1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gramont, Antoine Agénor Alfred, Duc de
GRAMONT, ANTOINE AGÉNOR ALFRED, Duc de, Duc de Guiche, Prince de Bidache (1819–1880), French diplomatist and statesman, was born at Paris on the 14th of August 1819, of one of the most illustrious families of the old noblesse, a cadet branch of the viscounts of Aure, which took its name from the seigniory of Gramont in Navarre. His grandfather, Antoine Louis Marie, duc de Gramont (1755–1836), had emigrated during the Revolution, and his father, Antoine Héraclius Geneviève Agénor (1789–1855), duc de Gramont and de Guiche, fought under the British flag in the Peninsular War, became a lieutenant-general in the French army in 1823, and in 1830 accompanied Charles X. to Scotland. The younger generation, however, were Bonapartist in sympathy; Gramont’s cousin Antoine Louis Raymond, comte de Gramont (1787–1825), though also the son of an émigré, served with distinction in Napoleon’s armies, while Antoine Agénor, duc de Gramont, owed his career to his early friendship for Louis Napoleon.
Educated at the École Polytechnique, Gramont early gave up the army for diplomacy. It was not, however, till after the coup d’état of the 2nd of December 1851, which made Louis Napoleon supreme in France, that he became conspicuous as a diplomat. He was successively minister plenipotentiary at Cassel and Stuttgart (1852), at Turin (1853), ambassador at Rome (1857) and at Vienna (1861). On the 15th of May 1870 he was appointed minister of foreign affairs in the Ollivier cabinet, and was thus largely, though not entirely, responsible for the bungling of the negotiations between France and Prussia arising out of the candidature of Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern for the throne of Spain, which led to the disastrous war of 1870–71. The exact share of Gramont in this responsibility has been the subject of much controversy. The last word may be said to have been uttered by M. Émile Ollivier himself in his L’Empire libéral (tome xii., 1909, passim). The famous declaration read by Gramont in the Chamber on the 6th of July, the “threat with the hand on the sword-hilt,” as Bismarck called it, was the joint work of the whole cabinet; the original draft presented by Gramont was judged to be too “elliptical” in its conclusion and not sufficiently vigorous; the reference to a revival of the empire of Charles V. was suggested by Ollivier; the paragraph asserting that France would not allow a foreign power to disturb to her own detriment the actual equilibrium of Europe was inserted by the emperor. So far, then, as this declaration is concerned, it is clear that Gramont’s  “On his part,” adds M. Ollivier, “it was the result only of obedience, not of warlike premeditation” (op. cit. p. 262). The apology may be taken for what it is worth. To France and to the world Gramont was responsible for the policy which put his country definitely into the wrong in the eyes of Europe, and enabled Bismarck to administer to her the “slap in the face” (soufflet)—as Gramont called it in the Chamber—by means of the mutilated “Ems telegram,” which was the immediate cause of the French declaration of war on the 15th.must be shared with his sovereign and his colleagues (Ollivier op. cit. xii. 107; see also the two projets de déclaration given on p. 570). It is clear, however that he did not share the “passion” of his colleagues for “peace with honour,” clear also that he wholly misread the intentions of the European powers in the event of war. That he reckoned upon the active alliance of Austria was due, according to M. Ollivier, to the fact that for nine years he had been a persona grata in the aristocratic society of Vienna, where the necessity for revenging the humiliation of 1866 was an article of faith. This confidence made him less disposed than many of his colleagues to make the best of the renunciation of the candidature made, on behalf of his son, by the prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. It was Gramont who pointed out to the emperor, on the evening of the 12th, the dubious circumstances of the act of renunciation, and on the same night, without informing M. Ollivier, despatched to Benedetti at Ems the fatal telegram demanding the king of Prussia’s guarantee that the candidature would not be revived. The supreme responsibility for this act must rest with the emperor, “who imposed it by an exercise of personal power on the only one of his ministers who could have lent himself to such a forgetfulness of the safeguards of a parliamentary régime.” As for Gramont, he had “no conception of the exigencies of this régime; he remained an ambassador accustomed to obey the orders of his sovereign; in all good faith he had no idea that this was not correct, and that, himself a parliamentary minister, he had associated himself with an act destructive of the authority of parliament.”
After the defeat of Weissenburg (August 4) Gramont resigned office with the rest of the Ollivier ministry (August 9), and after the revolution of September he went to England, returning after the war to Paris, where he died on the 18th of January 1880. His marriage in 1848 with Miss Mackinnon, a Scottish lady, remained without issue. During his retirement he published various apologies for his policy in 1870, notably La France et la Prusse avant la guerre (Paris, 1872).
- Compare with this Bismarck’s remarks to Hohenlohe (Hohenlohe, Denkwürdigkeiten, ii. 71): “When Gramont was made minister, Bismarck said to Benedetti that this indicated that the emperor was meditating something evil, otherwise he would not have made so stupid a person minister. Benedetti replied that the emperor knew too little of him, whereupon Bismarck said that the emperor had once described Gramont to him as ‘un ancien bellâtre.’”