Letters from history part I

Letters from history part I From the “Ems Telegram” to the Queen’s pancake recipe

The “Ems Telegram” – a little letter with a big impact.

The trigger of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870/1871 was a brief letter, known as the “Ems Telegram” or “Ems Telegram”. The letter came against the backdrop of a conflict between the North German Confederation, headed by Prussia, and France. In France, Napoleon III ruled as Emperor. The real issue was about who would ascend the Spanish throne. Wars had broken out before over this question. The right of Crown Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to ascend the throne was supported by figures including Otto von Bismarck and King William I of Prussia. For its part, France viewed the claim as a threat to the balance of power in Europe. But Prince Leopold renounced his right to the Spanish throne on 12 July 1870. For King William I, this was essentially the end of the matter. But the story did not end there. The following day, on 13 July 1870, the French ambassador wrote a letter to William I. In this letter, William was asked not to put forward claims by Prussian princes to the Spanish throne in the future as well. William I rejected this request. For this reason, his “ally”, Otto von Bismarck, changed the response to be sent to the French government so that it could be distributed in the form of a telegram, the “Ems Telegram”. The demands in the telegram came across much more harshly than in the original. France felt insulted by the incident and prepared for war. Bismarck must have been laughing to himself, because this was precisely the outcome that he had intended the Telegram to trigger. When the French declared war against Prussia on 19 July 1870, France looked like it was the sole aggressor. This fitted right into Bismarck’s plans to isolate France within Europe. The Germans would only be defending themselves. Well, that was the plan that Bismarck had skilfully engineered. But in reality, Bismarck wanted the war to weaken France. Only a weakened France would, in the final reckoning, no longer be able resist unification with the German Empire.

“Dear friend” – how Mahatma Gandhi failed to stop World War II.

Source: <br />5th edition of “Letters of Note”<br />Copyright © 2013 by Shaun Usher<br />Copyright © 2014 for the German edition by Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, part of the Random House GmbH publishing group

Who doesn’t know him? Mahatma Gandhi, the acclaimed leader of the non-violent Indian independence movement. When tensions in Europe reached their initial peak in 1939 after Czechoslovakia was occupied by German troops, Gandhi wrote a letter to Adolf Hitler at the urging of friends. In the letter beginning with “Dear friend”, Gandhi asked the Führer to prevent a war “for the sake of humanity”. Unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful. Because the British government intervened, the letter was never even received by Hitler. Only one month later, the world watched as Germany invaded Poland, triggering the biggest and most deadly conflict in the history of mankind.

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – how US President Dwight D. Eisenhower fell in love with Queen Elizabeth II’s Scotch pancakes.

In German, there is a saying “Peace, joy and harmony” which is used to describe a society that seems peaceful and carefree, but which is intact only superficially. It is often used when problems are suppressed, rather than solved. The origins of the saying are unclear. But what is clear is that the Queen of England changed the eating habits of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower with her Scotch pancakes, also known as drop scones.

In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II paid a state visit to the United States at the invitation of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US President at the time. The President reciprocated with his own visit to the United Kingdom two years later. The Queen received Eisenhower and his wife at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. We don’t know what was discussed behind closed doors there. But we do know that President Eisenhower fell in love with the royal pancakes. In fact, he liked them so much so that the Queen wrote a letter to the President with her personal recipe, five months after he visited. Peace, joy and harmony indeed! Or was there more to it than that? Whatever the case may be, we don’t want to keep the recipe from you:

Source: <br />5th edition of “Letters of Note”</br>Copyright © 2013 by Shaun Usher</br>Copyright © 2014 for the German edition by Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, part of the Random House GmbH publishing group

Ingredients (serves 16):

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 teaspoons of cream of tartar*
  • 2 tablespoons of melted butter

* Cream of tartar is a more natural alternative to conventional baking powder.


Mix together the eggs, sugar and half of the milk. Add the flour and mix it in thoroughly. While doing so, add the remaining milk as required, as well as the bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar. Finally, mix in the melted butter.

Note from the editors: the Queen must have assumed that the US President already knew that the pancakes then needed to be cooked on both sides in a buttered frying pan, until they reach a golden brown colour.