Behind a veneer of democracy, the British Foreign Office played a masterful game of deceit. From Vienna, the British ambassador Sir Maurice de Bunsen advised that the situation was dangerous and might rapidly deteriorate. [1] Other diplomats conveyed the same burning sense of urgency to their respective governments, but Grey, Poincaré and Sazonov did nothing to reduce the tension. The Secret Elite convinced Berchtold that Europe understood his dilemma. Austria-Hungary had to stop the Serbian-inspired rot. Grey played his cards perfectly. From the outset, Sir Edward Grey worked constantly to deceive the Kaiser and his advisors.

Prince Lichnowsky

On 9 July, the German ambassador in London, Prince Lichnowsky, was repeatedly assured by Grey that Britain had entered into no secret obligations with France and Russia. Lichnowsky confidently assured his government that ‘England wished to preserve an absolutely free hand to act according to her own judgement in the event of continental complications’. He also reported that Grey said he would be willing to persuade the Russian government to adopt a more peaceful and conciliatory attitude towards Austria. [2] Pure deception. Grey had been intimately associated with the promises made to France since1905. His commitment to the Secret Elite cause overrode honesty. He did nothing to reconcile Russia and Austria. In fact, his ambassador in St Petersburg, Sir George Buchanan, was there to steady the Russian minister, Sazonov’s, shaky hand in the desperate drive to war.

You might have expected the foreign affairs debate in the House of Commons on 10 July to have discussed the growing tensions in the Balkans or the Austrian response to Sarajevo. If Members of Parliament truly thought that the twelve-day old assassination would lead to war, this topic would have consumed all others. It was an opportunity for serious debate that would have warned the nation of ominous developments that could well lead to a continental war. If the Foreign Office had honourably tried to raise the level of public awareness, then this was the logical platform. But the issue of Austrian intentions to punish Serbia and its possible consequences were not raised.

Edward Grey at the House of Commons

Instead of debating the nation’s role in the event of war, Members of Parliament had their democratic say about commercial interests and allegations that other nations were acting unfairly against British companies and investors. It set a tone of self-interest that was occasionally broken by a shard of enlightenment. [3] Honourable members discussed China, India, Persia and Russia, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, improving relations with Germany, Portugal and Turkish Armenia but not the crisis in the Balkans. Sir Edward Grey said not a word to criticise or disagree with major points that were completely at odds with the true objectives of the Foreign Office, and then ignored them completely. Had it not been so serious, so calamitous, so despicable, the reader might find it amusing to appreciate how successfully he used the House of Commons to lull the country at large, and the Germans in particular, into believing that Britain had not the slightest concern that the events in Sarajevo might lead to a continental war.

The Liberal MP for Stirling, Arthur Ponsonby, stood in the House and praised the improved relations between Britain and Germany. He hailed the recent successful visit of the British fleet to Kiel as an example of ‘how friendly relations are between Germany and Britain’, and in consequence asked for a commitment to reduce military spending ‘to prevent civilisation being submerged’. [4] This was exactly the kind of signal that inspired German confidence in the British government’s good intentions. Ponsonby was perfectly serious, as was his Liberal colleague Joseph King, who drew appreciation from other members when he attacked czarist Russia’s religious intolerance towards Jews. His contempt for their anti-Semitic practices was clearly expressed in the statement: ‘I consider that a country which abuses the right of free entry is outside the brotherhood of nations.’ Travellers who professed the Jewish faith were systematically denied entry to Russia, even on a British passport, which meant that some of the most prominent and powerful men in the Houses of Parliament could not go there. [5]

What music to the ears of the German ambassador when Joseph King compared the scandal of Russia’s behaviour to the goodwill and affection for ‘countries like Germany, which stand with us in the forefront of civilisation’. [6] Again and again, honourable Members of Parliament, completely ignorant of the Secret Elite agenda, underlined the much improved relationship between Britain and Germany. Ultimately, not one word spoken in the debate mattered. It was as if the ominous events in the Balkans had no relevance in London. The British people’s contempt for Russia was palpable, but that meant nothing to the Secret Elite. At that very moment, Grey’s ambassadors were manipulating St Petersburg towards a war to destroy Germany. That could not be achieved without the Russian armies. While Parliament praised the new warmth in the Anglo-German relationship, the Foreign Office continued its preparations to blow it apart. The date was 10 July 1914.

Count Berchtold

Two factors played into the hands of the international conspirators. Firstly, the Austrians, in the person of Count Berchtold believed that all of the major European countries except Russia were behind them. Berchtold had been repeatedly assured that this was fact. Secondly, by sticking strictly to protocol, Berchtold went through the slow process of informing all of the appropriate agencies in the Austro-Hungarian empire, before taking formal action. On 14 July, he dutifully explained to the ageing emperor that demands would be made to Serbia in a very firm ‘Note’. These included an immediate end to anti-Austrian propaganda and anti-Austrian teaching in schools; public apologies for the assassination from King Peter and the Serbian government; direct Austrian police involvement in the criminal investigations within Serbia and the immediate surrender of those complicit in the murder. Such details were much in line with what was already known in London. Secrets did not remain secrets for long in the sieve of international diplomacy. Too many ministers and civil servants had sight of the proposed text of the Austrian Note as it was discussed and finalised.

On 16 July, the British ambassador at Vienna, Sir Maurice de Bunsen, telegraphed Sir Edward Grey with a detailed account of the Austrian indictment against Serbia. [7] He itemised the demands that would be made and, additionally, the fact that Austria would insist on unconditional compliance. De Bunsen stated that there was a genuine belief in Austria that Russia would not seek to protect racial assassins. He added that Austria also believed she would lose her position as a Great Power if she did not act definitively. [8] It was exactly as the Foreign Office expected.

