The gender anxiety of Otto von Bismarck, 1866–1898

Claudia Kreklau*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Building on critical re-examinations of the ‘Bismarck myth’ and scholarship on the fin de siècle crisis of identity in Europe, this article examines key vignettes in the political career of Otto von Bismarck during Prussia’s era of expansion and consolidation, c. 1866–1898, through the lens of gender. It finds the legendary ‘Iron Chancellor’ experienced extreme gender-anxiety to the point of social dysphoria until the 1870s. Assigned feminine roles and lacking political decision-making power, Bismarck resorted to tantrums, tears, threats of self-harm and suicide, suffered mental breakdowns and enacted the kinds of ‘feminine’ intrigue of which he accused Europe’s royal women throughout his life. To stabilize their own identity in the early 1870s, he and his contemporaries weaponized misogyny to deflect accusations of femininity away from themselves and onto women at court. Bismarck claimed to have led negotiations in a masculine manner in the era of Europe’s colonial cabinet diplomacy. After his death, contemporaries studied the shape and measurements of Bismarck’s head to find an explanation for his alleged genius and marketed the statesman as an example of potent masculinity. Early hagiographic instrumentalizations of Bismarck should be read as part of a wider attempt to legitimize forms of white masculine rule and justify limited political participation in this period.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberghac023
Pages (from-to)171–196
Number of pages26
JournalGerman History
Issue number2
Early online date30 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • Bismarck
  • Gender
  • Social dysphoria
  • Crisis of identity


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