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Kaiser Wilhem II: Germany's Last Emperor Born in , the eldest grandchild of Queen Victoria, Prince Wilhelm was torn between two cultures - that of the.
Table of contents
When you encounter him, know this: no quarter will be given. Prisoners will not be taken. Exercise your arms such that for a thousand years no Chinese will dare to look cross-eyed at a German. Maintain discipline. Open the way to civilization once and for all! Now you may depart! Farewell, comrades! Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken!
Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German. One of Wilhelm's diplomatic blunders sparked the Moroccan Crisis of , when he made a spectacular visit to Tangier , in Morocco on March 31, He conferred with representatives of Sultan Abdelaziz of Morocco.
The Kaiser declared he had come to support the sovereignty of the Sultan—a statement which amounted to a provocative challenge to French influence in Morocco. The Sultan subsequently rejected a set of French-proposed governmental reforms and issued invitations to major world powers to a conference which would advise him on necessary reforms. The Kaiser's presence was seen as an assertion of German interests in Morocco, in opposition to those of France.
In his speech, he even made remarks in favour of Moroccan independence, and this led to friction with France, which had expanding colonial interests in Morocco, and to the Algeciras Conference , which served largely to further isolate Germany in Europe. Wilhelm's most damaging personal blunder cost him much of his prestige and power and had a far greater impact in Germany than overseas. Wilhelm had seen the interview as an opportunity to promote his views and ideas on Anglo-German friendship, but due to his emotional outbursts during the course of the interview, he ended up further alienating not only the British, but also the French, Russians, and Japanese.
He implied, among other things, that the Germans cared nothing for the British; that the French and Russians had attempted to incite Germany to intervene in the Second Boer War ; and that the German naval buildup was targeted against the Japanese, not Britain. One memorable quotation from the interview was, "You English are mad, mad, mad as March hares. He lost much of the influence he had previously exercised in domestic and foreign policy. Nothing Wilhelm did in the international arena was of more influence than his decision to pursue a policy of massive naval construction.
A powerful navy was Wilhelm's pet project. He had inherited from his mother a love of the British Royal Navy , which was at that time the world's largest.source
Wilhelm II, German Emperor - Wikipedia
He once confided to his uncle, the Prince of Wales , that his dream was to have a "fleet of my own some day". Wilhelm's frustration over his fleet's poor showing at the Fleet Review at his grandmother Queen Victoria 's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, combined with his inability to exert German influence in South Africa following the dispatch of the Kruger telegram , led to Wilhelm taking definitive steps toward the construction of a fleet to rival that of his British cousins.
Wilhelm was fortunate to be able to call on the services of the dynamic naval officer Alfred von Tirpitz , whom he appointed to the head of the Imperial Naval Office in The new admiral had conceived of what came to be known as the "Risk Theory" or the Tirpitz Plan , by which Germany could force Britain to accede to German demands in the international arena through the threat posed by a powerful battlefleet concentrated in the North Sea. Naval expansion under the Fleet Acts eventually led to severe financial strains in Germany by , as by Wilhelm had committed his navy to construction of the much larger, more expensive dreadnought type of battleship.
In Wilhelm reorganised top level control of the navy by creating a Naval Cabinet Marine-Kabinett equivalent to the German Imperial Military Cabinet which had previously functioned in the same capacity for both the army and navy. The Head of the Naval Cabinet was responsible for promotions, appointments, administration, and issuing orders to naval forces. Captain Gustav von Senden-Bibran was appointed as the first head and remained so until The existing Imperial admiralty was abolished, and its responsibilities divided between two organisations.
A new position was created, equivalent to the supreme commander of the army: the Chief of the High Command of the Admiralty, or Oberkommando der Marine , was responsible for ship deployments, strategy and tactics. Vice-Admiral Max von der Goltz was appointed in and remained in post until Construction and maintenance of ships and obtaining supplies was the responsibility of the State Secretary of the Imperial Navy Office Reichsmarineamt , responsible to the Imperial Chancellor and advising the Reichstag on naval matters. Each of these three heads of department reported separately to Wilhelm.
