Ems Dispatch

Ems Dispatch

The Ems Dispatch ( _de. Emser Depesche), sometimes called the Ems Telegram, is the document that was used by France as a pretext to declare the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. It refers to a report about an incident in the town of Bad Ems which is a resort spa east of Koblenz on the Lahn river, at the time part of Prussia.

Earlier in 1870, the German Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (of the Roman Catholic branch of the "Hohenzollerns") had been offered the vacant Spanish throne. The French government, concerned over a possible Prusso-Spanish alliance between fellow Hohenzollerns, had protested against it, hinting about a war. Following the protests in France, Leopold had withdrawn his acceptance in July 1870. This was already considered a diplomatic defeat for Prussia, if not Germany. The French were not yet satisfied with this and demanded further commitments, especially a guarantee by the Prussian king that no member of his Hohenzollern family would ever be a candidate for the Spanish throne.

The incident

On 13 July 1870 King Wilhelm I of Prussia, on his morning stroll in the Kurpark in Ems, was waylaid by Count Vincent Benedetti, [Crankshaw, "Bismarck", p. 267] the French ambassador in Prussia since 1864. Benedetti had been instructed by Antoine Agénor Alfred, the Duc de Gramont, to present the French demand that the king should guarantee that he would never approve the candidacy of a Hohenzollern to the Spanish throne. The meeting was informal and took place on the promenade of the Kursaal with the King’s entourage at a discreet distance. The King refused to agree to the French demand "somewhat severely" but politely and the meeting ended.

From the meeting, the King's secretary Heinrich Abeken wrote an account which was passed on to Otto von Bismarck. Wilhelm described Benedetti as "very importunate." The King gave permission to Bismarck to release an account of the events.

Bismarck took it on himself to edit the report, sharpening the language. He cut out Wilhelm’s conciliatory phrases and emphasized the real issue. The French had made certain demands under threat of war; and Wilhelm had refused them. This was no forgery; it was a clear statement of the facts. [Taylor, "Bismarck, The Man and the Statesman", p. 121] Certainly the edit of the telegram released on the evening of the same day (13 July) to the media and foreign embassies gave the impression that both Benedetti was rather more demanding and the King exceedingly abrupt. It was designed to give the French the impression that King Wilhelm I had insulted Count Benedetti; likewise, the Germans interpreted the modified dispatch as the Count insulting the King. By editing the telegram, Bismarck intended to give France an opportunity to declare a war, as part of his plan to unify Germany. Indeed, he remarked "The Ems Telegram should have the desired effect of waving a red cape in front of the face of the Gallic [French] Bull." The edited telegram was to be presented henceforth as the cause of the war. [Taylor, p. 121]

Apparently the French were game. Following further improper translations and misinterpretations in the international press of 14 July (the French national holiday), the French public was outraged. France declared war on 19 July 1870.

Benedetti published an account of the meeting in "Ma Mission en Prusse" (1871).

Text of the Ems Telegram

Sent by Heinrich Abeken of the Prussian Foreign Office under King Wilhelm's Instruction to Bismarck.

Unedited version

His Majesty the King has written to me:

Count Benedetti intercepted me on the promenade and ended by demanding of me in a very importunate manner that I should authorize him to telegraph at once that I bound myself in perpetuity never again to give my consent if the Hohenzollerns renewed their candidature.

I rejected this demand somewhat sternly as it is neither right nor possible to undertake engagements of this kind [for ever and ever] . Naturally I told him that I had not yet received any news and since he had been better informed via Paris and Madrid than I was, he must surely see that my government was not concerned in the matter.

[The King, on the advice of one of his ministers] decided in view of the above-mentioned demands not to receive Count Benedetti any more, but to have him informed by an adjutant that His Majesty had now received [from Leopold] confirmation of the news which Benedetti had already had from Paris and had nothing further to say to the ambassador.

His Majesty suggests to Your Excellency that Benedetti's new demand and its rejection might well be communicated both to our ambassadors and to the Press.

Bismarck's published, doctored version

After the news of the renunciation of the Prince von Hohenzollern had been communicated to the Imperial French government by the Royal Spanish government, the French Ambassador in Ems made a further demand on His Majesty the King that he should authorize him to telegraph to Paris that His Majesty the King undertook for all time never again to give his assent should the Hohenzollerns once more take up their candidature.

His Majesty the King thereupon refused to receive the Ambassador again and had the latter informed by the adjutant of the day that His Majesty had no further communication to make to the Ambassador.



*Crankshaw, Edward. "Bismarck". The Viking Press. 1981.
* cite journal
first = William M.
last = Sloane
authorlink = William Milligan Sloane
year = 1900
month = December
title = Bismarck as a Maker of Empire
journal = Political Science Quarterly
volume = 15
issue = 4
pages = 647–66
id = ISSN|0032-3195
url = http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0032-3195%28190012%2915%3A4%3C647%3ABAAMOE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-J
accessdate = 2007-01-29
doi = 10.2307/2140466

*Taylor, A. J. P. "Bismarck, The Man and the Statesman". New York: Vintage Books. 1967.
* [http://www.documentarchiv.de/nzjh/ndbd/emser-depesche.html Both Ems Dispatch versions in their German original]

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