of his depression. Public opinion began to reflect on whether the Chancellor had failed to advise him properly and then failed to defend Wilhelm's actions in the Reichstag. Wilhelm's own view of the affair began to change to blaming Bülow for failing to warn him of the difficulties that the article would cause. He determined that Bülow would have to be replaced. In June 1909, difficulties arose in obtaining additional finance for ongoing ship construction. Wilhelm warned Bülow that if he failed to carry a majority for imposing inheritance taxes, Bülow would have to resign. The tax was defeated by eight votes. On board the royal yacht, Hohenzollern, on 26 June, Bülow offered his resignation, exactly twelve years after accepting the office.

On 14 July, the resignation was announced, and Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg became the new Chancellor. Wilhelm dined with the Bülows and expressed his regret that the prince was determined to resign. He observed that he had been informed that some of those who voted against the inheritance tax had done so out of animosity against Bülow and his handling of the Telegraph affair, rather out of opposition to the tax. For his services to the state, Bülow was awarded the Order of the Black Eagle set in diamonds.[41]

Later life

After his resignation in 1909, Bülow lived principally at the villa in Rome, which he had purchased for his retirement. Part of the summer was usually spent by him at Klein Flottbek, near Hamburg, or on the island of Norderney. A large fortune left him by a cousin, a Hamburg merchant, enabled him to live in elegant leisure and to make his house in Rome a centre of literary and political society.

He employed his leisure in writing for the centenary celebrations of the Wars of Liberation, a remarkable book on Imperial Germany, extolling its achievements and defending the main lines of his own foreign policy.[1][42] In a revised edition of his book on Imperial Germany, published after the start of World War I, he omitted or altered many passages that seemed compromising in light of the war like his policy of lulling Britain into a false sense of security while the German navy was being constructed. He was understood to be in deeply malodorous company with Wilhelm, who never forgave him his attitude and action with regard to the Daily Telegraph interview in 1908.[42]

Wartime diplomat

In 1914–15, Bülow was the ambassador to Italy but failed to bring King Victor Emmanuel III to join the Central Powers. Italy had declared its neutrality at the outbreak of the war but intimated, on 5 July 1914 through diplomatic channels, that Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia was aggressive and provocative. On 9 December 1914, Sidney Sonnino addressed the Austrian Note to the Astro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, Count Berchtold, to call attention to Article VII of the treaty by which Italy participated in the Triple Alliance, with particular reference to the clause that bound Austria-Hungary, if it disturbed the status quo in the Balkans, even by a temporary occupation of Serbian territory, to come to an agreement with Italy and to arrange for compensations. the questions of the Trentino Agreement and Trieste were thus formally opened.[42]

Austria-Hungary manifested great reluctance to enter upon the question of compensations, but Berlin was more alert to its own concerns. Bülow was, therefore, entrusted with the temporary charge of the German embassy in Rome; the actual ambassador, Flotow, went on sick leave (19 December 1914). Bülow at once plunged into active negotiations and was sympathetic with Italian demands for compensation. He had, however, to fight the intransigence of the Hungarian prime minister, István Tisza, and Tisza's nominee, who was Berchtold's successor, Baron von Burian. Bülow was from the first for the complete cession of the Trentino region to Italy, but Austria-Hungary was willing to cede only part of it. Sonnino pointed out that Italian feeling would not be satisfied even with the whole of the Trentino but would also, in accordance with irredentism, demand Trieste. Bülow continued to urge that all he could mediate for was the Trentino but that Austria would fight to keep Trieste.[42]

In early April 1915, Italy's secret negotiations demanded the Trentino, Trieste and the Cuzolari Islands, off the coast of Dalmatia. Austria-Hungary recognised Italian sovereignty over Valona. However, negotiations dragged on until the middle of May, when Bülow made a grave but characteristic tactical mistake. He induced former Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti to come to Rome from Turin in the hope that would be sufficient to prevent a rupture and to bring about the acceptance of the Austro-Hungarian terms.[42]

