30 September 2012

Charles the Flemish King of Spain

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 2489-2536:
The new King, a gawky, unprepossessing youth with an absurdly pronounced jaw, did not make a favourable impression on his first appearance in Spain. Apart from looking like an idiot, he suffered from the unforgivable defect of knowing no Castilian. In addition, he was totally ignorant of Spanish affairs, and was surrounded by an entourage of rapacious Flemings. It was natural to contrast him un-favourably with his brother Ferdinand, who enjoyed the supreme advantage of a Castilian upbringing – a background that seemed to Charles's advisers to be so fraught with danger for the future that they shipped Ferdinand off to Flanders a few months after his brother's arrival in Spain. His departure, which (as was intended) deprived the grandees of a potential figurehead and the populace of a symbol, merely increased the discontents of a disaffected nation.

The principal complaint of the Castilians was directed against the Flemings, who were alleged to be plundering the country so fortuitously inherited by their duke....

When the Cortes were held at Valladolid in January 1518 to swear allegiance to the new King and vote him a servicio, the procuradores seized the opportunity to protest against the exploitation of Castile by foreigners; and they found some outlet for their indignation in addressing Charles only as ‘su Alteza’, reserving the title of ‘Magestad’ exclusively for his mother, Juana....

News reached Charles as he was on the road to Barcelona at the end of January 1519 of the death of his grandfather Maximilian; five months later, after long intrigues and the expenditure of vast sums of money, he was elected Emperor in his grandfather's place. Gattinara, a man whose broad imperial vision was inspired by a cosmopolitan background, an acquaintance with the political writings of Dante, and, most of all, by the humanist's longings for a respublica christiana, showed himself fully prepared for the change. Charles was no longer to be styled ‘su Alteza’, but ‘S.C.C.R. Magestad’ (Sacra, Cesárea, Católica, Real Magestad). The Duke of Burgundy, King of Castile and León, King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona, had now added to his imposing list of titles the most impressive of all: Emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire.

Charles's election as Emperor inevitably altered his relationship to his Spanish subjects. It did much to increase his prestige, opening up new and unexpected horizons, of which the Catalans – as a result of his residence among them at this moment – were probably the first to become aware. Charles himself was changing, and beginning at last to acquire a personality of his own; he seems to have established an easier relationship with his Catalan subjects than with the tightly suspicious Castilians; and Barcelona for a glorious six months revelled in its position as the capital of the Empire.

If a foreign ruler had obvious disadvantages, there might none the less be compensations, as yet barely glimpsed. It was the disadvantages, however, which most impressed the Castilians as Charles hurried back across Castile in January 1520 to embark for England and Germany. If the King of Castile were also to be Holy Roman Emperor, this was likely to lead to two serious consequences for Castile. It would involve long periods of royal absenteeism, and it would also involve a higher rate of taxation in order to finance the King's increased expenditure. Already, at the news of Charles's election, voices were raised in protest against his impending departure. The protests originated in the city of Toledo, which was to play the leading part in the troubles of the next two years, for reasons that are not yet fully clear. The city seems somehow to have exemplified, in heightened form, all the tensions and conflicts within Castile, offering an illuminating example of the constant interaction of local and national affairs.

09 September 2012

Reassessing Ferdinand and Isabella's Legacy

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 2181-2234:
The reign of Ferdinand and Isabella was called by Prescott ‘the most glorious epoch in the annals’ of Spain. Generations of Spaniards, contrasting their own times with those of the Catholic Kings, would look back upon them as the golden age of Castile. The conquest of Granada, the discovery of America, and the triumphant emergence of Spain on to the European political stage lent unparalleled lustre to the new State created by the Union of the Crowns, and set the seal of success on the political, religious, and economic reforms of the royal couple.

