Friday’s featured monarch is
HI & RM German Emperor Wilhelm II, King of Prussia.
I am going to take a different approach today with my featured monarch. I could list all of the historical facts and figures, which I am sure my readers already know, so instead I will share why I find the last German Kaiser to be such a fascinating individual to understand and study.
I cannot really say I admire Wilhelm II because there were things in his character that shows a dark side to his personality and these characteristics also contributed to his downfall. However, he presided over a fascinating time of change as the 19th century transitioned into the 20th century. When the majority of European nations were moving away from authoritarian monarchies to a more democratic and parliamentary style of monarchy, Germany was a state where that shift had not taken place and the monarch still wielded considerable power.
He was born on January 27, 1859 and was christened HRH Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albrecht von Preußen and was the son of future German Emperor and Prussian King, Friedrich III and his wife, Princess Victoria, Princess Royal, and daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The Prince Consort had dreamed of a liberal Germany under Prussian leadership but that was just not to be. The Prussian monarchy was steeped in the tradition of militarism and a conservative philosophy where the monarch held the power and constitutionalism was considered an anathema. From his earliest days there seems to have developed a battle over forming the ideologies of the future Wilhelm II. His parents wished to instill in him the liberal ideas of a constitutional form of government which protected the rights of the citizens/subjects while limiting the power of the Crown and giving more power to the Parliament.
In most families the parents will control the education of their children. But in the 19th century the education of the children of princes was controlled by the head of the royal house. In this case that was German Emperor and Prussian King, Wilhelm I, the staunch conservative grandfather of Wilhelm II. Wilhelm I along with his equally staunch conservative Chancellor, Otto von Bismark, made sure Wilhelm was raised with typical conservative Prussian values and beliefs. With Wilhelm firmly in the conservative camp he had a difficult relationship with both of his parents. He was also born with a physical handicap. During a very difficult birth his left arm was pulled from its socket and was permanently damaged. Despite surgeries and treatment he was never able to regain usage of his arm and had which withered and atrophied.
These circumstances are said to have played a great role in the development of his personality. In reading many books and biographies about he last Kaiser I wonder what his mental health diagnosis was. I wonder if he was bipolar? He seemed to have tremendous highs and lows. He was described as intelligent yet could also be volatile and had an explosive temper. After the Daily Telegraph Affair of 1908 where the Kaiser gave an interview in which he alienated Britain, France, Russia and Japan, his government forbade him from any more interviews that would be released unedited. The result of this affair lead the Kaiser into slipping into a severe depression for many weeks and there were people close to him say he never fully recovered from.
In order to keep these blog posts to a digestible level I will end it here and continue part II of my look at Wilhelm II next Friday in this section.