Unaware that their intentions were already widely known, Berchtold delayed further. He decided to postpone delivering the demands to Serbia until the President of France had concluded a visit to St Petersburg. France and Russia were committed to a treaty of mutual defence in the event of war with Germany, and it was no co-incidence that the French President, Raymond Poincare, had decided to visit St. Petersburg shortly after the Archduke’s assassination. Historians have described the visit from 20 to 23 July 1914 as a ceremonial state occasion of no particular consequence. If that was so, why did the French not wait until after the international crisis had settled before embarking for Russia?

Poincare with Czar Nicholas

The entire French diplomatic service was aware of the implications that a war between Austria and Serbia would have for France. They knew that an Austrian declaration against Serbia would draw an equal response from Russia; that if Russia took arms against Austria, Germany would be obliged by her alliance to become involved. More pertinently for the French, if Russia went to war, they were bound by treaty to join her. They knew that a crisis of unprecedented severity was at hand. Yet we are asked to believe that this ‘goodwill exchange’ had no particular purpose. Poincaré could have easily delayed in Paris until the crisis had passed. He did not. They chose to go to St Petersburg and boarded the warship La France at Dunkirk on 15 July. After five days at sea, Sazonov, Isvolsky and Paléologue (the French ambassador at St Petersburg) warmly welcomed him to Russia. [9] This was no innocent state visit. Nor was its timing a matter of chance. Poincaré’s very presence in St Petersburg was ominous.

Berchtold believed his delay would reduce the danger of France and Russia concocting a joint rejection to the Note. They were determined to keep the problem and the solution limited to Serbia. In this, Berchtold was encouraged by Germany. He was prepared to wait. The Secret Elite had been presented with a perfect excuse to fan the smouldering mistrust in the Balkans and set fire to Europe. The clause in the ‘Note’ which demanded that Austrian police should be involved in the investigation was translated into an act of sovereign interference. That Serbia had to accept every clause without exception, gave rise to the claim that the ‘Note’ was in fact an ultimatum. From 16 July, the diplomatic buzz centred exclusively on the forthcoming Austrian Note to Serbia, and the vocabulary sharpened to a threatening barb. Amongst the entente diplomats, in the rat runs of conspiracy in London, St Petersburg and Paris, the forthcoming Note further mutated from ‘ultimatum’ into ‘unacceptable ultimatum’. Berchtold’s gravest mistake was in withholding the demands to Serbia for three weeks in the expectation that it mattered that Poincaré had departed from Russia. In fact, the delay was counterproductive. Poincaré might have been at sea, but Berchtold was the one marooned by his own procrastination. He gifted the Secret Elite precious time to prepare an orchestrated response. Berchtold was also the victim of a cruel deception.

The three entente governments used their diplomatic corps to lead him down a blind ally. They told him that ‘there was little probability indeed’ that their reaction to the Note would go beyond a diplomatic protest. [10] Newspaper editorials and political comment had been repeatedly favourable to Austria. British ambassador Sir Maurice de Bunsen convinced Berchtold that Britain would not intervene. Edward Grey’s professed indifference to the Austro-Serbian quarrel was considered proof of this disinterest. He repeatedly said that he had no right to intervene. [11] Poor Berchtold. The reassurances spurred him on to disaster. [12] Within three weeks of the Sarajevo assassination, the Secret Elite network had successfully manipulated the unfolding events in Austria and Serbia. They embarked on a mission to ensure that Russia’s commitment to support Serbia against Austria remained firm, in the full knowledge that Germany would be dragged into the conflict. Simultaneously, they repeatedly and disingenuously assured Berlin of their good faith and noble intention. Britain, France and Russia expressed an unreserved understanding for the Austrian case against Serbia, but by the third week in July these same politicians were poised to declare a complete rejection of Austria’s response. Count Berchtold had been drawn into a well-constructed trap that the Secret Elite strategists hoped would net a greater prize. War with Germany.

[1] Gooch and Temperley, British Documents on the Origins of the War, vol. XI; Bunsen to Grey, 5 July, BD 40.
[2] Lichnowsky to Bethmann Hollweg, 9 July 1914, D.D. 30. cited in Imanuel Geiss, July 1914, p. 105.
[3] Hansard, Foreign Office, Class II, House of Commons, Debate, 10 July 1914, vol. 64, cc1383–463.
[4] Arthur Ponsonby, Hansard, House of Commons, Debate, 10 July 1914, vol. 64, cc1397–398.
[5] Joseph King pointed out in that debate that Mr Cassel, a distinguished financier, Sir P. Magnus, a world renowned medical scientist, Mr Montagu, the secretary to the Treasury, Mr Herbert Samuel, president of the Local Government Board, and the lord chief justice himself, Isaac Rufus, were all barred by their Jewish faith from entering Russia.
[6] Joseph King, Hansard, House of Commons, Debate, 10 July 1914, vol. 64, cc1438–50.
[7] Bunsen to Grey, 16 July, BD 50, but suppressed from the British Blue Book. Thus the official documents published in this ‘book’, Great Britain and the European Crisis, Correspondence and Statements, together with an Introductory Narrative of Events, published in 1914, deliberately sifted out incriminating evidence.
[8] Sidney B. Fay, Origins of the World War, vol. II, p. 247, footnote.
[9] Fay, Origins of the World War, vol. II, p. 278.
[10] Harry Elmer Barnes , ‘Germany Not Responsible for Austria’s Actions’, New York Times Current History of the European War, vol. 28 (1928), issue 4, p. 624.
[11] Barnes, In Quest of Truth and Justice, p. 44.
[12] Pierre Renouvin, The Immediate Origins of the War, p. 99.