Against the conventional picture of a glorious spring-time under Ferdinand and Isabella, too soon to be turned to winter by the folly of their successors, there must, however, be set some of the less happy features of their reign. They had united two Crowns, but had not even tentatively embarked on the much more arduous task of uniting two peoples. They had destroyed the political power of the great nobility, but left its economic and social influence untouched. They had reorganized the Castilian economy, but at the price of reinforcing the system of latifundios and the predominance of grazing over tillage. They had introduced into Castile certain Aragonese economic institutions, monopolistic in spirit, while failing to bring the Castilian and Aragonese economies any closer together. They had restored order in Castile, but in the process had overthrown the fragile barriers that stood in the way of absolutism. They had reformed the Church, but set up the Inquisition. And they had expelled one of the most dynamic and resourceful sections of the community – the Jews. All this must darken a picture that is often painted excessively bright.

Yet nothing can alter the fact that Ferdinand and Isabella created Spain; that in their reign it acquired both an international existence and – under the impulse given by the creative exuberance of the Castilians and the organizing capacity of the Aragonese – the beginnings of a corporate identity. Out of their long experience, the Aragonese could provide the administrative methods which would give the new monarchy an institutional form. The Castilians, for their part, were to provide the dynamism which would impel the new State forward; and it was this dynamism which gave the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella its distinguishing character. The Spain of the Catholic Kings is essentially Castile: a Castile, overflowing with creative energy, which seemed suddenly to have discovered itself.

The Court was the natural center of Castile's cultural life; and since Spain still had no fixed capital it was a Court on the move, bringing new ideas and influences from one town to another as it travelled round the country. Since Isabella enjoyed a European reputation for her patronage of learning, she was able to attract to the Court distinguished foreign scholars like the Milanese Pietro Martire, the director of the palace school. Frequented by foreign scholars and by Spaniards who had returned from studying in Italy, the Court thus became an outpost of the new humanism, which was now beginning to establish itself in Spain.

One of the devotees of the new learning was Elio Antonio de Nebrija (1444–1522), who returned home from Italy in 1473 – the year in which printing was introduced into Spain. Nebrija, who held the post of historiographer royal, was a grammarian and lexicographer, and an editor of classical texts in the best humanist tradition. But his interests, like those of many humanists, extended also to the vernacular, and he published in 1492 a Castilian grammar – the first grammar to be compiled of a modern European language. ‘What is it for?’ asked Isabella when it was presented to her. ‘Your Majesty,’ replied the Bishop of Avila on Nebrija's behalf, ‘language is the perfect instrument of empire.’

The Bishop's reply was prophetic. One of the secrets of Castilian domination of the Spanish Monarchy in the sixteenth century was to be found in the triumph of its language and culture over that of other parts of the peninsula and empire. The cultural and linguistic success of the Castilians was no doubt facilitated by the decline of Catalan culture in the sixteenth century, as it was also facilitated by the advantageous position of Castilian as the language of Court and bureaucracy. But, in the last analysis, Castile's cultural predominance derived from the innate vitality of its literature and language at the end of the fifteenth century. The language of the greatest work produced in the Castile of the Catholic Kings, the Celestina of the converso Fernando de Rojas, is at once vigorous, flexible, and authoritative: a language that was indeed ‘the perfect instrument of empire’.

