Best known for: Last German Emperor, his policies led to World War I
Kaiser Wilhelm II by Unknown
Where did Wilhelm II grow up?
Wilhelm was born in Berlin, Germany at the Crown Prince's Palace on January 27, 1859. His father was Prince Frederick William (who would later become Emperor Frederick III) and his mother was Princess Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria of England). This made young Wilhelm heir to the German throne and grandson of the Queen of England.
Wilhelm was an intelligent child, but also possessed a violent temper. Unfortunately, Wilhelm was born with a deformed left arm. Despite having an unusable left arm, his mother forced him to learn to ride a horse as a young boy. It was a difficult experience he would never forget. For the rest of his life, he would always try to hide his left arm from the public, wanting to appear as a physically powerful German ruler.
In 1888, Wilhelm became the Kaiser, or emperor, of Germany when his father died of throat cancer. Wilhelm was twenty-nine years old. As Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm had a lot of power, but not all the power. He could appoint the Chancellor of Germany, but the chancellor had to work with the parliament who controlled the money. He was also officially commander of the army and navy, but the real control of the army was in the hands of the generals.
Kaiser of Germany
Wilhelm was an intelligent man, but emotionally unstable and a poor leader. After two years as Kaiser, he dismissed the current chancellor and famous German leader Otto von Bismarck and replaced him with his own man. He blundered many times in his diplomacy with foreign nations. By the early 1900s, Germany was surrounded by potential enemies. France to the west and Russia to the east had formed an alliance. He also alienated the British in an erratic interview with the Daily Telegraph (a British newspaper) in which he said that the Germans didn't like the British.
World War I Begins
By 1914, Wilhelm II had decided that war in Europe was inevitable. He and his advisors determined that, the sooner the war began, the better chance Germany had to win. Germany was allies with the Austro-Hungary Empire. When Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, Wilhelm advised Austria to give an ultimatum to Serbia that Serbia was sure to refuse. He promised Austria that he would support them with a "blank check", meaning he would back them up in the event of war. Wilhelm was sure that the war would be over quickly. He had no idea as to the chain of events that would take place.
When Serbia refused Austria's demands, Austria declared war on Serbia. Soon Serbia's ally Russia was mobilizing for war. To help defend Austria, Germany declared war on Russia. Then France, Russia's ally, declared war on Germany. Soon all of Europe had chosen sides and World War I had begun.
The war did not proceed as planned. Germany was able to push back an ill-equipped Russian army in the east, but they did not quickly conquer France as planned. Germany was fighting a war on two fronts, a war they could not win. As the war went on for years, Wilhelm's control over the army waned. Eventually, the German army generals had all the real power and Wilhelm became a figurehead.
End of World War I
In 1918, it became apparent that Germany was going to lose the war. The army was exhausted and running out of supplies. There were food and fuel shortages throughout Germany. On December 9, 1918 Wilhelm abdicated (gave up) his throne and fled Germany to the Netherlands.
Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1933 by Oscar Tellgmann
Wilhelm lived out the rest of his life in the Netherlands. He died at the age of 82 in 1941.
Interesting Facts about Kaiser Wilhelm II
Wilhelm married Augusta Victoria in 1881. They had seven children including six sons and one daughter.
He attended the coming of age ceremony of his second cousin Nicholas of Russia in Saint Petersburg. He would later be at war with him during World War I when Nicholas was Tsar of Russia.
William was envious of the British navy and spent much of his early years as Kaiser trying to build up the German navy.
The Allies tried to extradite Wilhelm from the Netherlands so they could try him for war crimes, but the Netherlands would not release him.
When World War I began Wilhelm told some departing German soldiers that "You will be home before the leaves fall from the trees."