The War between the French and the Prussians began through perfidy on the part of the Prussian von Bismarck.
Early in 1870, Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (of the Roman Catholic branch of the Hohenzollerns) had been offered the Spanish throne which had become vacant. France, was concerned over a possible alliance between Prussia and Spain which would serve to box France in on two sides. France protested a possible alliance between the two branches of Hohenzollerns spoke about war. Following the the French protestations, Leopold withdrew his acceptance. As it stood this meant a diplomatic defeat for Prussia. The french demanded a guarantee that no member of the Hohenzollern family would ever be a candidate for the Spanish throne. It seemed as if the War of Spanish Succession was about to be replayed.
King Wilhelm I of Prussia, on his morning stroll on 13 July 1870 in the Kurpark in Ems, was buttonhold by Count Vincent Benedetti, the French ambassador in Prussia since 1864. The ambassador had been instructed to present the French demand that the king would never approve a Hohenzollern to fill the empty Spanish throne. The meeting was informal and took place in the Kursaal discreetly, the demand was refused and the meeting ended politely.
The account was passed on to von Bismarck via the King's secretary Heinrich Abeken. The King recounted that Benedetti was "very importunate." and he allowed a transcript to be published.
Bismarck edited the report, sharpening the language. He cut out Wilhelm’s conciliatory phrases and emphasized the real issue. The French had made certain demands under threat of war; and Wilhelm had refused them. This was no forgery; it was a clear statement of the facts. The telegram was released on the evening of the 13 July to the media and implied that Benedetti was insistent and the King exceedingly abrupt. The French concluded that Benedetti was insulted and the through him the French Nation, the Prussians concluded that Benedetti insulted the Prussian King by threatening War.
Von Bismarck correctly assessed that the French would, through pride, declare war on Germany. In this way he could help in his goal to unify The German peoples under the Prussian Crown. His edited telegram had ..."the desired effect of waving a red cape in front of the face of the Gallic Bull..."
France was outraged and declared war on the 14 July 1870, Bastille day.
Dieu le Roy,