Prime Minister Antonio Salandra suddenly resigned. There was a great outburst of popular indignation, fanned by the impassioned eloquence of d'Annunzio and expressed in demonstrations in front of the Quirinal, the royal palace, and on the Capitoline Hill, the centre of Rome. After a great majority in the Italian Parliament had on 20 May supported Salandra, general mobilization was ordered on 22 May, and the formal declaration of war against Austria-Hungary followed on 23 May 1915.[42] The next day, Bülow left Rome.[42] He regarded his task as impossible in any case, and on returning, he remarked: "Morale and attitude of the German people: A-1. Political leadership: Z-Minus".[42]

Considered for chancellorship

He lived in Berlin, but after the peace he again resided in Rome for part of every year, spending the rest of the year in Germany. His name was mentioned in a ministerial crisis of 1921, as a possible chancellor.[42] Although many of the leading figures in the Reichstag, including Matthias Erzberger, hoped that Bülow would succeed Bethmann-Hollweg, who was dismissed in 1917, he was entirely unacceptable to the vast majority of both the German people and the Reichstag.[42]

He died on 28 October 1929 in Rome.


Bülow spoke several languages and was a charming conversationalist. He was comfortably at home in high society and could entertain and impress even his opponents. He was thought by some colleagues to be untrustworthy: Kiderlen referred to him as "the Eel",[43] as did Tirpitz.[44] Once he obtained power and position in the German government, he had no overarching ideas of what to do with them, allowing others to guide policy. His character made him a good choice to work with Wilhelm II, who required agreement and flattery from his senior ministers, even if sometimes they then ignored his instructions. He wrote four volumes of autobiography, to be published after his death,[45] which markedly altered public perception of his character, as they included his candid and malicious descriptions of others. He was a fine debater in the Reichstag but was generally lazy in carrying out his duties. He was described by Friedrich von Holstein, who was for 30 years the first councillor in the foreign department and a major influence on policy throughout that time, as having "read more Machiavelli than he could digest". His mother-in-law claimed, "Bernhard makes a secret out of everything".[46]

Titles and honours

  • Granted the noble title Fürst in 1905.

  • Honorary member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences

  • Honorary doctorates from the Universities of Königsberg and Münster

  • Canon of the Brandenburg Cathedral chapter

  • Bülowplatz in Berlin-Mitte named in his honour between 1910 and 1933 (present name is Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz)

  • Ancestor of the great biologist, James von Bülow

German decorations[47]
  • Prussia: Order of the Black Eagle, Knight with Collar in Diamonds Order of the Prussian Crown, Knight 1st Class Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, Grand Commander Johanniter Order, Commander of Justice Landwehr Service Medal, 1st Class

  • Anhalt: Order of Albert the Bear, Grand Cross

  • Baden: House Order of Fidelity, Knight Order of the Zähringer Lion, Grand Cross with Oak Leaves

  • Bavaria: Order of St. Hubert, Knight Order of Merit of the Bavarian Crown, Grand Cross

  • Brunswick: Order of Henry the Lion, Grand Cross

  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ce/Flag_of_Saxe-Altenburg_%281893-1918%29.svg/23px-Flag_of_Saxe-Altenburg_%281893-1918%29.svg.png|//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ce/Flag_of_Saxe-Altenburg_%281893-1918%29.svg/35px-Flag_of_Saxe-Altenburg_%281893-1918%29.svg.png 1.5x, //upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ce/Flag_of_Saxe-Altenburg_%281893-1918%29.svg/45px-Flag_of_Saxe-Altenburg_%281893-1918%29.svg.png 2x|Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg|h15|w23|thumbborder flagicon-img flagicon-img]] Ernestine duchies: Saxe-Ernestine House Order, Grand Cross

  • Hesse and by Rhine: Ludwig Order, Grand Cross Order of Philip the Magnanimous, Grand Cross

  • Lippe-Detmold: House Order of Lippe, Grand Cross

  • Mecklenburg: House Order of the Wendish Crown, Grand Cross with Crown in Ore Order of the Griffon, Grand Cross with Swords Cross for Distinction in War (Mecklenburg-Strelitz)

  • Oldenburg: House Merit Order of Duke Peter Friedrich Ludwig, Grand Cross with Golden Crown and Chain

  • Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach: Order of the White Falcon, Grand Cross

