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1. The month that changed the world: Tuesday, 4 August 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, has been blogging regularly for us over the past few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War. This is the final installment.

By Gordon Martel


At 6 a.m. in Brussels the Belgian government was informed that German troops would be entering Belgian territory. Later that morning the German minister assured them that Germany remained ready to offer them ‘the hand of a brother’ and to negotiate a modus vivendi. But the basis for any agreement must include the opening of the fortress of Liege to the passage of German troops and a Belgian promise not to destroy railways and bridges.

At the same time the British government was protesting against Germany’s intention to violate Belgian neutrality and requesting from the Belgian government ‘an assurance that the demand made upon Belgium will not be proceeded with, and that her neutrality will be respected by Germany’.

In Berlin they had already anticipated British objections. The German ambassador in London was instructed to ‘dispel any mistrust’ by repeating, positively and formally, that Germany would not, under any pretence, annex Belgian territory. He was to impress upon Sir Edward Grey the reasons for Germany’s decision: they had ‘absolutely unimpeachable’ information that France was planning to attack through Belgium. Germany thus had no choice but to violate Belgian neutrality because it was for them a matter ‘of life or death’.

The assurance was received in London at almost the same moment that the Foreign Office received news that German troops had begun their advance into Belgium.

Two of the four cabinet ministers who had threatened to resign now changed their minds: the news that the Germans had entered Belgium and announced that they would ‘push their way through by force of arms’ had simplified matters.

Crowds outside Buckingham Palace after war was declared. Imperial War Museums. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons.

Crowds outside Buckingham Palace after war was declared. Imperial War Museums. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons.

At 10.30 a.m. Grey instructed the British minister in Brussels that Britain expected the Belgians to resist any German pressure to induce them to depart from their neutrality ‘by any means in their power’. The British government would support them in their resistance and was prepared to join France and Russia in immediately offering to the Belgian government ‘an alliance’ for the purpose of resisting the use of force by Germany against them, along with a guarantee to maintain Belgian independence and integrity in future years.

At 2 p.m. Grey instructed the ambassador in Berlin to repeat the request he had made last week and again this morning that the German government assure him that it would respect Belgian neutrality. A satisfactory reply was required by midnight, Central European time. If this were not received in time the ambassador was to request his passports and to tell the German government that ‘His Majesty’s Government feel bound to take all steps in their power to uphold the neutrality of Belgium and the observance of a Treaty to which Germany is as much a party as ourselves’.

Before the ambassador could present these demands, the German chancellor addressed the Reichstag, making a long, impassioned speech defending the government’s decision to go to war:

‘A terrible fate is breaking over Europe. For forty-four years, since the time we fought for and won the German Empire and our position in the world, we have lived in peace and protected the peace of Europe. During this time of peace we have become strong and powerful, arousing the envy of others. We have patiently faced the fact that, under the pretence that Germany was warlike, enmity was aroused against us in the East and the West, and chains were fashioned for us.’

A defence of German diplomacy during the crisis followed. Russia alone had failed to agree to ‘localize’ the crisis, to contain it to one that concerned only Austria and Serbia. Germany had warmly supported efforts to mediate the dispute and the Kaiser had engaged the Tsar in a personal correspondence to join him in resolving the differences between Russia and Austria. But Russia had chosen to mobilize all of her forces directed against Austria even though Austria had mobilized only against Serbia. And then Russia had chosen to mobilize all of her forces, leaving Germany with no choice but to mobilize as well.

France had evaded giving a clear answer to the question of whether it would remain neutral in the event of war between Russia and Germany. And then, in spite of promises to keep mobilized French forces 10 kilometres from the frontier with Germany ‘Aviators dropped bombs, and cavalry patrols and French infantry detachments appeared on the territory of the Empire!’

It was true that Germany’s decision to enter Belgium was a violation of international law, but there was no choice: ‘A French attack on our flank on the lower Rhine might have been disastrous’. And Germany would set right the wrong once ‘our military aims have been attained’.

‘We are fighting for the fruits of our works of peace, for the inheritance of a great past and for our future. The fifty years are not yet past during which Count Moltke said we should have to remain armed to defend the inheritance that we won in 1870. Now the great hour of trial has struck for our people. But with clear confidence we go forward to meet it. Our army is in the field, our navy is ready for battle–, and behind them stands the entire German nation– the entire German nation united to the last man.’

At almost the same moment Poincaré was addressing the French Chamber of Deputies. But indirectly, as the constitution prohibited the president from addressing the deputies directly. The minister of justice read his speech for him:

‘France has just been the object of a violent and premeditated attack, which is an insolent defiance of the law of nations. Before any declaration of war had been sent to us, even before the German Ambassador had asked for his passports, our territory has been violated.’….

‘Since the ultimatum of Austria opened a crisis which threatened the whole of Europe, France has persisted in following and in recommending on all sides a policy of prudence, wisdom, and moderation. To her there can be imputed no act, no movement, no word, which has not been peaceful and conciliatory.’….

‘In the war which is beginning, France will have Right on her side, the eternal power of which cannot with impunity be disregarded by nations any more than by individuals. She will be heroically defended by all her sons; nothing will break their sacred union before the enemy; today they are joined together as brothers in a common indignation against the aggressor, and in a common patriotic faith.’

‘Haut les coeurs et vive la France!’

At Buckingham palace at 10.45 the king had convened a meeting of the Privy Council for the purpose of authorizing the declaration of war. They waited for 11 p.m. to come, and when Big Ben struck they were at war. Meanwhile people had begun gathering outside the palace. When news began to spread throughout the crowd that war had been declared the excitement mounted; and when the king, the queen, and their eldest son appeared on the balcony ‘the cheering was terrific.’

By the end of the day five of the six Great Powers of Europe were at war, along with Serbia and Belgium. Diplomacy had failed. The tragedy had begun.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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2. The month that changed the world: Monday, 3 August 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, has been blogging regularly for us over the past few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


At 7 a.m. Monday morning the reply of the Belgian government was handed to the German minister in Brussels. The German note had made ‘a deep and painful impression’ on the government. France had given them a formal declaration that it would not violate Belgian neutrality, and, if it were to do so, ‘the Belgian army would offer the most vigorous resistance to the invader’. Belgium had always been faithful to its international obligations and had left nothing undone ‘to maintain and enforce respect’ for its neutrality. The attack on Belgian independence which Germany was now threatening ‘constitutes a flagrant violation of international law’. No strategic interest could justify this. ‘The Belgian Government, if they were to accept the proposals submitted to them, would sacrifice the honour of the nation and betray at the same time their duties towards Europe.’

Belgian Prime Minister Charles de Brocqueville. By Garitan CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Belgian Prime Minister Charles de Brocqueville. By Garitan CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

When the British cabinet reconvened later that morning at 11 a.m. there were now four ministers prepared to resign over the issue of British intervention. Their discussion lasted for three hours, at the end of which they agreed on the line to be taken by Sir Edward Grey when he addressed the House of Commons at 3 p.m. ‘The Cabinet was very moving. Most of us could hardly speak at all for emotion.’

Grey began his address to the House by explaining that the present crisis differed from that of Morocco in 1912. That had been a dispute which involved France primarily, to whom Britain had promised diplomatic support, and had done so publicly. The situation they faced now had originated as a dispute between Austria and Serbia – one in which France had become engaged because it was obligated by honour to do so as a result of its alliance with Russia. But this obligation did not apply to Britain. ‘We are not parties to the Franco-Russian Alliance. We do not even know the terms of that Alliance.’

But, because of their now-established friendship, the French had concentrated their fleet in the Mediterranean because they were secure in the knowledge that they need not fear for the safety of their northern and western coasts. Those coasts were now absolutely undefended. ‘My own feeling is that if a foreign fleet engaged in a war which France had not sought, and in which she had not been the aggressor, came down the English Channel and bombarded and battered the undefended coasts of France, we could not stand aside and see this going on practically within sight of our eyes, with our arms folded, looking on dispassionately, doing nothing!’ The government felt strongly that France was entitled to know ‘and to know at once!’ whether in the event of an attack on her coasts it could depend on British support. Thus, he had given the government’s assurance of support to the French ambassador yesterday.

There was another, more immediate consideration: what should Britain do in the event of a violation of Belgian neutrality? He warned the House that if Belgium’s independence were to go, that of Holland would follow. And what…

‘If France is beaten in a struggle of life and death, beaten to her knees, loses her position as a great Power, becomes subordinate to the will and power of one greater than herself’? If Britain chose to stand aside and ‘run away from those obligations of honour and interest as regards the Belgian Treaty, I doubt whether, whatever material force we might have at the end, it would be of very much value…’

‘I do not believe for a moment, that at the end of this war, even if we stood aside and remained aside, we should be in a position, a material position, to use our force decisively to undo what had happened in the course of the war, to prevent the whole of the West of Europe opposite to us—if that had been the result of the war—falling under the domination of a single Power, and I am quite sure that our moral position would be such as to have lost us all respect.’

While Grey was speaking in the House the king and queen were driving along the Mall to Buckingham Palace in an open carriage, cheered by large crowds. In Berlin the Russian ambassador was being attacked by a mob wielding sticks, while the German chancellor was sending instructions to the ambassador in Paris to inform the French government that Germany considered itself to now be ‘in a state of war’ with France. At 6 p.m. the declaration was handed in at Paris:

‘The German administrative and military authorities have established a certain number of flagrantly hostile acts committed on German territory by French military aviators. Several of these have openly violated the neutrality of Belgium by flying over the territory of that country; one has attempted to destroy buildings near Wesel; others have been seen in the district of the Eifel, one has thrown bombs on the railway near Karlsruhe and Nuremberg.’

The French president welcomed the declaration. It came as a relief, Poincaré said, given that war was by this time inevitable.

‘It is a hundred times better that we were not led to declare war ourselves, even on account of repeated violations of our frontier…. If we had been forced to declare war ourselves, the Russian alliance would have become a subject of controversy in France, national [élan?] would have been broken, and Italy may have been forced by the provisions of the Triple Alliance to take sides against us.’

When the British cabinet met again briefly in the evening they had before them the text of the German ultimatum to Belgium and the Belgian reply to it. They agreed to insist that the German government withdraw the ultimatum. After the meeting Grey told the French ambassador that if Germany refused ‘it will be war’.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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3. How Georg Ludwig became George I

By Andrew C. Thompson


On 1 August 1714, Queen Anne died. Her last days were marked by political turmoil that saw Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, and Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, struggle to assert their authority. However, on her deathbed Anne appointed the moderate Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury, as the last ever lord treasurer. The queen’s death prompted a transition from the Stuart dynasty to the Hanoverian, and the succession of Georg Ludwig, elector of Hanover, as King George I of Great Britain and Ireland.

King George I by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1714. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

King George I by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1714. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

We now look back on the Succession as one of decisive dynastic change — one that came about as a result of the Act of Settlement (1701). This act set out how, following Anne’s death, the throne was to be inherited by the children of Sophia, Dowager Electress of Hanover, and granddaughter of James I and VI. The act had named Sophia and “the heirs of her body being protestants” as next in the line of succession precisely because William III – King from 1689 to 1702 — had been anxious to ensure that Protestant monarchy would be preserved within Britain. William’s invasion of Britain in 1688 had been, in part, justified on the basis that the ruling monarch, James II, had put himself at odds with the political nation through his espousal of “popery and arbitrary government.” Moreover, the birth of James’s son in June 1688 raised the prospect of a permanent reversion to dynastic Catholicism into the next generation.

Although William and his wife Mary had quickly established themselves in their new roles, they failed in one particular respect. They did not produce an heir. Queen Mary’s premature death in 1694 was widely mourned, but William did not rush to re-marry and ensure that the succession would be perpetuated into the next generation. Instead, attention turned to Mary’s sister, Anne, the younger of James II’s Protestant daughters. Anne was the victim of frequent gynaecological misfortune. She gave birth to many children but few thrived. In 1689 she and her husband, George, prince of Denmark, had a son, William, Duke of Gloucester. His birth was widely seen as an indication of divine approval for the recent changes on the throne, but William was a sickly child. In July 1700 he contracted smallpox and died shortly afterwards. It was his death that pushed William into formalizing succession arrangements through the Act of Settlement.

Sophia of Hanover by her sister, Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate, c. 1644. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Sophia of Hanover by her sister, Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate, c. 1644. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Naming Sophia as heir to William and Anne, on the basis of her Protestantism, excluded more than fifty closer blood relations who happened to be Catholic. Thus, it is easy to see why a shift from the Stuart line to the Hanoverian seemed momentous. Yet, it’s also important to remember that contemporaries talked not in terms of the Hanoverian but of the Protestant succession, stressing continuity over change. Likewise, following its arrival in England in September 1714, the new dynasty was keen to emphasise its Stuart ancestry. This can be seen in the refurbished state apartments at Hampton Court where visual representations of the Hanoverians stood alongside portraits of James I and VI, his wife Anne of Denmark, and their daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia.

Sophia, the matriarch of the new Hanoverian dynasty, had married the youngest son of the cadet branch of the dukes of Brunswick in 1658. The fortunes of her husband, Ernst August, had risen rapidly. Through a combination of marriage, negotiation, and luck he was able to acquire the duchy of Calenberg-Göttingen and ensure that his son, Georg Ludwig — the future George I — would inherit the Duchy of Celle. In 1692 Hanover was granted electoral status, so joining an elite club with the right to elect the Holy Roman Emperor. On his father’s death in 1698, Georg Ludwig therefore inherited a major German state; three years later his status was raised further with the prospect of succession to the British thrones. In addition, Georg was an accomplished commander who served as allied supreme commander for a period during the War of the Spanish Succession that raged in Europe between 1702 and 1713/14.

