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1871 Proclamation of the German Empire



18 January 1871

In a France defeated and invaded after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Chancellor Bismarck proclaimed the German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors. This was Germany’s revenge for the humiliations imposed by Louis XIV and Napoléon I.

On 19 July 1870, France declared war on Prussia. It capitulated at Sedan on 2 September. Prussia then invaded France. On 19 September, it besieged Paris and the first Prussian troops arrived in Versailles. On 5 October, William I and Bismarck moved into the town to prepare the proclamation of the German Empire from the Château.

Since the mid-1860s, Prussia had emerged enlarged and fortified from its campaigns against Austria and Denmark. It now extended from the Rhine to Russia. Bismarck, its Chancellor, attempted to federate the other German states around Prussia in order to create an empire at the expense of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, its rival. He wanted Germany to become the new power of central Europe, between France and Russia. He had managed to constitute the Confederation of Northern Germany which united all the states except those of the south. Hesse and Baden, followed by Bavaria and Wurtemberg finally joined in November 1870. King Louis II of Bavaria, in fact, refused to join the other German princes in Versailles. Was this out of love of the place and Louis XIV? Whatever the reason, his brother Otto negotiated in his place. So the proclamation of German unity could be made.

On 16 December 1870, a delegation from the Parliament of Northern Germany arrived in Versailles. It came to beseech the king of Prussia to accept the title of Emperor of Germany. The Confederation was dissolved on the 20th. The proclamation of the Empire was fixed for 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors. An altar was set up here for the religious ceremony. A stage was installed along the side next to the Salon of War, facing the spot where the throne of Louis XIV stood. 600 officers and all the German princes were present except Louis II. After the Te Deum, Bismarck, in his cuirassier’s uniform, read out the proclamation. When he had finished, the Grand-Duke of Baden shouted “Long live his Majesty the Emperor William!” The room rocked with the assembly’s “hurrahs!”. The Chancellor had finally made his dream come true under the paintings of Le Brun glorifying the victories of Louis XIV on the Rhine. He had also achieved his revenge for the defeat of Iena in 1806. The Germans soon left Versailles to the elected representatives of defeated France.

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