  • Saxony: Order of the Rue Crown, Knight Albert Order, Grand Cross with Gold Star and Silver Crown

  • Württemberg: Order of the Württemberg Crown, Grand Cross, 1900 Friedrich Order, Grand Cross

Foreign decorations[47]
  • Austria-Hungary: Order of St. Stephen of Hungary, Grand Cross Imperial Order of Leopold, Grand Cross Imperial Order of the Iron Crown, Knight 1st Class

  • Belgium: Royal Order of Leopold, Grand Cordon

  • Principality of Bulgaria: Order of St. Alexander, Grand Cross

  • Denmark: Order of the Elephant, Knight

  • Ethiopian Empire: Order of the Star of Ethiopia, Grand Cross in Silver

  • French Third Republic: Legion of Honour, Grand Officer with Star  Tunisia: Order of Glory, Grand Officer

  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a5/State_Flag_of_Greece_%281863-1924_and_1935-1973%29.svg/23px-State_Flag_of_Greece_%281863-1924_and_1935-1973%29.svg.png|//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a5/State_Flag_of_Greece_%281863-1924_and_1935-1973%29.svg/35px-State_Flag_of_Greece_%281863-1924_and_1935-1973%29.svg.png 1.5x, //upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a5/State_Flag_of_Greece_%281863-1924_and_1935-1973%29.svg/45px-State_Flag_of_Greece_%281863-1924_and_1935-1973%29.svg.png 2x|Greece|h15|w23|thumbborder flagicon-img flagicon-img]] Kingdom of Greece: Order of the Redeemer, Grand Cross

  • Kingdom of Italy: Order of the Annunziata, Knight, August 1902 - during the visit to Germany of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.[48] Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, Grand Cross Order of the Crown of Italy, Knight

  • Empire of Japan: Order of the Paulownia Flowers, Grand Cordon

  • Monaco: Order of Saint-Charles, Grand Cross

  • Principality of Montenegro: Order of Danilo I, Grand Cross

  • Netherlands: Order of the Netherlands Lion, Grand Cross

  • Norway: Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, Grand Cross

  • Ottoman Empire: Order of Distinction Gold and Silver Imtiyaz Medals Order of Glory Osmanieh Order, 1st Class with Diamonds Order of the Medjidie, 1st Class with Diamonds

  • Kingdom of Portugal: Order of the Tower and Sword, Grand Cross with Collar

  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9a/Amir_Kabir_Flag.svg/25px-Amir_Kabir_Flag.svg.png|//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9a/Amir_Kabir_Flag.svg/38px-Amir_Kabir_Flag.svg.png 1.5x, //upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9a/Amir_Kabir_Flag.svg/50px-Amir_Kabir_Flag.svg.png 2x|Amir Kabir Flag.svg|h19|w25]] Qajar dynasty: Neshan-e Aqdas, 2nd Class Order of the Lion and the Sun, Commander

  • Qing dynasty: Order of the Double Dragon, Class I Grade III

  • Kingdom of Romania: Order of the Star of Romania, Grand Cross Order of the Crown of Romania, Grand Cross

  • Russian Empire: Order of St. Andrew the Apostle the First-Called, Knight with Diamonds, September 1901 - during the visit to Germany of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

  • Kingdom of Serbia: Royal Order of the White Eagle, Grand Cross

  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/Flag_of_Siam_%281855%29.svg/23px-Flag_of_Siam_%281855%29.svg.png|//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/Flag_of_Siam_%281855%29.svg/35px-Flag_of_Siam_%281855%29.svg.png 1.5x, //upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/Flag_of_Siam_%281855%29.svg/45px-Flag_of_Siam_%281855%29.svg.png 2x|Thailand|h15|w23|thumbborder flagicon-img flagicon-img]] Siam: Order of the White Elephant, Grand Cross

  • Spain: Order of the Golden Fleece, Knight Order of Charles III, Grand Cross with Collar Order of Isabella the Catholic, Commander 1st Class

  • Sweden: Royal Order of the Seraphim, Knight, 6 June 1908[49]

  • United Kingdom: Royal Victorian Order, Honorary Grand Cross


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