Eulenburg and Militarist Machismo  

Eulenburg and Militarist Machismo
The Second German Empire was founded on war and threats of it (Bismarck’s „Blood and Iron"). That which was not militarist, machismo and male was discredited as second-class, - “effeminate”.  Homosexual relations definitely did not fit into the concept of manly militarism. It is difficult after nearly 100 years to imagine how anti-women and anti-homosexual society was then – including the “Second” German Empire. It was not just a question of Paragraph 175[1].

hilipp zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld was born 150 years ago on 12th. February 1847. He would never have called himself “homosexual”, but anyone who can have sex with a 19 year-old fisherman in a boat on the Starnberger See (Bavaria) is not only an acrobat. Whatever he calls himself, as Shakespeare put it “a rose by any other name”… Eulenburg was a member of the group around Kaiser Wilhelm II known as the “table circle”[2] or the “camarilla”. This table circle was accused of being responsible for a “female”, soft,  policy in foreign affairs. This “peace” policy was – due to the Morocco Crisis[3] (1906) and the so-called Daily Telegraph-Affair[4] - turned into a political scandal. Also involved in the “Eulenburg Affair” was Otto von Bismarck, who held Eulenburg partly responsible for his dismissal from the post of German Chancellor by the Kaiser in 1890.


Eulenburg and Militarist Machismo

The Table circle
The males of the Eulenburg-Hertefeld family were officers and noblemen, loyal servants of the Prussian state, with their main family estate in the Uckermarck in the province of Brandenburg. The attitudes of the family were – as those of other Prussian nobility – militarist, agrarian, and opposed to anything modern.Philipp Eulenburg himself wanted to become a poet or painter, but was forced by his father into starting a military career. He put up with the conditions for two years, but then quit military service and due to the “torture of unjust and rough superiors”After studying law and serving in the courts in 1877 he became a diplomat and took over the post of Secretary  of the Prussian Representative in Munich, where he soon became known as a “charming conversationalist” and for performing his own compositions - Rosenlieder[5].Nicolaus Sombart write in his book Wilhelm II [6] that Eulenburg,  “fulfilled his assignments as an official and statesman with great self discipline ... wrote poetry and composed, (but) he detested the conventions of the court life. Eulenburg was a Prussian, but not devoted to the use of force.“

He became acquainted with the future Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1886, and this developed into a “feverishly enthusiastic” friendship.

Soon at the landed state of the Eulenburg’s in Liebenberg, a circles of friends met which included Count Kuno von Moltke and was referred to by its enemies as “the table circle” or camarillo. This became a centre of power which naturally aroused jealousy and mistrust. Decisions  were taken there which had great consequences. They were not, of course taken under the influence of any sort of democracy. It was decided in Liebenberg to replace Bismarck, the political driving force behind the foundation of the Second German Empire.


A powerful clique 

Bismarck had a not very flattering opinion of Eulenburg: “Not to be taken seriously as a politician. As a diplomat in important posts, unusable.” He was speaking with the journalist Maximillian Harden[7] in 1892 and hinted at Eulenburg’s supposed homosexuality, and it is supposed that he gave Harden “information” which could be used against Eulenburg – and continued to do so, For 15 years Harden pursued a guerrilla war in his journal against the camarilla and Eulenburg.

This was a rather odd turn for Harden, had written against Paragraph 175 in his own journal “Die Zukunft”[8] (The Future) and Magnus Hirschfeld had also written for “Die Zukunft”.

As early as 1894 Harden wrote, “A powerful clique, about which all sorts of unlawful entertaining reports could be related, is making an effort to smooth the passage of Count Philipp Eulenburg to Vienna. (Eulenburg was supposed to take up duties as ambassador there.)



The  group around Wilhelm II. was quite compromised with the „sweeties” or “pansies“ and queers. And sometimes it led to embarrassment. During a visit to the Black Forest in the suite of the Kaiser, the head of the Military Secretariat,  Dietrich, Count von Hülsen-Häseler, as a part of the evening entertainment performed a dance in a ballerinas dress. During the dance he fell down dead. The circumstances of the death were – curiously - kept a secret.

