Foreign and Imperial Policy


Gladstone's Foreign First Ministry

Franco-Prussian War 

  • Gladstone judged neutrality to be the best policy 
  • Prussian Chancellor = Bismarck 
  • Bismarck manipulated a war against Napoleon III of France to further his plans for the unification of Germany
  • France declared war on Prussia and was regarded as the aggressor
  • British sympathies lay with Prussia as Gladstone mistrusted Napoleon 
  • Fears were raised about Napoleon's ambitions to invade Belgium 
  • Vital to British security because of its proximity across the channel
  • Gladstone felt obliged to intervene and secured agreement that both sides would respect Belgium Neutrality 
  • Treaty of London 1939
  • Bismarck agreed as he had secured British neutrality through diplomacy
  • He could now proceed with his plans to defeat France, annexe French Alsace and Lorraine 
  • Then he could be able to declare the creation of a united Germany
  • He did this in 1871 
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Gladstone's Foreign First Ministry

Russia and the Black Sea Clauses 

  • 1870 - Bismarck made himself an ally of Russia 
  • He had encouraged the Tsar to pull out of the Black Sea Clauses of the Treaty of Paris 
  • This had forbade them frm maintaining a naval presence in the Black Sea 
  • British Foreign Secretary called a conference of the Great Powers in London in 1871
  • It was agreed that no country could withdraw from part of the treaty 
  • Face saving exercise on Britain's part
  • Gladstone would not contemplate using even the threat of military force and there was little he could do
  • Public opinion went aainst Gladstone for his inaction over Russia 
  • New Germany emerged as the strongest European Power 
  • Impressive military machine to back the country up 
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Gladstone's Foreign First Ministry

The Settling of the Alabama Dispute, 1872

  • Alabama = confederate warship fitted out in Britain
  • Centre of a dispute a few years earlier during the American Civil War 
  • It was used against the Northern States and damaged some of its ships 
  • Britain was deemed to have broke its neutrality promise to stay out of the conflict
  • Gladstone agreed to submit the claim to an International Court of Arbitration
  • Decided that Britain should pay £3.25m to America
  • Fraction of the original US claim of $9m
  • Gladstone agreed and paid the damages instead of taking an aggressive response
  • Detractors still thought it was too much
  • British public saw it as a humilitating retreat and this cost the Liberals electoral support 
  • Popular opiion was gathering against Gladstone's peaceful and ethical foreign policy
  • Seemed to give a free hand to the Russians to moe their navy int the Black Sea
  • Gave into America 
  • Allowed the new Germany ascendancy in Europe 
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Disraeli's Foreign Policy

The Eastern Question 

  • Decline of the Turkish Empire (Ottoman Empire)
  • Turkish Empire once stretched from south-east Europe, through the Middle East and into North Africa
  • Could create opportunities for several other European powers
  • France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Britain and Germany each became concerned 
  • Suited Disraeli to commit himself to a policy of cotaining Russia's ambitions 
  • Lend additional support to Turkey to achieve this 
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Disraeli's Foreign Policy

The Eastern Crisis, 1875-1877

  • Delicate balance of power existed between Russia, Turkey and Austria
  • Treaty of Paris = promise from Turkey of better treatment towards the Christians within its empire
  • Russia gave up any claim to protect them 
  • Agreement was soon broken 
  • Balkan Christians suffered persecution at the hands of the Ottoman Turks 
  • Result = revolt in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1875 against the Turks 
  • Following year, this spread to Bulgaria and later affected Serbia and Montenegro
  • Balkan Nationalist Rising offered a chance for European Interference
  • Great Powers tried to deals with the unrest by diplomatic means 
  • Disraeli publicy expressed concern as he did not wish the Dreikaiserbund to exploit the situation
  • Reluctantly accepted proposals made to the Turkish government but Turkey failed to cooperate
  • Dreikaiserbund continued diplomatic efforts by issuing the Berlin Memorandum in 1876
  • Signed by Germany, Austria, Russia, France and Italy 
  • Demanded change and reform within the Turkish Government 
  • Disraeli refused to be a signatory on the grounds that he was not consulted during initial discussions 
  • He was anxious that it would weaken Turkey to th extent that they would not be able to stop Russia expansion 
  • This would damage British interests 
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Disraeli's Foreign Policy

