I have just finished reading this book. According to author Ian Dunlop, there is simply no end to the "straight-forward honesty, open diplomacy, vast diplomatic knowledge, peaceful-loving labors, keen insight, masterly decisiveness," (Barnes) and just plain irresistable charisma, of King Edward VII. The charismatic King maintained these magisterial characteristics, according to Dunlop, even against an unrelenting backdrop of persistant, unconscionable German scheming and plotting to undermine the peace of Europe.
Yes, Ian Dunlop is partisan to the nth degree, but nevertheless lets the cat out of the bag. He tells us that his very high opinion of Edward VII was not shared by his mother, Queen Victoria. The Queen considered her son (nicknamed "Bertie") to be immature, irresponsible, and entirely unsuited to his high calling. She felt that "Bertie" was unqualified to be entrusted wth the affairs of State and told her daughter Vicky that "I never can or shall look at him without a shudder." To the end of her days, Queen Victoria considered the untimely death of her beloved husband as due to the pressure and anxiety brought about by the indiscretions - sexual and otherwise - of her eldest son while he was still Prince of Wales.
One thing is certain: King Edward VII had no intention of being a mere ceremonial figurehead. Ian Dunlop tells us that:
"When the King ascended the throne, he demanded, and very rightly too, that he should not be ignored and that he should be consulted especially in connection with Foreign Affairs. To this demand he experienced at first a certain opposition, especially on the part of the Foreign Office, and had, in my opinion, good grounds for complaint. However, he was not the sort of man to be thwarted by any Cabinet or Minister and he very soon leveled all the barriers opposed to him by the soundness of his views on all matters referred to him, and soon convinced the Government that from his knowledge of men and his shrewd appreciation of events his advice was well worth taking on all questions of the hour."
Of course, Edward VII understood the definition of "constitutional monarchy" as well as anyone and exercised the necessary discretion by avoiding the giving of direct orders or personally directing the appointment of underlings. But in fact, in the direction of British foreign policy, King Edward VII was no less autocratic than Henry VIII. And why not? Which Cabinet member or MP was willing to step forward and inform the King that he was overstepping his constitutional authority?
Leon Gambetta was the French republican firebrand who gained fame with his spectacular balloon escape from Paris in October of 1870. He came to symbolize the fondest hopes of the revanchards who dreamed of a European war in which a victorious France would reclaim the 'lost provinces' of Alsace and Lorraine. The burning flame of revanche was kept alive in French hearts by Gambetta's famous phrase" "Speak of it never; think of it always." Even more to the point, Gambetta had written: "Le Prussianisme - voila l'enemi!"
A subsequent meeting with Gambetta confirmed Edward's sympathy but, alas, in 1882, Gambetta's life (at age forty-two) was abruptly ended by an accidental revolver discharge.
After this, the Prince of Wales aligned himself with Theophile Delcasse who was at least as intent upon the recovery of Alsace/Lorraine as Leon Gambetta. The Moroccan crisis of 1905, while Delcasse was Foreign Minister and had just concluded the Entente Cordiale with his British counterpart Lord Landsdowne, proved to be the proverbial stroke of lightening which lit up the European political landscape. At the height of the crisis, the Wilhelmstrasse sent Prince von Donnersmarck, an "unofficial" representative, to convey the German position in no uncertain terms. Francis Charmes recalls the German message as follows:
"The question of Morocco, considered in itself, could be resolved in five minutes, for there is in Morocco no incompatibility between the projects of France and those of Germany . . . But the present dissension goes a lot deeper than Morocco. What is at stake is the general relationship between France and Germany. We have had enough of being treated by you as if we did not exist. You talk intimately with all the Powers; you never want to talk to us. You receive in Paris al the foreign sovereigns; you exclude only Wilhelm. In all the great capitals you are represented with by very distinguished Ambassadors; at Berlin you have as your representative a vacant puppet with whom all conversation is impossible . . . Well! This has got to stop! And we want to have with you not only relaxed relations but intimacy . . . Yes, intimacy. Because if we do not bind ourselves intimately you will make an an alliance with the English. Now! Not at any price - you understand me? Not at any price will we allow a Franco-British alliance."
The French [Foreign Minister Delcasse) response was no less illuminating: "A French alliance with Germany would mean the ratification by France of her dismemberment and the loss of her provinces." This response as well as many others confirms that - contrary to Sir E. Grey's assertions - the issue of Alsace/Lorraine was very much a major determinant of French foreign policy in 1914.
In 1907, Edward VII went on to repeat his spectacular Paris accomplishments in St. Petersburg, thoroughly alarming the Wilhelmstrasse. In German newspapers, Edward VII was beginning to be referred to as Eduard der Einkreiser (Edward the Encircler).
It is often forgotten that the British were the first of the great powers to mobilize their war machine, in this case the Grand Fleet of the Royal Navy. On July 19, the British had already staged a formidable naval demonstration with a review of the Grand Fleet at Portsmouth. On the afternoon of July 28, Winston Churchill ordered the fleet to proceed during the night at high speed with no lights from Portsmouth through the Straits of Dover to its wartime base of operations at Scapa Flow, north of Scotland. On July 29, the official ``warning telegram'' was sent out from the Admiralty; the British fleet was now on a full war footing.
King Edward VII was, effectively, the British Foreign Minister during his rein. His choice of, first, Leon Gambetta, and then, Theophile Delcasse, clearly illustrate his motive: enforce the traditional British strategy of supporting the 2nd European Power against the 1st, and prepare for war with the 1st: Germany - in order to keep Continental hegemony in British hands.
King Edward did not live to see his carefully sown seeds bear their intended fruit in 1914, but his protoge, Sir Edward, thanks to King Edward's preparation, was able to use the Sarajevo crisis to guide the opposing alliance systems into collision.
Great Britain, in the person(s) of the two Edwards, King and Lord, caused the Great War of 1914-18.