During Anne’s reign (1702-14), it was unclear whether the Act of Settlement had, in fact, resolved the succession question. Support for the exiled Stuarts persisted while Anne was unwilling to allow her Hanoverian relations to come to England to represent their interests personally. The Hanoverians did, however, find staunch supporters among members of the whig party. Polemicists such as George Ridpath worked hard to promote the Hanoverian cause. Protestant dissenters also tended to support the Hanoverians. On 1 August 1714 the dissenting minister Thomas Bradbury was preaching in his meeting house in Fetter Lane, when — alerted to Anne’s death by a handkerchief dropped from the gallery — he claimed the honour of being first to pray publicly for the new king.

George I was proclaimed king without much trouble on 1 August 1714. The plans, long in preparation, were quickly put into action. A Regency council was formed, made up of whigs and some Hanover tories. Hans Kaspar von Bothmer, one of George’s Hanoverian ministers, co-ordinated the transition. The new king was sufficiently relaxed to spend several weeks sorting out governance arrangements for his German lands before departing for London. He stopped to hold talks in the United Provinces en route and only arrived at Greenwich in late September.

Having spent a day meeting key figures, George I was transported into London. A long procession of coaches followed the royal party, soldiers lined the route, and cannon fire accompanied the new king. In the immediate aftermath of their arrival George and his family were highly visible on the London social scene, seeking to emphasize their qualities and advantages over the Stuart, or Jacobite, pretenders. They were clearly Protestant, they were numerous (ensuring that the succession was secure for the immediate future), and they seemed willing to adapt. It is worth remembering that George I was 54 years old when he became king in August 1714. He had behind him a long political and military career and could easily have arrived in Britain set in his ways. Instead, in the coming years he demonstrated a willingness to work hard and take on new responsibilities—qualities that would make George a very successful immigrant.

Dr. Andrew C. Thompson teaches history at Queens’ College, Cambridge, and is the author of Britain, Hanover and the Protestant Interest (2006) and George II: King and Elector (2011). His article on the Politics of the Hanoverian Succession was recently published in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, alongside two further essays — on Literary Responses to the Succession (by Abigail Williams) and Legacies of the Hanoverians (by Clarissa Campbell Orr) — to mark the tercentenary.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a collection of 59,102 life stories of noteworthy Britons, from the Romans to the 21st century. The Oxford DNB is freely available via public libraries across the UK, and many libraries worldwide. Libraries offer remote access allowing members to gain access free, from home (or any other computer), 24 hours a day. You can also sample the ODNB with its changing selection of free content: in addition to the podcast; a topical Life of the Day, and historical people in the news via Twitter @odnb.

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4. The Queen whose Soul was Harmony

By James Anderson Winn


In 1701, one year before Princess Anne succeeded to the throne, musicians from London traveled to Windsor to perform a special ode composed for her birthday by the gifted young composer Jeremiah Clarke. The anonymous poet addressed part of his poem to the performers, taking note of Anne’s keen interest in music:

Portrait of Anne of Great Britain by Charles Jervas, 1702-1714, Royal Collection, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Anne of Great Britain by Charles Jervas, 1702-1714, Royal Collection, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

With song your tribute to her bring,
Who best inspires you how to sing;
None better claims your lays than she
Whose very soul is Harmony.
O happy those whose art can feast
So just, and so refined a taste.

As the poet evidently knew, Anne’s just and refined taste was shaped by her own musical experiences. Her music teachers included Francesco Corbetta, the leading guitarist in Europe, and Giovanni Battista Draghi, the harpsichord player who composed the first setting of Dryden’s “Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687.” Henry Purcell wrote the music for her wedding and for other occasions at her court; when he died, still in his early thirties, his widow dedicated a posthumous collection of his keyboard pieces to the Princess, thanking her for her “Generous Encouragement of my deceas’d Husband’s Performances in Musick, together with the great Honour your Highness has don that Science in your Choice of that Instrument, for which the following Compositions were made.”

I have paid particular attention to music written for the often misunderstood Queen, a musician and lover of the fine arts. The four examples I offer here are especially rich and complex.

We begin with an excerpt from Purcell’s last substantial work, an ode for the sixth birthday of William, Duke of Gloucester, Anne’s only child to survive infancy. The political situation at this moment was complex. After the armed coup of 1688, which deposed Anne’s father, James II, and replaced him with her sister Mary and her brother-in-law William, the two sisters had quarreled. Their estrangement continued until Mary’s death in 1694, and although William went through the motions of a reconciliation, his relationship with Anne was edgy at best. In praising the little Duke, the poet paid court to Anne in language that might easily be read as praising the Princess at the expense of the King:

She’s great, Let Fortune Smile or Frown,
Her Virtues make all Hearts her own:
She reigns without a Crown.

Evidently aware that the last line might be offensive to the King’s supporters, Purcell set it only once and surrounded it with two longer settings of the previous line—“Her Virtues make all Hearts her own”—a safer expression of Anne’s growing popularity. He devotes eleven measures to the line about Anne’s virtues, stretching it out with extensive melismatic treatments of the word all, disposes of the line about reigning without a crown in only six measures, and then returns to the words of the penultimate line for another eighteen measures. His setting thus alters the rhetoric of the poem, moving what had been a climactic and cadential line in the poem into a much less prominent position. Purcell had good reasons to look forward to the accession of Anne, who knew more about music than her predecessors, but he had far too much tact to crown her prematurely.

Henry Purcell, excerpts from Who can from Joy Refrain? Performers: Bradford Gleim, baritone; Teresa Wakim and Brenna Wells, sopranos; Jesse Irons and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins; Peter Sykes, harpsichord; Sarah Freiberg, cello.

Our next example comes from the birthday ode of 1701. At this moment, Anne was just emerging from six months of mourning for her son Gloucester, who had died a few days after his eleventh birthday. In a touching and delicate aria sung by the tenor Richard Elford, who soon became Anne’s favorite singer, the words express the hope that she might bear another child.

In her brave offspring still she’ll live,
Nor must she bless our age alone;
But to succeeding ages give,
Heirs to her virtues, and the throne.

After an innocent string ritornello in B-flat major, the vocalist enters in d minor; Clarke’s wistful expression of the hope for more heirs to Anne’s virtues thus delicately acknowledges her sorrow for the lost Gloucester. The contrast with earlier birthday odes, in which composers saluted Gloucester with martial fanfares, is striking.

Jeremiah Clarke, excerpt from Let Nature Smith, birthday ode for Princess Anne (1701 ?). Performers: Owen McIntosh, tenor; Jesse Irons and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins; Sarah Darling, viola; Peter Sykes, harpsichord; Sarah Freiberg, cello.

Our third example is an anthem composed by John Blow for the thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s cathedral in 1704, celebrating the Duke of Marlborough’s victory in the Battle of Blenheim. The Bible reading for the day tells the story of the prophetess Deborah, who sent her general Barak to defeat the Philistines. As a married non-combatant who ruled her nation, Deborah was a close biblical analogue for Anne, and one detail in the song’s description of the battle matched the events at Blenheim with eerie accuracy: “The river of Kishon,” sings the prophetess, “swept them away,” and at the end of the recent battle, at least 2,000 French cavalrymen had drowned in the Danube. In constructing his anthem, Blow carefully rearranged a few selected verses from the recommended chapter. After one soloist sings verse 21 of the biblical story, the description of the river, the other joins him in verse 13, celebrating Deborah’s “dominion over the mighty” in a canonic duet involving several hair-raising dissonances, after which the first singer, again alone and safely back in triadic harmonies, declaims verse 31, which prays that all the Lord’s enemies will perish.

John Blow, excerpt from Awake, awake, utter a song (1704). Performers: Owen McIntosh and Marcio de Oliveira, tenors; Peter Sykes, organ; Sarah Freiberg, cello.

We end, as we must, with Handel, whose music the Queen clearly appreciated: she awarded him a generous pension of £200 a year (roughly £40,000 in modern money). Handel’s “Serenata” for the queen’s birthday in 1713 celebrates the impending Treaty of Utrecht, ending a long war on favorable terms. The text, by the Whig poet Ambrose Philips, has seven stanzas, each ending with the same couplet:

The Day that gave great Anna Birth,
Who fix’d a lasting Peace on Earth.

In his first stanza, the poet asks the sun, the “Eternal Source of Light divine,” to “add a lustre to this day,” and for this aria, Handel featured Richard Elford, Anne’s favorite singer in her Chapel Royal, and wrote a trumpet obbligato for John Shore, a versatile and inventive musician who had served the queen and her late husband for years. At thanksgiving services during Anne’s reign, Shore and Elford often performed the prominent parts for high tenor and trumpet in Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate, so Handel was honoring the traditions of the Chapel Royal by using them as soloists, by writing in the same key (D major), and by composing a canon between the voice and the trumpet that imitates Purcell’s compositional practice. Like the other composers, he was evidently confident that the queen’s musical ear would allow her to hear and appreciate the compliment he was paying to English music.

George Frideric Handel, aria from Eternal Source of Light Divine (1713). Performance: Jason McStoots, tenor; Robinson Pyle, trumpet; Dorian Bandy and Emily Dahl, violins; Anna Griffis, viola; Peter Sykes, harpsichord; Denise Fan, cello.

Three hundred years ago, on 1 August 1714, Queen Anne died in the Kensington Palace in London. James Anderson Winn is William Fairfield Warren Professor of English at Boston University. His six earlier books include Unsuspected Eloquence (1981), a groundbreaking history of the relations between poetry and music; John Dryden and His World (1987), a prize-winning biography; and The Poetry of War (2008), praised by one reviewer as a book “for anyone who cares about war and truth.” His new book, Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts, includes 23 musical examples, each of which is printed in full score; a companion website allows the reader to listen to performances of each of the excerpts, many of them not heard since Queen Anne’s time.

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5. The month that changed the world: Saturday, 1 August 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the past few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


The choice between war and peace hung in the balance on Saturday, 1 August 1914. Austria-Hungary and Russia were proceeding with full mobilization: Austria-Hungary was preparing to mobilize along the Russian frontier in Galicia; Russia was preparing to mobilize along the German frontier in Poland. On Friday evening in Paris the German ambassador had presented the French government with a question: would France remain neutral in the event of a Russo-German war? They were given 18 hours to respond – until 1 p.m. Saturday. In St Petersburg the German ambassador presented the Russian government with another demand: Russia had 12 hours – until noon Saturday – to suspend all war measures against Germany and Austria-Hungary or Germany would mobilize its forces.

But they were also extraordinarily close to peace. Russia and Austria had resumed negotiations in St Petersburg at the behest of Britain, Germany, and France. Austria had declared publicly and repeatedly that it did not intend to seize any Serbian territory and that it would respect the sovereignty and independence of the Serbian monarchy. Russia had declared that it would not object to severe measures against Serbia as long its sovereignty and independence were respected. Surely, when the two of them were agreed on the fundamental principles involved, a settlement was still within reach?

In London the cabinet met at 11 a.m. for 2 1/2 hours. The discussion was devoted exclusively to the crisis. Ministers were badly divided. Winston Churchill was the most bellicose, demanding immediate mobilization. At the other extreme were those who insisted that the government should declare it would not enter the war under any circumstances. According to the prime minister, Asquith, this was ‘the view for the moment of the bulk of the party’. Grey threatened to resign if the cabinet adopted an uncompromising policy of non-intervention.

H. H. Asquith, British Prime Minister 1908-1916. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

One cabinet minister proposed a solution to their dilemma: they should put the onus on Germany. Intervention should depend on whether Germany launched a naval attack on the northern coast of France or violated the independence of Belgium. But his suggestion raised more questions: did Britain have the duty, or merely the right, to intervene if Belgian neutrality were violated? If German troops merely ‘passed through’ Belgium in order to attack France, would this constitute a violation of neutrality? The meeting was inconclusive.

In Berlin the Kaiser was approving the note to be handed to Russia later that day, if it failed to respond positively to the demand that it demobilize: ‘His Majesty the Emperor, my August Sovereign, accepts the challenge in the name of the Empire, and considers himself as being in a state of war with Russia’.

An hour after despatching this telegram another arrived in Berlin from the tsar. Nicholas said he understood that, under the circumstances, Germany was obliged to mobilize, but he asked Wilhelm to give him the same guarantee that he had given Wilhelm: ‘that these measures DO NOT mean war’ and that they would continue to negotiate ‘for the benefit of our countries and universal peace dear to our hearts’.

After meeting with the cabinet, Grey continued to believe that peace might be saved if only a little time could be gained before shooting started. He wired Berlin to suggest that mediation between Austria and Russia could now commence. While promising that Britain abstain from any act that might precipitate matters, he refused to promise that it would remain neutral.

But Grey also refused to promise any assistance to France: Germany appeared willing to agree not to attack France if France remained neutral in a war between Russia and Germany. If France was unable to take advantage of this offer ‘it was because she was bound by an alliance to which we were not parties, and of which we did not know the terms’. Although he would not rule out assisting France under any circumstances, France must make its own decision ‘without reckoning on an assistance that we were not now in a position to give’.

The French ambassador was shocked. He refused to transmit to Paris what Grey had told him, proposing instead to tell his government that the British cabinet had yet to make a decision. He complained that France had left its Atlantic coast undefended because of the naval convention with Britain in 1912 and that the British were honour-bound to assist them. His complaint fell on deaf ears. He staggered from Grey’s office into an adjoining room, close to hysteria, ‘his face white’. Immediately after the meeting he met with two influential Unionists, bitterly declaring ‘Honour! Does England know what honour is’? ‘If you stay out and we survive, we shall not move a finger to save you from being crushed by the Germans later.’

Earlier in Paris General Joffre, chief of the general staff, threatened to resign if the government refused to order mobilization. He warned that France had already fallen two days behind Germany in preparing for war. The cabinet, although divided, agreed to distribute mobilization notices that afternoon at 4 p.m. They agreed, however, to maintain the 10-kilometre buffer zone: ‘No patrol, no reconnaissance, no post, no element whatsoever, must go east of the said line. Whoever crosses it will be liable to court martial and it is only in the event of a full-scale attack that it will be possible to transgress this order’.

