Isolation of Austria

Map showing the Confederation of the RhineMap showing the Confederation of the Rhine

Bismarck was a proactive leader towards unification. However, bringing the German states together was not guaranteed. The response to Prussia’s actions also played a large part in bringing about a united Germany.

The wars involving Prussia during this period have become known as the Wars of German Unification.

1st War of Unification, 1863-4 (Schleswig-Holstein)

In 1863, the Danish King invaded Schleswig attempting to integrate it with Denmark. Bismarck used this to weaken Austria’s position and strengthen Prussia.

German Federation forces, led by Prussia and Austria defeated the Danish. The Treaty of Vienna (1864)was signed – Denmark surrendered Schleswig and Holstein.

Prussia and Austria disagreed on control of these new territories but in 1865, they negotiated the Convention of Gastein. This stated that:

  • Prussia was to control Schleswig
  • Austria was to control Holstein (which was sandwiched between Schleswig and Prussian territories)
  • Prussia was to have right of transit on military roads through Holstein
  • Both duchies were to join the Zollverein (even although Austria was not a member)

The treaty was unlikely to work. Austria was unhappy with the terms, particularly as Austrians would have to travel through Prussia to reach Holstein.

2nd War of Unification, 1866 (Austro-Prussian War)

Bismarck knew Austria was a major obstacle to unification. To succeed in his aims, war seemed inevitable. His actions against Austria can be seen as very deliberate. Before attacking Austria, Bismarck weakened its position in Europe. To isolate Austria, Bismarck built up alliances with other major powers:

  • Russia - Prussia refused to help Poland when it rebelled against Russia in 1863 - opening a possible alliance with Russia
  • France - in 1865, Bismarck met with Napoleon III -hee promised that Prussia would support France in its plans to invade Belgium.
  • Italy - Italy promised to help Prussia in any war against Austria, providing Austria was the aggressor and Italy gained Venetia in return.

These diplomatic moves made it unlikely these three powerful countries would aid Austria in any future war.

When territorial dispute over Schleswig and Holstein erupted again, Bismarck was able to make Austria look like the aggressor:

  • Austria tried to use the German Bund to pressure Prussia to address the Schleswig-Hostein issue – this was against the terms of the Treaty of Gastein
  • the Bund backed Austria in the dispute over Schleswig-Holstein
  • Bismarck declared the Treaty of Gastein was ended
  • Prussian troops entered Holstein
  • Prussia said that the Bund was invalid and pushed for reorganisation of Germany
  • Italy built up troops at its border with Austrian Venetia
  • Austria too built up its military strength here. This divided Austria’s forces
  • Prussia accused Austria of aggression
  • Bismarck demanded that Austria’s allies Hanover, Saxony and Hesse-Cassel stopped any military preparations and accept Prussian federal reform
  • when they refused, Prussia invaded the three states
  • supported by some northern states, Prussia went to war with Austria
  • despite having the support of the majority of German states, the Austrians were defeated and humiliated at the Battle of Sadowa

Treaty of Prague

The Seven Weeks War officially concluded when the Treaty of Prague was signed on 23rd August, 1866. According to the Treaty:

  • Prussia kept all the territories it had captured
  • a North German Confederation was set up under the control of Prussia
  • an elected federal Diet (parliament) was established for this North German Confederation - each state could keep its own laws and customs
  • the southern German states formed their own independent confederation
  • Austria promised to stay out of German affair
  • Austria paid compensation to Prussia but did not lose land to it

Prussia had successfully weakened and isolated Austria. But Bismarck did not want to weaken Austria too much since it might be a useful ally in the future against Prussia's enemies