The Eulenburg Affair

Seminar Paper, 2000

12 Pages

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The Eulenburg Affair

By: Malte Goebel

Date: October 28, 1998

Course: HIS317A, Germany in the 19th and 20th Century

The Eulenburg Affair was the biggest domestic affair between the foundation of the Reich 1871 and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II 1918. Philipp Count zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld, whom Wilhelm called "my bosom friend... the only I have",1 was in 1807 accused of homosexuality and almost immediately fell in disgrace and lost all his influence on German policy.

The purpose of this essay is to examine the Eulenburg Affair from two perspectives: Firstly I will examine Maximilian Harden's accusation of homosexuality which initiated the Eulenburg Affair. The case gained enormous the publicity because of the delicate subject, which was in fact merely a medium for Harden's political purposes. Harden criticised Philipp Count zu Eulenburg and his "camarilla" for the initiation of Wilhelm's policy and his "persönliches Regiment". Whether Eulenburg was responsible for the policy, especially in the last years before the Eulenburg Affair, is debatable.

Secondly, I will deal with the question of Wilhelm's homosexuality. Starting with an examination of the influence of Wilhelm's upbringing on his personality I will take a look at his (male) entourage and point out that Wilhelm's subconscious desires created a homoerotic atmosphere which was fulfilled by the Liebenberg Circle and the military.


Maximilian Harden2 (1861-1927) was born under the name Felix Ernst Witkowski as the son of Jewish parents. Due to strife with his parents when he was fourteen years old, Harden ran away from home. Seeking his own way, he became a member of a group of wandering actors. This accounts for the influences on his later life: his individuality and his love of theatre. Through theatre Harden also came to journalism. He wrote some play reviews and through this experience discovered his dramatic ability and the joy he took in writing. Newspapers published his reviews and soon Harden also wrote articles on political subjects. After having gained some experience and having discovered that none of the existing papers fulfilled his vision of a critical, satirical newspaper, he founded his own weekly magazine "Die Zukunft" in the year 1892. Although he would have loved to write more about culture and theater, Harden felt it necessary to express his dissension with the political course Kaiser Wilhelm II was pursuing after the dismissal of Bismarck.3 Harden felt a sense of German duty in the tradition of Lasalle and Fichte to "say, what is".4 He accompanied Wilhelm's reign with criticism that often had to be hidden in satire. Two times, in 1893 and 1898, Harden was accused of insulting the Kaiser, and in 1898 he was found guilty and had to spend six months in jail.5

Already in his writings for a magazine called "Die Gegenwart" in 1890, two years before the opening of his magazine "Die Zukunft", Harden lay criticism on the German society. Writing under the pseudonym "Apostata" he criticized social corruption and political phrasemongering among Germany's elites, which he later extended to criticism of the personal regime of Kaiser Wilhelm II.6 As "Apostata" Harden wanted to reveal common lies.7

It is necessary at this point to point out, that at first Harden did not question the monarchy or Wilhelm himself. Only after the Eulenburg Affair did Harden come to the conclusion that Wilhem was "totally unqualified (...) for the handling of governmental affairs".8 His main attacks before 1908 were aimed at the "camarilla" around Wilhelm, his entourage. In an article in "Die Zukunft" in 1895 Harden wrote that Wilhelm II. was guided by good intentions, but not able to adequately cope with the political necessities of his position.9 The "camarilla", in Harden's opinion, supported Wilhelm and his "melodramatic temper"10 as well as his political style, and hindered him from developing and accomplishing modern views. Harden compared the "camarilla" to a wind from medieval times blowing into modern institutions.11 Again in 1898 Harden warned the Kaiser of the growing byzantinism around him.12

With Eulenburg's retreat from his post as German ambassador in Vienna in 1902 Harden seemed to gain success. This retreat was due to a number of reasons which included the death of Eulenburg's mother, Eulenburg's deteriorating health, his understanding that he lost ability to keep up with the speed of politics, and last but not least hints concerning Eulenburg's sexual orientation in an article by Harden.13 Officially because of his state of health Eulenburg also was not able to see Kaiser Wilhelm II as often as before, thus his influence on political affairs decreased. Harden's articles in "Die Zukunft" in the late fall of 1906, which caused the Eulenburg Affair, were published because Harden feared a political comeback of Eulenburg. After years away the Count's health seemed to improve and according to Harden's information Eulenburg took steps to take back the position he fulfilled in the 1890 as "chief arbiter of the higher careers"14 and closest advisor of Wilhelm II.