By 4 p.m. Russia had yet to reply to the German ultimatum that expired at noon. Falkenhayn, the minister of war, persuaded Bethmann Hollweg to go with him to see the Kaiser and ask him to promulgate the order for mobilization. At 5 p.m., at the Berlin Stadtschloss, the mobilization order sat on a table made from the timbers of Nelson’s Victory. As the Kaiser signed it, Falkenhayn declared ‘God bless Your Majesty and your arms, God protect the beloved Fatherland’.

News of the German declaration of war on Russia spread quickly throughout St Petersburg immediately following the meeting between Pourtalès and Sazonov. Vast crowds began to gather on the Nevsky Prospekt; women threw their jewels into collection bins to support the families of the reservists who had been called up. By 11.30 that night around 50,000 people surrounded the British embassy calling out ‘God save the King’, ‘Rule Britannia’, and ‘Bozhe Tsara Khranie’ [God save the Tsar].

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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6. The month that changed the world: Sunday, 2 August 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, has been blogging regularly for us over the past few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Confusion was still widespread on the morning of 2 August 1914. On Saturday Germany and France had joined Austria-Hungary and Russia in announcing their general mobilization; by 7 p.m. Germany appeared to be at war with Russia. Still, the only shots fired in anger consisted of the bombs that the Austrians continued to shower on Belgrade. Sir Edward Grey continued to hope that the German and French armies might agree on a standstill behind their frontiers while Russia and Austria proceeded to negotiate a settlement over Serbia. No one was certain what the British would do – especially not the British.

Shortly after dawn Sunday German troops crossed the frontier into the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Trains loaded with soldiers crossed the bridge at Wasserbillig and headed to the city of Luxembourg, the capital of the Grand-Duchy. By 8.30 a.m. German troops occupied the railway station in the city centre. Marie-Adélaïde, the grand duchess, protested directly to the kaiser, demanding an explanation and asking him to respect the country’s rights. The chancellor replied that Germany’s military measures should not be regarded as hostile, but only as steps to protect the railways under German management against an attack by the French; he promised full compensation for any damages suffered.

The neutrality of Luxembourg had been guaranteed by the Powers in the Treaty of London of 1867. The prime minister immediately protested the violation at Berlin, Paris, London, and Brussels. When Paul Cambon received the news in London at 7.42 a.m. he requested a meeting with Sir Edward Grey. The French ambassador brought with him a copy of the 1867 treaty – but Grey took the position that the treaty was a ‘collective instrument’, meaning that if Germany chose to violate it, Britain was released from any obligation to uphold it. Disgusted, Cambon declared that the word ‘honour’ might have ‘to be struck out of the British vocabulary’.

The cabinet was scheduled to meet at 10 Downing Street at 11 a.m. Before it convened Lloyd George held a small meeting of his own at the chancellor’s residence next door with five other members of cabinet. They were untroubled by the German invasion of Luxembourg and agreed that, as a group, they would oppose Britain’s entry into the war in Europe. They might reconsider under certain circumstances, however, ‘such as the invasion wholesale of Belgium’.

When they met the cabinet found it almost impossible to decide under what conditions Britain should intervene. Opinions ranged from opposition to intervention under any circumstances to immediate mobilization of the army in anticipation of despatching the British Expeditionary Force to France. Grey revealed his frustration with Germany and Austria-Hungary: they had chosen to play with the most vital interests of civilization and had declined the numerous attempts he had made to find a way out of the crisis. While appearing to negotiate they had continued their march ‘steadily to war’. But the views of the foreign secretary proved unacceptable to the majority of the cabinet. Asquith believed they were on the brink of a split.

After almost three hours of heated debate the cabinet finally agreed to authorize Grey to give the French a qualified assurance. The British government would not permit the Germans to make the English Channel the base for hostile operations against the French.

While the cabinet was meeting in the afternoon a great anti-war demonstration was beginning only a few hundred yards away in Trafalgar Square. Trade unions organized a series of processions, with thousands of workers marching to meet at Nelson’s column from St George’s circus, the East India Docks, Kentish Town, and Westminster Cathedral. Speeches began around 4 p.m. – by which time 10-15,000 had gathered to hear Keir Hardie and other labour leaders, socialists and peace activists. With rain pouring down, at 5 p.m. a resolution in favour of international peace and for solidarity among the workers of the world ‘to use their industrial and political power in order that the nations shall not be involved in the war’ was put to the crowd and deemed to have carried.

 Andrew Bonar Law, British leader of the opposition. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Bonar Law, British leader of the opposition. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

If the British cabinet was divided, so however were the people of London. When the crowd began singing ‘The Red Flag’ and the ‘Internationale’ they were matched by anti-socialists and pro-war demonstrators singing ‘God Save the King’ and ‘Rule Britannia’. When a red flag was hoisted, a Union Jack went up in reply. Part of the crowd broke away and marched a few hundred feet to Admiralty Arch where they listened to patriotic speeches. Several thousand marched up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, singing the national anthem and the Marseillaise. The King and the Queen appeared on the balcony to acknowledge the cheering crowd. Later that evening demonstrators gathered in front of the French embassy to show their support.

The anti-war sentiment, which was still strong among labour groups and socialist organizations in Britain, was rapidly dissipating in France. On Sunday morning the Socialist party announced its intention to defend France in the event of war. The newspaper of the syndicalist CGT declared ‘That the name of the old emperor Franz Joseph be cursed’; it denounced the kaiser ‘and the pangermanists’ as responsible for the war. In Germany three large trade unions did a deal with the government: in exchange for promising not to go on strike, the government promised not to ban them. In Russia, organized opposition to war practically disappeared.

Shortly before dinner that evening the British cabinet met once again to decide whether they were prepared to enter the war. The prime minister had received a promise from the leader of the Unionist opposition, Andrew Bonar Law, that his party would support Britain’s entry into the war. Now, if the anti-war sentiment in cabinet led to the resignation of Sir Edward Grey – and most likely of Asquith, Churchill and several others along with him – there loomed the likelihood of a coalition government being formed that would lead Britain into war anyway.

While the British cabinet were meeting in London they were unaware that the German minister at Brussels was presenting an ultimatum to the Belgian government at 7.00 p.m. The note contained in the envelope claimed that the German government had received reliable information that French forces were preparing to march through Belgian territory in order to attack Germany. Germany feared that Belgium would be unable to resist a French invasion. For the sake of Germany’s self-defence it was essential that it anticipate such an attack, which might necessitate German forces entering Belgian territory. Belgium was given until 7 a.m. the next morning – twelve hours – to respond.

Within the hour the prime minister took the German note to the king. They agreed that Belgium could not agree to the demands. The king called his council of ministers to the palace at 9 p.m. where they discussed the situation until midnight. The council agreed unanimously with the position taken by the king and the prime minister. They recessed for an hour, resuming their meeting at 1 a.m. to draft a reply.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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7. The month that changed the world: Saturday, 25 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Would there be war by the end of the day? It certainly seemed possible: the Serbs had only until 6 p.m. to accept the Austrian demands. Berchtold had instructed the Austrian representative in Belgrade that nothing less than full acceptance of all ten points contained in the ultimatum would be regarded as satisfactory. And no one expected the Serbs to comply with the demands in their entirety – least of all the Austrians.

When the Serbian cabinet met that morning they had received advice from Russia, France, and Britain urging them to be as accommodating as possible. No one indicated that any military assistance might be forthcoming. They began drafting a ‘most conciliatory’ reply to Austria while preparing for war: the royal family prepared to leave Belgrade; the military garrison left the city for a fortified town 60 miles south; the order for general mobilization was signed and drums were beaten outside of cafés, calling up conscripts.

Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl, Austria: the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Kaiserville, Bad Ischl, Austria. By Blue tornadoo CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl, Austria: the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Kaiserville, Bad Ischl, Austria. By Blue tornadoo CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How would Russia respond? That morning the tsar presided over a meeting of the Russian Grand Council where it was agreed to mobilize the thirteen army corps designated to act against Austria. By afternoon ‘the period preparatory to war’ was initiated and preparations for mobilization began in the military districts of Kiev, Odessa, Moscow, and Kazan.

Simultaneously, Sazonov tried to enlist German support in persuading Austria to extend the deadline beyond 6 p.m., arguing that it was a ‘European matter’ not limited to Austria and Serbia. The Germans refused, arguing that to summon Austria to a European ‘tribunal’ would be humiliating and mean the end of Austria as a Great Power. Sazonov insisted that the Austrians were aiming to establish hegemony in the Balkans: after they devoured Serbia and Bulgaria Russia would face them ‘on the Black Sea’. He tried to persuade Sir Edward Grey that if Britain were to join Russia and France, Germany would then pressure Austria into moderation.

How would Britain respond? Sir Edward Grey gave no indication that Britain would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Russians in a conflict over Serbia. His only concern seemed to be to contain the crisis, to keep it a dispute between Austria and Serbia. ‘I do not consider that public opinion here would or ought to sanction our going to war over a Servian quarrel’. But if a war between Austria and Serbia were to occur ‘other issues’ might draw Britain in. In the meantime, there was still an opportunity to avert war if the four disinterested powers ‘held the hand’ of their partners while mediating the dispute. But the report he received from St Petersburg was not encouraging: the British ambassador warned that Russia and France seemed determined to make ‘a strong stand’ even if Britain declined to join them.

When the Austrian minister received the Serb reply at 5:58 on Saturday afternoon, he could see instantly that their submission was not complete. He announced that Austria was breaking off diplomatic relations with Serbia and immediately ordered the staff of the delegation to leave for the railway station. By 6:30 the Austrians were on a train bound for the border.

That evening, in the Kaiservilla at Bad Ischl, Franz Joseph signed the orders for mobilization of thirteen army corps. When the news reached Vienna the people greeted it with the ‘wildest enthusiasm’. Huge crowds began to form, gathering at the Ringstrasse and bursting into patriotic songs. The crowds marched around the city shouting ‘Down with Serbia! Down with Russia’. In front of the German embassy they sang ‘Wacht am Rhein’; police had to protect the Russian embassy against the demonstrators. Surely, it would not be long before the guns began firing.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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8. The month that changed the world: Sunday, 26 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


When day dawned on Sunday, 26 July, the sky did not fall. Shells did not rain down on Belgrade. There was no Austrian declaration of war. The morning remained peaceful, if not calm. Most Europeans attended their churches and prepared to enjoy their day of rest. Few said prayers for peace; few believed divine intervention was necessary. Europe had weathered many storms over the last decade. Only pessimists doubted that this one could be weathered as well.

In Austria-Hungary the right of assembly, the secrecy of the mail, of telegrams and telephone conversations, and the freedom of the press were all suspended. Pro-war demonstrations were not only permitted but encouraged: demonstrators filled the Ringstrasse, marched on the Ballhausplatz, gathered around statues of national heroes and sang patriotic songs. That evening the Bürgermeister of Vienna told a cheering crowd that the fate of Europe for centuries to come was about to be decided, praising them as worthy descendants of the men who had fought Napoleon. The Catholic People’s Party newspaper, Alkotmány, declared that ‘History has put the master’s cane in the Monarchy’s hands. We must teach Serbia, we must make justice, we must punish her for her crimes.’

Kaiser Wilhelm

Just how urgent was the situation? In London, Sir Edward Grey had left town on Saturday afternoon to go to his cottage for a day of fly-fishing on Sunday. The Russian ambassadors to Germany, Austria and Paris had yet to return to their posts. The British ambassadors to Germany and Paris were still on vacation. Kaiser Wilhelm was on his annual yachting cruise of the Baltic. Emperor Franz Joseph was at his hunting lodge at Bad Ischl. The French premier and president were visiting Stockholm. The Italian foreign minister was still taking his cure at Fiuggi. The chiefs of the German and Austrian general staffs remained on leave; the chief of the Serbian general staff was relaxing at an Austrian spa.

Could calm be maintained? Contradictory evidence seemed to be coming out of St Petersburg. It seemed that some military steps were being initiated – but what these were to be remained uncertain. Sazonov, the Russian foreign minister, met with both the German and Austrian ambassadors on Sunday – and both noted a significant change in his demeanour. He was now ‘much quieter and more conciliatory’. He emphatically insisted that Russia did not desire war and promised to exhaust every means to avoid it. War could be avoided if Austria’s demands stopped short of violating Serbian sovereignty. The German ambassador suggested that Russia and Austria discuss directly a softening of the demands. Sazonov, who agreed immediately to suggest this, was ‘now looking for a way out’. The Germans were assured that only preparatory measures had been undertaken thus far – ‘not a horse and not a reserve had been called to service’.

By late Sunday afternoon, the situation seemed precarious but not hopeless. The German chancellor worried that any preparatory measures adopted by Russia that appeared to be aimed at Germany would force the adoption of counter-measures. This would mean the mobilization of the German army – and mobilization ‘would mean war’. But he continued to hope that the crisis could be ‘localized’ and indicated that he would encourage Vienna to accept Grey’s proposed mediation and/or direct negotiations between Austria and Russia.

By Sunday evening more than 24 hours had passed since the Austrian legation had departed from Belgrade and Austria had severed diplomatic relations with Serbia. Many had assumed that war would follow immediately, but there had been no invasion of Serbia or even a declaration of war. The Austrians, in spite of their apparent firmness in refusing any alteration of the terms or any extension of the deadline, appeared not to know what step to take next, or when additional steps should be taken. When asked, the Austrian chief of staff suggested that any declaration of war ought to be postponed until 12 August. Was Europe really going to hold its breath for two more weeks?

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914. Read his previous blog posts.

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Image credit: Kaiser Wilhelm, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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9. The month that changed the world: Monday, 27 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


By the time the diplomats, politicians, and officials arrived at their offices in the morning more than 36 hours had elapsed since the Austrian deadline to Serbia had expired. And yet nothing much had happened as a consequence: the Austrian legation had packed up and left Belgrade; Austria had severed diplomatic relations with Serbia and announced a partial mobilization; but there had been no declaration of war, no shots fired in anger or in error, no wider mobilization of European armies. What action there was occurred behind the scenes, at the Foreign Office, the Ballhausplatz, the Wilhelmstrasse, the Consulta, the Quai d’Orsay, and at the Chorister’s Bridge.

