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Chapter VIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4


Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5 6

Meantime the body of the last male descendant of a line which had reigned in Denmark and the duchies for four hundred years, was carried to its rest in the ancient cathedral of Roskilde, which, like the sacred isle of Iona " for his royal brothers ox Norway, had been during many generations -

The sacred storehouse of his predecessors.
And guardian of their bones.

Yielding to the advice of Lord Russell, the Danes had offered no resistance to the execution; but when - probably after hearing of the proposal made to the Diet by Austria and Prussia on the 28th December - the Foreign Secretary sent Lord Wodehouse to Copenhagen to induce the Danish Government to revoke the constitution of the 18th November, the mission was ineffectual. In a despatch of the 31st December, Lord Russell proposed to the Diet that a conference of representatives of the Powers who signed the Treaty of London, together with a representative of the Bund, should meet and take into their consideration the points in dispute between Denmark and Germany; and that in the meantime, and until the conference had finished its labours, the status quo should be maintained. The proposal was received with cold disapproval by most of the members of the Diet, and Sir A. Malet wrote, a few days afterwards (January 8, 1864), " There is an absolute persuasion that England will not interfere materially, and our counsels, regarded as unfriendly, have no weight."

Prussia and Austria, having announced their intention of acting independently of the Diet, carried out their plans with energy and celerity. They informed the Diet that the Austrian and Prussian troops who were about to invade Schleswig must necessarily pass through Holstein, and with ironical courtesy expressed their conviction that the Civil Commissioners and Lieutenant-General von Hake, the Commander-in-Chief of the execution troops, would facilitate to the utmost of their power the passage of their armies. The Danes saw the gathering storm, yet made no sign of yielding; on the contrary, Bishop Monrad, the Premier, declared, in the Landthing, or Upper House, on the 22nd January, that the programme of the Government was simply this - not to allow a single German soldier to pass the Eider without offering the best resistance in their power, and to use every effort to expel from Schleswig all who should venture to intrude. The truth is, Denmark reckoned with tolerable confidence on receiving material aid from the Western Powers, particularly from England; and this hope was encouraged by the knowledge that Earl Russell was indefatigable in writing to, and sounding the intentions of, nearly every court in Europe, and that in a despatch to Paris he had spoken of " material assistance " to Denmark to prevent her dismemberment. The Danes also placed considerable reliance on the strength of the Dannewerke, an immense system of earth-works, strengthened by forts, designed originally to protect Schleswig, and stretching to the south of that town, from a point on the estuary of the Schlei eastward to the town of Hellingstadt westward. Unfortunately their army, not exceeding 30,000 men, was too weak to defend so long a line against invaders who brought twice that number into the field. General Julius de Meza, the same who had behaved with such gallantry at the battle of Idsted, was Commander-in-Chief of the Danes; the Austro - Prussian army was under the command of Marshal Wrangel. On the 31st January, the Marshal summoned General De Meza to evacuate the town of Schleswig, in order to prevent the effusion of blood; to which the answer of the Dane was that he had orders to defend it. At midnight, between the 31st January and 1st February, the Prussians, holding the right of the allied army, crossed into Schleswig and advanced upon Eckernforde, at the head of the bay of the same name, from which the Danes retired. The Austrian troops, on the left, crossed the border on the same night at Rendsburg. On the 2nd February, the Prussians were repulsed with loss in an attempt to carry the tête du pont at Missunde, the point at which the Schlei narrows sufficiently to be bridged over. Nor did the Austrians meet with any better success in the attack which they made the same day on the works of the Dannewerke, at Bustorf. For the moment fortune seemed to shine on the Danish cause, but a few days changed the whole aspect of affairs. General De Meza had not enough troops to keep an effective watch along the whole course of the Schlei, from Missunde to the sea. A body of Prussian troops was transported across the estuary in fishing-boats, on the night of the 5th February, during a snow-storm, at an unguarded point between the villages of Arnis and Cappeln; an additional force crossed unopposed by a pontoon bridge; and thus the left of the Danish position was turned. At the same time the Austrians attacked the Dannewerke in front, and General De Meza, finding his position no longer tenable, for the Prussians on his left would in a very short time have cut off his line of retreat, withdrew his army in the direction of Flensborg, abandoning the whole of the heavy artillery with which the forts were armed. The mortification at Copenhagen, when the news of the loss of the Dannewerke reached the city, was intense; the cry of treason was raised by the populace, and De Meza was superseded by General De Lüttichau. Retreating northwards, the Danes concentrated under the guns of the fortress of Fredericia, on the borders of Schleswig and Jutland, and behind the lines of Düppel, which command the approach to the island of Alsen. On the 7th February, Wrangel issued a proclamation announcing that Austrian and Prussian commissioners would administer the civil government of Schleswig, and ordered that the German language should be thenceforth used in all branches of the administration. The fortified lines of Düppel were stubbornly defended by the Danes, and their gradual reduction was not effected without severe loss to the assailants. On the 18th April, the last remaining bastions were stormed, and the Prussians became masters of the place. The main body of the Danish army, or rather garrison, retreated into Jutland, leaving a pretty strong force to occupy Alsen. Fredericia, which had been exp3cted to offer a serious resistance, was evacuated soon after the fall of Düppel, the garrison crossing over into Funen. The Prussians, satisfied with having taken Düppel, made for the present no attempt upon Alsen, and there was a pause in the strife.

