The battleship Bismarck was named in honour of Otto Eduard Leopold Fürst von Bismarck (1 April 1815-30 July 1898).
Otto von Bismarck was a German-Prussian statesman in the late 19th century and a dominant figure in world affairs. As Prime Minister (Ministerpräsident) of Prussia from 1862-1890, he oversaw the unification of Germany. In 1867, the North German Confederation (Norddeustcher Bund) was formed under Prussian control and Otto von Bismarck became its Chancellor. He designed the German Empire in 1871, becoming its first chancellor and dominating affairs until he was removed by Wilhelm II in 1890. He earned the nickname ‘The Iron Chancellor’ (der eiserne Kanzler) after a political speech on 30 September 1862 where he proclaimed, ‘The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood.’
Early Life and Career
Otto von Bismarck was born on 1 April 1815 at Schönhausen, Prussia. His father, Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Bismarck, was a Junker estate owner and a former Prussian military officer. His mother was Wilhelmine Luise Mencken. Otto von Bismarck studied law at the University of Göttingen in Hannover and obtained his degree in 1837. In 1847, he married Johanna von Puttkammer (1824-1894). Together, they had three children: Herbert, Wilhelm and Marie. During the revolutions of 1848, Bismarck favoured suppression of revolt and opposed concessions to the liberals, remaining loyal to the monarchy. In 1849, he was elected to the Prussian Chamber of Deputies (the lower chamber of the Prussian Diet). The king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, appointed Bismarck in 1851 as the Prussian representative to the Diet of the German Confederation in Frankfurt. In 1859, Bismarck was sent to Russia as Prussian ambassador to St. Petersburg, and in May 1862, moved to Paris as ambassador to France. Soon after he returned to Berlin, and on 22 September 1862, Bismarck became Minister President and Foreign Minister for the Prussian King Wilhelm I (who had taken over the throne after his brother King Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s death in 1861).
After victorious wars against Denmark over Schleswig¬ and Holstein in 1864 and Austria in 1866, the North German Confederation was formed in 1867 under Prussian control. In 1870, following the victorious conclusion of the Franco-Prussian war, Germany succeeded in obtaining Alsace and Lorraine. The German Empire was proclaimed at Versailles on 18 January 1871 by King Wilhelm I as Emperor. Otto von Bismarck was raised to the rank of Prince (Fürst) von Bismarck. He was also appointed Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler) of the German Empire, but retained his Prussian offices, including those of Minister President and Foreign Minister. He was awarded the country estate Friedrichsruh near Hamburg.
Chancellor of the German Empire
As Chancellor, Bismarck directed his foreign policy at maintaining and strengthening the power of the German Empire. In order to prevent a war of revenge, Bismarck decided to isolate France diplomatically. In 1873, he formed the Three Emperors’ League (Dreikaiserbund) with Russia and Austria-Hungary. But rivalry in the Balkans provoked the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 and Bismarck had to mediate at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, successfully maintaining peace. Increasing Russian hostility brought about the Dual Alliance with Austria (1879) and the Triple Alliance when Italy joined in 1882. Bismarck, however, sought to tie Russia to this alliance by reviving the Three Emperors’ League (1881-87) through the Reinsurance Treaty (1887-90). He also gained British co-operation.
After the death of Wilhelm I in 1888, differences between Wilhelm II provoked Bismarck’s resignation on 18 March 1890. After his wife’s death in 1894, he moved to his estate at Friedrichsruh east of Hamburg. Bismarck spent his final years writing his memoirs, Gedanken und Erinnerungen (‘Thoughts and Memories’). Bismarck died in Friedrichsruh on 30 July 1898 aged 83. He is entombed in the Bismarck Mausoleum at the Friedrichsruh estate.