In addition to the expansion of the fleet, the Kiel Canal was opened in , enabling faster movements between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. Historians typically argue that Wilhelm was largely confined to ceremonial duties during the war--there were innumerable parades to review and honours to award. Wilhelm was a friend of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria , and he was deeply shocked by his assassination on 28 June Wilhelm offered to support Austria-Hungary in crushing the Black Hand , the secret organisation that had plotted the killing, and even sanctioned the use of force by Austria against the perceived source of the movement— Serbia this is often called "the blank cheque".
He wanted to remain in Berlin until the crisis was resolved, but his courtiers persuaded him instead to go on his annual cruise of the North Sea on 6 July Wilhelm made erratic attempts to stay on top of the crisis via telegram, and when the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was delivered to Serbia, he hurried back to Berlin. He reached Berlin on 28 July, read a copy of the Serbian reply, and wrote on it:.
A brilliant solution—and in barely 48 hours! This is more than could have been expected. A great moral victory for Vienna; but with it every pretext for war falls to the ground, and [the Ambassador] Giesl had better have stayed quietly at Belgrade. On this document, I should never have given orders for mobilisation. Unknown to the Emperor, Austro-Hungarian ministers and generals had already convinced the year-old Franz Joseph I of Austria to sign a declaration of war against Serbia. As a direct consequence, Russia began a general mobilisation to attack Austria in defence of Serbia.
On the night of 30 July, when handed a document stating that Russia would not cancel its mobilisation, Wilhelm wrote a lengthy commentary containing these observations:. For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves—knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria—to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honourable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.
More recent British authors state that Wilhelm II really declared, "Ruthlessness and weakness will start the most terrifying war of the world, whose purpose is to destroy Germany. Because there can no longer be any doubts, England, France and Russia have conspired themselves together to fight an annihilation war against us". When it became clear that Germany would experience a war on two fronts and that Britain would enter the war if Germany attacked France through neutral Belgium , the panic-stricken Wilhelm attempted to redirect the main attack against Russia.
When Helmuth von Moltke the younger who had chosen the old plan from , made by General von Schlieffen for the possibility of German war on two fronts told him that this was impossible, Wilhelm said: "Your uncle would have given me a different answer! If my grandmother had been alive, she would never have allowed it. The plan supposed that it would take a long time before Russia was ready for war.
At the border between France and Germany, an attack at this more southern part of France could be stopped by the French fortress along the border. However, Wilhelm II stopped any invasion of the Netherlands. Wilhelm's role in wartime was one of ever-decreasing power as he increasingly handled awards ceremonies and honorific duties. The high command continued with its strategy even when it was clear that the Schlieffen plan had failed. Nevertheless, Wilhelm still retained the ultimate authority in matters of political appointment, and it was only after his consent had been gained that major changes to the high command could be effected.
Wilhelm was in favour of the dismissal of Helmuth von Moltke the Younger in September and his replacement by Erich von Falkenhayn. In , Hindenburg and Ludendorff decided that Bethman-Hollweg was no longer acceptable to them as Chancellor and called upon the Kaiser to appoint somebody else. When asked whom they would accept, Ludendorff recommended Georg Michaelis , a nonentity whom he barely knew.
Despite this, he accepted the suggestion. Wilhelm was at the Imperial Army headquarters in Spa, Belgium , when the uprisings in Berlin and other centres took him by surprise in late Mutiny among the ranks of his beloved Kaiserliche Marine , the imperial navy, profoundly shocked him.
After the outbreak of the German Revolution , Wilhelm could not make up his mind whether or not to abdicate. Up to that point, he accepted that he would likely have to give up the imperial crown, but still hoped to retain the Prussian kingship. However, this was impossible under the imperial constitution.
While Wilhelm thought he ruled as emperor in a personal union with Prussia, the constitution actually tied the imperial crown to the Prussian crown, meaning that Wilhelm could not renounce one crown without renouncing the other. Wilhelm's hope of retaining at least one of his crowns was revealed as unrealistic when, in the hope of preserving the monarchy in the face of growing revolutionary unrest, Chancellor Prince Max of Baden announced Wilhelm's abdication of both titles on 9 November Prince Max himself was forced to resign later the same day, when it became clear that only Friedrich Ebert , leader of the SPD , could effectively exert control.
