Wilhelm II, German Emperor and King of Prussia

by Susan Flantzer

Wilhelm II, German Emperor and King of Prussia, Photo Credit – fotocollectie.huisdoorn.nl

Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht was born on January 27, 1859, at the Crown Prince’s Palace in Berlin.  He was the first child of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (the future Kaiser Friedrich III) and Victoria, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom, and the first grandchild of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, whose names he was given.  Wilhelm’s 18-year-old mother had a difficult breech delivery which left Wilhelm with a withered left arm, about six inches shorter than his right arm, which he always tried to conceal.

Wilhelm and his father in Highland dress at Balmoral in Scotland photographed by George Washington Wilson,1863; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Wilhelm had seven siblings:

Wilhelm (on the right in the back) with his parents and his siblings; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Wilhelm was related to many European royals.  His sister Sophie was the Queen Consort of Greece.  Among his first cousins were King George V of the United Kingdom, Queen Maud of Norway, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, Queen Marie of Romania, Duke Albert of Schleswig-Holstein, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, Duke Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain.

In 1868 when he was nine years old, Wilhelm had first met Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, known as Dona, who was a few months older.  Dona was the eldest daughter of Frederick VIII, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein and Princess Adelheid of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. Her maternal grandparents were Ernst I, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg and Princess Feodora of Leiningen, half-sister of Queen Victoria. In the years that followed, Dona fell in love with her cousin Prince Ernst of Saxe-Meiningen and was sent to England to visit relatives to quash the romance.  Wilhelm had proposed to his first cousin Princess Elisabeth (Ella) of Hesse and by Rhine, daughter of his maternal aunt Alice.  Ella, however, turned him down, and later would marry into the Russian Imperial Family and be murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

Wilhelm in 1877; Credit – Wikipedia

Dona and Wilhelm were reacquainted in the summer of 1878 in Potsdam, Prussia.  The Prussians did not look favorably upon Dona as a possible wife for Wilhelm.  There were questions whether the marriage would be equal because Dona’s father was not a sovereign. Furthermore, there were political complications from the Prussian annexation of Schleswig-Holstein when Dona’s father had claimed them.  However, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was a strong proponent of the marriage because he believed it would end the dispute between the Prussian government and Dona’s father.  The engagement was announced officially on June 2, 1880 and the couple married on February 27, 1881 in Berlin.  Dona and Wilhelm had a very happy marriage.  Wilhelm was a man who needed to be pampered and since Dona adored him, she had no trouble pampering him.  She had more artistic interests than he did, but they shared very conservative political views and a deep religious faith. Dona had to endure a rough start to her married life because of her in-laws who did not think her rank was sufficient for the wife of a future emperor.

Dona and Wilhelm, Photo Credit – Wikipedia

The couple had seven children, six sons and one daughter:

  • Crown Prince Wilhelm (1882–1951), married Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. They had six children. Their eldest son Prince Wilhelm of Prussia (1906–1940) was killed in World War II.
  • Prince Eitel Friedrich (1883–1942), married Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Oldenburg. They were divorced and had no children.
  • Prince Adalbert (1884–1948), married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. They had three children.
  • Prince August Wilhelm (1887–1949), married Princess Alexandra Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. They had one child.
  • Prince Oskar (1888–1958), married Countess Ina Marie von Bassewitz. They had four children. Their eldest son Prince Oskar Wilhelm Karl Hans Kuno of Prussia was killed in 1939 in World War II.
  • Prince Joachim (1890–1920), married Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt. They had one son. His great grandson Grand Duke George Mikhailovich of Russia, Prince of Prussia (born 1981) is a pretender to the Russian throne.
  • Princess Viktoria Luise (1892–1980),  married Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick. They had five children. Among their descendants are Prince Ernst Augustus of Hanover, husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco; former King Constantine II of Greece; and Queen Sofia of Spain.

Wilhelm and Dona’s family in 1896, Photo Credit – Wikipedia from the German Federal Archives

1888 was called the Year of the Three Emperors.  On March 9, 1888, Wilhelm’s grandfather Kaiser Wilhelm I died. Already ill with throat cancer, Wilhelm’s father became Kaiser Friedrich III.  His reign lasted only 99 days as he died on June 15, 1888 and Wilhelm became Kaiser at the age of 29.