Some tentative, precautionary, steps were taken. In Russia, all lights along the coast of the Black Sea were ordered to be extinguished; the port of Sevastopol was closed to all but Russian warships; flights were banned over the military districts of St Petersburg, Vilna, Warsaw, Kiev, and Odessa. In France, over 100,000 troops stationed in Morocco and Algeria were ordered to metropolitan France; the French president and premier were asked to sail for home immediately. In Britain the cabinet agreed to keep the First and Second fleets together following manoeuvres; Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, notified his naval commanders that war between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente was ‘by no means impossible’. In Germany all troops were confined to barracks. On the Danube, Hungarian authorities seized two Serbian vessels.

Winston Churchill with the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Winston Churchill with the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout the day the Serbian reply to the Austrian ultimatum was communicated throughout Europe. Austria appeared to have won great diplomatic victory. Sir Edward Grey thought the Serbs had gone farther to placate the Austrians than he had believed possible: if the Austrians refused to accept the Serbian reply as the foundation for peaceful negotiations it would be ‘absolutely clear’ that they were only seeking an excuse to crush Serbia. If so, Russia was bound to regard it as a direct challenge and the result ‘would be the most frightful war that Europe had ever seen’.

The German chancellor concluded that Serbia had complicated things by accepting almost all of the demands and that Austria was close to accomplishing everything that it wanted. The Kaiser who arrived in Kiel that morning, presided over a meeting in Potsdam at 3 p.m. where he, the chancellor, the chief of the general staff, and several more generals reviewed the situation. No dramatic decisions were taken. General Hans von Plessen, the adjutant general, recorded that they still hoped to localize the war, and that Britain seemed likely to remain neutral: ‘I have the impression that it will all blow over’.

The question of the day, then, was whether Austria would be satisfied with a resounding diplomatic victory. Russia seemed prepared to offer them one. In St Petersburg on Monday Sazonov promised to go ‘to the limit’ in accommodating them if it brought the crisis to a peaceful conclusion. He promised the German ambassador that he would they ‘build a golden bridge’ for the Austrians, that he had ‘no heart’ for the Balkan Slavs, and that he saw no problem with seven of the ten Austrian demands.

In Vienna however, Berchtold dismissed Serbia’s promises as totally worthless. Austria, he promised, would declare war the next day, or by Wednesday at the latest – in spite of the chief of the general staff’s insistence that war operations against Serbia could not begin for two weeks.

Grey was distressed to hear that Austria would treat the Serb reply as if it were a ‘decided refusal’ to comply with Austria’s wishes. The ultimatum was ‘really the greatest humiliation to which an independent State has ever been subjected’ and was surely enough to serve as foundation of a settlement.

By the end of the day on Monday, uncertainty was still widespread. Two separate proposals for reaching a settlement were now on the table: Grey’s renewed suggestion for à quatre discussions in London, and Sazonov’s new suggestion for bilateral discussions with Austria in St Petersburg. Germany had indicated that it was encouraging Austria to consider both suggestions. The German ambassador told Berlin that if Grey’s suggestion succeeded in settling the crisis with Germany’s co-operation, ‘I will guarantee that our relations with Great Britain will remain, for an incalculable time to come, of the same intimate and confidential character that has distinguished them for the last year and a half’. On the other hand, if Germany stood behind Austria and subordinated its good relations with Britain to the special interests of its ally, ‘it would never again be possible to restore those ties which have of late bound us together’.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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10. Does pain have a history?

It’s easy to assume that we know what pain is. We’ve all experienced pain, from scraped knees and toothaches to migraines and heart attacks. When people suffer around us, or we witness a loved one in pain, we can also begin to ‘feel’ with them. But is this the end of the story?

In the three videos below Joanna Bourke, author of The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers, talks about her fascination with pain from a historical perspective. She argues that the ways in which people respond to what they describe as ‘painful’ have changed drastically since the eighteenth century, moving from a belief that it served a specific (and positive) function to seeing pain as an unremitting evil to be ‘fought’. She also looks at the interesting attitudes towards women and pain relief, and how they still exist today.

On the history of pain

Click here to view the embedded video.

How have our attitudes to pain changed?

Click here to view the embedded video.

On women and pain relief

Click here to view the embedded video.

Joanna Bourke is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is the prize-winning author of nine books, including histories of modern warfare, military medicine, psychology and psychiatry, the emotions, and rape. Her book An Intimate History of Killing (1999) won the Wolfson Prize and the Fraenkel Prize, and ‘Eyewitness’. She is also a frequent contributor to TV and radio shows, and a regular newspaper correspondent. Her latest book is The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers.

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11. The month that changed the world: Tuesday, 28 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Kaiser Wilhelm received a copy of the Serbian reply to the Austrian demands in the morning. Reading it over, he concluded that the Habsburg monarchy had achieved its aims and that the few points Serbia objected to could be settled by negotiation. Their submission represented a humiliating capitulation, and with it ‘every cause for war’ collapsed. A diplomatic solution to the crisis was now clearly within sight. Austria-Hungary would emerge triumphant: the Serbian reply represented ‘a great moral success for Vienna’.

In order to assure Austria’s success, to turn the ‘beautiful promises’ of the Serbs into facts, the Kaiser proposed that Belgrade should be taken and held hostage by Austria. ‘The Serbs,’ he pointed out, ‘are Orientals, and therefore liars, fakers and masters of evasion.’ An occupation of Belgrade would guarantee that the Serbs would carry out their promises while satisfying satisfying the honour of the Austro-Hungarian army. On this basis the Kaiser was willing to ‘mediate’ with Austria in order to preserve European peace.

In Vienna that morning the German ambassador was instructed to explain that Germany could not continue to reject every proposal for mediation. To do so was to risk being seen as the instigator of the war and being held responsible by the whole world for the conflagration that would follow.

Berchtold began to worry that German support was about to evaporate. He responded by getting the emperor to agree to issue a declaration of war on Serbia just before noon. For the first time in history war was declared by the sending of a telegram.

The bombardment of Belgrade by Austro-Hungarian monitor. By Horace Davis. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The bombardment of Belgrade by Austro-Hungarian monitor. By Horace Davis. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The German chancellor undertook a new initiative to place the responsibility for a European war on Russia: he encouraged Kaiser to write directly to the Tsar, to appeal to his monarchical sensibilities. Such a telegram would ‘throw the clearest light on Russia’s responsibility’. At the same time he rejected Sir Edward Grey’s proposal for a conference in London in favour of ‘mediation efforts’ at St Petersburg, and trusted that his ambassador in London could get Grey ‘to see our point of view’.

At the Foreign Office in London they were skeptical. Officials concluded that the Austrians were determined to find the Serbian reply unsatisfactory, that if Austria demanded absolute compliance with its ultimatum ‘it can only mean that she wants a war’. What Austria was demanding amounted to a protectorate. Grey denied the German complaint that he was proposing an ‘arbitration’ – what he was suggesting was a ‘private and informal discussion’ that might lead to suggestion for settlement. But he agreed to suspend his proposal as long as there was a chance that the ‘bilateral’ Austro-Russian talks might succeed.

The news that Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia reached Sazonov in St Petersburg late that afternoon. He immediately arranged to meet with the Tsar at the Peterhof. After their meeting the foreign minister instructed the Russian chief of the general staff to draft two ukazes – one for partial mobilization of the four military districts of Odessa, Kiev, Moscow and Kazan, another for general mobilization. But the Tsar, who remained steadfast in his determination to do nothing that might antagonize Germany, would go no further than authorize a partial mobilization aimed at Austria-Hungary. He did so in spite of the warnings from his military advisers who told him that such a mobilization was impossible: a partial mobilization would result in chaos, make it impossible to prosecute a successful war against Austria-Hungary and render Russia vulnerable in a war with Germany.

A partial mobilization would, however, serve the requirements of Russian diplomacy. Sazonov attempted to placate the Germans by assuring them that the decision to mobilize in only the four districts indicated that Russia had no intention of attacking them. Keeping the door open for negotiations, he decided not to recall the Russian ambassador from Vienna – in spite of Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia. Perhaps there was still time for the bilateral talks in St Petersburg to save the situation.

That night Belgrade was bombarded by Austro-Hungarian artillery: two shells exploded in a school, one at the Grand Hotel, others at cafés and banks. Offices, hotels, and banks had been closed. The city had been left defenceless.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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12. The month that changed the world: Wednesday, 29 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Before the sun rose on Wednesday morning a new hope for a negotiated settlement of the crisis was initiated. The Kaiser, acting on the advice of his chancellor, wrote directly to the Tsar. He hoped that Nicholas would agree with him that they shared a common interest in punishing all of those ‘morally responsible’ for the dastardly murder of the Archduke, and he promised to exert his influence to induce Austria to deal directly with Russia in order to arrive at an understanding.

At 1 a.m. Nicholas appealed to Wilhelm for his assistance: ‘An ignoble war has been declared on a weak country.’ The indignation that this had caused in Russia was enormous and he anticipated that he would soon be overwhelmed by the pressure being brought to bear upon him, forcing him to take ‘extreme measures’ that would lead to war. To avoid this terrible calamity, he begged Wilhelm, in the name of their old friendship, ‘to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far.’

The question of the day on Wednesday was whether Austria-Hungary and Russia might undertake direct discussions to settle the crisis before further military steps turned a local Austro-Serbian war into a general European one.

The New York Times, 29 July 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times, 29 July 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The German general staff summarized its view of the situation: the crime of Sarajevo had led Austria to resort to extreme measures ‘in order to burn with a glowing iron a cancer that has constantly threatened to poison the body of Europe’. The quarrel would have been limited to Austria and Serbia had not Russia begun making military preparations. Now, if the Austrians advanced into Serbia, they would face not only the Serbian army but the vastly superior strength of Russia. Thus, they could not contemplate fighting Serbia without securing themselves against an attack by Russia. This would force them to mobilize the other half of their army – at which point a collision between Austria and Russia would become inevitable. This would force Germany to mobilize, which would lead Russia and France to do the same – ‘and the mutual butchery of the civilized nations of Europe would begin’.

In other words, unless a negotiated settlement could be reached quickly, war seemed inevitable.

Berchtold pleaded with Berlin that only ‘plain speech’ would restrain the Russians, i.e. only the threat of a German attack would stop them from taking military action against Austria. And there were signs that Russia was wary of war. The Austrian ambassador reported that Sazonov was desperate to avoid a conflict and was ‘clinging to straws in the hope of escaping from the present situation’. Sazonov promised that if they were to negotiate on the basis of Sir Edward Grey’s proposal, Austria’s legitimate demands would be recognized and fully satisfied.

At the same time, Sazonov was pleading for British support: the only way to prevent war now was for Britain to warn the Triple Alliance that it would join its entente partners if war were to break out.

But Grey refused to make any promises. When he met with the French ambassador later that afternoon, he warned him not to assume that Britain would again stand by France as it had in 1905. Then it had appeared that Germany was attempting to crush France; now, ‘the dispute between Austria and Serbia was not one in which we felt called to take a hand’. Earlier that day the British cabinet had decided not to decide; Grey was to inform both sides that Britain was unable to make any promises.

At 4 p.m. the German general staff received intelligence that Belgium was calling up reservists, raising the numbers of the Belgian army from 50,000 to 100,000, equipping its fortifications and reinforcing defences along the frontier. Forty minutes later a meeting at the Neue Palais in Potsdam, the Kaiser and his advisers decided to compose an ultimatum to present to Belgium: either agree to adopt an attitude of ‘benevolent neutrality’ towards Germany in a European war or face dire consequences.

Simultaneously, Bethmann Hollweg decided to launch a bold new initiative. He proposed to the British ambassador that Britain agree to remain neutral in the event of war in exchange for a German promise not to seize any French territory in Europe when it ended. He understood that Britain would not allow France to be crushed, but this was not Germany’s aim. When asked whether his proposal applied to French colonies as well, the chancellor replied that he was unable to give a similar undertaking concerning them. Belgium’s integrity would be respected when the war ended –as long as it had not sided against Germany.

Yet another German initiative was taken in St Petersburg. At 7 p.m. the German ambassador transmitted a warning from the chancellor that if Russia continued with its military preparations Germany would be compelled to mobilize, in which case it would take the offensive. Sazonov replied that this removed any doubts he may have had concerning the real cause of Austria’s intransigence.

The Russians found this confusing, as they had just received another telegram from the Kaiser containing a plea that he should not permit Russian military measures to jeopardize German efforts to promote a direct understanding between Russia and Austria. It was agreed that the Tsar should wire Berlin immediately to ask for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy. At 8.20 p.m. the wire asking for clarification was sent. Trusting in his cousin’s ‘wisdom and friendship’, Tsar Nicholas suggested that the ‘Austro-Serbian problem’ be handed over to the Hague conference.

A message announcing a general mobilization in Russia had been drafted and ready to be sent out by 9 p.m. Then, just minutes before it was to be sent out, a personal messenger from the Tsar arrived, instructing that it the general mobilization be cancelled and a partial one re-instituted. The Tsar wanted to hear how the Kaiser would respond to his latest telegram before proceeding. ‘Everything possible must be done to save the peace. I will not become responsible for a monstrous slaughter’.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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13. The month that changed the world: Thursday, 30 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


As the day began a diplomatic solution to the crisis appeared to be within sight at last. The German chancellor had insisted that Austria agree to negotiate directly with Russia. While Germany was prepared to fulfill the obligations of its alliance with Austria, it would decline ‘to be drawn wantonly into a world conflagration by Vienna’. Bethmann Hollweg was also promising to support Sir Edward Grey’s proposed conference to mediate the dispute. He told the Austrians that their political prestige and military honour could be satisfied by an occupation of Belgrade. They could enhance their status in the Balkans while strengthening themselves against the Russians through the humiliation of Serbia.