  • Disraeli went his own way and sent British naval vessels to the Dardanelle Straits
  • Britain could not be marginalised in European decision making 
  • Seen by Turkey as an indication of British support 
  • The new Turkish Leader, Hamid, stemmed the Bulgarian revolt by using force of irregular troops
  • Carrying out hideous atrocities against the Christian population in Bulgaria
  • Strong reaction from Britain
  • Extent of the atrocities was initially minimised by Disraeli 
  • Scale of the horror was revealed by the Daily News
  • Gladstone had made much political mileage out of it - The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East 
  • Proposed to expel the Turks from the Balkans 
  • Relatioship between Disraeli and Gladstone was at its most bitter 
  • Disraeli felt that Gladstone had destroyed British unity at a time of crisis 
  • Offered unnecessary encouragement to the Russians 
  • Disraeli = indifferent ot he the sufferings, which caused moral outrage in Gladstone
  • End of 1876 = Disraeli foreign policy actions had sabotaged a settlement of the Eastern Crisis
  • Encourgaed the Turks to carry out atrocities and caused expressions of deep outrage at home 
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Disraeli's Foreign Policy

The Conference at Costantinople, 1876

  • December 1876
  • Try and stem the worsening situation 
  • Demands for Turkey to reform were rejected by the Sultan
  • Disraeli refused to pressurise the Turks going against the advice of Lord Derby 
  • Conference broke up and Russia declared war on Turkey in April 1877
  • Acting on behalf of the persecuted Christians
  • Disraeli would only remain neutral on the condition that Russia did not threaten British position in Egypt and the Suez Canal, or enter into Constantinople
  • Public opinion turned in Disraeli's favour - outburst of jingoism and anti-Russian feeling 
  • War was quickly ended 
  • Treaty of San Stefano - Rusia proposed doubling the size of Bulgaria 
  • Austria and Britain demanded a European Congress 
  • Disraeli knew that Russia was exhausted financially and militarily 
  • Postured by ordering the fleet to Constantinople 
  • Few weeks later, Indian troops were moved into the Island of Malta 
  • Derby resigned in frustration at Disraeli's brinkmanship - Salisbury became foreign secretary 
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Disraeli's Foreign Policy

Treaty of Berlin, 1878

  • Eventually agreed after a number of secret negotiatins
  • Disraeli's main objective was to keep Russia out of the Med and reduce influence in the Balkans
  • Treaty of San Stefano was broken up and a smaller state created and returned to Turkish suzerainty
  • Agreement reached between Britain and Turkey 
  • Britain received Cyprus and Turkey promised toleration of Christian subjects 
  • Britain guarenteed Turkish dominions 
  • Russia could keep a watch on Russia ship activity in the north and south of the suez canal
  • Agreement between Austria-Hungary and Britain secured Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina 
  • Independence of Serbia and Montenegro was guarenteed
  • Serbia was enlarged 
  • Congress of Berlin was a personal triumph for Disraeli 
  • Successful as the Congress agreed to limit Russia's gains 
  • Overall results strengthened Turkey in the Balkans and the front against Russia
  • Averted full-scale war but placed many Christians under Turkish rule again 
  • Austro-Hungarian occupation in the Balkans weakened the Dreikaiserbund 
  • Led to the Great War, 30 years later 
  • Disraeli returned claiming to have achieved 'Peace with Honour'
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Disraeli's Imperial Policy

South Africa and the Zulu War, 1877-9

  • The Colonial Secretary put pressure on the Dutch settlers to accept the annexation of the Transvaal by Britain
  • Meant to be part of a bigger plan to form a South African Federation 
  • Incorporating British and Dutch settlements, but as part of the British empire 
  • British High Commissioner - Bartle Frere - disobeyed orders from London
  • Got involved in a war against the Zulus 
  • British force of 1,220 men were killed in 1879
  • Several months before the situation could be recovered 
  • Zulus were defeated at Ulundi 
  • Disraeli was furious at the news of the war
  • Given Colonial Secretary too much of a free hand and his own reputation suffered as a result 
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Disraeli's Imperial Policy

Egypt and the Suez Canal

  • 1875 - Disraeli acted decisively over the purchase of shares in the Suez Canal 
  • Government of the Khedive of Egypt was on the verge of bankruptcy 
  • Needed £4m to avoid insolvency 
  • Disraeli consulted Queen Victoria who gave the purchase her blessing
  • Money was raised through a loan with Jewish bankers (Rothchilds)
  • Smart move by Disraeli
  • Huge advatages in terms of development and control of British empire:
      • Britain negotiated a low rate for British shipping to pass through the canal
      • Helped to achieve cheaper imports and exports and so stimulated trade
      • Helped to establish a solid British interest in Egypt
      • Reduced the travelling time to India and the Far East 
      • Easy means of increasing military and naval forces in the Far East 

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Disraeli's Imperial Policy

Disraeli and British India

  • Trouble = Indian North-West Frontier with Afghanistan 
  • Battle of wits between Russia and Britain as to who could gain control of Afghanistan first
  • Disraeli wanted to encourage good relations with the Amir of Afghanistan so he would be sympathetic to British concerns rather than Russian ambitions
  • Colonial Secretary was in charge of British policy in India 
  • Lord Lytton was responsible for setting up a British mission in Afghanistan
  • Lytton supported an expansionist policy in India
  • Reservations from Salisbury and Derby about Lytton's suitability
  • 1878 - Tsar sent a mission to Afghanistan 
  • Lytton was ordered to take no action until all diplomatic chanels had been tried
  • Lytton sent troops into Afghanistan and chased the Russians out 
  • Deposed Sher Ali 
  • A British mission was established 
  • 1879 - Resentment against the British spilled over into a massacre of the centre mission
  • Strong force of British troops was immediately despatched
  • Order was not restored until 1880 
  • Criticism of lack of control of Lytton 
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Gladstone's Foreign Second Ministry


  • 1878 - Egypt was on the verge of economic and political collapse
  • Britain had considerable investments in Egypt and the Suez Canal
  • Gross isuse of funds by the Khedive that was earmarked for infrastructure
  • Khedive deposed in favour of his son 
  • Put in place to restore financial stability and look after foreign investors
  • Gave itself the power to pass reforms and cut expenditure
  • However, this stirred up Nationalist feeling
  • 1881 - an Egyptian Army Officer led a nationalist rebellion, seized power, formed a government and banned foreign intervention in Egypt 
  • Gladstone sanctioned the Navy to join France and send warships to Alexandria 
  • Egyptians prepared their defences but at the last minute, the French withdrew
  • Confused orders led to an attack on Alexandria by the British fleet
  • General breakdown of Law and Order
  • Little option but to invade  Egypt alone, establishing Britain as a land power in the Middle East for the first time
  • Nationalist feeling was short-lived 
  • He was defeated by British troops, captured and deported 
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Gladstone's Foreign Second Ministry

  • Gladstone intended to sort out the problem and withdraw from Egypt quickly 
  • Justified his un-Gladstonian decision to overthrow the nationalist movement 
  • He believed British interests and the position of Egypt to be of greater importance
  • Bring order and stability to Egypt 
  • Khedive continued to rule over Egypt in name, Egypt's freedom became little more than symbolic and ultimate power resided with British Consul-General 
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Gladstone's Foreign Second Ministry

The Sudan, 1883-1885

  • Sudan was under the control of Egypt 
  • Authority had been undermined by actions of a religious extremist - The Mahdi 
  • 1883 - The Khedive of Egypt sent a force into the Sudan under a British officer to suppress the Mahdi 
  • British Officer Colonial Hicks was killed 
  • Khedive's army ambushed and trapped 
  • Gladstoe expressed some sympathy for the Mahdi's position and his right to fight for freedom and self-government
  • View that had little sympathy in 'Empire England'
  • Gladstone could either attempt to complete the conquest or a complete evacuation 
  • Decision was made by General Gordon to carry out the evacuation 
  • View that Gordon had his own agenda, to refuse to withdraw until he had taught the Mahdi a lesson 
  • Gordon held the Nile Valley against the Mahdi 
  • Pushed back into Khartoum
  • Gordon requested relief troops
  • Unnecessary delay and the reinforcements arrived two days too late to save Gordon 
  • Seen as a national hero who had been let down by the British authorities 
  • Gladstone continued to withdraw from the Sudan, leaving the Mahdi in control 
  • Peak of unpopularity for Gladstone 
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Gladstone's Foreign Second Ministry

Transvaal and the Boers:

  • Zulus were defeate in 1879
  • Sir Garnet Wolseley was made high commissioner of the Transvaal
  • Became a crown colony instead of giving it the self-governing status promised
  • Gladstone had strongly criticised the annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 by Disraeli
  • Exectation fro the Boers that they would have independence
  • 1881 - Gladstone stalled on the issue of Transvaal independence 
  • Considering setting up a South African Confederation
  • Fighting broke out between the British and the Boers 
  • Boers inflicted a humiliating defeat o the British 
  • Gladstone could either send more troops or grant independence
  • He compromised
  • Independence with the British crown maintaining sovereignty
  • Soon drooped after the angry reaction
  • 1884 - British government finally recognised the South African Republic 
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Gladstone's Foreign Second Ministry


  • Gladstone's intention was to withdraw from Afghanistan
  • Dissuaded by the Indian Viceroy 
  • Anxious not to create unrest on the border and allow the Russians to take advantage
  • Gladstone agreed to continue the defence in Afghanistan 
  • Felt the policy carried rsisk as the British did not have the control to ensure success
  • 1885 - Russians seized Afghan town close to the Russian border
  • Russians expected to get away with it 
  • Gladstone threatened force and the Russians withdrew
  • Agreed to aribitration 
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Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902

  • Signalled the end to a period of 'splendid isolation'
  • Japan was an emerging industrial nation and naval power 
  • Anxious abut the Russia military build-up in its sphere of influence
  • If either Britain or Japan were attacked by more than one power, the other would help
  • Japan recognised British interests in China and the Pacific 
  • Britain recognised Japa's rights in Korea
  • Agreement was reached over the size of the naval presence in the Pacific
  • A naval force superior to that of any third power would be maintained 
  • Allowed Britain to concentrate on its fleet nearer home
  • Warning to Germany who had colonies in the Pacific
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Entente Cordial, 1904

  • Hostility between France and Britain over Britain's occupation of Egypt came to a head at Fashoda in 1899 and brought the two countries to the brink of war
  • 1902 = most of these colonial issue had been settled
  • It was not until this point that Britain felt ready to engage in new friendships
  • France was prepared to lay aside resentment of Britain over Egypt 
  • More anxious about the potential threat from Germany
  • British alliance with Japan concerned Germany
  • War between Japan and Russia could cause problems between France and Britain 
  • Face of German naval build up = a stronger relationship with France would make sense for Britain
  • Signing of the Entente Cordiale in 1904 was a clear reversal of British policy
  • Sigified a closer involvement with Europe
  • France recognised British occupation of Egypt and the Sudan
  • Britain recognised French interests in Morocco
  • France conceded defeat in dispute over fishing rights and received territory in Gambia
  • Entente was not a defensive alliance, or an anti-German alliance 
  • Simply a friendly agreement 
  • Brought an end to British fears of any Franco-Russian naval cooperation 
  • Moved Britain closer to the possibility of cordial relations with Russia 
  • Minimised potential damage caused by the Russo-Japanese War 
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Entente Cordial, 1904

  • Upset the Kaiser and created tension between Germany and Britain and France 
  • Slight shift in the balance of power in Europe 
  • Britain avoided clarifying the extent of its allegiance to France 
  • Situation of growing unease between old neighbours who had always been suspicious of eachother
  • No further references to British isolation 
  • Increasing tension and suspicion made relationship very difficult 
  • Europe was brought on the brink of war on several occasions before 1914
  • Grey aimed to strengthen Britain's new friendships with France and Japan 
  • Lessen the mistrust between Germany and Britain
  • Difficult with the build-up of German naval presence in several places worldwide 
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The Moroccan Crises and the Entente with Russia

  • Kaiser tried to cause a rift between Britain and France 
  • Also test the strength of their relationship 
  • Morocco = few semi-independent territories remaining in Africa 
  • France was keen to increase its sphere of influence there
  • Adjacent to French algeria, had extensive iron or deposits, strategically important position at the entrance to the Med, and it had a weak ruler
  • Kaiser visited Morocco, declaring support for its independence 
  • Criticised French ambitions
  • Kaiser called an international Conference in Spai to settle Morocco's position
  • Grey came out in support of France's claims over Morocco, followed by Russia, Spain and Italy
  • Germany was defeated and isolated 
  • The Conference had brought France and Britain closer 
  • Led to the start of informal Anglo-French military talks 
  • Plans for possible future military actions were discussed
  • Kaiser's action caused anxiety that Gerany was trying to establish domination of Europe
  • Made Grey determined to continue support of France
  • 1907 - Britain signed an Entente with Russia 
  • Most areas of conflict were settled 
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The Moroccan Crises and the Entente with Russia

  • Now possible to plan to concentrate Britain's Expeditionary Force in Europe
  • 1911 - Frech troops occupied the Moroccan capital Fez
  • Protect the Sultan from an internal revolt
  • Kaiser claimed compensation for German citizens living in Morocco
  • Sent a warship to the Moroccan port of Agadir
  • Britain responded at once 
  • Left in no doubt that Britain would come to the aid of France if needed
  • Entente between Britain and France looked more like an alliance 
  • Britain and France entered naval talks
  • Anti-German feeling was developing in Britain 
  • Neither side wanted war 
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Annexation of Bosnia

  • 1908 - Austria took advantage of a revolt in Turkey and annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina 
  • Roused nationalist feelings in Serbia
  • Increased hostility towards Austria
  • Stirred up Russian protests
  • Balkans = not an area of immediate concern for France or Britain 
  • Germany took the opportunity to undermine Russia by putting pressure on them to recognise Austria's annexation 
  • British and French concerns about German ambitions were raised
  • Russia embarked on a rearmamet programme to strengthen its position
  • Cautious references were make to a Triple Entente between Britain, France and Russia
  • Remained a diplomatic alliance 
  • Emphasised the alignment of the European powers 
  • The Triple Alliance was primarily defensive
  • Neither system was made as a preparation for war, but an attempt to preserve peace
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The Balkan Wars, 1912-13

  • Britan did involve itself indirectly in the Balkan wWars
  • Attempt to prevent hostility escalating between Austira and Serbia
  • The Balkan League of Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria defeated the Ottoman Turks 
  • Finally chased them out of Europe
  • Victory for Balkan Nationalism 
  • Germany, Russia and Austria each had cause for concern at the potential power of the Balkans
  • Austria was particularly concerned at the growing influence of Serbia 
  • Grey tok the initiative and called a Conference of London to settle the territorial outcome of the war
  • Carried out with an agreement between Britain, Germany and Austria 
  • General satisfaction of the European powers
  • Serbia and Bulgaria immediately fell out over their gains 
  • Brief Second Balkan War
  • Bulgaria was defeated and a large and powerful Serbia was created
  • Caused Austria renewed anxiety
  • Germany advised restraint
  • Agreement in London involving Germany and Britain 
  • Tensions had eased between them
  • It was the calm before the storm 
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