Later that day, one of Ebert's secretaries of state ministers , Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann , proclaimed Germany a republic. Wilhelm consented to the abdication only after Ludendorff's replacement, General Wilhelm Groener , had informed him that the officers and men of the army would march back in good order under Paul von Hindenburg 's command, but would certainly not fight for Wilhelm's throne on the home front.
Emperor of Germany
The monarchy's last and strongest support had been broken, and finally even Hindenburg, himself a lifelong royalist , was obliged, with some embarrassment, to advise the Emperor to give up the crown. The fact that the High Command might one day abandon the Kaiser had been foreseen in December , when Wilhelm had visited Otto von Bismarck for the last time. Bismarck had again warned the Kaiser about the increasing influence of militarists, especially of the admirals who were pushing for the construction of a battle fleet.
Bismarck's last warning had been:. Your Majesty, so long as you have this present officer corps, you can do as you please. But when this is no longer the case, it will be very different for you. Jena came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great ; the crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this. On 10 November, Wilhelm crossed the border by train and went into exile in the Netherlands, which had remained neutral throughout the war.
King George V wrote that he looked on his cousin as "the greatest criminal in history", but opposed Prime Minister David Lloyd George 's proposal to "hang the Kaiser". President Woodrow Wilson of the United States opposed extradition, arguing that prosecuting Wilhelm would destabilise international order and lose the peace. Wilhelm first settled in Amerongen , where on 28 November he issued a belated statement of abdication from both the Prussian and imperial thrones, thus formally ending the Hohenzollerns' year rule over Prussia. Accepting the reality that he had lost both of his crowns for good, he gave up his rights to "the throne of Prussia and to the German Imperial throne connected therewith.
The Weimar Republic allowed Wilhelm to remove twenty-three railway wagons of furniture, twenty-seven containing packages of all sorts, one bearing a car and another a boat, from the New Palace at Potsdam. In , Wilhelm published the first volume of his memoirs  —a very slim volume that insisted he was not guilty of initiating the Great War, and defended his conduct throughout his reign, especially in matters of foreign policy. For the remaining twenty years of his life, he entertained guests often of some standing and kept himself updated on events in Europe.
He grew a beard and allowed his famous moustache to droop. He also learned the Dutch language. Wilhelm developed a penchant for archaeology while residing at the Corfu Achilleion , excavating at the site of the Temple of Artemis in Corfu , a passion he retained in his exile. He had bought the former Greek residence of Empress Elisabeth after her murder in He also sketched plans for grand buildings and battleships when he was bored. In exile, one of Wilhelm's greatest passions was hunting, and he bagged thousands of animals, both beast and bird.
Much of his time was spent chopping wood and thousands of trees were chopped down during his stay at Doorn. In the early s, Wilhelm apparently hoped that the successes of the German Nazi Party would stimulate interest in a restoration of the monarchy, with his eldest grandson as the fourth Kaiser. His second wife, Hermine, actively petitioned the Nazi government on her husband's behalf. However, Adolf Hitler , himself a veteran of the First World War , like other leading Nazis, felt nothing but contempt for the man they blamed for Germany's greatest defeat, and the petitions were ignored.
Hearing of the murder of the wife of former Chancellor Schleicher , he said "We have ceased to live under the rule of law and everyone must be prepared for the possibility that the Nazis will push their way in and put them up against the wall! Wilhelm was also appalled at the Kristallnacht of 9—10 November , saying "I have just made my views clear to Auwi [Wilhelm's fourth son] in the presence of his brothers. He had the nerve to say that he agreed with the Jewish pogroms and understood why they had come about.
When I told him that any decent man would describe these actions as gangsterisms, he appeared totally indifferent. He is completely lost to our family". He builds legions, but he doesn't build a nation. A nation is created by families, a religion, traditions: it is made up out of the hearts of mothers, the wisdom of fathers, the joy and the exuberance of children For a few months I was inclined to believe in National Socialism.