But a third initiative, the direct line of communication between the Kaiser and the Tsar, was running aground. Attempting to reassure Wilhelm, Nicholas explained that the military measures now being undertaken had been decided upon five days ago – and only as a defence against Austria’s preparations. ‘I hope from all my heart that these measures won’t in any way interfere with your part as mediator which I greatly value.’

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, Chancellor of the German Empire, 1909-1917. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, Chancellor of the German Empire, 1909-1917. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Wilhelm erupted. He was shocked to discover first thing on Thursday morning that the ‘military measures which have now come into force were decided five days ago’. He would no longer put any pressure on Austria: ‘I cannot agree to any more mediation’; the Tsar, while requesting mediation, ‘has at the same time secretly mobilized behind my back’.

The German ambassador in Vienna presented Bethmann’s directive to a ‘pale and silent’ Berchtold over breakfast. Austria, with guarantees of Serbia’s good behaviour in the future as part of the mediation proposal, could attain its aims ‘without unleashing a world war’. To refuse mediation completely ‘was out of the question’.

Berchtold did as he was told. He explained to the Russians that his apparent rejection of mediation talks was an unfortunate misunderstanding and that he was now prepared to discuss ‘amicably and confidentially’ all questions directly affecting their relations. He warned, however, that he would not yield on any of points in the note to Serbia.

At noon, Russia announced that it was initiating a partial mobilization. But the Austrian ambassador assured Vienna that this was a bluff: Sazonov dreaded war ‘as much as his Imperial Master’ and was attempting ‘to deprive us of the fruits of our Serbian campaign without going to Serbia’s aid if possible’.

In Berlin, the chief of the German general staff began to panic. A few hours after the Russian announcement he pleaded with the Austrians to mobilize fully against Russia and to announce this in a public proclamation. The only way to preserve Austria-Hungary was to endure a European war. ‘Germany is with you unconditionally’. Moltke promised that a German mobilization would immediately follow Austria’s.

In St. Petersburg the war minister and the chief of the general staff tried to persuade Nicholas over the telephone that partial mobilization was a mistake. The Tsar refused to budge. When Sazonov met with the Tsar at Peterhof at 3 p.m. he argued that general mobilization was essential; war was almost inevitable because the Germans were resolved to bring it about. They could easily have made the Austrians see reason if they had desired peace. The Tsar gave way. At 5 p.m. the official decree announcing general mobilization was issued.

In Paris the French cabinet was also deciding to take military steps. They agreed that – for the sake of public opinion – they must take care that ‘the Germans put themselves in the wrong’. They would try to avoid the appearance of mobilizing while consenting to at least some of the requests being made by the army. Covering troops could take up their positions along the German frontier from Luxembourg to the Vosges mountains, but were not to approach closer than 10 kilometres. No train transport was to be used, no reservists were to be called up, no horses or vehicles were to be requisitioned. Joffre, the chief of the general staff, was displeased. These measures would make it difficult to execute the offensive thrust of his war plan. Nevertheless, the orders went out at 4.55 p.m.

In London Grey bluntly rejected Bethmann’s neutrality proposal of the day before: ‘that we should bind ourselves to neutrality on such terms cannot for a moment be entertained’. Germany was asking Britain to stand by while French colonies were taken and France was beaten in exchange for Germany’s promise to refrain from taking French territory in Europe. Such a proposal was unacceptable ‘for France could be so crushed as to lose her position as a Great Power, and become subordinate to German policy’. On the other hand, if the current crisis passed and the peace of Europe preserved, Grey promised to endeavour to promote an arrangement by which Germany could be assured ‘that no hostile or aggressive policy would be pursued against her or her allies by France, Russia, and ourselves, jointly or separately’.

Shortly before midnight a telegram from King George arrived at Potsdam. Responding to an earlier telegram from the Kaiser’s brother, the King assured him that the British government was doing its utmost to persuade Russia and France to suspend further military preparations. This seemed possible ‘if Austria will consent to be satisfied with [the] occupation of Belgrade and neighbouring Servian territory as a hostage for [the] satisfactory settlement of her demands’. He urged the Kaiser to use his great influence at Vienna to induce Austria to accept this proposal and prove that Germany and Britain were working together to prevent a catastrophe.

The Kaiser ordered his brother to drive into Berlin immediately to inform Bethmann Hollweg of the news. Heinrich delivered the message to the chancellor at 1.15 a.m. and had returned to Potsdam by 2.20. Wilhelm planned to answer the King on Friday morning. The Kaiser noted, happily, that the suggestions made by the King were the same as those he had proposed to Vienna that evening.

Surely a peaceful resolution was at hand?

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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14. The month that changed the world: Friday, 31 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Although Austria had declared war, begun the bombardment of Belgrade, and announced the mobilization of its army in the south, negotiations to reach a diplomatic solution continued. A peaceful outcome still seemed possible: a settlement might be negotiated directly between Austria and Russia in St Petersburg, or a conference of the four ‘disinterested’ Great Powers in either London or Berlin might mediate between Austria and Russia.

The German chancellor worried that if Sir Edward Grey succeeded in restraining Russia and France while Vienna declined to negotiate it would be disastrous; it would appear to everyone that the Austrians absolutely wanted a war. Germany would be drawn in, but Russia would be free of responsibility. ‘That would place us in an untenable situation in the eyes of our own people’. He instructed the ambassador in Vienna to advise Austria to accept Grey’s proposal.

In Vienna at 9 a.m. Berchtold convened a meeting of the common ministerial council, explaining that the Grey proposal for a conference à quatre was back on the agenda and that the German chancellor was insisting that this must be carefully considered. Bethmann Hollweg was arguing that Austria’s political prestige and military honour could be satisfied by the occupation of Belgrade and other points, while the humiliation of Serbia would weaken Russia’s position in the Balkans.

Berchtold warned that in such a conference France, Britain, and Italy were likely take Russia’s part and that Austria could not count on the support of the German ambassador in London. If everything that Austria had undertaken were to result in no more than a gain in ‘prestige’, its work would have been in vain. An occupation of Belgrade would be of no use; it was all a fraud. Russia would pose as the saviour of Serbia – which would remain intact – and in two or three years they could expect the Serbs to attack again in circumstances far less favourable to Austria. Thus, he proposed to respond courteously to the British offer while insisting on Austria’s conditions and avoiding a discussion of the merits of the case. The ministers agreed.

The British cabinet also met in the morning to consider France’s request for a promise of British intervention before Germany attacked. The cabinet divided into three factions: those who opposed intervention, those who were undecided, and those who wished to intervene. Only two ministers, Grey and Churchill, favoured intervention. Most agreed that public opinion in Britain would not support them going to war for the sake of France. But opinion might shift if Germany were to violate Belgian neutrality. Grey was instructed to request – from both Germany and France – an assurance that they would respect the neutrality of Belgium. They were not prepared to give France the promise of support that it had asked for; one of them concluded ‘that this Cabinet will not join in the war’.

Grey wired to Berlin to ask whether Germany might be willing to sound out Vienna, while he sounded out St Petersburg, on the possibility of agreeing to a revised formula that could lead to a conference. Perhaps the four disinterested Powers could offer to Austria to undertake to see that it would obtain ‘full satisfaction of her demands on Servia’ – provided that these did not impair Serbian sovereignty or the integrity of Serbian territory. Russia could then be informed by the four Powers that they would undertake to prevent Austrian demands from going to the length of impairing Serbian sovereignty and integrity. All Powers would then suspend further military operations or preparations.

Declaration of war from the German Empire 31 July 1914. Signed by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Countersigned by the Reichs-Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Declaration of war from the German Empire 31 July 1914. Signed by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Countersigned by the Reichs-Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Germany’s response was that it could not consider such a proposal until Russia agreed to cease its mobilization. In Berlin at 2 p.m. the the drohenden Kriegszustand (‘imminent peril of war’) was announced. At 3.30 p.m. Bethmann Hollweg instructed the ambassador in St Petersburg to explain that Germany had been compelled to take this step because of Russia’s mobilization. Germany would mobilize unless Russia agreed to suspend ‘every war measure’ aimed at Austria-Hungary and Germany within twelve hours. The time clock was to begin ticking from the moment that the note was presented in St Petersburg.

At 4.15 p.m. Conrad, the chief of the Austrian general staff, telephoned the office of the general staff in Berlin to explain the Austrian position: the emperor had authorized full mobilization only in response to Russia’s actions and only for the purpose of taking precautions against a Russian attack. Austria had no intention of declaring war against Russia. In other words, Russia could mobilize along the Austrian frontier and Austria could match this on the other side. And there the two forces could wait, without going to war.

This prospect terrified Moltke. He replied immediately that Germany would probably mobilize its forces on Sunday and then commence hostilities against Russia and France. Would Austria abandon Germany? Conrad asked if Germany thus intended to launch a war against Russia and France and whether he should rule out the possibility of fighting a war against Serbia without coming to grips with Russia at the same time. Moltke told him about the ultimatums being presented in St Petersburg and Paris, which required answers by 4 p.m. the next day.

At 6.30 p.m. the Kaiser addressed a crowd of thousands gathered at the pleasure gardens in front of the imperial palace. He declared that those who envied Germany had forced him to take measures to defend the Reich. He had been forced to take up the sword but had not ceased his efforts to maintain the peace. If he did not succeed ‘we shall with God’s help wield the sword in such a way that we can sheathe it with honour’.

In London and Paris they continued to hope that a negotiated settlement was possible. Grey suggested that Russia cease its military preparations in exchange for an undertaking from the other Powers that they would seek a way to give complete satisfaction to Austria without endangering the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Serbia. Viviani, the French premier and foreign minister, agreed. He would tell Sazonov that Grey’s formula furnished a useful basis for a discussion among the Powers who sought an honourable solution to the Austro-Serbian conflict and to avert the danger of war. The formula proposed ‘is calculated equally to give satisfaction to Russia and to Austria and to provide for Serbia an acceptable means of escaping from the present difficulty’.

In St. Petersburg that evening the German ambassador, in a private audience with Tsar Nicholas, warned that Russian military measures might already have produced ‘irreparable consequences’. It was entirely possible that the decision to mobilize when the kaiser was attempting to mediate the dispute might be regarded by him as offensive – and by the German people as provocative. ‘I begged him…to check or to revoke these measures’. The Tsar replied that, for technical reasons, it was not now possible to stop the mobilization. For the sake of European peace it was essential, he argued, that Germany influence, or put pressure on, Austria.

In Paris the German ambassador was to ask the French government if it intended to remain neutral in the event of a Russo-German war. An answer was required within 18 hours. In the unlikely case that France agreed to remain neutral, France was to hand over the fortresses of Verdun and Toul as a pledge of its neutrality. The deadline by which France must agree to this demand was set for 4 p.m. the next day

In St. Petersburg, at 11 p.m., the German ambassador presented the 12-hour ultimatum to Sazonov. If Russia did not abandon its mobilization by noon Saturday Germany would mobilize in response. And, as Bethmann Hollweg had already declared, ‘mobilization means war’.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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15. Margot Asquith’s Great War diary

Margot Asquith was the opinionated and irrepressible wife of Herbert Henry Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister who led Britain into war on 4 August 1914. With the airs, if not the lineage, of an aristocrat, Margot knew everyone, and spoke as if she knew everything, and with her sharp tongue and strong views could be a political asset, or a liability, almost in the same breath. Her Great War diary is by turns revealing and insightful, funny and poignant, and it offers a remarkable view of events from her vantage point in 10 Downing Street. The diary opens with Margot witnessing the scene in the House of Commons, as the political crisis over Irish Home Rule began to be eclipsed by the even greater crisis of the threat of a European war, in which Britain might become involved…

Friday 24 July 1914

The gallery was packed, Ly Londonderry and the Diehards sitting near Mrs Lowther—myself and Liberal ladies the other side of the gallery. The beautiful, incredibly silly Muriel Beckett and M. Lowther rushed round me, and others, pressing up, said ‘Good Heavens, Margot, what does this mean? How frightfully dangerous! Why, the Irish will be fighting tonight—what does it all mean?’ M. ‘It means your civil war is postponed, and you will, I think, never get it.’ I looked at these women who had been insolent to me all the session, when I added ‘If you read the papers, you’ll find we are on the verge of a European war.’

Margot Asquith

Redmond told H. that afternoon that if the Government liked to remove every soldier from Ireland, he would bet there would never be one hitch; and that both his volunteers and Carson’s would police Ireland with ease.

War! War!—everyone at dinner discussing how long the war would last. The average opinion was 3 weeks to 3 months. Violet said 4 weeks. H. said nothing, which amazed us! I said it would last a year. I went to tea with Con, and Betty Manners told me she had heard Kitchener at lunch say to Arthur Balfour he was sure it would last over a year.

Wednesday 29 July 1914

Bad news from abroad. I was lying in bed, resting, 7.30 p.m. The strain from hour to hour waiting for telegrams, late at night; standing stunned and unable to read or write; two cabinets a day; crowds through which to pass, cheering Henry wildly—all this contributed to making me tired. H. came into my room. I saw by his face that something momentous had happened. I sat up and looked at him. For once he stood still, and didn’t walk up and down the room (He never sits down when he is talking of important things.)

H.           Well! We’ve sent what is called ‘the precautionary telegram’ to every office in the Empire—War, Navy, Post Office, etc., to be ready for war. This is what the Committee of Defence have been discussing and settling for the last two years. It has never been done before, and I am very curious to see what effect it will have. All these wires were sent between 2 and 2.30 marvellously quick. (I never saw Henry so keen outwardly—his face looked quite small and handsome. He sat on the foot of my bed.)

M.          (passionately moved, I sat up, and felt 10 feet high.) How thrilling! Oh! Tell me, aren’t you excited, darling?

H.           (who generally smiles with his eyebrows slightly turned, quite gravely kissed me, and said) It will be very interesting.

Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-1916 is selected and edited by Michael Brock and Eleanor Brock. Until his death in April 2014, Michael Brock was a modern historian, educationalist, and Oxford college head; he was Vice-President of Wolfson College; Director of the School of Education at Exeter University; Warden of Nuffield College, Oxford; and Warden of St George’s House, Windsor Castle; he is the author of The Great Reform Act, and co-editor, with Mark Curthoys, of the two nineteenth-century volumes in the History of the University of Oxford. With his wife, Eleanor Brock, a former schoolteacher, he edited the acclaimed OUP edition H. H. Asquith: Letters to Venetia Stanley.

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Image credit: Margot Asquith. By Philip de László. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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16. What can poetry teach us about war?

There can be no area of human experience that has generated a wider range of powerful feelings than war. Jon Stallworthy’s celebrated anthology The New Oxford Book of War Poetry spans from Homer’s Iliad, through the First and Second World Wars, the Vietnam War, and the wars fought since. The new edition, published to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, includes a new introduction and additional poems from David Harsent and Peter Wyton amongst others. In the three videos below Jon Stallworthy discusses the significance and endurance of war poetry. He also talks through his updated selection of poems for the second edition, thirty years after the first.

Jon Stallworthy examines why Britain and America responded very differently through poetry to the outbreak of the Iraq War.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Jon Stallworthy on his favourite war poems, from Thomas Hardy to John Balaban.

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As The New Oxford Book of War Poetry enters its second edition, editor Jon Stallworthy talks about his reasons for updating it.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Jon Stallworthy is a poet and Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Oxford University. He is also a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the author of many distinguished works of poetry, criticism, and translation. Among his books are critical studies of Yeats’s poetry, and prize-winning biographies of Louis MacNiece and Wilfred Owen (hailed by Graham Greene as ‘one of the finest biographies of our time’). He has edited and co-edited numerous anthologies, including the second edition of The New Oxford Book of War Poetry.

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17. True or false? Ten myths about Isaac Newton

By Sarah Dry


Nearly three hundred years since his death, Isaac Newton is as much a myth as a man. The mythical Newton abounds in contradictions; he is a semi-divine genius and a mad alchemist, a somber and solitary thinker and a passionate religious heretic. Myths usually have an element of truth to them but how many Newtonian varieties are true? Here are ten of the most common, debunked or confirmed by the evidence of his own private papers, kept hidden for centuries and now freely available online.

10. Newton was a heretic who had to keep his religious beliefs secret.

True. While Newton regularly attended chapel, he abstained from taking holy orders at Trinity College. No official excuse survives, but numerous theological treatises he left make perfectly clear why he refused to become an ordained clergyman, as College fellows were normally obliged to do. Newton believed that the doctrine of the Trinity, in which the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost were given equal status, was the result of centuries of corruption of the original Christian message and therefore false. Trinity College’s most famous fellow was, in fact, an anti-Trinitarian.

9. Newton never laughed.

False, but only just. There are only two specific instances that we know of when the great man laughed. One was when a friend to whom he had lent a volume of Euclid’s Elements asked what the point of it was, ‘upon which Sir Isaac was very merry.’ (The point being that if you have to ask what the point of Euclid is, you have already missed it.) So far, so moderately funny. The second time Newton laughed was during a conversation about his theory that comets inevitably crash into the stars around which they orbit. Newton noted that this applied not just to other stars but to the Sun as well and laughed while remarking to his interlocutor John Conduitt ‘that concerns us more.’

8. Newton was an alchemist.

True. Alchemical manuscripts make up roughly one tenth of the ten million words of private writing that Newton left on his death. This archive contains very few original treatises by Newton himself, but what does remain tells us in minute detail how he assessed the credibility of mysterious authors and their work. Most are copies of other people’s writings, along with recipes, a long alchemical index and laboratory notebooks. This material puzzled and disappointed many who encountered it, such as biographer David Brewster, who lamented ‘how a mind of such power, and so nobly occupied with the abstractions of geometry, and the study of the material world, could stoop to be even the copyist of the most contemptible alchemical work, the obvious production of a fool and a knave.’ While Brewster tried to sweep Newton’s alchemy under the rug, John Maynard Keynes made a splash when he wrote provocatively that Newton was the ‘last of the magicians’ rather than the ‘first king of reason.’

7. Newton believed that life on earth (and most likely on other planets in the universe) was sustained by dust and other vital particles from the tails of comets.

True. In Book 3 of the Principia, Newton wrote extensively how the rarefied vapour in comet’s tails was eventually drawn to earth by gravity, where it was required for the ‘conservation of the sea, and fluids of the planets’ and was most likely responsible for the ‘spirit’ which makes up the ‘most subtle and useful part of our air, and so much required to sustain the life of all things with us.’

6. Newton was a self-taught genius who made his pivotal discoveries in mathematics, physics and optics alone in his childhood home of Woolsthorpe while waiting out the plague years of 1665-7.

False, though this is a tricky one. One of the main treasures that scholars have sought in Newton’s papers is evidence for his scientific genius and for the method he used to make his discoveries. It is true that Newton’s intellectual achievement dwarfed that of his contemporaries. It is also true that as a 23 year-old, Newton made stunning progress on the calculus, and on his theories of gravity and light while on a plague-induced hiatus from his undergraduate studies at Trinity College. Evidence for these discoveries exists in notebooks which he saved for the rest of his life. However, notebooks kept at roughly the same time, both during his student days and his so called annus mirabilis, also demonstrate that Newton read and took careful notes on the work of leading mathematicians and natural philosophers, and that many of his signature discoveries owe much to them.

GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689

5. Newton found secret numerological codes in the Bible.

True. Like his fellow analysts of scripture, Newton believed there were important meanings attached to the numbers found there. In one theological treatise, Newton argues that the Pope is the anti-Christ based in part on the appearance in Scripture of the number of the name of the beast, 666. In another, he expounds on the meaning of the number 7, which figures prominently in the numbers of trumpets, vials and thunders found in Revelation.

4. Newton had terrible handwriting, like all geniuses.

False. Newton’s handwriting is usually clear and easy to read. It did change somewhat throughout his life. His youthful handwriting is slightly more angular, while in his old age, he wrote in a more open and rounded hand. More challenging than deciphering his handwriting is making sense of Newton’s heavily worked-over drafts, which are crowded with deletions and additions. He also left plenty of very neat drafts, especially of his work on church history and doctrine, which some considered to be suspiciously clean, evidence, said his 19th century cataloguers, of Newton’s having fallen in love with his own hand-writing.

3. Newton believed the earth was created in seven days.

True. Newton believed that the Earth was created in seven days, but he assumed that the duration of one revolution of the planet at the beginning of time was much slower than it is today.

2. Newton discovered universal gravitation after seeing an apple fall from a tree.

False, though Newton himself was partly responsible for this myth. Seeking to shore up his legacy at the end of his life, Newton told several people, including Voltaire and his friend William Stukeley, the story of how he had observed an apple falling from a tree while waiting out the plague in Woolsthorpe between 1665-7. (He never said it hit him on the head.) At that time Newton was struck by two key ideas—that apples fall straight to the center of the earth with no deviation and that the attractive power of the earth extends beyond the upper atmosphere. As important as they are, these insights were not sufficient to get Newton to universal gravitation. That final, stunning leap came some twenty years later, in 1685, after Edmund Halley asked Newton if he could calculate the forces responsible for an elliptical planetary orbit.

1. Newton was a virgin.

Almost certainly true. One bit of evidence comes via Voltaire, who heard it from Newton’s physician Richard Mead and wrote it up in his Letters on England, noting that unlike Descartes, Newton was ‘never sensible to any passion, was not subject to the common frailties of mankind, nor ever had any commerce with women.’ More substantively, there is Newton’s lifelong status as a self-proclaimed godly bachelor who berated his friend Locke for trying to ‘embroil’ him with women and who wrote passionately about how other godly men struggled to tame their lust.

Sarah Dry is a writer, independent scholar, and a former post-doctoral fellow at the London School of Economics. She is the author of The Newton Papers: The Strange and True Odyssey of Isaac Newton’s Manuscripts. She blogs at sarahdry.wordpress.com and tweets at @SarahDry1.

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Image credit: Portrait of Isaac Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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18. The month that changed the world: Monday, 6 July to Sunday, 12 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Having assured the Austrians of his support on Sunday, the kaiser on Monday departed on his yacht, the Hohenzollern, for his annual summer cruise of the Baltic. When his chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, met with Count Hoyos and the Austrian ambassador in Berlin that afternoon, he confirmed that Germany would stand by them ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’. He agreed that Russia was attempting to form a ‘Balkan League’ which threatened the interests of the Triple Alliance. He promised to seize the initiative: he would begin negotiations to bring Bulgaria into the alliance and he would advise Romania to stop nationalist agitation there against Austria. He would leave it to the Austrians to decide how to proceed with Serbia, but they ‘may always be certain that Germany will remain at our side as a faithful friend and ally’.

In London the German ambassador, now back from a visit home, arranged to meet with the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, on Monday afternoon. Prince Lichnowsky aimed to persuade Grey that Germany and Britain should co-operate to ‘localize’ the dispute between Austria and Serbia. Lichnowsky explained that the feeling was growing in Germany that it was better not to restrain Austria, to ‘let the trouble come now, rather than later’ and he reported that Grey understood Austria would have to adopt ‘severe measures’.

On Tuesday the Austrian government met in Vienna to determine precisely how far and how fast they were prepared to move against Serbia. The meeting went on for most of the day. The emperor did not attend; in fact, he left the city that morning to return to his hunting lodge, five hours away, where he would remain for the next three weeks. Berchtold, in the chair, told the assembled ministers that the moment had come to decide whether to render Serbia’s intrigues harmless forever. He assured them that Germany had promised its support in the event of any ‘warlike complications’.

The Triple Alliance

The ministers agreed that vigorous measures were needed. Only the Hungarian minister-president expressed any concern. Tisza insisted that they prepare the diplomatic ground before taking any military action, otherwise they would be discredited in the eyes of Europe. They should begin by presenting Serbia with a list of demands: if these were accepted they would have achieved a splendid diplomatic victory; if they were rejected, he would vote for war. Berchtold and the others disagreed: only by the exertion of force could the fundamental problem of the propaganda for a Greater Serbia emanating from Belgrade be eliminated. The argument went on for hours, but Tisza had the power of a virtual veto: Austria-Hungary could not go to war without his agreement. Reluctantly, the ministers agreed to formulate a set of demands to present to Serbia. These should be so stringent however as to make refusal ‘almost certain’.

On Wednesday, 8 July, officials at the Ballhausplatz began working on the draft of an ultimatum to be presented to Serbia. They were in no hurry. The chief of the general Staff, Conrad von Hötzendorff, had determined that, with so many conscript soldiers on leave to assist in the gathering of the harvest, it would be impossible to begin mobilization before 25 July. The ultimatum could not be presented until 22-23 July.

By Thursday in Berlin they were beginning to envision a diplomatic victory for the Triple Alliance. The secretary of state, Gottlieb von Jagow, just returned from his honeymoon, told the Italian ambassador that Austria could not afford to be submissive when confronted by a Serbia ‘sustained or driven on by the provocative support of Russia’. But he did not believe that ‘a really energetic and coherent action’ on their part would lead to a conflict. From London, Prince Lichnowsky reported that Sir Edward Grey had reassured him that he had made no secret agreements with France and Russia that entailed any obligations in the event of a European war. Rather, Britain wished to preserve the ‘absolutely free hand’ that would allow it to act according to its own judgement. Grey appeared confident, cheerful and ‘not pessimistic’ about the situation in the Balkans.

Meeting with the German ambassador in Vienna on Friday, Berchtold sketched some preliminary ideas of what the ultimatum to Serbia might consist of. Perhaps they might demand that an agency of the Austro-Hungarian government be established at Belgrade to monitor the machinations of the ‘Greater Serbia’ movement; perhaps they might insist that some nationalist organizations be dissolved; perhaps they could stipulate that certain army officers be dismissed. He wanted to be sure that the demands went so far that Serbia could not possibly accept them. What did they think in Berlin?

Berlin chose not to think anything. The ambassador was instructed to inform Berchtold that Germany could take no part in formulating the demands. Instead, he was advised to collect evidence that would show the Greater Serbia agitation in Belgrade threatened Austria’s existence.

At the same time the fourth – but secret – member of the Triple Alliance, Romania, was warning that it would not be able to meet its obligations to assist Austria. Romanians, the Hohenzollern king advised, were offended by Hungary’s treatment of its Romanian population: they now regarded Austria, not Russia, as their primary enemy. King Karl did not believe the Serbian government was involved in the assassination and complained that the Austrians seemed to have lost their heads. Berlin should exert its influence on Vienna to extinguish the ‘pusillanimous spirit’ there.

By the end of the week Italy had added its voice to the chorus of restraint. The foreign minister, the Marchese di San Giuliano, insisted that governments of democratic countries (such as Serbia) ‘could not be held accountable for the transgressions of the press’. The Austrians should not be unfair, and he was urging moderation on the Serbians. There seemed every reason to believe that peace would endure: the British ambassador in Vienna thought the government would hesitate to take a step that would produce ‘great international tension’, and the Serbian minister there had assured him that he had no reason to expect a ‘threatening communication’ from Austria.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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Image credit: Map highlighting the Triple Alliance. By Nydas. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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19. Daniel Mendoza: born on the 4th of July (249 years ago)

By Ronald Schechter


This past 5 July was Daniel Mendoza’s 250th birthday. Or was it? Most biographical sources say that Mendoza was born in 1764. The Encyclopedia Britannica, the Encyclopedia Judaica, Chambers Biographical Dictionary, and the Encyclopedia of World Biography all give 1764 for Mendoza’s year of birth, as do the the websites of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Hall of Fame, WorldCat, and Wikipedia. The blue plaque on the house in Bethnal Green where Mendoza lived states that he was born in 1764. Indeed, Mendoza’s own memoirs claim that he was born on 5 July 1764.