Reforming the Spanish Church c. 1500

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 1782-1806:
Isabella's faith was fervent, mystical, and intense, and she viewed the present state of the Church with grave concern. It suffered in Spain from the abuses commonly ascribed to it throughout fifteenth-century Europe: pluralism, absenteeism, and low standards of morality and learning in secular and regular clergy alike. Concubinage in particular was accepted as a matter of course, and was no doubt further encouraged by a practice apparently unique to Castile, whereby the child of a cleric could inherit if his father died intestate. In some sections of the Church, however, and especially in the Religious Orders, there was a deep current of discontent at the prevailing laxity; in particular, the Queen's Jeronymite confessor, Hernando de Talavera, constantly urged upon her the need for total reform. Under Talavera's guidance, the Queen devoted herself wholeheartedly to the work of raising the moral and intellectual standards of her clergy. As effective nomination to bishoprics came to be increasingly exercised by the Crown, the morals and learning of candidates ceased to be regarded as largely irrelevant details, and high social rank was no longer an essential passport to a diocese. As a result, the standard of the Spanish episcopate rose markedly under the Catholic Kings, although some of Ferdinand's own appointments still left a good deal to be desired. Cardinal González de Mendoza, who succeeded Carrillo at Toledo in 1482, hardly conformed to the model of the new-style prelate; but the remarkable munificence of his patronage no doubt did something to atone for the notorious failings of his private life. In 1484 he founded at Valladolid the College of Santa Cruz, which set the pattern for further foundations designed to raise educational standards and produce a more cultivated clergy; and he probably did more than any other man to foster the spread of the New Learning in Castile.

While the Queen and her advisers worked hard to raise the standards of the episcopate and the secular clergy, a movement was gaining ground for reform of the Religious Orders. The Franciscan Order had long been divided between Conventuales and Observants, who wanted a return to the strict simplicity of the Rule of St. Francis. Among the Observants was the austere figure of Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, whom the Queen regarded as a providential substitute for her confessor Talavera, when the latter became first Archbishop of Granada in 1492. Already in 1491 Alexander VI had authorized the Catholic Kings to take in hand the reform of the monastic orders, and two years later Cisneros launched himself with characteristic energy into the work of reform, and continued to direct it with unflagging vigour after his appointment to Cardinal Mendoza's see of Toledo on the cardinal's death in 1495. Starting with his own Order, the Franciscans, he set about imposing a strict observance of the Rule in face of the most intense opposition. The Franciscans of Toledo, expelled from their convent, came out in procession beneath a raised cross, intoning the Psalm In exitu Israel Aegypto, while four hundred Andalusian friars preferred conversion to Islam and the delights of domesticity in North Africa to a Christianity which now suddenly demanded that they adandon their female companions. Slowly, however, the reform advanced. It spread to the Dominicans, the Benedictines, and the Jeronymites, and by the time of Cisneros's death in 1517 not a single Franciscan ‘conventual’ house remained in Spain.

Two Separate Spanish Economies c. 1500

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 2149-2165:
Two separate economic systems continued to exist side by side: the Atlantic system of Castile, and the Mediterranean system of the Crown of Aragon. As a result of the expansion of the wool trade and the discovery of America, the first of these was flourishing. The Crown of Aragon's Mediterranean system, on the other hand, had been gravely impaired by the collapse of Catalonia, although there was some compensation for Catalonia's losses in the increased economic activity of late fifteenth-century Valencia. Ferdinand's pacification and reorganization of Catalonia, however, enabled the Principality at the end of the century to recover a little of its lost ground. Catalan fleets began to sail again to Egypt; Catalan merchants appeared once more in North Africa; and, most important of all, a preferential position was obtained for Catalan cloths in the markets of Sicily, Sardinia, and Naples. But it is significant that this recovery represented a return to old markets, rather than the opening up of new ones. The Catalans were excluded from direct commerce with America by the Sevillian monopoly, and they failed, for reasons that are not entirely clear, to break into the Castilian market on a large scale. They may have shown a lack of enterprise, but they also seem to have suffered from discrimination, for as late as 1565 they were arguing that the Union of the Crowns of 1479 made it unreasonable that Catalan merchants should still be treated as aliens in Castilian towns. As a result of this kind of treatment, it is scarcely surprising that Catalonia and the Crown of Aragon as a whole should have continued to look eastwards to the Mediterranean, instead of turning their attention towards the Castilian hinterland and the broad spaces of the Atlantic.

Castile and the Crown of Aragon, nominally united, thus continued to remain apart – in their political systems, their economic systems, and even in their coinage. The inhabitants of the Crown of Aragon reckoned, and continued to reckon, in pounds, shillings, and pence (libras, sueldos, and dineros). The Castilians reckoned in a money of account – the maravedí [named after the Moorish Almoravid dynasty]. At the time of the accession of Ferdinand and Isabella the monetary system in Castile was particularly chaotic.