What all this time had been the behaviour of our Government - what the thoughts of Englishmen? Nine out of ten persons in this country who took any interest in foreign politics at all viewed with indignation the violent proceedings of the German Powers; but the intricacies of the Schleswig-Holstein question were known to be great; few had leisure to master them; and there was a general disposition to trust the Government for doing all that international duty and the obligations of treaties required England to do. The historical sketch with which we prefaced our account of these transactions will have made it clear to the reader that, in 1720, England had guaranteed to Denmark the continual and peaceable possession of ducal Schleswig. Eckernforde, Rendsburg, Missunde, and the town of Schleswig itself - the scene of the first hostile operations of the Austro-Prussians - are all situated in the part of the duchy so guaranteed. These circumstances appear to have escaped Lord Russell's memory, for, instead of frequent Cabinet councils, and the dispatch of peremptory missives to Berlin and Vienna, after the manner of the England of two generations back, the only expedient which seems to have occurred to him was to write (February 10) to Berlin, urging that the belligerents - the war having lasted exactly ten days - should agree to an armistice! The request was, it need hardly be added, ineffectual. But now the Danish Government took measures formally to remind Lord Russell of the obligations under which England lay. M. Torben Bille, the Danish minister in London, in a despatch, dated February 11, 1864, stated that his Government indulged the hope that Earl Russell appreciated the steps which Denmark had taken with a view to the maintenance of peace, seeing that these steps had been taken by the Danish Government on the pressing advice of the Cabinet of London; that, however, the pacific desires of Denmark had been frustrated by the ambition of Austria and Prussia, and war had actually broken out; that in this war Denmark, if unaided, must eventually be crushed by the overwhelming numerical superiority of her opponents; that it was necessary, therefore, that, while there was yet time, the Powers friendly to Denmark should come to her aid, " and among those Powers there is none which the Danish Government address with more confidence than England." M. Bille proceeded to say: - " By the Treaty of July 23,1720, Great Britain guaranteed ' to His Majesty the King of Denmark, his heirs and successors, the peaceable possession' of Schleswig, promising 'to maintain them therein contra quoscunque who might attempt to disturb them directly or indirectly.' This guarantee is still in full vigour at the present time, as is proved by the note which Lord Westmoreland addressed, on the 18th April, 1848, to the Cabinet of Berlin."

This was a categorical request, and the chilling reply which it elicited from Lord Russell must have been a bitter mortification to the over-matched and harassed Danes. After admitting generally that Denmark had followed the advice of the English Government, without which that Government " could not have given even its good offices to Denmark to prevent, if possible, the outbreak of hostilities," Lord Russell remarked that, as to "the request that friendly Powers should come to the assistance of Denmark, Her Majesty's Government could only say that every step they might think it right to take in the further progress of this unhappy contest could only be taken after full consideration and communication with France and Russia." He added, that as to the Treaty of 1720, inasmuch as Austria and Prussia had declared that they had no intention of disturbing the integrity of Denmark, it was not necessary, at that time, to examine the question of principle - that is, the validity of the guarantee itself. France and Russia were as much interested in the integrity of Denmark as Great Britain, and the British Government might fairly expect their advice and concert in any endeavour to preserve their integrity. Such a reply plainly foreshadowed that England did not intend to fulfil her engagements if other Powers did not fulfil theirs. The Danish Government made the fatal mistake of fancying that the England of 1864 was still the England of the Stanhopes and the Walpoles, and still of the same mind with her own Shakespeare, when he declares that -

Sightly to be great,
Is, not to stir without great argument;
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw,
When honour is at stake.