Harden was right in his suspicion. There were in fact attempts on Eulenburg's part to interfere in politics. Twice, in April and November 1906, he tried to force Bülow to resign.15 Harden's reaction was the publication of "Praeludium" and "Dies Irae" in November 1906,16 where he hinted that he had knowledge about Eulenburg's sexual orientation. Bülow also reacted. Rather than resign, he reacted by giving information he had about Eulenburg to Harden. This information was relatively delicate, since it concerned the Morocco affair where the German Reich lost face in 1906. At the climax of the affair, Wilhelm as well as the French embassy counsellor Raymond Lecomte were guests at Liebenberg, Eulenburg's home. Harden easily assumed that on this visit to Eulenburg they talked about politics, and following this Lecomte delivered his negative impression of a weak German Kaiser to the French government. More than that, Lecomte, who was an old friend of Eulenburg, was also suspected by the Berlin police as a homosexual. This information was employed by Harden when he hinted even more strongly of Eulenburg's homosexuality in a further article,17 which finally launched the Eulenburg affair when Moltke and Eulenburg went to court.

In 1908, at which point the Eulenburg Affair had gained great public interest, Harden wrote in an article in "Die Zukunft", "I have never voluntarily exposed the sexual acts of another person."18 This statement is supported in the memoirs of Otto Hammann, the foreign office press chief, although he was no friend of Harden. In these published memoirs he writes that Harden intended to prevent scandal and not to cause it, after Moltke and Eulenburg went to court.19 And already in 1902 Harden had enough information to hint at Eulenburg's sexual orientation in an article to force him to retreat.20 The fact, that he did not reveal his knowledge in its entirety is also evidence that Harden pursued political purposes and was not solely writing out of the desire for sensation. He was no enemy of homosexuality and even favored the abolition of Paragraph 175, which forbad certain sexual acts between men.21 Finally, in the early 1920s Harden regretted having started the affair, because he found out at that time that Eulenburg had changed and in fact was moderating his influence on Kaiser Wilhelm II.22

The aim of Harden was not to accuse Eulenburg of homosexuality, but to target Kaiser Wilhelm II's style of governing and his "Persönliches Regiment". By targeting Eulenburg, Wilhelm's best friend and closest advisor and the leader of the "camarilla" Harden hoped to change the Kaiser's anachronistic and egocentric behaviour. Harming Eulenburg, Harden thought, would be an effective way of forcing Wilhelm to change German policy and help the Kaiser to grow more conscious of his behaviour. When the case came to public knowledge, homosexuality became the main point, although this was never Harden's intention.


According to Isabel Hull, Wilhelm's entourage consisted mainly of two groups: military and the "camarilla",23 the latter represented by Eulenburg and his Liebenberg Circle.24 Roughly said, both fulfilled the same function for Kaiser Wilhelm II, despite the inherent opposition (on the one side the masculine military, on the other side the art-oriented, intellectual, feminine Liebenberg Circle). They both assured him in his masculinity.

Wilhelm needed this because he had problems of self-esteem stemming from his childhood. He was born with a lame left arm. This in itself would not have had such a great influence on Wilhelm's psyche, since he learned how to cope with this disability. What was worse than this was the way in which he learned to cope with it and how his mother treated him. His mother Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria of England and married to crown prince Friedrich, the son of Kaiser Wilhelm I, came to Germany with great plans. Together with her husband she wanted to transform the German monarchy to a liberal monarchy, such as the one already established in England. She wanted to bring up her son in the idealised image she had of her father, Prince Albert. But when she became aware of Wilhelm's disability to move his left arm, she felt that he would not be able to fulfil her great expectations. Her first reaction was attempting to cure Wilhelm's stunted arm, but when he made only slow efforts, she reacted with rejection of her son. Wilhelm saw the different medical treatments he had to endure as tortures, and they helped their part to alienate him from his mother. In the same way that she withdrew her love from him, he also began to hate her and placed the guilt for all of his suffering on her.25

Wilhelm's father Friedrich left the upbringing of his children in the hands of his wife.26

Although most of Wilhelm's memories of his father were good, Friedrich and his son had no close relationship. Despite this, Wilhelm glorified his father, but Friedrich's presence in his son's life was not strong enough to play a paternal role towards Wilhelm. More than that, realising the fact that Victoria dominated Friedrich, Wilhelm had to put even more blame on his mother. His longing to win back his father from his mother's influence, a negative Oedipus-complex,27 when Vitoria undermined the position Wilhelm wanted his father to have, had a big influence for Wilhelm's later entourage.