Wilhelm has been a controversial figure for historians, past and present.  From Wilhelm’s Wikipedia article: “Three trends have characterized the writing about Wilhelm. First, the court-inspired writers who considered him a martyr and a hero. Often they uncritically accepted the justifications provided in the Kaiser’s memoirs. Second, those who judged Wilhelm as completely unable to handle the great responsibilities of his office, a ruler who was too reckless to deal with power. Third, after 1950, scholars sought to transcend the passions of the 1910s and attempted an objective portrayal of Wilhelm II and his rule.”

Wilhelm was very militaristic and wanted to increase the strength of Germany’s armed forces, particularly the German Imperial Navy which he wanted to be the equal of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. Although Wilhelm appeared to have some doubts after the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, Serbia (see his translated memoirs), Wilhelm incited Austria-Hungary to take revenge against Serbia for the assassination. Events worsened throughout July 1914 resulting in the beginning of World War I in August 1914. Years before the start of World War I, Germany had developed the Schlieffen Plan, a one-front war-winning offensive against France which was the thinking behind the German invasion of France and Belgium on August 4, 1914.

Wilhelm in 1915; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

In the aftermath of World War I, Germany had a revolution which resulted in the replacement of the monarchy with a republic. Wilhelm abdicated on November 9, 1918.  On November 10, 1918, Wilhelm Hohenzollern crossed the border by train and went into exile in the Netherlands, never to return to Germany.  He first settled in Amerongen, living in the castle there.

In 1919, Wilhelm purchased Huis Doorn, a small manor house outside of Doorn, a small town near Utrecht in The Netherlands, and moved there in 1920.  As a condition of his exile, Wilhelm was allowed to travel freely within a radius of 15 miles from his house.  Traveling further required that advance notice had to be given to local government officials.  As Wilhelm did not like to be under the thumb of minor officials, he rarely traveled further than the 15 miles.

Huis Doorn in 1925; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Wilhelm’s son Joachim was unable to accept his new status as a commoner and became severely depressed. He committed suicide by gunshot on July 18, 1920 in Potsdam, Germany.  The shock of abdication and exile, combined with Joachim’s suicide, proved too much for Dona. She died in 1921, at Huis Doorn.  The Weimar Republic in Germany allowed her remains to be transported back to Germany to be buried at the Temple of Antiquities near the New Palace in Potsdam.  Wilhelm was not allowed to go to Germany and could accompany his wife’s body only as far as the border.

Dona in 1913; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

In January of 1922, Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz‘s son sent birthday wishes to Wilhelm, who then invited the boy and his mother to Doorn. Wilhelm found Hermine very attractive and greatly enjoyed her company. Having both been recently widowed, the two had much in common.  Wilhelm was determined to marry Hermine despite objections from his children. 63-year-old Wilhelm and 34-year-old Hermine married on November 5, 1922 in Doorn.  Hermine returned to Germany after Wilhelm’s death.  After World War II, Hermine was held under house arrest at Frankfurt an der Oder in the Soviet Zone of Germany. She died at Paulinenhof, a Soviet internment camp near Brandenburg, Germany on August 7, 1947.  She was buried at the Temple of Antiquities in Potsdam with Wilhelm’s first wife.

Hermine and Wilhelm at Huis Doorn in 1933; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

On June 4, 1941, Wilhelm II, former German Emperor and King of Prussia, died of a pulmonary embolism at Huis Doorn, his home in exile in Doorn, The Netherlands.  He was 82 years old and had lived at Huis Doorn since 1920.

After Wilhelm’s death, Adolf Hitler wanted to bring his remains back to Germany for a state funeral and burial.  Even though Hitler felt animosity toward the former Kaiser, he thought that as a symbol of Germany during World War I, honoring Wilhelm would show the German people the legitimate succession from the Kaiserreich to the Third Reich.  Wilhelm had stated in his will that he did not want to return to Germany unless the monarchy was restored, and his wishes were granted.  However, Wilhelm’s request that the swastika and other symbols of Nazism not be displayed at his funeral was not followed.

Wilhelm’s eldest son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, asked architect Martin Kieszling to design a mausoleum in the gardens of Huis Doorn near his father’s favorite rhododendrons.  On the roof of the mausoleum is a brass ball with a cross on top of it.  This was made by a Doorn blacksmith out of pots from the Huis Doorn kitchen after all copper was ordered to be turned into the German occupation of the Netherlands to make weapons.  On the anniversary of Wilhelm’s death, German monarchists still gather at his mausoleum.

Mausoleum of Wilhelm II, Photo Credit – Wikipedia

Wikipedia: Wilhelm II, German Emperor
Official Website: Huis Doorn