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Originally appearing in Volume V04, Page 794 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PRINCE VON BERNHARD HEINRICH KARL MARTIN BULOW (1849– ), German statesman, was born on the 3rd of May '1849, at Klein-Flottbeck, in Holstein. The Billow family is one very widely extended in north Germany, and many members have attained distinction in the civil and military service of Prussia, Denmark and Mecklenburg. Prince Billow's great-uncle, Heinrich von Billow, who was distinguished for his admiration of England and English institutions, was Prussian ambassador in England from 1827 to 1840, and married a daughter of Wilhelm von Humboldt (see the letters of Gabrielle von Billow). His father, Bernhard Ernst von Billow, is separately noticed above. Prince Billow must not be confused with his contemporary Otto v. Billow (1827-1901), an official in the Prussian foreign office, who in 1882 was appointed German envoy at Bern, from 1892 to 1898 was Prussian envoy to the Vatican, and died at Rome on the 22nd of November 1901. Bernhard von Billow, after serving in the Franco-Prussian War, entered the Prussian civil service, and was then transferred to the diplomatic service. In 1876 he was appointed attache to the German embassy in Paris, and after returning for a while to the foreign office at Berlin, became second secretary to the embassy in Paris in 1880. From 1884 he was first secretary to the embassy at St Petersburg, and acted as charge d'affaires; in 1888 he was appointed envoy at Bucharest, and in 1893 to the post of German ambassador at Rome. In 1897, on the retirement of Baron Marshall von Bieberstein, he was appointed secretary of state for foreign affairs (the same office which his father had held) under Prince Hohenlohe, with a seat in the Prussian ministry. The appointment caused much surprise at the time, as Billow was little known outside diplomatic circles. The explanations suggested were that he had made himself very popular at Rome and that his appointment was therefore calculated to strengthen the loosening bonds of the Triple Alliance, and also that his early close association with Bismarck would ensure the maintenance of the Bismarckian tradition. As foreign secretary Herr von Billow was chiefly responsible for carrying out the policy of colonial expansion with which the emperor had identified himself, and in 1899, on bringing to a successful conclusion the negotiations by which the Caroline Islands were acquired by Germany, he was raised to the rank of count. On the resignation of Hohenlohe in 1900 he was chosen to succeed him as chancellor of the empire and president of the Prussian ministry. The Berliner Neueste Nachrichten, commenting on this appointment, very aptly characterized the relations of the new chancellor to the emperor, in contrast to the position occupied by Bismarck. " The Germany of William II.," it said, " does not admit a Titan in the position of the highest official of the Empire. A cautious and versatile diplomatist like Bernhard von Billow appears to be best adapted to the personal and political necessities of the present situation." Count Billow, indeed, though, like Bismarck, a " realist," utilitarian and opportunist in his policy, made no effort to emulate the masterful independence of the great chancellor. He was accused, indeed, of being little more than the complacent executor of the emperor's will, and defended himself in the Reichstag against the charge. The substance of the relations between the emperor and himself, he declared, rested on mutual good-will, and added: I must lay it down most emphatically that the prerogative of the emperor's personal initiative must not be curtailed, and will not be curtailed, by any chancellor. . . . As regards the chancellor, however, I say that no imperial chancellor worthy of the name . . . would take up any position which in his conscience he did not regard as justifiable." It is clear that the position of a chancellor holding these views in relation to a ruler so masterful and so impulsive as the emperor William II. could be no easy one; and Billow's long continuance in office is the best proof of his genius. His first conspicuous act as chancellor was a masterly defence in the Reichstag of German action in China, a defence which was, indeed, rendered easier by the fact that Prince Hohenlohe had—to use his own words—" dug a canal " for the flood of imperial ambition of which warning had been given in the famous " mailed fist " speech. Such incidents as this, however, though they served to exhibit consummate tact and diplomatic skill, give little index to the fundamental character of his work as chancellor, Of this it may be said, in general, that it carried on the best traditions of the Prussian service in whole-hearted devotion