League of the Three Emperors

The "Three Caesars' Alliance" or League of the Three Emperors (German: Dreikaiserabkommen, Russian: Союз трёх императоров) was an alliance between the German Empire, the Russian Empire and Austria-Hungary, from 1873 to 1887. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck took full charge of German foreign policy from 1870 to his dismissal in 1890. His goal was a peaceful Europe, based on the balance of power. Bismarck feared that a hostile combination of Austria, France and Russia would crush Germany. If two of them were allied, then the third would ally with Germany only if Germany conceded excessive demands. The solution was to ally with two of the three. In 1873 he formed the League of the Three Emperors, an alliance of the Kaiser of Germany, the Tsar of Russia, and the Kaiser of Austria-Hungary. Together they would control Eastern Europe, making sure that restive ethnic groups such as the Poles were kept in control. It aimed at neutralizing the rivalry between Germany’s two neighbors by an agreement over their respective spheres of influence in the Balkans and at isolating Germany’s enemy, France. The Balkans posed a more serious issue, and Bismarck's solution was to give Austria predominance in the western areas, and Russia in the eastern areas.[1]

The first League of the Three Emperors was in effect from 1873 to 1875. A second one, formal and secret, was established June 18, 1881, and lasted for three years. It was renewed in 1884 but lapsed in 1887. Both alliances ended because of continued strong conflicts of interest between Austria-Hungary and Russia in the Balkans. The second treaty provided that no territorial changes should take place in the Balkans without prior agreement and that Austria could annex Bosnia and Herzegovina when it wished; in the event of war between one party and a great power not party to the treaty, the other two parties were to maintain friendly neutrality.

Bismarck was able temporarily to preserve the tie with Russia in the Reinsurance Treaty of 1887; but, after his dismissal, this treaty was not renewed, and a Franco-Russian alliance developed.[2]

Formation 1873

Bismarck in 1873

On 22 October 1873, Bismarck negotiated an agreement between the monarchs of Austria–Hungary, Russia and Germany. The alliance sought to resurrect the Holy Alliance of 1815 and act as a bulwark against radical sentiments the conservative rulers found unsettling.[3] It was preceded by the Schönbrunn Convention signed by Russia and Austria–Hungary on 6 June 1873.

Background and policy

Bismarck often led the League as it assessed challenges centered on maintaining the balance of power among the states involved and Europe at large. This cornerstone of his political philosophy included dedication to preserving the status quo and avoiding war. Despite German victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the violence remained fresh in the newly united state’s memory and made Germany reluctant to antagonize the French, but keen as ever to limit their power. According to the coalition, radical socialist bodies like the First International represented one of the other key threats to regional stability and dominance. For this reason, the League actively opposed the expansion of their influence.[4] The League also met crisis in the East where Bulgarian unrest elicited violent reaction from the Ottoman forces there, which in turn met with horror from observing states. The account of the insurrection from an Englishman named Sir Edwin Pears [5] both describes the atrocities in gruesome detail and reveals British surprise at their extent.

First dissolution 1878

The collective initially disbanded in 1878 over territorial disputes in the Balkans as Austria-Hungary feared that Russian support for Serbia might ultimately ignite irredentist passions in its tenuously grasped Slav populations.[6] Russian authorities likewise feared insurrection, should a Pan-Slavism movement gain too much clout.[6] The body’s first conclusion in 1879 gave way to the defensive Dual Alliance between Austria-Hungary and Germany to counter potential Russian aggression. In 1882 Italy joined this agreement to form the Triple Alliance.[7]

Revival 1881-1887

The 1878 Treaty of Berlin left Russia feeling cheated of her gains made in the Russo-Turkish War. Her key role in European diplomacy was not, however, forgotten by Bismarck. A more formal, officially documented The Three Emperors' Alliance was concluded on 18 June 1881.[8] It lasted for three years; it was renewed in 1884 but lapsed in 1887. Both alliances ended because of conflicts of interest between Austria-Hungary and Russia in the Balkans. To preserve common understanding with Russia, Germany signed the mutual Reinsurance Treaty in 1887.

See also


  1. Raymond James Sontag, European Diplomatic History: 1871-1932 (1933) pp 3-58
  2. "Dreikaiserbund". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016 <http://www.britannica.com/event/Dreikaiserbund>.
  3. Gildea 2003, p. 237.
  4. Henig, Ruth Beatrice (2002). The Origins of the First World War. Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 0-415-26185-6.
  5. Sir Edwin Pears, Forty Years in Constantinople, 1873-1915, (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1916), pp. 16-19, reprinted in Alfred J. Bannan and Achilles Edelenyi, eds., Documentary History of Eastern Europe, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970), pp. 191-194. found at , last visited June 24, 2011
  6. 1 2 Gildea 2003, p. 240.
  7. Text of the actual agreement, last visited June 24, 2011

Further reading

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