Other men around the young Wilhelm were not able to fill the gap his father left, least of all his tutor Dr. Georg Hinzpeter, who by function would have been predestined for this role. Hinzpeter was appointed Wilhelm's tutor in 1866, when Victoria thought the boy needed a male person around him. The tutor took his duties seriously and taught Wilhelm in a coldly rational and eventually brutal way. It was impossible to satisfy Hinzpeter, who never gave encouraging words or praise, but always expected perfection: an impossibility.28 One of the most torturing experiences was when Wilhelm at the age of eight-and-a-half still could not ride because of his left arm. Hinzpeter taught him to keep balance on the horse by ordering him to try it again without pause. It took some weeks, but finally Wilhelm could ride despite his disability.29 Wilhelm later placed the blame for this poor treatment on his mother.30

It is not possible to say to what extent Wilhelm's psychological defects were inherited or the outcome of his childhood and youth. However, following the psychoanalytic model can give in this case at least some explanations for the behaviour Wilhelm showed in his later life.31

The two main groups of Wilhelm's entourage - military and Liebenberg Circle - were chosen subconsciously by the Kaiser because they helped him to deal with his problems. Both of them served the purpose of male companionship and, as it is mentioned above, assured him in his masculinity. Wilhelm preferred male companionship for different reasons. It was on the one hand the outgrowth of his longing for a strong idealised father, and furthermore a result of the experiences Wilhelm made in his family life. His father was dominated by his mother, and Wilhelm saw this as the reason for his father's absence. This finally led to a general aversion of women and to the glorification of an all-male companionship - the "Männerbund", clearly identifiable in both parts of Wilhelm's entourage.

Symbolic of Wilhelm's affection for the military is the fact that one of his first sentences was "Soldat ist ein schöner Mensch".32 Soldiers gave Wilhelm a sense of stability and security. The command of his troops gave him a sense of confidence and power.33 When he was together with army generals, whom Wilhelm admired from his early childhood, Wilhelm vicariously participated in their masculine activities. Through them, he tried to achieve a masculine identity. He could even feel more masculine than them, because they had to obey his orders. Wilhelm's love of uniform has to be seen in the same context: When wearing a uniform, Wilhelm could show that he was part of the army, once again proving he was as leader of the army more masculine than them.

The second way for Wilhelm to derive strength from his masculine entourage through their degradation. The most famous example of this occured when General Dietrich von Hülsen- Haeseler, chief of the military cabinet, died of a heart attack in 1908, shortly after he had to dance in front of the Kaiser dressed as a ballerina.34 The humiliation of honourable members of his military entourage allowed Wilhelm to feel as if he was the only sober person surrounded by tipsy and childish companions, and thus gained self-confidence.

The military assured Wilhelm in his masculinity because of its masculinity, while the Liebenberg Circle assured Wilhelm in his masculinity because of its femininity. Here, homoeroticism plays a role as the circle was feminine due to the homosexual orientation of most of its members.35

There is almost no doubt that Philipp Count zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld, the pivot of the Liebenberg Circle, was homosexual. Eulenburg had heterosexual tendencies (he had a wife and eight children and was described as a "devoted father"),36 so that perhaps "bisexual" is a better term. But Eulenburg's homosexual side was stronger. He enjoyed his family life only for a short time,37 and the only female person he was ever close to in his life was his mother.38 The relationship to his male companions of the Liebenberg Circle seems to have been by far stronger than any relationship to a female with the exception of his mother. The main source for the examination of Eulenburg and the Liebenberg Circle is Eulenburg's correspondence, and although in the letters homosexuality is never directly mentioned, some evidence can be found that Eulenburg's friendship to Kuno von Moltke, a member of the Liebenberg Circle, included more than an ordinary friendship39, and that the whole "Männerbund" lived out in the Liebenberg Circle had a homoerotic background. Eulenburg also had sexual relationships to lower-class men, which was proved by Harden during the Munich process in 1908.40