Castilian Economy, 1501: All for Wool

From Imperial Spain: 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott (Penguin, 2002), 2nd ed., Kindle Loc. 2057-2076:
In spite of the increasingly grave problem of the national food supply, Ferdinand and Isabella adopted no vigorous measures to stimulate corn production. On the contrary, it was in their reign that the long-continuing struggle between sheep and corn was decisively resolved in favour of the sheep. The great expansion of the mediaeval wool trade had revitalized the economic life of Castile, but there inevitably came a point at which further encouragement of Castilian wool production could only be given at the expense of sacrificing agriculture. This point was reached in the reign of the Catholic Kings. The importance of the wool trade to the Castilian economy, and the value to the royal treasury of the servicio y montazgo, the tax paid the Crown by the sheep-farmers, naturally prompted Ferdinand and Isabella to pursue the policies of their predecessors and to take the Mesta under their special protection. As a result, a whole series of ordinances conferred upon it wide privileges and enormous favours, culminating in the famous law of 1501 by which all land on which the migrant flocks had even once been pastured was reserved in perpetuity for pasturage, and could not be put to any other uses by its owner. This meant that great tracts of land in Andalusia and Estremadura were deprived of all chance of agricultural development and subjected to the whim of the sheepowners. The aims of this policy were obvious enough. The wool trade was easily subjected to monopolistic control, and, as a result, it constituted a fruitful source of revenue to a Crown which, since 1484, had found itself in increasing financial difficulties, exacerbated by the flight of Jewish capital. An alliance between Crown and sheepowners was thus mutually beneficial for both: the Mesta, with its 2½ to 3 million sheep, basked in the warm sunshine of royal favours while the Crown, whose control of the Military Orders gave it some of the best pasturing lands in Spain, could draw a regular income from it, and turn to it for special contributions in emergencies.

There were no doubt certain unintended advantages to Castile, in the intense royal encouragement of the wool industry. Sheep-farming requires less labour than arable farming, and the vast extent of the pasture-lands helped to produce a surplus of manpower which made it easier for Castile to raise armies and to colonize the New World. But on the whole the favouring of sheep-farming at the expense of tillage can only appear as a wilful sacrifice of Castile's long-term requirements to considerations of immediate convenience. It was in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella that agriculture was confirmed in its unhappy position as the Cinderella of the Castilian economy, and the price which was eventually to be paid for this was frighteningly high.

03 September 2012

Purging Prussia at War's End, 1945-

From: Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, by Christopher Clark (Penguin, 2007), Kindle Loc. 12643-12695:
Among the Allies, only the Soviets remained aware of the tension between Prussian tradition and the National Socialist regime. While the July plot of 1944 evoked little positive comment among western politicians, the Soviet official media found words of praise for the conspirators. Soviet propaganda, by contrast with that of the western powers, consistently exploited Prussian themes – the National Committee for a Free Germany, established as a propaganda vehicle in 1943 and composed of captured German officers, appealed explicitly to the memory of the Prussian reformers, above all Gneisenau, Stein and Clausewitz, all of whom had resigned their Prussian commissions during the French occupation and joined the army of the Tsar. Yorck, the man who ignored the command of his sovereign to walk across the ice to the Russians in 1812, naturally held pride of place.

