Week 21

The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871) was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria. The complete Prussian and German victory brought about the final unification of Germany under King Wilhelm I of Prussia. It also marked the downfall of Napoleon III and the end of the Second French Empire, which was replaced by the French Third Republic. As part of the settlement, the territory of Alsace-Lorraine was taken by Prussia to become a part of Germany, which it would retain until the end of World War I when it was given back to France in the Treaty of Versailles. The conflict was a culmination of years of tension between the two nations, which finally came to a head over the issue of a Hohenzollern candidate for the vacant Spanish throne, following the deposition of Isabella II in 1868. The public release of the Ems Dispatch, which played up alleged insults between the Prussian king and the French ambassador, inflamed public opinion on both sides. France mobilized, and on 19 July declared war on Prussia only, but the other German states quickly joined on Prussia's side. It soon became evident that the Prussian and German forces were superior, due in part to their efficient use of railways and the better Krupp steel artillery. Prussia had the fourth densest rail network in the world; France had the fifth. A series of swift Prussian and German victories in eastern France culminated in the Battle of Sedan, at which Napoleon III was captured with his whole army on 2 September. Yet this did not end the war, as the Third Republic was declared in Paris on 4 September 1870, and French resistance continued under the Government of National Defence and later Adolphe Thiers. Over a five-month campaign, the German armies defeated the newly recruited French armies in a series of battles fought across northern France. Following a prolonged siege, Paris fell on 28 January 1871. The siege is also notable for the first use of anti-aircraft artillery, a Krupp piece built specifically to shoot down the hot air balloons being used by the French as couriers. Ten days earlier, the German states had proclaimed their union under the Prussian king, uniting Germany as a nation-state, the German Empire. The final Treaty of Frankfurt was signed 10 May 1871, during the time of the Paris Commune uprising of 1871. (The above from Wikipedia.)


In the sidebar are links to notes written by Prof. Bruce Thompson who lectures here at the Institute.  He taught a course called "The Long Century" some years ago and for that course he wrote these notes.  Some of the note topics are perfect for our class so I am sure you will enjoy having them.  We have them for three of our ten weeks.


Gordon Wright,

France in Modern Times, Fifth edition,

Norton paperback,

ISBN 9780393967050

This Amazon review is for: France in Modern Times (Fifth Edition) (Paperback) "Gordon Wright's "France In Modern Times" is an all-encompassing book about French history from the start of the 1789 Revolution to contemporary times. This book has been required reading in all of my French history classes and with good reason: it clearly defines the main themes of French history in language that everyone can understand. In other words, one does not have to be a professional historian or a graduate student like myself in order to understand the points that Wright is highlighting. Furthermore, Wright gives an outstanding bibliography that enables one to continue their research on the various topics that he discusses within the book. If you are looking for one book on modern French history, this is the one that you should buy!"

About the Author: Gordon Wright was William H. Bonsall Professor of History Emeritus at Stanford University. He was a past president of both the American Historical Association and the Society for French Historical Studies, and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His many other books include Raymond Poincare and the French Presidency; Rurual Revolution in France; The Ordeal of Total War: 1939-1945; and Between the Guillotine and Liberty: Two Centuries of the Crime Problem in France.

Alistair Horne,

La Belle France,

Vintage paperbacks,

ISBN 1400034876


"Fascinating. . . . Engaging. . . . Filled with 'hot-blooded' kings, royal mistressesÉand tales of cruelty, treachery and even, occasionally, heart-warming loyalty."

–San Francisco Chronicle

"[Horne] is a virtuoso of the character sketch and the illuminating vignette. . . . La Belle France, with its refreshingly subjective style, possesses more treasures than a whole wall full of textbooks."

–The Wall Street Journal

"A breathtaking tour of French history, from its earliest kings through the Mitterrand government. . . . There are few countries with a more fascinating history than France."

–The Seattle Times

"A useful and charming introduction to a nation that has oh-so-definitely helped make the modern world what it is. . . . Horne does a service in helping the reader navigate the complexities of French history."

–Los Angeles Times


Michael Howard,

The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France 1870-1871,

Routledge; 2nd ed. (Nov. 9, 2001),

ISBN 0415266718

'No outline can suggest the richness of detail and significance, or the superb command of language with which he invests his chronicle. His book is a masterpiece.' - Sunday Times

'Brilliantly written.' - Julian Critchley, The Week