Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The semi-autocratic ruler of Imperial Germany and (nominally) its “All-Highest Warlord”. In reality a vain, unbalanced, insecure poser with a gut instinct to avoid war, mocked and derided by his generals as “Wilhelm the Timid”. Having recklessly endorsed the “blank check” to Austria-Hungary on July 5th, 1914 he then departed for a 3-week cruise off the Norwegian coast.
Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg.
Chancellor of Imperial Germany, responsible for the country’s domestic and diplomatic policies and “managing” the Kaiser’s erratic behavior. He too endorsed the “blank check” to Vienna despite previously arguing that war might destroy the imperial regime. Normally in favor of peace, his judgment may have been affected by the recent death of his beloved wife.
Helmuth von Moltke (the Younger).
General and commander of the German armies. The nephew and namesake of the brilliant Field Commander of Bismarck’s day, he completely lacks his uncle’s skill and self-confidence. He is called “Gloomy Julius” for his melancholic, fatalistic view of Germany’s future. He fully backs the German war plan (the so-called “Schlieffen Plan”) which requires its army to violate Belgian neutrality in order to invade France.
Prince Karl Max von Lichnowsky.
German Ambassador to Great Britain and an ardent Anglophile. A “dove”, he will make several desperate attempts to avoid dragging his favorite country into war with his homeland.
Count Leopold Berchtold.
Leading minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the title of Foreign Secretary. Sought and received “blank check” from Germany in case Russia should intervene on behalf of its client state, Serbia. On July 23rd he is anxiously awaiting the Serbian response to his government’s list of demands in response to Franz Ferdinand’s murder – demands he hopes Serbia will refuse to meet.
Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf.
Chief of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff, Moltke’s counterpart in Vienna. A strident “hawk”, his call for war has finally been answered thanks to the death of the empire’s leading “dove”, Franz Ferdinand. He has delayed the invasion of Serbia to allow reservists to finish collecting the harvest.
Tsar Nicholas II.
Autocratic ruler of the Russian Empire, 2nd cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm. Weak-willed and highly fatalistic in outlook; the British Ambassador accurately remarks that the Tsar adopts the policies proposed by the last man to see him. On July 23rd he is hosting the President and Prime Minister of France (see below) on the final day of their trip to St. Petersburg.
Foreign Minister of Russia, considered one of the leading figures of Russian policy-making in 1914. Staunch supporter of Russian alliance with France as well as its role of “protector” to its “Slavic brothers” in the Balkans such as Serbia.
Russian Minister of War. Despite the fact that Russia’s massive rearmament program is still underway he will state with confidence that its armies are ready to fight. He and the Russian military are aware that Russian mobilization requires them to do so against both Germany and Austria-Hungary at the same time.
President of the 3rd Republic who exercises unusually strong power despite the constitutional limits of his position. A staunch supporter of the Franco-Russian alliance to block German aggression, on July 23rd he is about to embark from St. Petersburg on the return trip to Paris.
Prime Minister of the 3rd Republic. New to the job and almost completely ignorant of foreign affairs, he has spent most of the trip to St. Petersburg worrying about the political fallout of the trial of Madame Caillaux for murdering a prominent critic of her husband’s. He has left foreign policy matters to Poincare and Paleologue.
The French Ambassador to Russia, he shares Poincare’s hardline stance towards Germany. Somewhat of a rogue actor in our tragedy.
Leading Socialist figure and powerful anti-war orator (as noted in my last article). He has argued for a European-wide strike by industrial workers to prevent a European-wide war, a position adopted by the 2nd International in 1912.
Prime Minister and acting War Secretary of Great Britain in July 1914. Preoccupied with potential civil war over Irish Home Rule and ongoing affair with a younger woman, he only begins to pay attention to the crisis in Europe after July 23rd. Favors closer ties to France and Russia.
Sir Edward Grey.
British Foreign Secretary and leading “hawk” in the British government. Has made military commitments to France in the event of war without consulting his colleagues, let alone Parliament and the public. In spite of his position he speaks no foreign languages and has only left the United Kingdom once in his life.
Winston Churchill prior to World War I.
First Lord of the Admiralty (American equivalent to Secretary of the Navy) in July 1914. Another “hawk” in the British cabinet, he is ready to mobilize the Royal Navy at a moment’s notice.
David Lloyd George.
Chancellor of the Exchequer (American equivalent to Secretary of the Treasury) and future Prime Minister. A powerful figure within the governing Liberal Party, he is a noted “dove” on foreign policy and unaware of Grey’s military commitments.
Prime Minister of Serbia. May have been aware of the plot to kill Franz Ferdinand but obscure warnings to Vienna of trouble in Sarajevo went unheeded. On July 23rd he is not in Belgrade but on the campaign trail for elections scheduled for August 1914.
Albert, King of the Belgians.
The popular monarch of Belgium since 1909, he oversees a country whose neutrality is protected by all of the Great Powers (Germany included) by the 1839 Treaty of London. In the event of war he would become Belgium’s Commander-in-Chief.