This ancient conception of national honour is undermined at the present day by the revolutionary tenet, that one generation is not bound by the pledges of a generation which preceded it, unless the execution of them is manifestly for its own interest. A " crowded and enthusiastic " meeting was held at Manchester, early in February, for the purpose of petitioning the Government and Parliament to maintain the principle of non-intervention in the war between Denmark and Germany. Nothing can more forcibly illustrate the change in public sentiment to which we are referring, than the general tone of the speeches delivered at this meeting. The Treaty of 1720 was absolutely ignored by all the speakers, including Mr. Ernest Jones, who had resided many years in Holstein and Schleswig, and professed to be thoroughly acquainted with the history of the controversy. The question, whether the honour of England was engaged, was treated in a slight and cursory manner, as if it possessed little interest for the speakers, but upon the inconvenience and costliness of war they dilated with great earnestness. Mr. T. B. Potter quoted a few words from a speech of Lord Palmerston, which, he said, showed that the honour of England was not concerned in the dispute, and then proceeded thus: - " All our interests were in the direction of peace. Our trade would be paralysed by war. We should have increased taxation and increased misery throughout the land. Besides, we must remember, that since the last wars there had been great changes, which would involve greater difficulties to the English nation than possibly to any other. By the resolutions of the Paris Conference the relation of belligerents and neutrals was changed. Neutral ships now covered an enemy's goods, and the goods shipped in neutral bottoms would lead to the transfer of our own carrying trade to neutrals. What would our shipowners in Liverpool, London, and Hull say to this? Were they prepared to see their vessels laid up in dock, or sold to neutral nations? There was another reason why we should hesitate to go to war. We had given hostages to fortune... he referred to the question of the Alabama. Although the American Government would be loyal and honest in its dealings, we knew that there were men in America in numbers who would fit out ships, and there would be a dozen or twenty Alabamas very soon in pursuit of our commerce all over the world." The expression of these views was received with continual cheering; and there can be little doubt that, although more nakedly stated than usual, they represent the habitual state of. feeling of an immense mercantile class which has for many years swayed, though not administered, the government of England. Still there can be no doubt that the Government felt a real reluctance to abandon Denmark to its fate; and if France had shown any zeal in the matter, it seems not improbable that, in spite of the Opposition referred to above, intervention would have gone the length of material assistance. But the French Emperor had been not a little mortified by Lord Russell's abrupt and decided rejection of his proposal for a general Congress of Powers, made in the autumn of 1863. That proposal, starting from the assumption that the Treaties of 1815 were " upon almost all points destroyed, modified, misunderstood, or menaced," urged the expediency of a joint endeavour, on the part of the nations of Europe, " to regulate the present and secure the future in a Congress." No other European Power, great or small, had absolutely rejected the Emperor's proposal; most had assented to it on the condition of a previous definition of the subjects which should be laid before the Congress; but Lord Russell's unconditional refusal had caused the scheme to fall through. The feeling of mortification thence arising in the mind of the French Emperor led him to view the diplomatic efforts of England on behalf of Denmark with coldness, and her proposal for a limited Conference on Danish affairs with little favour. Still France, like ourselves, was bound by the Treaty of 1720, and the fidelity of the Danes to the first Napoleon, and the sufferings which they had undergone in his cause, constituted a moral claim which ought not to have been lightly disregarded. But here, there is reason to believe, the " personal " Government by which Franco was then ruled, and the interests of the Napoleonic dynasty, turned the scale against an active intervention. " There exists," says Sir A. Malet, "a very general persuasion that M. de Bismarck had already found means to influence the imperial mind. It has been surmised that his own schemes of aggrandisement for Prussia, at the expense both of Denmark and Germany, had been more than hinted at, and that visions of territorial advantages to accrue to France may have been held out to the Emperor, and entertained by him, in case Prussia wa3 left free to pursue her own course without interruption. To reasons such as these, it is imagined, may in a great measure be ascribed the quiescent attitude taken by the Imperial Government in this question."

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Pictures for Chapter VIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

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