Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg
Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg (November 29, 1856 – January 1, 1921) was a German politician and statesman who served as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1909 to 1917.


Bethmann Hollwig was born in Hohenfinow
Hohenfinow is a municipality in the district of Barnim in Brandenburg in Germany....

, Brandenburg
Brandenburg is one of the sixteen federal-states of Germany. It lies in the east of the country and is one of the new federal states that were re-created in 1990 upon the reunification of the former West Germany and East Germany. The capital is Potsdam...

, the son of Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n official Felix von Bethmann Hollweg. His grandfather was August von Bethmann Hollweg, who had been a prominent law scholar, president of Frederick William University in Berlin, and Prussian Minister of Culture
Minister of culture
A culture minister is a Cabinet position in some governments responsible for protecting the national heritage of a country and promoting cultural expression....

. His great grandfather was Johann Jakob Hollweg, who had married a daughter of the Frankfurt am Main banking family of Bethmann
Bethmann family
The Bethmann family has been remarkable for the high proportion of its males who succeeded at mercantile or financial endeavors. This family trait began in medieval northern Germany and continued with the Bethmann bank which Johann Philipp Bethmann and Simon Moritz Bethmann founded in 1748 and...

, which attained great prosperity in the 18th century.

Cosima Wagner
Cosima Wagner
Cosima Francesca Gaetana Wagner, née de Flavigny, from 1844 known as Cosima Liszt; was the daughter of Hungarian composer Franz Liszt...

 was his relative from the von Bethmanns side, and his mother Isabella de Rougemont was a French Swiss
Swiss French
Swiss French is the name used for the variety of French spoken in the French-speaking area of Switzerland known as Romandy. Swiss French is not to be confused with Franco-Provençal/Arpitan or Romansh, two other individual Romance languages spoken in areas not far from Romandy.The differences...

. A June 1919 Associated Press
Associated Press
The Associated Press is an American news agency. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, which both contribute stories to the AP and use material written by its staff journalists...

 report from Berlin refers to Bethmann Hollweg as of Jewish descent. An article in Current Literature (July-December 1909) explains the new chancellor's origins this way: that he "had the social disadvantage of Jewish descent, the original Bethmann having been expelled from Holland in the seventeenth century for being a Hebrew. A hundred years later one Hollweg wedded a damsel of the house of Bethmann and the two names were hyphenated into one." British journalist Jonathan Carr
Jonathan Carr
Jonathan Carr was a British writer and journalist.Jonathan Carr may also refer to:*Jonathan Dodgson Carr, industrial baker, founder of Carr's*Jonathan Carr , American murderer in the Wichita Massacre...

 argues that this is incorrect; he writes that the mistake is made in part because the name looks Jewish, and also because the rise of the Bethmanns in banking coincided with that of the Rothschild
Rothschild is a common German surname. It is a habitational name from a house distinguished with a red shield , the earliest recorded example dating from the 13th century...

s in the same city.

Early life

He was educated at the boarding school of Schulpforta
Pforta, or Schulpforta, is a former Cistercian monastery, Pforta Abbey , near Naumburg on the Saale River in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It is now a celebrated German public boarding school, called Landesschule Pforta...

 and at the Universities of Strasbourg
University of Strasbourg
The University of Strasbourg in Strasbourg, Alsace, France, is the largest university in France, with about 43,000 students and over 4,000 researchers....

, Leipzig
University of Leipzig
The University of Leipzig , located in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university in Germany...

 and Berlin. Entering the Prussian administrative service in 1882 he rose to the position of the President of the Province of Brandenburg
Province of Brandenburg
The Province of Brandenburg was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia and the Free State of Prussia from 1815 to 1946.-History:The first people who are known to have inhabited Brandenburg were the Suevi. They were succeeded by the Slavonians, whom Henry II conquered and converted to Christianity in...

 in 1899. In 1889, Bethmann Hollweg married Martha von Pfuel
The German ancient noble family of Pfuel arrived in Brandenburg in the year 926 and later widened their influence to Saxony, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, Württemberg, Westphalia, Eastern Europe and Sweden....

, niece of Ernst von Pfuel
Ernst von Pfuel
Ernst Heinrich Adolf von Pfuel was a Prussian general.Pfuel was born in Jahnsfelde , Brandenburg. He served as commander of the Prussian sector of Paris from 1814-1815 during the Napoleonic Wars...

, Prime Minister of Prussia
Prime Minister of Prussia
The office of Minister President or Prime Minister of Prussia existed in one form or another from 1702 until the dissolution of Prussia in 1947. When Prussia was an independent kingdom the Minister President or Prime Minister functioned as the King's Chief Minister and presided over the Prussian...

. From 1905 to 1907 Bethmann Hollweg served as Prussian Minister of Interior, then as Imperial State Secretary for the Interior from 1907 to 1909. In 1909, on the resignation of Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow
Bernhard von Bülow
Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin von Bülow , named in 1905 Prince von Bülow, was a German statesman who served as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for three years and then as Chancellor of the German Empire from 1900 to 1909.Bülow was described as possessing every quality except greatness...

, Bethmann Hollweg was appointed to succeed him.

In power

In foreign policy, he pursued a policy of détente
Détente is the easing of strained relations, especially in a political situation. The term is often used in reference to the general easing of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1970s, a thawing at a period roughly in the middle of the Cold War...

 with Britain, hoping to come to some agreement that would put a halt to the two countries' ruinous naval arms race, but failed, largely due to the opposition of German Naval Minister Alfred von Tirpitz
Alfred von Tirpitz
Alfred von Tirpitz was a German Admiral, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, the powerful administrative branch of the German Imperial Navy from 1897 until 1916. Prussia never had a major navy, nor did the other German states before the German Empire was formed in 1871...

. Despite the increase in tensions due to the Second Moroccan Crisis of 1911, Bethmann Hollweg did improve relations with Britain to some extent, working with British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey to alleviate tensions during the Balkan Crises of 1912-1913, and negotiating treaties over an eventual partition of the Portuguese colonies and the Berlin-Baghdad railway. In domestic politics, Bethmann Hollweg's record was also mixed, and his policy of the "diagonal", which endeavoured to maneuver between the Socialists and Liberals of the left and the right-wing nationalists of the right, only succeeded in alienating most of the German political establishment.

Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo
Sarajevo |Bosnia]], surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River in the heart of Southeastern Europe and the Balkans....

 on June 28, 1914, Bethmann Hollweg and Foreign Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow
Gottlieb von Jagow
Gottlieb von Jagow was a German diplomat. He served as the foreign minister of Germany between January 1913 and 1916....

 were instrumental in urging the Austrians to take a tough stand against Serbia
Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...

, and later, took steps to prevent Grey's efforts to impose a peaceful solution on the quarreling parties. In the last days before the outbreak of war, however, he seems to have had some second thoughts, and he took half-hearted measures to support Grey's proposals of mediation, until Russia's mobilization on July 31, 1914, took the matter out of his hands.

Bethmann Hollweg, much of whose foreign policy before the war had been guided by his desire to establish good relations with Britain, was particularly upset by Britain's declaration of war following German violation of Belgium's neutrality in the course of her invasion of France, reportedly asking the departing British Ambassador Goschen how Britain could go to war over a "mere scrap of paper" (the Treaty of London of 1839
Treaty of London, 1839
The Treaty of London, also called the First Treaty of London or the Convention of 1839, was a treaty signed on 19 April 1839 between the European great powers, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of Belgium. It was the direct follow-up of the 1831 'Treaty of the XXIV Articles'...

 which guaranteed Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

's neutrality), a remark which would become infamous for its demonstration of German insensitivity to international law and treaty rights. However, it is accepted that Hollweg was involved closely in the decisions that authorised plans to destabilise Britain's colonies, most notably the Hindu German Conspiracy.
During the war, Bethmann Hollweg has usually been seen as having generally attempted to pursue a relatively moderate policy, but having been frequently outflanked by the military leaders, who played an increasingly important role in the direction of all German policy. However, this view has been partially superseded, as the work of historian Fritz Fischer
Fritz Fischer
Fritz Fischer was a German historian best known for his analysis of the causes of World War I. Fischer has been described by The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing as the most important German historian of the 20th century.-Biography:Fischer was born in Ludwigsstadt in Bavaria. His...

 in the 1960s showed that Bethmann Hollweg made more concessions to the nationalist right than had previously been thought. He supported the goal of ethnically cleansing
Ethnic cleansing
Ethnic cleansing is a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic orreligious group from certain geographic areas....