The reputation of some of the pillars of society caused such concern that in a special department of the Berlin police, “precautionary observation of the groups activities” were undertaken."[9]. A list drawn up by the Detective Inspector Meerscheidt-Hüllessen included hundreds of homosexuals from the most prominent circles – with details of who had done what with whom. Eulenburg was also on the list – and also a remark in a protocol of the Foreign Ministry indicated that an attempt had been made to blackmail him during his time at the embassy in Vienna. On the death of Meerscheidt-Hüllessen the collation of information was carried on by a Detective Inspector von Treskow, and in 1896 he informed Maximillian Harden about Eulenburg and his relations to the then President of the Berlin Police, von Richthofen, as well as to Count Kuno von Moltke, the Head of the Berlin Garrison. Harden, however, at first was reticent in the use of the information about the sexual activities because he was convinced of the difference between the private and public lives of those concerned.

 In 1902, however, Harden used information which he had obtained about Prince Eulenburg -  who was called “Phili” in the table circle, to force Eulenburg to resign as Ambassador in Austria, threatening to “out” him – to publish details, if he didn’t do so. In November 1902 Eulenburg did in fact resign and withdrew to his family estate in Liebenberg.

However, in 1905 Eulenburg began his “table circle” meetings again.

In April 1906, the German Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow collapsed in the Reichstag. He did not belong to the “table circle” although Eulenburg had suggested him as Chancellor, rumours spread that Eulenburg was working towards replacing him with one of the group, perhaps even Eulenburg himself.

Raymond Lecomte, a leading member of the French Embassy in Berlin, (and an uncle of Jean Cocteau), attended a gathering at Liebenberg from 7th to 10th  November 1906. Like many a “personality”, then and now, Lecomte was “known” as a homosexual, without being “out”. Eulenburg, who was also known, -  for his readiness to compromise with the „ancient enemi“, and he earned the hatred of all Francophobes, for this “peace” policy.  The extent of the intrigue amongst the ruling clique  becomes clear when we know that the German Chancellor von Bülow asked Detective Inspector von Treskow for information which he could use against Eulenburg.

It was many years since Prince Bismarck had warned Max Harden against the international connections of the 'cinaedi' (= gays), but when Harden heard of this latest meeting in Liebenberg where this, homosexual, and on top of that a member of the French embassy had been present at a meeting of the “table circle” with the Kaiser, according to Count Holstein[10], he fell into  a fit of rage. The atmosphere of the era should be remembered too – with the race to re-arm, especially build war ships, the war between Japan and Tsarist Russia, and the struggle between European imperial powers for colonies.

Harden saw  a connection between the “brotherhood of men” around Wilhelm II. and the “soft” policy towards France followed during the first Morocco Crisis.

“These people are following polices which seriously damage the German Empire. ”Right until the end Harden believed Eulenburg and his group followed “terrible, damaging policies which stink to the heavens.”  “If a circle of men with abnormal feelings gain influence over the decisions of the rulers, that is “a danger to the fatherland, a national disaster.” “These people” he described as “sentimental peace-mongers”[11].



A contribution appeared in the Der Zukunft at the end of November 1906 with “code names” which to those “in the know” was clear who was meant. Harden referred to Harfner (Harpist = Eulenburg) Süßen (Sweety = von Moltke) and  Liebchen  (Deary = the Kaiser). A further article along the same lines brought the „table circle“ to capitulation. Eulenburg left for a stay in  Switzerland, but was already back in Liebenberg at the end of January 1907. The French diplomat and homosexual,  Lecomte,  was once again at the same table as the German Kaiser.

Harden was fully convinced that the German state was under threat from homosexuals, and hoped by means of his attacks against Eulenburg, to cut the tree off at its roots.

Article after article, Harden accused Eulenburg, von Moltke and other of the „table circle“ of homosexual activities and pursuing an „effeminate“ policy, which was close to high treason.

He wrote to his friend Walter Rathenau[12], “with the information I have (and that no-one knows), I can launch a scandal that will echo around the world. The princes and those close to the throne will for ever be covered in dirt.[13]

In the essay – Scherzo - Harden mentioned that the Counts Moltke and Hohenau had been given the Komthur Cross – the family order of the Hohenzollern’s. Adding “Phili” had received it long ago. “(Feb 1907).

 Hardly the stuff of the later yellow press, but it was enough. The mention of Moltke and “Phili” in connection with the name of Hohenau was clear and not to be misunderstood.

Between 1905 and 1907 20 army officers were condemned for homosexual activity and six in 1906/07 committed suicide because they were being blackmailed. In the garrison town of Potsdam, Count von Lynar was accused of sexual misconduct and Count Hohenau, an aid-de-camp of the Kaiser, Commander of the Life Guards, and a blood relative of the Kaiser,  was accused of activities forbidden by §175.