to the interests of the state. The accusation that he was an " agrarian " he thought it necessary to rebut in a speech delivered on the 18th of February 1906 to the German Handelstag. He was an agrarian, he declared, in so far as he came of a land-owning family, and was interested in the prosperity of agriculture; but as chancellor, whose function it is to watch over the welfare of all classes, he was equally concerned with the interests of commerce and industry (Kolnische Zeitung, Feb. 20, 1906). Some credit for the immense material expansion of Germany under his chancellorship is certainly due to his zeal and self-devotion. This was generously recognized by the emperor in a letter publicly addressed to the chancellor on the 21st of May 1906, immediately after the passage of the Finance Bill. " I am fully conscious," it ran, " of the conspicuous share in the initiation and realization of this work of reform . . . which must be ascribed to the statesmanlike skill and self-sacrificing devotion with which you have conducted and promoted those arduous labours." Rumours had from time to time been rife of a " chancellor crisis " and Billow's dismissal; in the Berliner Tageblatt this letter was compared to the " Never!" with which the emperor William I. had replied to Bismarck's proffered resignation. On the 6th of June 1905 Count Billow was raised to the rank of prince (Furst), on the occasion of the marriage of the crown prince. The coincidence of this date with the fall of M. Delcasse, the French minister for foreign affairs—a triumph for Germany and a humiliation for France—was much commented on at the time (see The Times, June 7, 1905) ; and the elevation of Bismarck to the rank of prince in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles was recalled. Whatever element of truth there may have been in this, however, the significance of the incident was much exaggerated. On the 5th of April 1906, while attending a debate in the Reichstag, Prince Billow was seized with illness, the result of overwork and an attack of influenza, and was carried unconscious from the hall. At first it was thought that the attack would be fatal, and Lord Fitzmaurice in the House of Lords compared the incident with that of the death of Chatham, a compliment much appreciated in Germany. The illness, however, quickly took a favourable turn, and after a month's rest the chancellor was able to resume his duties. In 1907 Prince Billow was made the subject of a disgraceful libel, which received more attention than it deserved because it coincided with the Harden-Moltke scandals; his character was, however,completely vindicated,and the libeller, a journalist named Brand, received a term of imprisonment. The parliamentary skill of Prince Billow in holding together the heterogeneous elements of which the government majority in the Reichstag was composed, no less than the diplomatic tact with which he from time to time " interpreted " the imperial indiscretions to the world, was put to a rude test by the famous " interview " with the German emperor, published in the London Daily Telegraph of the 28th of October 1908 (see WILLIAM II., German emperor), which aroused universal reprobation in Germany. Prince Billow assumed the official responsibility, and tendered his resignation to the emperor, which was not accepted; but the chancellor's explanation in the Reichstag on the loth of November showed how keenly he felt his position. He declared his conviction that the disastrous results of the interview would " induce the emperor in future to observe that strict reserve, even in private conversations, which is equally indispensable in the interest of a uniform policy and for the authority of the crown," adding that, in the contrary case, neither he nor any successor of his could assume the responsibility (The Times, Nov. 11, 1908, p. 9). The attitude of the emperor showed that he had taken the lesson to heart. It was not the imperial indiscretions, but the effect of his budget proposals in breaking up the Liberal-Conservative bloc, on whose support he depended in the Reichstag, that eventually drove Prince Billow from office (see GERMANY: History). At the emperor's request he remained to pilot the mutilated budget through the House; but on the 14th of July 1909 the acceptance of his resignation was announced. Prince Billow married, on the 9th of January 1886, Maria Anna Zoe Rosalia Beccadelli di Bologna, Princess Camporeale, whose first marriage with Count Karl von Donhoff had been dissolved and declared null by the Holy See in 1884. The princess, an accomplished pianist and. pupil of Liszt, was a step-daughter of the Italian statesman Minghetti. See J. Penzler, Graf Billows Reden nebst urkundlichen Beitragen zu seiner Politik (Leipzig, 1903).

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