I thought of it as a necessary fever. And I was gratified to see that there were, associated with it for a time, some of the wisest and most outstanding Germans. But these, one by one, he has got rid of or even killed He has left nothing but a bunch of shirted gangsters! This man could bring home victories to our people each year, without bringing them either glory or danger. But of our Germany, which was a nation of poets and musicians, of artists and soldiers, he has made a nation of hysterics and hermits, engulfed in a mob and led by a thousand liars or fanatics.
In the wake of the German victory over Poland in September , Wilhelm's adjutant, General von Dommes, wrote on his behalf to Hitler, stating that the House of Hohenzollern "remained loyal" and noted that nine Prussian Princes one son and eight grandchildren were stationed at the front, concluding "because of the special circumstances that require residence in a neutral foreign country, His Majesty must personally decline to make the aforementioned comment.
The Emperor has therefore charged me with making a communication. During his last year at Doorn, Wilhelm believed that Germany was the land of monarchy and therefore of Christ, and that England was the land of liberalism and therefore of Satan and the Anti-Christ.
We must drive Juda out of England just as he has been chased out of the Continent. He believed the Freemasons and Jews had caused the two world wars, aiming at a world Jewish empire with British and American gold, but that "Juda's plan has been smashed to pieces and they themselves swept out of the European Continent! We are becoming the U. Also in came what would have been his mother's th birthday, on which he wrote ironically to a friend "Today the th birthday of my mother!
No notice is taken of it at home! No 'Memorial Service' or Nobody of the new generation knows anything about her. Wilhelm died of a pulmonary embolus in Doorn, Netherlands, on 4 June , at the age of 82, just weeks before the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. German soldiers had been guarding his house. Hitler, however, was reported [ by whom? Despite his personal animosity toward Wilhelm, Hitler wanted to bring his body back to Berlin for a state funeral, as Wilhelm was a symbol of Germany and Germans during the previous World War.
Hitler felt that such a funeral would demonstrate to the Germans the direct descent of the Third Reich from the old German Empire. The mourners included August von Mackensen , fully dressed in his old imperial Life Hussars uniform, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris , and Reichskommissar for the Netherlands Arthur Seyss-Inquart , along with a few other military advisers. However, Wilhelm's request that the swastika and other Nazi regalia be not displayed at his funeral was ignored, and they are featured in the photographs of the event taken by a Dutch photographer.
Wilhelm was buried in a mausoleum in the grounds of Huis Doorn, which has since become a place of pilgrimage for German monarchists. A few of these gather there every year on the anniversary of his death to pay their homage to the last German Emperor. Three trends have characterised the writing about Wilhelm.
First, the court-inspired writers considered him a martyr and a hero, often uncritically accepting the justifications provided in the Kaiser's own memoirs. Second, there came those who judged Wilhelm to be completely unable to handle the great responsibilities of his position, a ruler too reckless to deal with power. Third, after , later scholars have sought to transcend the passions of the early 20th century and attempted an objective portrayal of Wilhelm and his rule. On 8 June , a year before the Great War began, The New York Times published a special supplement devoted to the 25th anniversary of the Kaiser's accession.
The accompanying story called him "the greatest factor for peace that our time can show", and credited Wilhelm with frequently rescuing Europe from the brink of war. Partly that was a deception by German officials. As time passed, historians increasingly viewed William more as an accomplice rather than an instigator.
The chief real criticism to be made of the kaiser is that, instead of seeing this danger and using his influence to restrain German appetites, he shared those appetites and indeed increased them, particularly by his determination to give Germany a navy of which it could be proud and by his frequently tactless and aggressive public statements. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind.
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A civilian, Matthias…. Thus, Bismarck, the architect of German unity, left the scene in a humiliating fashion, believing that his creation was fatally flawed. Indeed, his policy…. From to William II , with his politically astute naval adviser, Alfred von Tirpitz, sought to make Germany a global power. Nor did Germany build a navy simply to…. History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox! By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice.
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