Articles/Biographies/Royalty/William II (aka Wilhelm II)
William II aka Wilhelm II was born on January 27, 1859 in Berlin. His parents were Prince Frederick William of Prussia and Princess Victoria of the United Kingdom. During birth, William experienced trauma that led him to get Erb's Palsy. This caused his left arm to be shorter and weaker than the other. Throughout his life, he worked to conceal this fact by keeping his left arm bent and clutching various things. Some historians also theorize that he suffered brain trauma that led to his notoriously aggressive and headstrong personality.
As a child, William was treated with indifference by his mother, who may have felt guilty about his deformity. He studied at the Friedrichsgymnasium in the city of Kassel and, later, the University of Bonn. He was an intelligent lad, but his hot temper often got him into trouble. Despite an interest in science, he maintained that his royal family was ordained by God and that he was superior by blood to the common man.
Despite his mother's coldness, William was taken under the wing of his father. His father was a war hero and taught William about the importance of discipline and power. He came to idolize his father and grandfather, another war hero. He was rarely seen outside of a military uniform and he enjoyed conversing with the military leaders of Prussia.
On March 9, 1888, Emperor William I died, leaving the throne to William II's father, Frederick III. The position was short-lived, however, as Frederick III died of throat cancer three months after ascending the throne. Thus, on June 15, 1888, William II became king of Prussia and German Emperor.
William's sense of self-importance caused him to become at odds with one of the most prominent figures in Germany, Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck favored a careful foreign policy that would ensure peace with neighboring countries, but William demanded that the country expand its borders in order to protect its interests. Where his grandfather, William I, had left most of the administration to Bismarck, William II wanted to micromanage every detail.
William frequently found his policies at odds with Bismarck's plans and the relationship between the two progressively soured over the next decade. One of the final straws was Bismarck's attempt to permanently implement an anti-Socialism law in 1890. Bismarck wanted the government to have the power to remove the socialists once and for all, but William refused to start his reign with bloodshed. Bismarck and William had further friction, eventually leading Bismarck to bitterly resign in 1890 from his position as Chancellor.
In place of Bismarck, William appointed Leo von Caprivi as German Chancellor. In 1894, Caprivi was replaced by Chlodwig Hohenlohe-Shillingsfurst, who was in turn replaced by Prince Bernhard von Bulow. Bulow was also dismissed, in 1909, to be replaced by Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, who would serve until 1917.
Under William II, Germany's foreign policy succeeded in alienating many of the neighboring countries. After Bismarck departed, William refused to renew the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, which stated that, in the event of France attacking Germany, Russia would stay neutral. William also had a lot of ill will towards his royal relatives in the United Kingdom, whom he often thought were conspiring against him. He also made the mistake of allying himself too closely with Austria-Hungary, stating that "the day of Austro-Hungarian mobilization, for whatever cause, will be the day of German mobilization too."
In 1906, William traveled to Morocco, where he made a visit to the city of Tangier. There, he made a speech that favored Moroccan independence from France, thereby causing friction with France. In 1908, some of his opinions were published in the British paper "The Daily Telegraph" and his comments implied that Germany cared nothing for the British. One quote from William was, "You English are mad, mad, mad as March hares." Back home, the comments caused unrest and some called for him to abdicate the throne. The event greatly undermined his popularity at home and abroad and triggered a bout of severe depression.
One of William's goals in office was to create a massive navy that would rival that of the British. He appointed Alfred von Tirpitz as head of the German Navy, who proposed that Germany concentrate a massive fleet in the North Sea that would be capable of fending off British forces and placing great pressure on the country. The amount of money spent on ships between 1900 and 1920 by Germany placed great strains on the country's budget.
On June 28, 1914, William's close friend, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, was assassinated. William was horrified by the event and pledged full support to Austria-Hungary in destroying the source of the crime - Serbia. Austria began mobilizing its forces along the Serbian border and Tsar Nicholas II responded by sending Russian troops to reinforce the Serbian side. On July 30, 1914, German forces attacked Serbia and France simultaneously, beginning World War I, The Great War. It was later discovered that this was done largely against his wishes and that he had no desire for a massive war with England, France, and Russia.
As the war progressed, William found himself inept at commanding the German military. Instead, he relied on his top generals to oversee the war. As a result, his power gradually eroded until Germany became a virtual military dictatorship under the command of Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. He spent much of his time touring Germany's military facilities and awarding medals to brave soldiers.
In 1918, massive uprisings began in Berlin, protesting the continuing war. Even his precious navy began to see mutiny and he was left with a German Revolution on his hands. On November 9, 1918, William II abdicated his throne with the reluctant encouragement of Paul von Hindenburg. The next day, he retreated to exile in the Netherlands while the Treaty of Versailles was passed and called for his prosecution. However, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands would not extradite him and he hid himself in Huis Doorn manor for the remainder of his life.
In 1922, William published what would be the first of a series of memoirs. In this book, he asserted his claim that he was not responsible for starting World War I and he attempted to justify his foreign policy. He continued to entertain guests and found a new hobby in chopping wood. In fact, over the remainder of his life, he managed to practically remove all of the trees on his estate by hand.
When Hitler took power in the 1930s, William thought that he might be able to take the throne once again. He met with Hermann Goring on at least one occasion, but quickly realized that Hitler despised him for causing Germany to lose so much after World War I. Nonetheless, he sent a congratulatory telegram to Hitler upon the fall of Paris. On June 5, 1941, he died of a pulmonary embolism in his estate.