 Poles from the Polish Border Strip
Polish Border Strip
The Polish Border Strip , also known as the Polish Frontier Strip, refers to those territories which the German Empire wanted to annex from Congress Poland during World War I. It appeared in some plans proposed by German officials as a territory to be ceded by the Kingdom of Poland to the German...

, as well germanisation
Germanisation is both the spread of the German language, people and culture either by force or assimilation, and the adaptation of a foreign word to the German language in linguistics, much like the Romanisation of many languages which do not use the Latin alphabet...

 of Polish territories by settlement of German colonists. He presented the Septemberprogramm
The Septemberprogramm was a plan drafted by the German leadership in the early weeks of the First World War. It detailed Germany's ambitious gains should it win the war, as it expected...

, which outlined the aggressively expansionist goals for the war. After Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg , known universally as Paul von Hindenburg was a Prussian-German field marshal, statesman, and politician, and served as the second President of Germany from 1925 to 1934....

 and Erich Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg...

 replaced the more ineffectual Erich von Falkenhayn
Erich von Falkenhayn
Erich von Falkenhayn was a German soldier and Chief of the General Staff during World War I. He became a military writer after World War I.-Early life:...

 at the General Staff in the summer of 1916, his hopes for American President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

's mediation at the end of 1916 came to nothing, and, over Bethmann Hollweg's objections, Hindenburg and Ludendorff forced the adoption of unrestricted submarine warfare in March 1917, which led to the United States's entry into the war the next month. Bethmann Hollweg, all credibility and power lost, remained in office until July of that year, when a Reichstag revolt, resulting in the passage of the famous Peace Resolution by an alliance of the Social Democratic, Progressive, and Center parties, forced his resignation and replacement by the political nonentity Georg Michaelis
Georg Michaelis
Georg Michaelis became the first Chancellor of Germany with a non-noble background.-Biography :Michaelis, born in Haynau in the Prussian Province of Silesia, grew up in Frankfurt...


Inaction on Armenian Genocide

Turkey, allied with Germany during the war, pursued a campaign of mass expulsion and killings against Armenians beginning in 1915. Despite numerous dispatches from German diplomats urging action to be taken, the Reichskanzler refused to step in on behalf of the Armenians. Special Ambassador Wolff-Metternich
Paul Wolff Metternich
thumb|Paul Graf Wolff Metternich zur Gracht was a Prussian and German ambassador in London and Constantinople...

  addressed Bethmann Hollweg on 7 December 1915 from Constantinople: On 16 December, Bethmann Hollweg wrote in the margin:

Later life

Dr. von Bethmann Hollweg received prominent attention throughout the world in June 1919, when he formally asked the Allied and associated powers to place him on trial instead of Kaiser Wilhelm II
William II, German Emperor
Wilhelm II was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. He was a grandson of the British Queen Victoria and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe...

. The Supreme War Council
Supreme War Council
The Supreme War Council was a central command created by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George to coordinate Allied military strategy during World War I. It was founded in 1917, and was based in Versailles...

 decided to ignore his request. He was often mentioned as among those who might be tried by Allies for political offenses in connection with the origin of the war. In 1919 reports from Geneva said he was credited in diplomatic circles there as being at the bottom of the Monarchist
A monarchy is a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house. In some cases, the monarch is elected...

 movement in favor of both the Hohenzollerns and Habsburg
The House of Habsburg , also found as Hapsburg, and also known as House of Austria is one of the most important royal houses of Europe and is best known for being an origin of all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740, as well as rulers of the Austrian Empire and...

s, the nucleus of which was said to be under way in Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....


Bethmann Hollweg spent the short remainder of his life in retirement, writing his memoirs. A little after Christmas 1920, he caught a cold which developed into acute pneumonia. He died from this illness on January 1, 1921. His wife died in 1914 and he lost his eldest son in the war. He was survived by a daughter, Countess Zeech, wife of the Secretary of the Russian Legation at Munich.

External links

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