Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Forgotten Diplomat of the July Crisis: Prince Karl Max Lichnowsky

By Richard Hephner

When Prince Lichnowsky (1860–1928) left a comfortable retirement to become ambassador to the Court of St. James in the fall of 1912 he was given a difficult task but was not expected to accomplish it. It was his responsibility to repair damaged relations between Great Britain and Germany. He excelled at this job. Between the time of his appointment on 1912 and his departure in 1914 the prince negotiated an Anglo-German colonial treaty, updating the 1898 division of Portuguese colonies into spheres of economic influence between the two powers, played a constructive role in the 1912 Conference of Ambassadors that ended the First Balkan War and, in the main, brought about better feelings between Great Britain and Germany. 

Had Lichnowsky continued to be the trusted representative of his government, had they dealt frankly with him, and through him with us, after the murder of the Archduke, war might have been avoided.
British Foreign Minister Sir Edward Grey

His successes left his Foreign Office superiors in Berlin distrustful of him with his close relationship with the British Foreign Office. In July 1914, Lichnowsky pleaded with Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Gottlieb von Jagow to use discretion in their support of Austria. In his view, Britain would definitely support Russia and France in a war defending Serbia against Austrian aggression. Sadly the chancellor and the secretary did not trust Prince Lichnowsky's judgment because they believed him to be easily duped by the British.

Thus, his warnings that the Asquith government would honor its entente with France and use the German invasion of Belgium as a rationale for entering the conflict were ignored. After the war started, Lichnowsky returned to Germany and spent the rest of his life trying to justify his actions during the July Crisis.

In a privately circulated pamphlet (1916) he asserted that his efforts to prevent the outbreak of World War I had not been supported by his government. The pamphlet, published in January 1918, without his permission and widely distributed by the Allies, was the cause of his expulsion from the Prussian upper house.


  1. Edward Grey certainly appreciated Lichnowsky's efforts to avoid war, further recording, in the early 1920s

    Lichnowsy has necessarily shared the misfortunes from which he tried so sincerely to save his country. He had been the trusted agent of the German Government in keeping the peace of Europe in 1912-13 at the Conference of London. He knew how easily the crisis of 1914 might have been solved by similar methods after the Serbian reply to the Austrian ultimatum; but the German Government would neither use him nor agree to the method of Conference. Do his countrymen yet recognize not only how clear he was of any responsibility, but the debt that is owed him for his efforts for peace during the whole of his Embassy in London? We, at any rate, remember him gratefully for having tried to avert a war that has been a calamity for everyone, victors as well as vanquished.

    Lichnowsky had accurately advised Bethman-Holweg of what the British actions would be Germany attacked France through Belgium, but that advice had been ignored.

  2. Quite interesting. In perusing the Daily Telegraph edition of
    August 5, 1914 (they are posting daily the paper from 100 years ago through the duration of the war), I had a noticed a small item about the “mobbing” of the German embassy, which reported that:

    “Prince Lichnowsky was in the Embassy garden at the moment of the crowd’s arrival, conversing with members of his staff, but when he realised the nature of the demonstration he withdrew to the house . . . Large quantities of luggage have been despatched from the Embassy during the last day or two.”

    I assumed Prince Lichnowsky was an important personage, possibly the ambassador (note how the news item seems to assume this knowledge in the average reader), but did not know. This is very instructive.