Wilhelm's close friendship to Philipp Count zu Eulenburg and thus the whole affiliation with the Liebenberg Circle served Wilhelm's psyche in different ways. Eulenburg gave the Kaiser, seven years his junior, the friendly affection which Wilhelm had never received from his parents. Eulenburg's genuine affection also stood in contrast to the flattery of those who sought only their own advancement when they met Wilhelm.

Eulenburg had bad health and suffered constantly from a number of illnesses. He also had hypochondrious tendencies. Eulenburg's weakness made the Kaiser feel more masculine, selfconfident, and powerful. Eulenburg's melodramatic suffering and self-pity helped Wilhelm to overcome anxiety about his own health by playing the role of the stronger, more courageous friend who offers encouragement and support.41

Up to this point Wilhelm's personality concerning his relationships to men can be explained without assuming he was homosexual. Nontheless, labelling Wilhelm as a repressed homosexual who was perhaps unaware of this fact gives hints to the explanation of Wilhelm's complex personality.42 Yet Wilhelm's psychological shortcomings cannot be simplified to a hidden sexual orientation.43 Assuming Wilhelm was homosexual can only contribute to the explanation of his character.


Hans-Wilhelm Baumeister. Prince Philipp Eulenburg-Hertefeld (1847-1921). Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1981.

Hans-Joachim Goebel. Maximilian Harden als politischer Publizist im 1. Weltkrieg, Frankfurt/M.: Verlag Peter Lang, 1977.

Johannes Haller. Aus dem Leben des Fürsten Philipp zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld. Berlin: Gebrüder Patel, 1924.

Otto Hammann. Um den Kaiser. Erinnerungen aus den Jahren 1906-1909. Berlin: Hobbing, 1919.

Maximilian Harden. Apostata. Berlin: G. Stilke, 1892.

Maximilian Harden. Von Versailles nach Versailles. Dresden: Hellerau, 1927. Maximilian Harden. Die Zukunft. Berlin, Oct. 1892-Sept. 1922.

Isabel Hull. The Entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II 1888-1918. Cambridge, London, New York, New Rochelle, Melbourne, and Sydney: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Thomas A. Kohut. Wilhelm II and the Germans. A study in leadership. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

John C. G. Röhl. Kaiser, Hof und Staat. Wilhelm II. und die deutsche Politik. München: Beck, 1988.

John C. G. Röhl and Nicolaus Sombart (eds). Kaiser Wilhelm II. New Interpretations. The Corfu Papers. Cambridge, London, New York, New Rochelle, Melbourne, and Sydney: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

John C. G. Röhl. Der Ort Kaiser Wilhelms in der deutschen Geschichte. München: Oldenbourg, 1991.

John C. G. Röhl (ed.). Philipp Eulenburgs politische Korrespondenz Vol. 1-3. Boppard: Boldt, 1976-83.

James Steakley. The Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

B. Uwe Weller. Maximilian Harden und die "Zukunft". Bremen: Schünemann Universitätsverlag, 1970.

Wilhelm II. My early life. New York: G.H. Doran, 1926.

Harry F. Young. Maximilian Harden. Censor Germaniae. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1959.


The last paragraph caps the preceding arguement, but does not serve well as a small

conlcusion to your whole paper. You don't talk about Harden, Röhl's "kingship mechanism", as the many larger issues that might have given your paper more "mainstream" relevance and weight. 80%


1 Johannes Haller. Aus dem Leben des Fürsten Philipp zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld (Berlin, 1924) p. 46.

2 About Harden’s early life see B. Uwe Weller. Maximilian Harden und die "Zukunft" (Bremen 1970) pp. 19-24.

3 Weller, pp. 49f.

4 Maximilian Harden. Von Versailles nach Versailles (Dresden, 1927) p. 66.

5 Hans-Joachim Goebel. Maximilian Harden als politischer Publizist im 1. Weltkrieg (Frankfurt/M., 1977) p. 16.

6 Weller, p. 105.

7 Harden compared himself to the boy in Andersen’s "The Emperor’s new clothes" who reveals the emeror’s nakedness (Harden, Apostata (Berlin, 1892) p. Vf.).

