Ems dispatch

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Ems dispatch,

1870, communication between King William of Prussia (later German Emperor William I) and his premier, Otto von Bismarck. In June, 1870, the throne of Spain was offered to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a relative of King William. Leopold at first accepted the candidacy, but withdrew it in July after the French government had protested. During these transactions William and Bismarck were taking the waters at Ems, Germany. There the French ambassador Comte Benedetti, in an interview with the king, requested William's guarantee that the candidacy of Leopold to the Spanish throne would never be renewed. William rejected the request. Bismarck, intent on provoking war with France, made the king's report of the conversation public (July 13) in his celebrated Ems dispatch, which he edited in a manner certain to provoke the French. France declared war on July 19, and the Franco-Prussian War began.

Ems Dispatch


(also Ems Telegram), a telegram of June 13, 1870, that contained an account of a conversation between King William I of Prussia and the French ambassador, V. Benedetti, about the filling of the vacant Spanish throne. It was sent from Ems by H. Abeken, a counselor of the Prussian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the Prussian chancellor O. von Bismarck.

The telegram reported the king’s refusal to give the French a commitment not to allow his relative Prince Leopold von Hohenzollern to accept the Spanish throne if it should be offered again; Leopold had earlier been forced to decline the Spanish government’s offer because of France’s sharply negative attitude. By shortening and arbitrarily editing the text, Bismarck caused the telegram to anger and offend the French government. The text of the telegram was published in this edited form.

Napoleon II used the distorted contents of the Ems Dispatch as a pretext for the declaration of war against Prussia on June 19, 1870 (seeFRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR OF 1870–71).

Ems dispatch

Bismarck’s purposely provocative memo on Spanish succession; sparked Franco-Prussian war (1870). [Ger. Hist.: NCE, 866]
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