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 had seven siblings:
- Charlotte (1860 –1919) married Bernhard III, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, had issue
- Heinrich (1862 –1929) married his first cousin Princess Irene of Hesse and by Rhine, had issue
- Sigismund (1864 – 1866) died of meningitis at 21 months
- Victoria (1866 – 1929) married (1) Prince Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe, no issue (2) Alexander Zoubkov, no issue
- Waldemar (1868 – 1879) died of diphtheria at age 11
- Sophie (1870 – 1932) married King Constantine I of Greece, had issue
- Margaret (1872 –1954) married Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse, had issue
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.
On February 27, 1881, Wilhelm married Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, known as Dona. 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.
Wilhelm and Dona had seven children, six sons and one daughter:
- William, German Crown Prince (1882–1951); married Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
- Prince Eitel Friedrich (1883–1942); married Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Oldenburg
- Prince Adalbert (1884–1948); married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen
- Prince August Wilhelm (1887–1949); married Princess Alexandra Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg
- Prince Oskar (1888–1958); married Countess Ina Marie von Bassewitz
- Prince Joachim (1890–1920); married Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt
- Princess Victoria Louise (1892–1980); married Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick
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. To learn more about the reign of Wilhelm II, see his Wikipedia article.
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 objective portrayal of Wilhelm II and his rule.”
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 farther 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.
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.
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.
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.
YouTube: Funeral of Wilhelm II
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 in to the German occupation of the Netherlands to make weapons. On the anniversary of Wilhelm’s death, German monarchists still gather at his mausoleum.