I ran into David Lloyd George while in France earlier this month for a work conference.
Yes, the off-screen nemesis of the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey makes an appearance on a plaque at the Trianon Palace Hotel, which is just outside the gates of the Chateau de Versailles gardens in France.
French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau decreed the terms of 1919 Treaty of Versailles in this hotel, and the Treaty was signed a few days later in the Chateau de Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors. David Lloyd George represented Great Britain and signed his name alongside Georges Clemenceau, US President Woodrow Wilson, and other leaders of Allied Powers. Formally signaling the end of the war between Germany and the Allies, the treaty targeted Germany specifically and aimed to have the country take responsibility for the First World War. Negotiations among the Allies took six months, and even at the time of the treaty’s signing, the exact reparation terms had not been settled – they would be announced two years later, in 1921.
I like Liaquat Ahamed’s retelling of the contentious debates that happened before the treaty was signed, in a chapter of Lords of Finance he titles “Demented Inspirations.”
Lloyd George, “pandering to public opinion” wanted harsh, punitive measures taken against Germany (p. 105). Woodrow Wilson, on the other hand, wanted a more moderate approach. The French, Ahamed writes, while in favor of harsher terms, were more concerned with border security than reparations.
During the Peace Conference leading up to the treaty in the spring of 1919, tensions were high. The British delegates would not budge from German reparations of $55 billion (and Germany’s pre-war annual GDP only came to $12 billion!). The US refused to accept anything above $24 billion and really only wanted $10 – 12 billion imposed. They argued that large reparations would prohibit not only the recovery of Germany, but all of Europe. Lloyd George, unable to convince his own delegates to back down from their number, proposed delaying the assessment of reparations until later, with a new commission to be formed on the matter.
Even so, Germany was horrified by the 1919 treaty – they had expected a “generous peace.” Instead they got “disarmament, dismemberment [of their county], occupation, and reparations” (p. 109). While the exact number had not yet been assigned, the rumors of the insanely high reparation terms were enough to fuel outrage.
Ahamed writes that Lloyd George began to have second thoughts about the harsh terms – especially as Britain remembered that they needed Germany’s help to boost their own economy. At the last minute Lloyd George tried to convince France and the US to soften the final terms. However, Ahamed writes that “Wilson…adamantly refused, saying that the prime minister ‘ought to have been rational to begin with and then would not have needed to have funked at the end'” (p. 116).
Over the next two decades, Europe was home to devastated economies, a rise in radicalism, and a second world war. The harsh terms of the treaty and subsequent reparations certainly played a role.
Demented inspirations, indeed.
Ahamed, L. (2009). The Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World. New York: Penguin Books.
For a history of the Trianon Palace Hotel, see the hotel website.
Image 1: Treaty of Versailles Commemorative Plaque. Taken by Meg Doherty Bea at the Trianon Palace Hotel on May 31, 2014.
Image 2: Trianon Palace Hotel, Versailles, France. Taken by Meg Doherty Bea on May 31, 2014.