But the records of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue at Bevis Marks in London indicate that Mendoza was actually born in 1765. Thanks to the work of Lewis Edwards, who reported his findings in a lecture to the Jewish Historical Society of England in 1938, and whose paper was subsequently published in the Transactions of that society, we know that the Mendoza was circumcised on 12 July 1765, 249 years ago today. Jewish law requires infant boys to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, and this would suggest a birth date of 4 July 1765. (Edwards writes that “we must take the date of birth to have been 5 July 1765,” but in that case Mendoza would only have been seven days old when he was circumcised, which would have violated Jewish law.) It would be quite a coincidence if another Daniel Mendoza had been born on 4 July 1765, and our Daniel Mendoza, whose family belonged to the same synagogue, had been missing from the circumcision records of the previous year. It is equally unlikely that Mendoza would have been circumcised at the age (almost exactly) of one year. Moreover, Edwards consulted the records of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons and found that “Daniel Mendoza, tobacconist, of Bethnal Green, aged 22,” was initiated into the society at some time between 29 October 1787 and 12 February 1788. We know from his memoirs that Mendoza had worked in a tobacconist’s shop between 1782 and 1787, and letters he wrote to the newspapers in 1788 gave his address as “Paradise-Row, Bethnal Green.” So it is reasonable to assume that the new initiate was Daniel Mendoza the pugilist.

Is it possible that Mendoza was mistaken about his own birth date? This seems unlikely, since if he knew he was 22 in late 1787 or early 1788 when he registered with the Freemasons, he should have known he was born in 1765. A printer’s error is more likely the cause. One can easily imagine a printer, or an apprentice, switching the type and accidently entering his “5” after “July” and placing his “4” after “176,” thereby changing 4 July 1765 to 5 July 1764. Whatever the reason for the error, once it was made it was bound to be repeated. When reporting on Mendoza’s death in September 1836, the Morning Post wrote that the boxer “had reached his 73rd year,” as did Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, when in fact he died in his 72nd. And the proliferation of this false information in the years following Mendoza’s death made made it “common knowledge.” Despite Edwards’s careful research, most of the people who have written about Mendoza in the last three quarters of a century have repeated the earlier mistake.

mendozap6-xsWhy does any of this matter? What difference does it make if Mendoza was 21 and not 22 when he defeated Martin the Butcher? Probably not much. Am I being pedantic by trying to determine the exact date of Mendoza’s birth? Not entirely. If historians are less than rigorous with details that “don’t matter,” we are likely to be lax when they do matter. Moreover, there is a case to be made that Mendoza’s birth year does matter. After all, we are dealing with a commemoration. The bicentennary of the French Revolution was commemorated in 1989, and any attempt to move it up to 1988 would have been seen as misguided. Similarly, Americans would have balked at the suggestion that they celebrate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1975 rather than 1976. The birth of a famous boxer is in a different category of world-historical importance, to be sure, but commemoration is commemoration, and it obeys certain rules. Centuries and half-centuries are more important than decades, which take precedence over individual years. How would you feel if you went to celebrate your grandmother’s 100th birthday only to find out when you arrived at the party that she was 99 (and that her birthday was the previous day)? You would wish her well, but somehow it wouldn’t be the same.

So let’s find some fitting way to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mendoza’s birth, but let’s do it next year, and on the 4th of July.

Ronald Schechter is Associate Professor of History at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of Obstinate Hebrews: Representations of Jews in France, 1715-1815 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) and translator of Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing with Related Documents (Boston and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004). He is author of the graphic history Mendoza the Jew: Boxing, Manliness, and Nationalism, illustrated by Liz Clarke. His research interests include Jewish, French, British, and German history with a focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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Images from Mendoza the Jew: Boxing, Manliness, and Nationalism, illustrated by Liz Clarke. Do not use without permission.

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20. Songs for the Games

By Mark Curthoys


Behind the victory anthems to be used by the competing teams at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, which open on 23 July, lie stories both of nationality and authorship. The coronation of Edward VII in 1902 prompted the music antiquary William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915) to investigate the origin and history of ‘God Save the King’. While the anthem had become ‘a sacred part of our national life’, Cummings could find no reliable trace of single authorship of its words, though concluded that the aptly-named organist and court musician John Bull (1559×63-1628) had the strongest claim to have composed its tune.

What, though, of the anthems of the nations of the United Kingdom, each separately represented at the Commonwealth Games? The national anthem itself was only gradually adopted as such after its first recorded performance in September 1745. Half-a-century later, its standing was sufficiently established to attract subversive parody. ‘God Save Great Thomas Paine’ was penned in 1793 by a Jacobin sympathiser, the Sheffield balladeer Joseph Mather (1737-1804), who was later subject to criminal proceedings which, for a year, prevented him from performing in public. By the late nineteenth century, public performances of ‘God Save the Queen’ itself provoked occasional hostile reactions in Ireland and Wales, as was noted by the encyclopaedist of music Percy Scholes (1877-1958), author of a definitive study (1954) of what he dubbed ‘the world’s first national anthem’. Political nationalism and cultural revivalism, respectively, inspired alternatives.

‘God Save Ireland’ (1867), written by the journalist and MP Timothy Daniel Sullivan (1827-1914), was rapidly adopted as a de facto national anthem. The more militant ‘A Soldier’s Song’ written in 1907 by the Irish revolutionary Peadar Kearney (1883-1942) did not initially catch on – it was said to be difficult to sing – but in the wake of the Easter Rising in 1916, it eclipsed Sullivan’s anthem and was later adopted by the Irish Free State and its successor Republic of Ireland. Remaining within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland in turn adopted ‘Danny Boy’ (1912), a ballad composed by a west of England barrister and prolific, commercially-successful songwriter Frederic Edward Weatherly (1848-1929) and set to the traditional ‘Londonderry Air’.

‘Land of my fathers’ (‘Hen wlad fy nhadau’), the national anthem of Wales, dates from 1856 when James James [Iago ap Ieuan] (1832-1902), an innkeeper, composed music to accompany words written by his father Evan James [Ieuan ap Iago] (1809-1878), a cloth weaver from Pontypridd. Like other anthems, its adoption was gradual, but its enthusiastic reception by people of Welsh descent around the world signified its status. ‘O land of our birth’, the anthem of the Isle of Man, also represented at the Commonwealth Games, was composed by William Henry Gill (1839-1923) of Manx parentage and education, who spent most of his life as a civil servant resident in the south of England. A Ruskinian folk revivalist, he visited the island at the end of the nineteenth century to collect folk songs, one of which he used for the musical setting of the anthem, first performed in 1907.

iStock_000038277552Small

The early twentieth century was a fertile period for patriotic song writing, most obviously ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, written in 1902 by the schoolmaster and don Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925) as a Coronation Ode to Edward VII, and sometimes proposed as a national anthem for England. Team England will instead use ‘Jerusalem’, whose musical origins lie in the Great War when, in early 1916, at the request of the ‘Fight for Right’ movement which sought to ’brace’ the nation to pursue the war in the face of mounting losses, Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918) set William Blake’s words to music.

At the Commonwealth Games between 1962 and 2006 Team Scotland used ‘Scotland the Brave’, whose lyrics were written by the Glasgow journalist Cliff Hanley (1922-1999). Recent research has established that they were a product of Hanley’s writing for the variety stage in Glasgow, and were originally performed as a rousing patriotic finale to the first act of a pantomime during the winter of 1952-3. Both the words and music of ‘Flower of Scotland’, the current anthem of Team Scotland, and a leading contender for an official national anthem, were written in about 1964 by Roy Williamson (1936-1990), a former art student in Edinburgh, and a leading figure in the city’s folk music revival. By 1990 hostility to the playing of ‘God Save the Queen’ at rugby internationals when England played Scotland at Murrayfield, Edinburgh, prompted the Scottish Rugby Football Union to seek a more acceptable sporting anthem. The choice of ‘Flower of Scotland’, with its echoes of Bannockburn, heralded a memorable Scottish rugby victory over England that year.

A musical acknowledgement of the multi-national basis of the United Kingdom awoke early morning listeners to BBC Radio 4 for nearly thirty years at the end of the twentieth century. The day’s broadcasts began with ‘UK Theme’, a medley of tunes representing the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, including Rule Britannia, Scotland the Brave, Men of Harlech, and the Londonderry Air, composed and conducted by Fritz Spiegl (1926-2003), an Austrian refugee from Nazism. It was removed from the schedule in 2006.

Dr Mark Curthoys is the Oxford DNB’s Research Editor for the nineteenth and twentieth century.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a collection of 59,102 life stories of noteworthy Britons, from the Romans to the 21st century. The Oxford DNB is freely available via public libraries across the UK, and many libraries worldwide. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ allowing members to gain access free, from home (or any other computer), 24 hours a day. You can also sample the ODNB with its changing selection of free content: in addition to the podcast; a topical Life of the Day, and historical people in the news via Twitter @odnb.

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21. The month that changed the world: Monday, 13 July to Sunday, 19 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Two weeks after the assassination, by Monday, 13 July, Austria’s hopes of pinning the guilt directly on the Serbian government had evaporated. The judge sent to investigate reported that he had been unable to discover any evidence proving its complicity in the plot. Perhaps the Russian foreign minister was right to dismiss the assassination as having been perpetrated by immature young men acting on their own. Any public relations initiative undertaken by Austria to justify making harsh demands on Serbia would have to rely on its failure to live up to the promises it had made five years ago to exist on good terms with Austria-Hungary.

Few anticipated an international crisis. Entente diplomats remained convinced that Germany would restrain Austria, while the British ambassador in Vienna still regarded Berchtold as ‘peacefully inclined’ and believed that it would be difficult to persuade the emperor to sanction an ‘aggressive course of action’. Triple Alliance diplomats found it difficult to envision a robust response from the Entente powers to any Austrian initiative: the cities of western Russia were plagued by devastating strikes; the possibility of civil war in Ulster loomed as a result of the British government’s home rule bill; the French public was already absorbed by the upcoming murder trial of the wife of a cabinet minister.

Austria and Germany tried to maintain an aura of calm. The chief of the Austrian general staff left for his annual vacation on Monday; the minister of war joined him on Wednesday. The chief of the German general staff continued to take the waters at a spa, while the Kaiser was encouraged not to interrupt his Baltic cruise. But behind the scenes they were resolved to act. On Tuesday Tisza assured the German ambassador that he was now ‘firmly convinced’ of the necessity of war: Austria must seize the opportunity to demonstrate its vitality; together with Germany they would now ‘look the future calmly and firmly in the face’. Berchtold explained to Berlin that the presentation of the ultimatum would be have to be delayed: the president and the premier of France would be visiting Russia on the 20-23 of July, and it was not desirable to have them there, in direct contact with the Russian government, when the demands were made. But Berchtold wanted to assure Germany that this did not indicate any ‘hesitation or uncertainty’ in Vienna. The German chancellor was unwavering in his support: he was determined to stand by Austria even if it meant taking ‘a leap into the dark’.

German statesman and diplomat Gottlieb von Jagow

One of the few discordant voices was heard from London, where Prince Lichnowsky was becoming more assertive: he tried to warn Berlin of the consequences of supporting an aggressive Austrian initiative. British opinion had long supported the principle of nationality and their sympathies would ‘turn instantly and impulsively to the Serbs’ if the Austrians resorted to violence. This was not what Berlin wished to hear. Jagow replied that this might be the last opportunity for Austria to deal a death-blow to the ‘menace of a Greater Serbia’. If Austria failed to seize the opportunity its prestige ‘will be finished’, and its status was of vital interest to Germany. He prompted a German businessman to undertake a private mission to London to go around the back of his ambassador.

The German chancellor remained hopeful. Bethmann Hollweg believed that Britain and France could be used to restrain Russia from intervening on Serbia’s behalf. But the support of Italy was questionable. In Rome, the Italian foreign minister argued that the Serbian government could not be held responsible for the actions of men who were not even its subjects. Italy could not offer assistance if Austria attempted to suppress the Serbian national struggle by the use of violence – or at least not unless sufficient ‘compensation’ was promised in advance.

From London Lichnowsky continued to insist that a war would neither solve Austria’s Slav problem nor extinguish the Greater Serb movement. There was no hope of detaching Britain from the Entente and Germany faced no imminent danger from Russia. Germany, he complained, was risking everything for ‘mere adventure’.

These warnings fell on deaf ears: instead of reconsidering Germany’s options the chancellor lost his confidence in Lichnowsky. Instead of recognising that Italy would fail to support its allies in a war, the German government pressed Vienna to offer compensation to Italy sufficient to change its mind. By Saturday, the secretary of state was explaining that this was Austria’s last chance for ‘rehabilitation’ and that if it were to fail its standing as a Great Power would disappear forever. The alternative was Russian hegemony in the Balkans – something that Germany could not permit. The greater the determination with which Austria acted, the more likely it was that Russia would remain quiet. Better to act now: in a few years Russia would be prepared to fight, and then ‘she will crush us by the number of her soldiers.’

On Sunday morning the ministers of the Austro-Hungarian common council gathered secretively at Betchtold’s private residence, arriving in unmarked cars. This time there was no controversy. After minimal discussion the terms of the ultimatum to be presented to Serbia were agreed upon. Count Hoyos recorded that the demands were such that no nation ‘that still possessed self- respect and dignity could possibly accept them’. They agreed to present the note containing them in Belgrade between 4 and 5 p.m. on Thursday, the 25th. If Serbia failed to reply positively within 48 hours Austria would begin to mobilize its armed forces.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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Image credit: Gottlieb von Jagow, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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22. The month that changed the world: Monday, 20 July to Thursday, 23 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


The French delegation, led by President Raymond Poincaré and the premier/foreign minister René Viviani, finally arrived in Russia. They boarded the imperial yacht, the Alexandria, while a Russian band played the ‘Marseillaise’ – that revolutionary ode to the destruction of royal and aristocratic privilege. The tsar and his foreign minister welcomed the visitors before they travelled to Peterhof where a spectacular banquet awaited them.

