Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Bernhard von Bülow

Prince Bernhard Heinrich Karl Martin von Bülow (1849 - 1929) was a German statesman

Table of contents
1 Family
2 Diplomatic Career
3 Chancellor
4 Further Career
5 Principal Offices


He was born at Klein-Flottbeck, in Holstein. His great uncle, Heinrich von Bülow, was Prussian ambassador to England from 1827 to 1840, and married a daughter of Wilhelm von Humboldt. His father, Bernhard Ernst von Bülow, was a Danish and German statesman.

Diplomatic Career

Bernhard von Bülow, after serving in the Franco-Prussian War, entered first the Prussian Civil Service, and then the diplomatic service. In 1876 he was appointed attaché to the German embassy in Paris, and became second secretary to the embassy in 1880. In 1884 he became first secretary to the embassy at St Petersburg, and acted as charge d'affaires; in 1888 he was appointed envoy at Bucharest, and in 1893 to the post of German ambassador at Rome. In 1897, on the retirement of Baron Marshall von Bieberstein, he was appointed secretary of state for foreign affairs (the same office which his father had held) under Prince Hohenlohe, with a seat in the Prussian ministry. As foreign secretary Bülow was chiefly responsible for carrying out the policy of colonial expansion (or Weltpolitik) with which the emperor had identified himself, and in 1899, on bringing to a successful conclusion the negotiations by which the Caroline Islands were acquired by Germany, he was raised to the rank of Count. On the resignation of Hohenlohe in 1900 he was chosen to succeed him as chancellor of the empire and Prime Minister of Prussia.


His first conspicuous act as chancellor was a masterly defence in the Reichstag of German imperialism in China. Bülow often spent his time defending German foreign policy before the parliament; to say nothing of covering for the many gaffes of Wilhelm II. On the 6th of June 1905 Count Bulow was raised to the rank of prince (Fürst), on the occasion of the marriage of the crown prince. The coincidence of this date with the fall of Theophile Delcasse, the French minister for foreign affairs, a triumph for Germany and a humiliation for France, was much commented on at the time; and the elevation of Bismarck to the rank of prince in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles was recalled. Whatever element of truth there may have been in this, however, the significance of the incident was much exaggerated.

On the 5th of April 1906, while attending a debate in the Reichstag, Prince Bülow was seized with illness, the result of overwork and an attack of influenza, and was carried unconscious from the hall. At first it was thought that the attack would be fatal, and Lord Fitzmaurice in the House of Lords compared the incident with that of the death of Chatham, a compliment much appreciated in Germany. The illness, however, quickly took a favorable turn, and after a months rest the chancellor was able to resume his duties. In 1907 Prince Bülow was made the subject of a disgraceful libel, which received more attention than it deserved because it coincided with the Harden-Moltke scandals; his character was, however,completely vindicated,and the libeller, a journalist named Brand, received a term of imprisonment.

The parliamentary skill of Prince Bülow in holding together the heterogeneous elements of which the government majority in the Reichstag was composed, no less than the diplomatic tact with which he from time to time interpreted the imperial indiscretions to the world, was put to a rude test by the famous interview with the German emperor, published in the London Daily Telegraph of the 28th of October 1908, which aroused universal reprobation in Germany. Prince Bülow assumed the official responsibility, and tendered his resignation to the emperor, which was not accepted; but the chancellors explanation in the Reichstag on the 10th of November showed how keenly he felt his position. He declared his conviction that the disastrous results of the interview would induce the emperor in future to observe that strict reserve, even in private conversations, which is equally indispensable in the interest of a uniform policy and for the authority of the crown, adding that, in the contrary case, neither he nor any successor of his could assume the responsibility. It was not the imperial indiscretions, but the effect of his budget proposals in breaking up the Liberal-Conservative bloc, on whose support he depended in the Reichstag, that eventually drove Prince Bülow from office (see GERMANY: History). At the emperors request he remained to pilot the mutilated budget through the House; but on the 14th of July 1909 the acceptance of his resignation was announced. He was succeeded by Theobald von Bethmann-Hollwegg.

Further Career

From 1914 to 1915 Bülow was ambassador to Italy, but failed to bring her onto the side of Germany, or even to persuade her to maintain her neutrality. He regarded his task as impossible in any case, and on returning remarked: "Morale and attitude of the German people: A-1. Political leadership: Z-Minus." Although many of the leading figures in the Reichstag (including Matthias Erzberger) hoped that Bülow would succeed Bethmann upon the latter's dismissal in 1917, the former Chancellor was overlooked. Prince von Bülow died in 1929.

Principal Offices

Chancellor of Germany
Preceded by:
Prince Hohenlohe
1900 - 1909 Followed by:
Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg
Prime Minister of Prussia
Preceded by:
'''Prince Hohenlohe
1900 - 1909 Followed by:
'''Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg