Little Bits of History

April 28

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 28, 2017

1887: Guillaume Schnaebelé is released. He was born in Alsace, an area that is today in northeastern France but has been an area of contention. When Schnaebelé was born in 1831, Alsace was part of the Kingdom of France and had been for over 150 years. However, by the time of this incident, it was part of the German Empire and had been since 1871 as part of the fallout from the Franco-Prussian War. Schnaebelé emigrated to France after the war, having served on the French side and having been awarded the Knight of the Legion of Honor. He was employed as a mid-level and rather obscure French police inspector when he was invited to Ars-sur-Moselle to meet with a German police inspector.

Near Pagny-sur-Moselle, he was arrested on April 21. There was an immediate dispute as to whether Schnaebelé was still in France or was in German territory at the time of his arrest. The French claimed, no matter where he was, since he had been invited by Germany to attend a conference by German officials, he should be given immunity. The Germans maintained he was arrested for treason against the state because during the war, he was involved in sending vital information regarding German fortresses to Paris. He also aided and abetted Alsatians in the pay of the French Government and an order had been issued for his arrest should he ever step on German ground again.

Schnaebelé was released on this date by order of German Emperor William I. Also on this day, the French ambassador in Berlin received a message from Otto van Bismarck, the German Chancellor, stating the Germans felt fully justified in the arrest as the guilt of Schnaebelé was incontrovertible. However, he was being released because business meetings along the borders and between officials “must always be regarded as protected by a mutually-assured safe conduct.” This seemed to diffuse the tensions between the two nations which were on the brink of war – again. The language flowing between the two nations had been provocative and inflammatory.

In the time since, there has been speculation as to what was really happening in this week long incident. It is possible Bismarck was behind the entire affair and used it as a way to gauge French response. He may have been baiting France into starting a war or perhaps seeing if they were still in unified support of General Boulanger who had already been involved in a number of embarrassing situations. He was serving as Minster of War, a position he lost in May 1887 and he was transferred to a provincial post to be hopefully forgotten. There is also a possibility that Schnaebelé was actually a spy and working for the soon to be disgraced General. Whatever the reason for his arrest, his release was enough to forestall war, at least for a time.

It may seem unfashionable to say so, but historians should seize the imagination as well as the intellect. History is, in a sense, a story, a narrative of adventure and of vision, of character and of incident. It is also a portrait of the great general drama of the human spirit. – Peter Ackroyd

I ain’t no historian but I happen to savvy this incident. – Charles Marion Russell

It’s a thrilling world, and people really like stories about secrets, which is the essence of a spy drama. – Andrew Scott

We have learned in recent years to translate almost all of political life in terms of conspiracy. –  John le Carre

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