This was all eyewash, of course, yet it also reflected a specifically Russian perspective on Prussia’s history. The history of relations between the two states was no chronicle of unremitting mutual hatred. Stalin’s hero Peter the Great had been a warm admirer of the Prussia of the Great Elector, whose administrative innovations served as models for his own reforms. Russia and Prussia had cooperated closely in the partitioning of Poland and the Russian alliance was crucial to Prussia’s recovery against Napoleon after 1812. Relations remained warm after the Napoleonic Wars, when the diplomatic bond of the Holy Alliance was reinforced by the marriage of Frederick William III’s daughter Charlotte to Tsar Nicholas I. The Russians backed Austria in the dualist struggles of 1848–50, but favoured Prussia with a policy of benevolent neutrality during the war of 1866. The assistance rendered to the beleaguered Bolsheviks in 1917–18 and the close military collaboration between Reichswehr and Red Army during the Weimar years were more recent reminders of this long history of interaction and cooperation.

Yet none of this could preserve Prussia from dissolution at the hands of the victorious Allies. By the autumn of 1945, there was a consensus among the various British organs involved in the administration of occupied Germany that (in a tellingly redundant formulation) ‘this moribund corpse of Prussia’ must be ‘finally killed’. Its continued existence would constitute a ‘dangerous anachronism’. By the summer of 1946, this was a matter of firm policy for the British administration in Germany. A memorandum of 8 August 1946 by the British member of the Allied Control Authority in Berlin put the case against Prussia succinctly: I need not point out that Prussia has been a menace to European security for the last two hundred years. The survival of the Prussian State, even if only in name, would provide a basis for any irredentist claims which the German people may later seek to put forward, would strengthen German militarist ambitions, and would encourage the revival of an authoritarian, centralised Germany which in the interests of all it is vital to prevent.

The American and French delegations broadly supported this view; only the Soviets dragged their feet, mainly because Stalin still hoped to use Prussia as the hub of a unified Germany over which the Soviet Union might eventually be able to secure control. But by early February 1947, they too had fallen into step and the way was open for the legal termination of the Prussian state.

In the meanwhile, the extirpation of Prussia as a social milieu was already well advanced. The Central Committee of the German Communist Party in the Soviet zone of occupation announced in August 1945 that the ‘feudal estate-owners and the Junker caste’ had always been ‘the bearers of militarism and chauvinism’ (a formulation that would find its way into the text of Law No. 46 of the Allied Control Council). The removal of their ‘socio-economic power’ was thus the first and fundamental precondition for the ‘extirpation of Prussian militarism’. There followed a wave of expropriations. No account was taken of the political orientation of the owners, or of their role in resistance activity. Among those whose estates were confiscated was Ulrich-Wilhelm Count Schwerin von Schwanenfeld, who had been executed on 21 August 1944 for his role in the July conspiracy.

These transformations took place against the background of the greatest wave of migrations in the history of German settlement in Europe. During the last months of the war, millions of Prussians fled westwards from the eastern provinces to escape the advancing Red Army. Of those who remained, some committed suicide, others were killed or died of starvation, cold or illness. Germans were expelled from East Prussia, West Prussia, eastern Pomerania and Silesia, and hundreds of thousands perished in the process. The emigrations and resettlements continued into the 1950s and 1960s. The looting or burning of the great East-Elbian houses signalled the end not only of a socio-economic elite but also of a distinctive culture and way of life. Finckenstein, with its Napoleonic memorabilia, Beynuhnen with its collection of antiques, Waldburg with its rococo library, Blumberg and Gross Wohnsdorff with their memories of the liberal ministers von Schön and von Schroetter were among the many country seats to be plundered and gutted by an enemy bent on erasing every last trace of German settlement. So it was that the Prussians, or at least their mid-twentieth-century descendants, came to pay a heavy price for the war of extermination that Hitler’s Germany unleashed on Eastern Europe.

The scouring of Prussia from the collective awareness of the German population began before the end of the war with a massive aerial attack on the city of Potsdam. As a heritage site with little strategic or industrial significance, Potsdam was very low on the list of Allied targets and had been spared significant bombardment during the war. Late in the evening of Saturday 14 April 1945, however, 491 planes of British Bomber Command dropped their payloads over the city, transforming it into a sea of fire. Almost half the historical buildings of the old centre were obliterated in a bombing that lasted for only half an hour. When the fires had been extinguished and the smoke had cleared, the scorched 57-metre tower of the Garrison Church stood as the dominant landmark in a cityscape of ruins. Of the fabled carillon, famous for its automated renditions of the ‘Leuthen Chorale’, there remained only a lump of metal. The scouring continued after 1945, as entire districts of the old city were cleared to make way for socialist reconstruction. The imperatives of post-war city planning were reinforced by the anti-Prussian iconoclasm of the Communist authorities.

