Rudolf Hess was born Walter Richard Rudolf Hess on April 26, 1894 in Alexandria, Egypt. His father was a German who ran an international trade business. His mother was a Greek woman who stayed at home with the kids.
As a youth, Rudolf started attending the public school in his hometown, but his father took a dislike to the lack of discipline at the school. As a result, Rudolf was pulled out of the public school and privately tutored at home.
In 1908, the family returned to Germany from Egypt and Hess began attending the local public school, which apparently met his father's standards. After graduating, Rudolf wanted to become an astronomer, but his father convinced him to study business at a university in Switzerland instead.
After World War 1 began, however, Rudolf enlisted in the 7th Bavarian Field Artillery Regiment and served on the front lines as an infantryman. For bravery in battle he was awarded the Iron Cross and earned the respect of his peers. Later, he was transferred to the Imperial Air Corps, where he learned to fly and served as a pilot for the remainder of the war.
After the war ended, he returned to the city of Munich, where he enrolled at the University of Munich. His studies were varied, but focused on politics, history, and economics. He also became involved in a political movement called the Thule Society, which actively opposed communism.
In May of 1920, he attended a Nazi Party rally and listened to a speech by Adolf Hitler. He quickly joined the Nazi Party and became a leader in the SA, the militant branch of the Party. When the Beer Hall Putsch happened on November 8, 1923, Rudolf was commanding a group of SA that participated. When the coup failed, he was arrested and sentenced to seven and a half months at Landsberg Prison.
While there, he assisted Hitler in writing the book, "Mein Kampf", and served as his secretary. Once he was released from prison in 1924, he was promoted to the rank of deputy party leader and was at that time the third highest ranking member of the Nazi Party. In 1925, Hitler appointed Hess his private secretary and the two were apparently inseparable.
Many believe that Hess was a homosexual and that him and Hitler engaged in more than a social relationship while in prison. As a result, Rudolf earned the nickname "Fraulein Hess". In spite of the rumors, Hess did marry a woman named Prohl Hess and fathered a single child after much struggling in 1937.
During the 1930s, he found himself sidelined by other Nazi Party leaders, such as Joseph Goebbels and Herman Goering. Hess had a weak personality and found it difficult to stand up to other strong personalities during meetings.
When World War 2 started and Germany declared war on Britain, Hess was greatly opposed to the idea and protested openly. In May of 1941, he made a flight to England without Hitler's approval to attempt to negotiate peace. He set up a meeting with the Duke of Hamilton, but was forced to parachute from his plane after an engine malfunction. The landing broke his ankle and he was arrested by local police.
Hess continued to claim that he represented Germany, but after Hitler found out about the incident he arrested all of Hess' associates. Hitler also stated that Hess had gone insane and was acting without approval. Hess, in the meantime, claimed that Hitler was just making a cover story so the public was not aware of the peace negotiations.
Hess continued to serve prison time in Britain throughout the remainder of the war, even serving time in the Tower of London. When the war ended and the Nuremberg Trials started, Hess was tried for crimes against peace and sentenced to life in prison. His final words before the sentencing were "I have no regrets." He served the remainder of his life at Spandau Prison with fellow Nazis Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach.
Many world leaders felt that Rudolf's life sentence was unjustified, particularly since he had flown to Britain at great risk in an attempt to negotiate peace. Even Winston Churchill stated that he felt the sentence was an injustice in his book "The Grand Alliance".
On August 17, 1987, Rudolf Hess committed suicide at Spandau Prison by hanging himself with an electrical cord. This came after two prior suicide attempts, once in 1941 by jumping off of a balcony and a second time in 1977 by slitting his wrists. He was the final prisoner at Spandau and after his death the prison was demolished.