The Crown Prince was serving in Potsdam and spoke with his mílitary superior, General von Kassel. He, however, had maintained a relationship with an ex-police officer for years!  At the end of May the Crown Prince decided he must inform his father of the situation. The prince believed he saw in his father’s face the horror at the information his son brought him. “Deary”, now saw the full scale of the chasm before him – not least because he had himself taken part in one of Eulenburg’s “boat trips” in Bavaria[14]. The Kaiser demanded action, was given a list of leading members of society – reduced to 15 from 100s “tainted” with homosexuality, and demanded resignations – or legal processes against their accusers to establish innocence.

Those who were unwise enough to take proceedings against their accusers were doomed almost from the start. Although Harden sometimes lost cases, and served prison sentences, the social stigma was enormous. The several  processes involving Eulenburg descended to the level of a war of nerves, of lying, of real and pretended sickness, trial by media. The main trial was never concluded, but interestingly shortly before the Nazis took power, the records were destroyed. Magnus Hirschfeld became involved as an expert witness, but later withdrew his statement – under threat of cross examination about his own personal life. In the end no-one came out well from the “battle field”, some top level officers resigned, the power of the “table circle” was broken. The path for the more aggressive circles was eased.

Eulenburg, the singer of Songs of the Roses,  died in 1921.


Harden’s  empty victory

Harden’s victory was pyrrhic – as he himself later admitted. After the 1st World War, he said that the campaign against Eulenburg, was the worst mistake he had ever made. With the breaking of the power of the Eulenburg Circle, Wilhelm II came under the influence of the more aggressive circles in the German Empire. This in turn smoothed the path to war – as historians from several countries have recognised.

Magnus Hirschfeld wrote in 1933: that  the result of the regrettable affair was “no more and no less than a victory for the tendency which ultimately led to the events of the world war.”[15] 

 “Although the importance of the Eulenburg Affair, for the internal and external history of the German Empire under Wilhelm II can hardly be overestimated there are almost no references to it in books dealing with the history of the period.”[16]  Why?

C. de la Motte-Sherman


(1)     „Wilhelm II. Sündebock und Herr der Mitte“, Nicolaus Sombart, Verlag Volk und Welt, Berlin 1996. ISBN 3-353-01066-1

(2)     Iconography of a Scandal, James D. Steakley, in “Hidden from History”.  Eds.: Duberman, Vicinius + Chauncey, Penguin, London 1991, ISBN 0-14-014363-7

(3)     Ein Pitaval, Friedrich Karl Kaul, Verlag Das Neue Berlin, Berlin, 1966

See also: Maximillian Harden: Portraits + Aufsätze: Ruth Greuner, Reclam, Leipzig 1990, ISBN 3-379-00454-5

[1]§ 175 – The paragraph which criminalised some sexual activities between men and which was severely sharpened by the Nazis. That version was only watered down in the FRG in 1969.

[2] Der Tafelrunde – literally  the “Table-round“ but The Round Table gives the wrong impression.

[3] France sought to extend its influence in Morocco. Germany was “unhappy” and sent a gun-boat.

[4] The Kaiser was interviewed and the result not aggressive enough for the militarists.

[5] Songs of the Roses – 500,000 copies were sold.

[6]Wilhelm II. Sündenbock und Herr der Mitte“, Nicolaus Sombart, Verlag Volk und Welt, Berlin 1996. ISBN 3-353-01066-1

[7] Harden was born Maximillian Witkowski, in Berlin, of Jewish parents, in 1861.

[8] Die Zukunft: Founded by Harden in 1892; the title was suggested by Franz Mehring.

[9] Kaul

[10] Influential diplomat in the German Foreign Office. The Kaiser & Holstein hated each other and spoke privately of the other as “mad”.

[11] quoted  Sombart

[12] A closetted homosexual, who became German Foreign Minister in the Weimar Republic and was assassinated.

[13] Letter dated 20.6.1907

[14]  Des Kaisers Freund und Barde, Andreas Krause, Berliner Zeitung, 12.02.1997

[15] Die Freundschaft, Berlin 15, No. 2. (Feb 1933) quoted  Steakley.

[16] Nicolaus Sombart.

Home page: english counter
© 2001 Colin de la Motte-Sherman