Wilhelm II, German Emperor

"Wilhelm II" and "Kaiser Wilhelm II" redirect here. For other uses, see Wilhelm II (disambiguation) and Kaiser Wilhelm II (disambiguation).
Wilhelm II
Bain News Service - The Library of Congress - Kaiser Wilhelm (LOC) (pd).jpg
Kaiser Wilhelm II, c. 1914
German Emperor; King of Prussia
Reign 15 June 1888 – 9 November 1918
Predecessor Frederick III
Successor Monarchy abolished
Friedrich Ebert, President of Germany
Chancellors
Born (1859-01-27)27 January 1859
Crown Prince's Palace, Berlin, Prussia
Died 4 June 1941(1941-06-04) (aged 82)
Huis Doorn, Doorn, Netherlands
Burial 9 June 1941
Mausoleum at Huis Doorn
Spouse Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein
(m. 1881–1921)
; her death
Hermine Reuss of Greiz (m. 1922–41); his death
Issue
Full name
German: Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert
Frederick William Victor Albert
House Hohenzollern
Father Frederick III, German Emperor
Mother Victoria, Princess Royal
Religion Lutheranism
Signature

Wilhelm II or William II ( German: Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert von Preußen, English: Frederick William Victor Albert of Prussia; 27 January 1859 – 4 June 1941) was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, ruling the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia from 15 June 1888 to 9 November 1918. He was the eldest grandchild of the British Queen Victoria and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe.

Crowned in 1888, he dismissed the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, in 1890 and launched Germany on a bellicose "New Course" in foreign affairs that culminated in his support for Austria-Hungary in the crisis of July 1914 that led in a matter of days to the First World War. Bombastic and impetuous, he sometimes made tactless pronouncements on sensitive topics without consulting his ministers, culminating in a disastrous Daily Telegraph interview in 1908 that cost him most of his influence. [1] His leading generals, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, dictated policy during the First World War with little regard for the civilian government. An ineffective war-time leader, he lost the support of the army, abdicated in November 1918, and fled to exile in the Netherlands.

Biography

Wilhelm was born on 27 January 1859 at the Crown Prince's Palace, Berlin to Prince Frederick William of Prussia (the future Frederick III) and his wife, Victoria, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria. At the time of his birth, his great-uncle Frederick William IV was king of Prussia, and his grandfather and namesake Wilhelm was acting as Regent. He was the first grandchild of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, but more importantly, as the first son of the Crown Prince of Prussia, Wilhelm was from 1861 second in the line of succession to Prussia, and also, after 1871, to the newly created German Empire, which, according to the constitution of the German Empire, was ruled by the Prussian King.

Wilhelm with his father, in Highland dress, in 1862

A traumatic breech birth left him with a withered left arm due to Erb's palsy, which he tried with some success to conceal. In many photos he carries a pair of white gloves in his left hand to make the arm seem longer, holds his left hand with his right, or has his crippled arm on the hilt of a sword or holding a cane to give the effect of a useful limb posed at a dignified angle. His left arm was about 6 inches (15 centimetres) shorter than his right arm. Historians have suggested that this disability affected his emotional development. [2][ dubious ]

Early years

In 1863, Wilhelm was taken to England to be present at the wedding of his Uncle Bertie, (later King Edward VII), and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. William attended the ceremony in a Highland costume, complete with a small toy dirk. During the ceremony the four-year-old became restless. His eighteen-year-old uncle Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, charged with keeping an eye on him, told him to be quiet, but Wilhelm drew his dirk and threatened Alfred. When Alfred attempted to subdue him by force, Wilhelm bit him on the leg. His grandmother, Queen Victoria, missed seeing the fracas; to her Wilhelm remained "a clever, dear, good little child, the great favourite of my beloved Vicky". [3]

His mother, Vicky, was obsessed with his damaged arm. She blamed herself for the child's handicap and insisted that he become a good rider. The thought that he, as heir to the throne, should not be able to ride was intolerable to her. Riding lessons began when Wilhelm was eight and were a matter of endurance for Wilhelm. Over and over, the weeping prince was set on his horse and compelled to go through the paces. He fell off time after time but despite his tears was set on its back again. After weeks of this he finally got it right and was able to maintain his balance. [4]

Wilhelm, from six years of age, was tutored and heavily influenced by the 39-year-old teacher Georg Hinzpeter. [5] "Hinzpeter," he later wrote, "was really a good fellow. Whether he was the right tutor for me, I dare not decide. The torments inflicted on me, in this pony riding, must be attributed to my mother." [4]

As a teenager he was educated at Kassel at the Friedrichsgymnasium. In January 1877, Wilhelm finished high school and on his eighteenth birthday received as a present from his grandmother, Queen Victoria, the Order of the Garter. After Kassel he spent four terms at the University of Bonn, studying law and politics. He became a member of the exclusive Corps Borussia Bonn. [6] Wilhelm possessed a quick intelligence, but this was often overshadowed by a cantankerous temper.

