Frederick III of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, German Chancellor, German Emperor Wilhelm II, German Empire, King of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck, Victoria of the United Kingdom, Wilhelm I of Prussia, World War I
Wilhelm II (January 27, 1859 – June 4, 1941) was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia from June 15, 1888 until his abdication on November 9, 1918.
Despite strengthening the German Empire’s position as a great power by building a powerful navy, his tactless public statements and erratic foreign policy greatly antagonized the international community and are considered by many to be one of the underlying causes of World War I. When the German war effort collapsed after a series of crushing defeats on the Western Front in 1918, he was forced to abdicate,
Wilhelm was born in Berlin on January 27, 1859—at the Crown Prince’s Palace. Born during the reign of his granduncle King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, Wilhelm was the son of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm and Victoria, Princess Royal of the United Kingdom, daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
King Friedrich Wilhelm IV had been left permanently incapacitated by a series of strokes, and his younger brother Wilhelm was acting as regent. Wilhelm was the oldest of the 42 grandchildren of his maternal grandparents (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert), but more importantly, he was the first son of the Crown Prince of Prussia.
Upon the death of Friedrich Wilhelm IV in January 1861, Wilhelm’s paternal grandfather (the elder Wilhelm) became King Wilhelm I of Prussia, and the two-year-old Wilhelm became second in the line of succession to Prussia.
After 1871, Wilhelm also became second in the line to the newly created German Empire, which, according to the constitution of the German Empire, was ruled by the Prussian king. At the time of his birth, he was also sixth in the line of succession to the British throne, after his maternal uncles and his mother.
As a young man, Wilhelm fell in love with one of his maternal first cousins, Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, the second child of Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
She turned him down, and in time, married into the Russian imperial family when she married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, the fifth son of Emperor Alexander II of Russia and Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine, brother of Emperor Alexander III of Russia and uncle of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia.
In 1880 Wilhelm became engaged to Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, known as “Dona”.
Augusta Victoria was born at Dolzig Castle, the eldest daughter of Friedrich VIII, future Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, and Princess Adelheid of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a niece of Queen Victoria, through Victoria’s half-sister Feodora. She grew up at Dolzig until the death of her grandfather, Christian August II, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, in 1869.
The couple married on February 27, 1881, and remained married for 40 years, until her death in 1921. In a period of 10 years, between 1882 and 1892, Augusta Victoria bore Wilhelm seven children, six sons and a daughter
In March 1888, his father Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm ascended the German and Prussian thrones as Friedrich III. Friedrich III came to the throne while dying from throat cancer and he passed away just 99 days later, and his son succeeded him as German Emperor Wilhelm II, King of Prussia.
In March 1890, Wilhelm dismissed Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and assumed direct control over his nation’s policies, embarking on a bellicose “New Course” to cement Germany’s status as a leading world power.
Over the course of his reign, the German colonial empire acquired new territories in China and the Pacific (such as Jiaozhou Bay, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Caroline Islands) and became Europe’s largest manufacturer. However, Wilhelm often undermined such progress by making tactless and threatening statements towards other countries without first consulting his ministers.
Likewise, his regime did much to alienate itself from other great powers by initiating a massive naval build-up, contesting French control of Morocco, and building a railway through Baghdad that challenged Britain’s dominion in the Persian Gulf. By the second decade of the 20th century, Germany could rely only on significantly weaker nations such as Austria-Hungary and the declining Ottoman Empire as allies.
Wilhelm’s reign culminated in Germany’s guarantee of military support to Austria-Hungary during the crisis of July 1914, one of the immediate causes of World War I. A lax wartime leader, Wilhelm left virtually all decision-making regarding strategy and organisation of the war effort to the German Army’s Great General Staff.
By August 1916, this broad delegation of power gave rise to a de facto military dictatorship that dominated national policy for the rest of the conflict. Despite emerging victorious over Russia and obtaining significant territorial gains in Eastern Europe, Germany was forced to relinquish all its conquests after a decisive defeat on the Western Front in the autumn of 1918.
Losing the support of his country’s military and many of his subjects, Wilhelm was forced to abdicate during the German Revolution of 1918–1919, thereby marking the end of the German Empire and the House of Hohenzollern’s 300-year reign in Prussia and 500-year reign in Brandenburg.
The revolution converted Germany from a monarchy into an unstable democratic state known as the Weimar Republic. Wilhelm fled to exile in the Netherlands, where he remained during its occupation by Nazi Germany in 1940. He died there on June 4, 1941.