While the leaders of republican France and tsarist Russia were proclaiming their mutual admiration for one another, the Habsburg emperor was approving the terms of the ultimatum to be presented to Serbia three days later. No one was to be forewarned, not even their allies: Italy was to be told on Wednesday only that a note would be presented on Thursday; Germany was not to be given the details of the ultimatum until Friday – along with everyone else.

In London, Sir Edward Grey remained in the dark. He was optimistic; he told the German ambassador on Monday that a peaceful solution would be reached. It was obvious that Austria was going to make demands on Serbia, including guarantees for the future, but Grey believed that everything depended on the form of the demands, whether the Austrians would exercise moderation, and whether the accusations of Serb government complicity were convincing. If Austria kept its demands within ‘reasonable limits’ and if the necessary justification was provided, it ought to be possible to prevent a breach of the peace; ‘that any of them should be dragged into a war by Serbia would be detestable’.

Raymond Poincaré, President of France, public domain

On Tuesday the Germans complained that the Austrians were keeping them in the dark. From Berlin, the Austrian ambassador offered Berchtold his ‘humble opinion’ that the Germans ought to be given the details of the ultimatum immediately. After all, the Kaiser ‘and all the others in high offices’ had loyally promised their support from the first; to treat Germany in the same manner as all the other powers ‘might give offence’. Berchtold agreed to give the German ambassador a copy of the ultimatum that evening; the details should arrive at the Wilhelmstrasse by Wednesday.

That same day the French visitors arrived in St Petersburg, where the mayor offered the president bread and salt – according to an old Slavic custom – and Poincaré laid a wreath on the tomb of Alexander III ‘the father’ of the Franco-Russian alliance. In the afternoon they travelled to the Winter Palace for a diplomatic levee. Along the route they were greeted by enthusiastic crowds: ‘The police had arranged it all. At every street corner a group of poor wretches cheered loudly under the eye of a policeman.’ Another spectacular banquet was held that evening, this time at the French embassy.

Perhaps the presence of the French emboldened the Russians. The foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, warned the German ambassador that he perceived ‘powerful and dangerous influences’ might plunge Austria into war. He blamed the Austrians for the agitation in Bosnia, which arose from their misgovernment of the province. Now there were those who wanted to take advantage of the assassination to annihilate Serbia. But Russia could not look on indifferently while Serbia was humiliated, and Russia was not alone: they were now taking the situation very seriously in Paris and London.

But stern warnings in St Petersburg were not repeated elsewhere. In Vienna the French ambassador believed as late as Wednesday that Russia would not take an active part in the dispute and would try to localize it. The Russian ambassador there was so confident of a peaceful resolution that he left for his vacation that afternoon. The Russian ambassador in Berlin had already left for vacation and had yet to return; the French ambassador there returned on Thursday. The British ambassador was also absent and Grey saw no need to send him back to Berlin.

In Rome however, San Giuliano had no doubt that Austria was carefully drafting demands that could not be accepted by Serbia. He no longer believed that Franz Joseph would act as a moderating influence. The Austrian government was now determined to crush Serbia and seemed to believe that Russia would stand by and allow Serbia to ‘be violated’. Germany, he predicted, ‘would make no effort’ to restrain Austria.

By Thursday, 23 July, twenty-five days had passed since the assassination. Twenty-five days of rumours, speculations, discussions, half-truths, and hypothetical scenarios. Would the Austrian investigation into the crime prove that the instigators were directed from or supported by the government in Belgrade? Would the Serbian government assist in rooting out any individuals or organizations that may have provided assistance to the conspirators? Would Austria’s demands be limited to steps to ensure that the perpetrators would be brought to justice and such outrages be prevented from recurring in the future? Or would the assassination be utilized as a pretext for dismembering, crushing or abolishing the independence of Serbia as a state? Was Germany restraining Austria or goading it to act? Would Russia stand with Serbia in resisting Austrian demands? Would France encourage Russia to respond with restraint or push it forward? Would Italy stick with her alliance partners, stand aside, or join the other side? Could Britain promote a peaceful resolution by refusing to commit to either side in the dispute, or could it hope to counterbalance the Triple Alliance only by acting in partnership with its friends in the entente? At last, at least some of these questions were about to be answered.

At ‘the striking of the clock’ at 6 p.m. on Thursday evening the Austrian note was presented in Belgrade to the prime minister’s deputy, the chain-smoking Lazar Paču, who immediately arranged to see the Russian minister to beg for Russia’s help. Even a quick glance at the demands made in the note convinced the Serbian Crown Prince that he could not possibly accept them. The chief of the general staff and his deputy were recalled from their vacations; all divisional commanders were summoned to their posts; railway authorities were alerted that mobilization might be declared; regiments on the northern frontier were instructed to prepare assembly points for an impending mobilization. What would become the most famous diplomatic crisis in history had finally begun.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914. Read his previous blog posts.

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Image credit: Raymond Poincaré, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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23. review: Naughts and Crosses

+-+35697920_140Title: Naughts and Crosses

author: Malorie Blackman

date: 2001; Simon and Schuster

main character: Callum McGregor

 

 

Crosses and naughts. Blacks and whites.

Crosses and noughts is the British name for tic tac toe. Malorie Blackman uses the title to describe an alternative universe where Blacks are superior to Whites with Jim Crow type racism playing out in a contemporary setting. Callum is among a small group of naughts selected to attend a prestigious all Cross school. Sephy, a Cross, is Callum’s close friend and also attends this school.

At the same time, there’s espionage and tom foolery as the Cross dominated government works to maintain power. Things come to a head, people are killed and Callum becomes something we could not have predicted at the beginning of the book. He and Sephy begin as such naïve innocents so lacking in motivation that they do little to draw readers into the story. They somehow seem too old and too involved with the world to not understand how race is played out.

Blackman predicates her world on the racism that currently exists but in her world the privilege is reversed. Simple enough job of world building there! As mentioned, I didn’t care for the characters enough to invest in the story. The back and forth ‘lets be friends/lets not be friends’ was fickle and annoying. Labeled as a thriller, suspense was slow to boil. I was surprised that there were so many ‘Britishims’ in the book that left this American often wondering about the meaning. I wonder about the editing that changed the spelling in the title but left so much British in the books.

Naughts and Crosses is an award winning 5 books series that is extremely popular around the world. Malorie Blackman has written over 50 children’s and young adult books and currently serves as the United Kingdom’s Children’s Laureate 2013-15. Her most recent books is Noble Conflict (Doubleday).

Needless to say, I want to read more works by Ms. Blackman. While this book didn’t work well for me, there may be others that will.


Filed under: Book Reviews Tagged: British, Mallory Blackmon, speculative fiction

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24. The month that changed the world: Friday, 24 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


By mid-day Friday heads of state, heads of government, foreign ministers, and ambassadors learned the terms of the Austrian ultimatum. A preamble to the demands asserted that a ‘subversive movement’ to ‘disjoin’ parts of Austria-Hungary had grown ‘under the eyes’ of the Serbian government. This had led to terrorism, murder, and attempted murder. Austria’s investigation of the assassination of the archduke revealed that Serbian military officers and government officials were implicated in the crime.

A list of ten demands followed, the most important of which were: Serbia was to suppress all forms of propaganda aimed at Austria-Hungary; the Narodna odbrana was to be dissolved, along with all other subversive societies; officers and officials who had participated in propaganda were to be dismissed; Austrian officials were to participate in suppressing the subversive movements in Serbia and in a judicial inquiry into the assassination.

When Sazonov saw the terms he concluded that Austria wanted war: ‘You are setting fire to Europe!’ If Serbia were to comply with the demands it would mean the end of its sovereignty. ‘What you want is war, and you have burnt your bridges behind you’. He advised the tsar that Serbia could not possibly comply, that Austria knew this and would not have presented the ultimatum without the promise of Germany’s support. He told the British and French ambassadors that war was imminent unless they acted together.

Sergey Sazonov, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Sergey Sazonov, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

But would they? With the French president and premier now at sea in the Baltic, and with wireless telegraphy problematic, foreign policy was in the hands of Bienvenu-Martin, the inexperienced minister of justice. He believed that Austria was within its rights to demand the punishment of those implicated in the crime and he shared Germany’s wish to localize the dispute. Serbia could not be expected to agree to demands that impinged upon its sovereignty, but perhaps it could agree to punish those involved in the assassination and to suppress propaganda aimed at Austria-Hungary.

Sir Edward Grey was shocked by the extent of the demands. He had never before seen ‘one State address to another independent State a document of so formidable a character.’ The demand that Austria-Hungary be given the right to appoint officials who would have authority within the frontiers of Serbia could not be consistent with Serbia’s sovereignty. But the British government had no interest in the merits of the dispute between Austria and Serbia; its only concern was the peace of Europe. He proposed that the four ‘disinterested powers’ (Britain, Germany, France and Italy) act together at Vienna and St Petersburg to resolve the dispute. After Grey briefed the cabinet that afternoon, the prime minister concluded that although a ‘real Armaggedon’ was within sight, ‘there seems…no reason why we should be more than spectators’.

Nothing that the Austrians or the Germans heard in London or Paris on Friday caused them to reconsider their course. In fact, their general impression was that the Entente Powers wished to localize the dispute. Even from St Petersburg the German ambassador reported that Sazonov’s reference to Austria’s ‘devouring’ of Serbia meant that Russia would take up arms only if Austria seized Serbian territory and that his wish to ‘Europeanize’ the dispute indicated that Russia’s ‘immediate intervention’ need not be anticipated.

Berchtold made his position clear in Vienna that afternoon: ‘the very existence of Austria-Hungary as a Great Power’ was at stake; Austria-Hungary must give proof of its stature as a Great Power ‘by an outright coup de force’. When the Russian chargé d’affaires asked him how Austria would respond if the time limit were to expire without a satisfactory answer from Serbia, Berchtold replied that the Austrian minister and his staff had been instructed in such circumstances to leave Belgrade and return to Austria. Prince Kudashev, after reflecting on this, exclaimed ‘Alors c’est la guerre!

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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25. The Great War letters of an Oxford family

The First World War has survived as part of our national memory in a way no previous war has ever done. Below is an extract from Full of Hope and Fear: The Great War Letters of an Oxford Family, a collection of letters which lay untouched for almost ninety years. They allow a unique glimpse into the war as experienced by one family at the time, transporting us back to an era which is now slipping tantalizingly out of living memory. The Slaters – the family at the heart of these letters – lived in Oxford, and afford a first-hand account of the war on the Home Front, on the Western Front, and in British India. Violet and Gilbert’s eldest son Owen, a schoolboy in 1914, was fighting in France by war’s end.

Violet to Gilbert, [mid-October 1917]

I am sorry to only write a few miserable words. Yesterday I had a truly dreadful headache which lasted longer than usual but today I am much better . . . I heard from Katie Barnes that their Leonard has been very dangerously wounded they are terribly anxious. But are not allowed to go to him. Poor things it is ghastly and cruel, and then you read of the ‘Peace Offensive’ articles in the New Statesman by men who seem to have no heart or imagination. I cannot understand it . . . You yourself said in a letter to Owen last time that [the Germans] had been driven back across the Aisne ‘We hope with great loss.’ Think what it means in agony and pain to the poor soldiers and agony and pain to the poor Mothers or Wives. It is useless to pretend it could not be prevented! We have never tried any other way . . . No other way but cruel war is left untried. I suppose that there will be a time when a more advanced human being will be evolved and we have learnt not to behave in this spirit individually towards each other. If we kept knives & pistols & clubs perhaps we should still use them. Yesterday Pat & I went blackberrying and then I went alone to Yarnton . . . the only ripe ones were up high so I valiantly mounted the hedges regardless of scratching as if I were 12 & I got nice ones. Then I went to the Food Control counter & at last got 5 lbs. of sugar . . . It was quite a victory we have to contend with this sort of sport & victory consists in contending with obstacles.

Gilbert to Owen, [9 February 1918]

I have been so glad to get your two letters of Dec. 7th & 18th and to hear of your success in passing the chemistry; and also that you got the extension of time & to know where you are . . . I am looking forward to your letters which I hope will make me realise how you are living. Well, my dear boy, I am thinking of you continually, and hoping for your happiness and welfare. I have some hope that your course may be longer than the 4 months. I fear now there is small chance of peace before there has been bitter fighting on the west front, and little chance of peace before you are on active service. I wonder what your feelings are. I don’t think I ever funked death for its own sake, though I do on other accounts, the missing a finish of my work, and the possible pain, and, very much more than these, the results to my wife & bairns. I don’t know whether at your age I should have felt that I was losing much in the enjoyment of life, not as much as I hope you do. I fear you will have to go into peril of wounds, disease and death, yet perhaps the greater chance is that you will escape all three actually; and, I hope, when you have come through, you will feel that you are not sorry to have played your part.

Second Lieutenant Owen Slater ready for service in France

Second Lieutenant Owen Slater ready for service in France. Photo courtesy of Margaret Bonfiglioli. Do not reproduce without permission.

Owen to Mrs Grafflin, [3 November 1918]

This is just a very short note to thank you for the knitted helmet that Mother sent me from you some time ago. It is very comfortable & most useful as I wear it under my tin hat, a shrapnel helmet which is very large for me & it makes it a beautiful fit.

We are now out at rest & have been out of the line for several days & have been having quite a good time though we have not had any football matches & the whole company is feeling rather cut up because our O.C. [Officer Commanding] has died of wounds. He was an excellent [word indecipherable] father to his men & officers.

Margaret Bonfiglioli was born in Oxford, where she also read English. Tutoring literature at many levels led to her involvement in innovative access courses, all while raising five children. In 2008 she began to re-discover the hoard of family letters that form the basis of Full of Hope and Fear. Her father, Owen Slater, is one of the central correspondents. After eleven years tutoring history in the University of Oxford, James Munson began researching and writing full-time. In 1985 he edited Echoes of the Great War, the diary of the First World War kept by the Revd. Andrew Clark. He also wrote some 50 historical documentaries for the BBC.

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