|Bismarck, Roon and Moltke|
Nonetheless, the Prussians, with recent victories over Denmark and Austria behind them, definitely had the momentum going forward into 1870. The French Second Empire was, contrarily, certainly not at its best but still was subject to higher expectations. Not that long before, Napoleon III had seemed to have done the impossible. Not only had he brought about the restoration of the Bonaparte house to power and revived the Napoleonic French Empire but he had also managed to make a Bonaparte emperor acceptable to the crowned heads of Europe. He had ended the traditional antagonism between France and Britain, his armies won laurels for their hard fought victories against mighty Russia, secured control of southern Vietnam and made Cambodia a French protectorate. They won battles in China, Africa and, though it was a hard fought and bloody affair, had seen the Austrians removed from Lombardy. Armies around the world copied French fashions and while the royalists refused to accept him, he still managed to make even the Pope in Rome his dependent. It was a high point for French influence around the world.
|Napoleon III at Sedan|
Because of this downturn in French fortunes, it was all the easier for Bismarck, cunning character that he was, to provoke Louis Napoleon into instigating a war with Prussia. The French were not prepared, taking far too much for granted, while the Prussians were not. To use a not-so-technical term, France was basically curb-stomped by the Germans and the defeat at Sedan was the climax, though certainly not the end as France still had the ignominious end of the Paris Commune to look forward to. Neither army matched their traditional stereotype in this conflict. The French were slow, stuck rigidly to their plans and showed little initiative. The Germans, on the other hand, kept flexible, took risks and, as the old saying goes, ‘marched toward the sound of the guns’. Napoleon III himself, rather like his famous uncle at Waterloo, was not at his best on this occasion. Whether the King of Prussia was or not hardly mattered, Graf von Moltke was and that is all that ultimately mattered.
|Wilhelm I takes Napoleon's sword|
Monarchists played a major part in all of the events surrounding this momentous moment of European history. The war between France and Prussia was set off by the search for a new King of Spain after the overthrow in 1868 of Queen Isabella II who, having been unacceptable to the Carlists from birth, became unacceptable to the constitutional monarchists as well for being too conservative. Napoleon’s effort to find an ally to aid him against the Germans was also thwarted by monarchist opposition on two fronts, both regarding Italy as well as an at least perceived threat to the monarchy in Austria. The most important ally France could have had against Prussia was the Austrians. However, the Austrians were engaged in placating the Hungarians by implementing the “dualism” that would result in the Austrian Empire becoming Austria-Hungary which rather kept them busy. Austria also feared that if they became engaged in a war with Prussia, alongside France, the Italians might take advantage of the situation and go to war against them, so if Austria was to come on side, they wanted the Italians on side as well (where they could keep their eye on them).
|Proclaiming the King of Prussia "German Kaiser"|
Finally, there was also the issue of the royalists in France itself. Napoleon III had, throughout his reign, repeatedly taken action in the utterly futile cause of winning over the French royalists but, while many would fight for France, none would fight for him. Patrice de MacMahon, the commander of his army at Sedan, would fill the void left by Napoleon III with royalist support after suppressing the Paris Commune. The resulting national assembly had a monarchist majority, MacMahon was open to a restoration and the feuding French royalists had even managed to work out an acceptable compromise over who should take the throne. However, the designated heir, the Comte de Chambord, famously refused as he was told that the French tricolor would not be replaced with the Bourbon white as the national flag. That rather ended the discussion and while royalists thought that they could wait until the passing of Chambord for the next-in-line to the throne to bring about a restoration, Chambord lived longer than anyone expected and by the time he did go, the Third French Republic had taken root. The matter decided by the Battle of Sedan thus, ultimately, affected the House of Bourbon as well as the Houses of Bonaparte and Hohenzollern.