02 September 2012

Competing Views of Prussia, 1945

From: Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, by Christopher Clark (Penguin, 2007), Kindle Loc. 12554-12624:
For the resisters Prussia became a virtual homeland, the focal point for a patriotism that could find no referent in the Third Reich. The charisma of this mythical Prussia was not lost upon the non-Prussians who moved within resistance circles. The Social Democrat Julius Leber, an Alsatian who grew up in Lübeck and was executed on 5 January 1945 for his part in the conspiracy against Hitler, was among those who looked back in admiration at the years when Stein, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst re-established the state ‘in the citizen’s consciousness of freedom’. There was an energetic polarity between the Prussia of Nazi propaganda and that of the civilian and military resistance. Goebbels used Prussian themes to drive home the primacy of loyalty, obedience and will as indispensable aids in Germany’s epic struggle against her enemies. The resisters, by contrast, insisted that these secondary Prussian virtues became worthless as soon as they were severed from their ethical and religious roots. For the Nazis, Yorck was the symbol of an oppressed Germany rising up against foreign ‘tyranny’ – for the resisters he represented a transcendent sense of duty that might even, under certain circumstances, articulate itself in an act of treason. We naturally look more kindly on one of these Prussia-myths than on the other. Yet both were selective, talismanic and instrumental. Precisely because it had become so abstract, so etiolated, ‘Prussiandom’ was up for grabs. It was not an identity, nor even a memory. It had become a catalogue of disembodied mythical attributes whose historical and ethical significance was, and would remain, in contention.


In the end, it was the Nazi view of Prussia that prevailed. The western allies needed no persuading that Nazism was merely the latest manifestation of Prussianism. They could draw on an intellectually formidable tradition of anti-Prussianism that dated back to the outbreak of the First World War. In August 1914, Ramsay Muir, a distinguished liberal activist and holder of the chair of modern history at the University of Manchester, published a widely read study that claimed to examine the ‘historical background’ of the current conflict. ‘It is the result,’ Muir wrote, ‘of a poison which has been working in the European system for more than two centuries, and the chief source of this poison is Prussia.’ In another study published early in the war, William Harbutt Dawson, a social liberal publicist and one of the most influential commentators on German history and politics in early twentieth-century Britain, pointed to the militarizing influence of the ‘Prussian spirit’ within the otherwise benign German nation: ‘this spirit has ever been a hard and immalleable element in the life of Germany; it is still the knot in the oak, the nodule in the softer clay.’

Common to many analyses was the notion that there were in fact two Germanies, the liberal, congenial and pacific Germany of the south and west and the reactionary, militaristic Germany of the north-east. The tensions between the two, it was argued, remained unresolved within the Empire founded by Bismarck in 1871. One of the most sophisticated and influential early analysts of this problem was the American sociologist Thorstein Veblen. In a study of German industrial society published in 1915 and re-issued in 1939, Veblen argued that a lopsided process of modernization had distorted German political culture. ‘Modernism’ had transformed the sphere of industrial organization, but had failed to effect ‘an equally secure and disturbing lodgement in the tissues of the body politic’. The reason for this, Veblen diagnosed, lay in the survival of an essentially pre-modern Prussian ‘territorial state’. The history of this state, he suggested, amounted to a career of more or less uninterrupted aggressive war-making. The consequence was a political culture of extreme servility, for ‘the pursuit of war, being an exercise in the following of one’s leader and execution of arbitrary orders, induces an animus of enthusiastic subservience and unquestioning obedience to authority.’ In such a system, the loyal support of popular sentiment could be maintained only by ‘unremitting habituation [and] discipline sagaciously and relentlessly directed to this end’, and ‘by a system of bureaucratic surveillance and unremitting interference in the private life of subjects’.

