Jan 102019

On this date in 1920 the Treaty of Versailles, the most important of the peace treaties that brought the First World War to an end went into effect. Armistice had been declared on November 11th 1918, and from then until June 1919 the Allied Powers hammered out their demands. The Treaty was signed on 28th June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to World War I, but it did not take effect until January 10th 1920. The Treaty officially ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers and laid out the terms of peace. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I signed separate treaties. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21st October 1919.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed roughly 100 years after the Treaty of Vienna both having much the same ideals – to prevent large scale wars breaking out in Europe, but with absolutely knuckleheaded provisions that ensured that no one would be happy and conflict would certainly arise as a consequence of the provisions. In fact, in can be argued that the First World War was a long term consequence of the Treaty of Vienna, and that the Second World War was a rather shorter term consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, although the Great Depression was an important additional factor in the rise of Hitler and fascism; (then again, the Depression might have been weathered better by Germany were it not for crippling reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles). The ending of the Second World War was somewhat more sane, in that the Allied victors saw that helping the defeated nations to rebuild would be more conducive to peace than crippling and hogtying them.  The Allies also encouraged the development of trade agreements across the continent that led to the European Economic Community and, eventually, the European Union, again with the idea that cooperation rather than revenge healed wounds better and potentially permanently.

Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial required that “Germany accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the war (the other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles). This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty required Germany to disarm, make ample territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers. In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion marks (then $31.4 billion or £6.6 billion, roughly equivalent to US $442 billion or UK £284 billion in 2019). At the time economists, notably John Maynard Keynes (a British delegate to the Paris Peace Conference), predicted that the treaty was too harsh—a “Carthaginian peace”—and said the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive, views that, since then, have been the subject of ongoing debate by historians and economists. On the other hand, prominent figures on the Allied side such as French Marshal Ferdinand Foch criticized the treaty for treating Germany too leniently.

The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left no one content, and Germany was neither pacified, nor was it permanently weakened. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European powers, and the re-negotiation of the reparation system resulting in the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the indefinite postponement of reparations at the Lausanne Conference of 1932.

Although it is often referred to as the “Versailles Conference”, only the actual signing of the treaty took place at the historic palace. Most of the negotiations were in Paris, with the “Big Four” (UK, US, France and Italy) meeting generally at the Quai d’Orsay.

By 1920 the palace at Versailles had long since been abandoned as a royal residence, but its grandeur remained, hence making it a fitting locale for the signing of a grand treaty. In its grandest days under Louis XIV, Versailles was the scene of many sumptuous banquets, and some of the menus remain. On one of these menus is a dish that caught my eye, wild duck cromesquis à la Villeroy. Cromesquis are minced meat patties that are breaded and deep fried, and à la Villeroy means that they are coated with bechamel sauce before being breaded.

Wild duck is usually not especially tender but it is very flavorful. It can be roasted plain, but mincing the meat ensures that it is not stringy or chewy. I am not sure whether in Louis XIV’s time the meat was chopped raw, or the duck was cooked first. If you have a wild duck you can parboil or roast it before making cromesquis, but parboiling will dull the flavor. Briefly roasting (around 20 minutes) in a very hot oven would be all right, as would chopping the meat raw. Either way, make croquettes of the meat and dip them in bechamel sauce. Place them on waxed paper on a baking sheet, and refrigerate so that the bechamel solidifies and coheres.  Place beaten egg and breadcrumbs in separate dishes, and, using the wet hand, dry hand method. Dip the meat croquettes in beaten egg and then coat with breadcrumbs. Deep fry until golden and serve very hot.