League of the Three Emperors

Also found in: Wikipedia.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

League of the Three Emperors


(in German, Dreikaiserbund), a diplomatic understanding based on a series of agreements concluded between Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary in 1873,1881, and 1884. The strained relations between England and Russia in Central Asia and the Middle East forced Russia to seek a rapprochement with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Germany, employing pressure and threats against France, was interested in improving relations with Russia. Austria-Hungary hoped to secure Germany’s support in the event of a conflict with Russia in the Balkans and at the same time to come to terms with Russia on a division of spheres of influence in that area.

In May 1873, during a visit to St. Petersburg by William I, Russia and Germany drew up a military convention. According to the terms of the agreement, both sides were bound to send the ally an army of 200,000 in the event of an attack by a European power. Bismarck, the German chancellor, stipulated that the convention, which was in effect a military alliance, would enter into force only after Austria-Hungary joined it. Austria-Hungary, however, apprehensive about being drawn into a war against Great Britain, agreed only to conclude a treaty on mutual consultations in the event of changes in world power.

On May 25 (June 6), 1873, during a visit to Vienna by Tsar Alexander II and Russia’s minister of foreign affairs, A. M. Gor-chakov, an agreement was signed by Franz Josef I and the tsar at Schönbrunn, outside Vienna. The agreement could be dissolved only two years after one of the parties gave notice (art. 4). On Oct. 11 (23), 1873, Germany joined the alliance, marking the beginning of the League of the Three Emperors.

In 1875 the alliance was seriously weakened. Russia resented Bismarck’s support of Austria-Hungary during the Russo-Turk-ish War (1877–78) and especially during the revision of the Peace Treaty of San Stefano (1878). In 1879, Austria-Hungary and Germany concluded an alliance against Russia. Bismarck, however, in an attempt to delay a rapprochement between Russia and France, proposed renewing the League of the Three Emperors. On June 6 (18), 1881, the three emperors signed a new pact in Berlin. The parties pledged to maintain benevolent neutrality in the event of war between one of them and another power; it was stipulated that, in the event of war with Turkey, neutrality would be determined by a special agreement (art. 1) and that territorial changes in Turkey’s European possessions would not be allowed without a previous accord (art. 2).

Both these articles were advantageous to Germany and Austria-Hungary, since they forced Russia to take the allies’ interests into account in the event of war with Turkey. The pact set forth a policy for settling disagreements involving European straits, which was in Russia’s favor (art. 3). In effect, the treaty guaranteed Russian neutrality in the event of a Franco-German war and Austro-German neutrality in the event of an Anglo-Russian war, which gave Russia more freedom in Central Asia. In a protocol attached to the pact, Austria-Hungary reserved the right to annex Bosnia and Hercegovina. In addition, the powers pledged not to oppose a possible unification of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia.

The treaty was concluded for three years and was extended on Mar. 15 (27), 1884, for three additional years. The deterioration of Austro-Russian relations in 1885 and 1886 over the Bulgarian question undermined the treaty’s significance, and the League of the Three Emperors finally disintegrated, after which Russia and Germany concluded the Reinsurance Treaty of 1887.


Sb. dogovorov Rossi s drugimi gosudarstvami, 1856–1917. Compiled by I. V. Koz’menko. Moscow, 1952.
Skazkin, S. D. Konetsavstro-russkogo germanskogo soiuza. Moscow, 1974.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Full browser ?