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Bismarck’s Diplomatic and Military Gamble through British Eyes (February-August 1866)

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When Loftus conveyed these sentiments to Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck in a meeting of March 11, 1866, Bismarck offered the following reflections on Prussia’s relationship with Austria:

I might use the words of Richelieu* to his discarded mistress: “Nous ne sommes pas ennemis: mais nous ne nous aimons plus."**


The Kingdom of Saxony was Austria’s ally in 1866. Just before war erupted in mid-June 1866, Loftus recorded an observation made by the Saxon government leader, Baron (later Count) Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust, about the possibility of avoiding war through mutual concession. “Le vin,” said Baron Beust, “est tiré, il faut le boire.”***


Loftus observed Bismarck’s countenance on the evening war broke out between Prussia and Austria:

I was with Count Bismarck late on the evening of June 15th. We had been walking and sitting in his garden till a late hour, when, to my astonishment, it struck midnight. Count Bismarck took out his watch, and said, “À l’heure qu’il est nos troupes sont entrées en Hanovre, Saxe, et Hesse-Cassel."+ He added, “The struggle will be severe. Prussia may lose, but she will, at all events, have fought bravely and honourably. If we are beaten,” Count Bismarck said, “I shall not return here. I shall fall in the last charge. One can but die once; and if beaten, it is better to die.”

* Cardinal Richelieu (born Armand Jean du Plessis, 1585-1642), was France’s foreign minister after 1616 and prime minister after 1624; he was acknowledged as a ruthless master of diplomacy, making France the preeminent power in Europe under King Louis XIII. [All footnotes are from Lord Augustus Loftus, The Diplomatic Reminiscences of Lord Augustus Loftus, Second Series, 1862-1879.]
** “We are not enemies: but we do not love each other any longer.”
*** “The wine has been uncorked, it must be drunk.”
+ “At this hour our troops have entered Hanover, Saxony, and Hesse-Cassel.”

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