A Prussian solution to an Irish problem – An Irishman’s Diary on Prince Joachim and the 1916 Rising
Prince Joachim of Prussia, the sixth and youngest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, took his own life 100 years ago this month. Some of the 1916 leaders in the GPO discussed the possibility of putting the German prince on the Irish throne.
Germany’s defeat in the first World War profoundly affected all Germans. For Joachim, it meant the end of the reign of the Hohenzollerns, the Prussian family which had united the country and provided its first emperors.
His father was in exile and disgrace in the Netherlands, leaving his family reduced to the status of commoners.
Joachim was a decorated war veteran who won the Iron Cross in the early stages of the war. He married in late 1916, but his marriage was already troubled by the time he took his own life at the age of 29 on July 18th, 1920.
In a parallel historical universe, Prince Joachim might have been the first king of an Ireland freed from British rule.
This bizarre claim first surfaced in The Irish Times during the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Easter Rising in 1966.
Desmond FitzGerald’s eyewitness account of what went on in the General Post Office (GPO) was posthumously published (he died in 1947) on April 7th, 1966.
They suggested that in the event of a German victory in the war, a live proposition in 1916, a German invasion force could free Ireland from British rule.
The Easter Rising rebels invoked the aid of their “gallant allies in Europe”, namely Germany, in their enterprise. Had the Aud been able to land with its cargo of German guns and ammunitions, the Rising might have been a more protracted affair.
Roger Casement, who landed at Banna Strand on Good Friday morning 1916, had unsuccessfully tried to create an Irish Brigade from Irish-born prisoners-of-war in German POW camps. All of this was sanctioned at the highest level by the German government.
In order to secure this independent state from a reinvasion by Britain, Ireland would secure its relationship by putting a German prince on the Irish throne.
There were precedents across Europe. There was always a spare German prince knocking about if you needed one. The Belgian royal family was created in 1830 from the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha house, which also produced Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, and the Greeks had adopted a king from the splendidly name House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg of Denmark. The Romanians too at the time had a German-born king.
The idea of a republican monarchy is by contemporary standards a contradiction in terms. Pearse was appointed as the first president of the Irish Republic during Easter Week 1916, but the rebels knew their only slim chance of success was to invoke the aid of Germany.
In the extract in The Irish Times, FitzGerald explained the rationale for a German-Irish monarchy in the event of a German victory in the war. “In those circumstances it would obviously be good policy for them to take steps to establish an independent Ireland with a German prince as king.
“In those circumstances they would have an Ireland on the far side of England, linked with them in friendship flowing from the fact that they had promoted that independence and from the link of royal relationship.
“That would have certain advantages for us. It would mean that a movement for de-anglicisation would flow from the head of the state downwards, for what was English would be foreign to the head of the state.
“Such a ruler would necessarily favour the Irish language, for it would be impossible to make the country German-speaking, while it would be against his own interests to foster English.
“For the first generation or so it would be an advantage, in view of our natural weakness ... the ruler of that time would have become completely Irish.”
There was much discussion about this following its publication in The Irish Times, as evidenced by a letter sent to the newspaper a week later by the veteran republican and former government minister Ernest Blythe.
It was indeed true, said Blythe, who revealed that he had discussed the issue at length with Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh in 1915.
Admitting that many people had been “startled” by the revelations, he said it had to be understood in the context of the time.
“The term Republic had been for most people in this country as a code word for complete independence and separation from Britain and scarcely excluded the idea of a democratically accepted constitutional monarchy.”
In 1993, Desmond FitzGerald’s son Garret addressed the question left unanswered by his father. Why Joachim?
Plunkett met Joachim in Germany in 1915 while there to invoke German aid for the rebellion. Pearse and Plunkett had hoped Joachim, then unmarried, would marry a Catholic princess and therefore be acceptable to a nationalist population. He didn’t.
Garrett FitzGerald envisaged Pearse would have been the prime minister to a King Joachim of Ireland in the event of a German victory.
FitzGerald concluded, as Blythe had done, that the concept of republicanism in Ireland was not as advanced as the concept of separatism at the time.
Indeed, French republicanism was much distrusted in Ireland especially by the Catholic Church, and France’s status as a republic with a president at its head was an anomaly in Europe at the time.
FitzGerald concluded: “The historical evolution of Irish attitudes to royalty in general and the British royal family in particular, as well as to the concept of a monarch/subject relationship – which is a very different and important issue – has been more complex than we often allow for”.