04 September 1914 – Triple Entente

These are the bloodiest days of the war. Yesterday, the French government relocated to Bordeaux in the face of German advances; last night, the Kaiser’s guns opened up on the fortifications at Nancy, where the French Third and Second Armies’s flanks meet. Today, the first Belgian troops of Antwerp fire on advancing Germans with the support of a Minerva armored car, presaging the development of mechanical cavalry. Meanwhile, the German First Army is crossing before fortified Paris between the Oise and Marne rivers, breaking with the prewar Schlieffen Plan in exactly the way its eponymous author feared most.

In London, French Foreign Minister Théophile Pierre Delcassé (see above) meets today with Russian ambassador Alexander Benckendorff and British Foreign Minister Edward Gray to sign a mutual pledge that none of their nations will seek a separate peace with the Central Powers. Like the eponymous heroes of Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers, the allies pledge ‘all for one and one for all.’

The British, French, and Russian Governments mutually engage not to conclude peace separately during the present war. The three Governments agree that when terms of peace come to be discussed, no one of the allies will demand conditions of peace without the previous agreement of each of the other allies.

The brief joint communique signals that France is not breaking as it did in 1871, and that her government has moved to Bordeaux in order to continue their determined resistance rather than collapse in surrender. But it also signals a victory for Delcassé, whom the Kaiser calls “the most dangerous man for Germany in France.”

The fortified French capital was

General Alfred Graf von Schlieffen had worried that German armies would arrive too few and too exhausted to surround and besiege the fortified French capital. He was right to worry

Also present is Delcassé’s friend Paul Cambon. Together, they have been responsible for the most important French foreign policy successes of the last two decades, ending the Third Republic’s international isolation. They ended the colonial competition with England that Bismarck had encouraged, bringing the historical enemies together in the Entente Cordiale of 1904. Delcassé has also forged the alliance with Russia against their German foe. His prewar service as Minister of Marine is the reason why Britain’s fleet guards the northern coast of France today.

In a very real way, these two diplomats have done more than almost anyone else to make the Great War possible, yet their names are barely known to us nowadays. We tend to think of the Great War as a colossal failure of diplomacy during the July crisis, but it is also the product of French diplomatic success. And in the next few months, Delcassé will further succeed by bringing Italy into the war, winning them over from their recent alliance with the Central Powers.

Pierre Paul Cambon

Pierre Paul Cambon wore a pinky ring so future generations would know he was a dapper man of Paris

But as a past ambassador to St. Petersburg, Delcassé is also a Russophile who wants to see the Tsar annex the Dardanelles and Hellespont. He has not fully appreciated Bulgarian feelings on these matters, and when that country enters the war on the wrong side a year from now, it brings about the end of his ministerial career.

Sir Edward Grey is already a knight, and already author of one of this war’s most famous quotes at its outbreak: “The lights are going out all over Europe: we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” In fact, he has been a key figure in the diplomatic wrangling of July; his efforts to preserve continental peace have failed, some say because of his failure to clearly state the consequences to Germany if they attack Belgium.

During the war, he conducts secret negotiations about the shape of the postwar world that help exacerbate the Bulgarian problem, leading to his marginalization in the cabinet. After the demoralizing battles of 1916 help bring down Prime Minister Asquith’s coalition government, Grey goes into opposition and accepts a title of Viscount to switch from the House of Commons to the Lords. He will thereafter serve as ambassador to the United States and Chancellor of Oxford.

Ambassador Benckendorff does not live to see his monarch deposed or his country go back on its word; he dies of natural causes before the Russian Revolution, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Sir Grey

Sir Edward Grey’s communications with his German counterparts became a primary justification for Germany’s denial of responsibility for the outbreak of war and their invasion of Belgium