Prussian royalty
House of Hohenzollern
Wappen Deutsches Reich - Reichsadler 1889.svg
Wilhelm II
Children
Crown Prince Wilhelm
Prince Eitel Friedrich
Prince Adalbert
Prince August Wilhelm
Prince Oskar
Prince Joachim
Victoria Louise, Duchess of Brunswick

As a scion of the Royal house of Hohenzollern, Wilhelm was exposed from an early age to the military society of the Prussian aristocracy. This had a major impact on him and, in maturity, Wilhelm was seldom seen out of uniform. The hyper-masculine military culture of Prussia in this period did much to frame his political ideals and personal relationships.

Crown Prince Frederick was viewed by his son with a deeply felt love and respect. His father's status as a hero of the wars of unification was largely responsible for the young Wilhelm's attitude, as were the circumstances in which he was raised; close emotional contact between father and son was not encouraged. Later, as he came into contact with the Crown Prince's political opponents, Wilhelm came to adopt more ambivalent feelings toward his father, perceiving the influence of Wilhelm's mother over a figure who should have been possessed of masculine independence and strength. Wilhelm also idolised his grandfather, Wilhelm I, and he was instrumental in later attempts to foster a cult of the first German Emperor as "Wilhelm the Great". [7] However, he had a distant relationship with his mother.

Wilhelm resisted attempts by his parents (especially his mother) to educate him in British attitudes towards democracy. Instead, he agreed with his German tutors' support of autocratic rule, and gradually became thoroughly Prussianized under their influence. He thus became alienated from his parents, suspecting them of putting Britain's interests first. The German Emperor, Wilhelm I, watched as his grandson, guided principally by the Crown Princess Victoria, grew to manhood. When Wilhelm was nearing twenty-one the Emperor decided it was time his grandson should begin the military phase of his preparation for the throne. He was assigned as a lieutenant to the First Regiment of Foot Guards, stationed at Potsdam. "In the Guards," Wilhelm said, "I really found my family, my friends, my interests — everything of which I had up to that time had to do without." As a boy and a student, his manner had been polite and agreeable; as an officer, he began to strut and speak brusquely in the tone he deemed appropriate for a Prussian officer. [8]

In many ways, Wilhelm was a victim of his inheritance and of Otto von Bismarck's machinations. Both sides of his family had suffered from mental illness, and this may explain his emotional instability.[ citation needed] When Wilhelm was in his early twenties, Bismarck tried to separate him from his parents (who opposed Bismarck and his policies) with some success. Bismarck planned to use the young prince as a weapon against his parents in order to retain his own political dominance. Wilhelm thus developed a dysfunctional relationship with his parents, but especially with his English mother. In an outburst in April 1889, Wilhelm angrily implied that "an English doctor killed my father, and an English doctor crippled my arm – which is the fault of my mother", who allowed no German physicians to attend to herself or her immediate family. [9]

As a young man, Wilhelm fell in love with one of his maternal first cousins, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt. She, however, turned him down, and would, in time, marry into the Russian imperial family. In 1880, however, Wilhelm became engaged to Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, known as "Dona". The couple married on 27 February 1881, and would remain married for forty years, until her death in 1921. In a period of ten years, between 1882 and 1892, Augusta Victoria would bear Wilhelm seven children, six sons and a daughter. [10]

Beginning in 1884, Bismarck began advocating that Kaiser Wilhelm send his grandson on various diplomatic missions, a privilege denied to the Crown Prince. That year, Prince Wilhelm was sent to the court of Tsar Alexander III in St. Petersburg to attend the coming of age ceremony of the sixteen-year-old Tsarevich Nicholas. However Wilhelm's behavior did little to ingratiate himself to the tsar. Two years later, Kaiser Wilhelm I took Prince Wilhelm on a trip to meet with the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz Joseph. In 1886, also, thanks to Herbert von Bismarck, the son of the Chancellor, Prince Wilhelm began to be trained twice a week at the Foreign Ministry. One privilege was denied to Prince Wilhelm: to represent Germany at his maternal grandmother, Queen Victoria's, Golden Jubilee Celebrations in London in 1887.[ citation needed]

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: II Vilhelm
Bân-lâm-gú: Wilhelm 2-sè
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Вільгельм II
български: Вилхелм II
eesti: Wilhelm II
føroyskt: Wilhelm II
한국어: 빌헬름 2세
Հայերեն: Վիլհելմ II
Bahasa Indonesia: Wilhelm II dari Jerman
Kurdî: Wilhelm II.
lietuvių: Vilhelmas II
norsk bokmål: Vilhelm II av Tyskland
norsk nynorsk: Vilhelm II av Tyskland
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Vilgelm II Gogensollern
پنجابی: ولہلم II
Runa Simi: Wilhelm II
Simple English: Wilhelm II of Germany
slovenščina: Viljem II. Nemški
српски / srpski: Вилхелм II Немачки
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Wilhelm II od Njemačke
Türkçe: II. Wilhelm
Võro: Wilhelm II