8 "Wilhelm II. hat bewiesen, dss er zur Erledigung politischer Geschäfte ganz und gar ungeeignet ist", Zukunft, November 21, 1908, p. 304.

9 "Der Landesvater", Zukunft, March 2, 1895, pp. 389-396.

10 Cited after Goebel, p. 14.

11 "Fast alle Übel, unter denen wir heute leiden, rühren im letzten Grunde von diesem Widerspruch her: unsere Einrichtungen sind modern, um den Geist aber, der sie nutzbar machen soll, weht und wittert der Hauch der Feudalzeit ", Zukunft, March 2, 1895, p. 392.

12 "Die monarchische Mehrheit des Volkes fürchtet, dass die Freiheit Ihres Auges duch eine Binde gehemmt ist, die schlaue Höflingskunst der Liebedienerei fältete."Zukunft, June 25, 1898, p. 551.

13 "Moritz und Rina", Zukunft, December 27, 1902, p. 477.

14 Harry F. Young. Maximilian Harden. Censor Germaniae. (The Hague, 1959) p. 122.

15 Young, p. 118.

16 "Praeludium", Zukunft, November 17, 1906, p. 266 and "Dies Irae", Zukunft, November 24, 1906, p. 291.

17 "Symphonie", Zukunft, February 2, 1907, pp. 157-174.

18 "Ich habe niemals freiwillig die Geschlechtshandlungen eines Menschen ans Licht gebracht." Zukunft, July 25, 1908, p.135.

19 Otto Hammann. Um den Kaiser. Erinnerungen aus den Jahren 1906-1909 (Berlin, 1919) pp. 21f.

20 Young, p. 114.

21 Isabel Hull. The Entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II 1888-1918 (Cambridge 1982) p. 134.

22 Weller, p. 161.

23 Hull, Entourage p. 11.

24 Hull, Entourage p. 75.

25 Kohut, p. 40.

26 Kohut, p. 68.

27 Kohut, p. 279.

28 Wilhelm II. My early life (New York, 1926) pp.31-32.

29 My early life p.37.

30 Kohut, p. 43.

31 Thomas A. Kohut, "Kaiser Wilhelm II and his parents", in John C. G. Röhl and Nicolaus Sombart (eds). Kaiser Wilhelm II. New Interpretations. The Corfu Papers (Cambridge, 1982) pp. 64-66.

32 Kohut, p. 72.

33 Kohut, p. 105.

34 Terence F. Cole. "The Daily Telegraph affair", in John C. G. Röhl and Nicolaus Sombart (eds). Kaiser Wilhelm II. New Interpretations. The Corfu Papers (Cambridge, 1982), p. 255.

35 Isabel Hull. "Kaiser Wilhelm II and the ‘Liebenberg Circle’ ", in John C. G. Röhl and Nicolaus Sombart (eds). Kaiser Wilhelm II. New Interpretations. The Corfu Papers (Cambridge, 1982) pp. 196f.

36 Hull, Entourage p. 51.

37 Eulenburg to Varnbüler 13.8.1877, John C. G. Röhl (ed.). Philipp Eulenburgs politische Korrespondenz Vol. 1 (Boppard, 1976) No. 20.

38 Varnbüler cited by Röhl in Eulenburgs Korrespondenz I, p. 110.

39 Varnbüler to Moltke in Eulenburgs Korrespondenz I, p. 39-40, and Eulenburg’s behaviour towards Moltke’s wife described in Harry F. Young. Maximilian Harden. Censor Germaniae (The Hague, 1959) p. 104.

40 Young, pp. 109f.

41 Kohut, p. 113.

42 John C. G. Röhl. "The emperor’s new clothes", in John C. G. Röhl and Nicolaus Sombart (eds). Kaiser Wilhelm II. New Interpretations. The Corfu Papers (Cambridge, 1982) p. 48 (here Röhl quotes from Hull, Entourage, but I was not able to find the sentences on the issue I used).

43 Kohut, p. 106.

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