Veblen’s account was light on empirical data and supporting evidence, but it was not without theoretical sophistication. It aimed not only to describe but also to explain the supposed deformations of Prussian-German political culture. It was supported, moreover, by an implicit conception of the ‘modern’ in the light of which Prussia could be deemed archaic, anachronistic, only partially modernized. It is striking how much of the substance of the ‘special path’ thesis that would rise to prominence in German historical writing of the late 1960s and 1970s is already anticipated in Veblen’s account. This was no accident – Ralf Dahrendorf, whose synoptic study Society and Democracy in Germany (1968) was one of the foundational texts of the critical school, drew heavily on the American sociologist’s work.

Even the rather cruder accounts that passed for historical analyses of modern Germany during the Second World War often preserved a sense of historical perspective, rather than settling for generalizations about German ‘national character’. Since the seventeenth century, one writer observed in 1941, the ‘old German spirit of conquest’ had been ‘deliberately developed more and more and along the lines of that mentality which is known as “Prussianism” ’. The history of Prussia had been ‘an almost uninterrupted period of forcible expansion, under the iron rule of militarism and absolutist officialism’. Under a harsh regime of compulsory education, in which teachers were recruited from the ranks of former non-commissioned officers, the young were instilled with ‘the typical Prussian obedience’. The rigours of school life were succeeded by a prolonged period in barracks or on active military service. It was here that ‘the German mind received its last coat of varnish. Anything that had not been done by the schools was achieved in the army.’

In the minds of many contemporaries, the link between ‘Prussianism’ and Nazism was obvious. The German émigré Edgar Stern-Rubarth described Hitler – notwithstanding the dictator’s Austrian birth – as ‘the Arch-Prussian’ and declared that ‘the whole structure of his dreamed-of Reich’ was based not only on the material achievements of the Prussian state, but ‘even more on the philosophical foundations of Prussianism’. In a study of German industrial planning published in 1943, Joseph Borkin, an American official who later helped to prepare the case against the giant chemicals combine I. G. Farben at Nuremberg, observed that the political evolution of the Germans had long been retarded by a ruling class of Prussian Junkers who had ‘never been unsaddled by social change’ and concluded that the Prussian ‘Weltanschauung of political and economic world hegemony is the well-spring from which both Hohenzollern imperialism and National Socialism flow’. Like many such accounts, this book drew on a tradition of German critical commentary on Prussian history and German political culture more generally.

It would be difficult to overstate the hold of this scenario of power-lust, servility and political archaism over the imaginations of the policy-makers most concerned with Germany’s post-war fate. In a speech of December 1939, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden observed that ‘Hitler is not so unique as all that. He is merely the latest expression of the Prussian spirit of military domination.’ The Daily Telegraph published a discussion of the speech under the headline ‘Hitler’s Rule is in the Tradition of Prussian Tyranny’ and there were positive comments throughout the tabloid press.134 On the day of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Winston Churchill spoke memorably of the ‘hideous onslaught’ of the Nazi ‘war machine with its clanking, heel-clicking dandified Prussian officers’ and ‘the dull, drilled docile brutish masses of the Hun soldiers plodding on like a swarm of crawling locusts’. In an article for the Daily Herald in November 1941, Ernest Bevin, minister of labour in Churchill’s War Cabinet, declared that German preparation for the current war had begun long before the advent of Hitler. Even if one ‘got rid of Hitler, Goering and others’, Bevin warned, the German problem would remain unsolved. ‘It was Prussian militarism, with its terrible philosophy, that had to be got rid of from Europe for all time.’ It followed that the defeat of the Nazi regime itself would not suffice to bring the war to a satisfactory close.