Victoria, The Princess Royal (21st November 1840 – 5th August 1901) was the eldest child of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Prince Albert. She married Frederick III (18th October 1831 – 15th June 1888) at St James Palace in London. Victoria and Albert had long looked at maintaining the strong German blood line within their children’s marriages and as early as 1851 the paid had planned the marriage of Victoria to Frederick. The match was also favoured by King Leopold I of Belgium, Queen Victoria’s uncle. Frederick’s father Prince Willhelm (future German Emperor and King of Prussia) was said to have preferred a Russian Grand Duchess as a daughter-in-law instead. Princess Augusta the mother of Frederick, was said to although favour the match sending Frederick to England in 1851 to attend the Great Exhibition where Albert took him under his wing, and the young Victoria as his guide.
The pair married on 25th January 1858 with Victoria only aged 17 and to mark the occasion Frederick was raised to the rank of Major-General in the Prussian army. The couple often resided at the Crown Prince’s Palace in Berlin, following William’s succession to the German throne. They then had eight children.
In this piece I am going to give an overview of their eldest child.
Wilhelm with his grandmother, Queen Victoria in 1864
Wilhelm II, German Emperor, King of Prussia, was born 27th January 1859 at the Crown Prince’s Palace in Berlin. Wilhelm suffered from Erb’s palsy which meant he that his left arm was 6 inches shorter than his right arm. Quite often in photos he would be holding something in his left hand to try and make it look like it was longer. In his early 20’s Wilhelm was used as a political pawn by Otto von Bismarck (at different points the Chancellor of Germany and Prime Minister of Prussia). Bismarck attempted with some success to disengage Wilhelm from his parents in an attempt to regain political favour against the royal couple. Bismarck managed this with some success and in April 1889 Wilhelm is to have angrily outburst ‘English doctor’s killed my father, and an English noxious doctor crippled my arm – which is the fault of my English mother.’
Wilhelm married Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein on 27th February 1881 and remained married for forty years till Augusta’s death. They would seven children, six boys and one girl. On the 9th March 1888 Wilhelm I died in Berlin and Frederick III was pronounced German Emperor. Wilhelm’s father was already suffering from a throat cancer and would spend only 99 days on the throne before passing away on 15th June 1888 and the 29 year old Wilhelm took succeeded as German Emperor and King of Prussia.
Wilhelm with his family
Wilhelm in 1902
With being a grandson of Queen Victoria, Wilhelm was first cousin to George V of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as Queens Maria of Romania, Maud of Norway, and Victoria Eugenie of Spain, as well as Empress Alexandria of Russia. He fell out with his younger sister when she married Constance I of Greece converting to Greek Orthodoxy. He craved acceptance from his grandmother and she it is said tolerated him with courtesy and tact, but his other British relatives thought of him as obnoxious and arrogant. His relationship of Edward VII, while he was still Prince of Wales was often stretched. Wilhelm would try and show himself as superior because he was German Emperor when his uncle ‘Bertie’ was still only a Prince and heir to the throne. On hearing that Queen Victoria was dying he rushed to be by her bedside at Osborne House, and was their when she died and remained and attended her funeral. He also attended the funeral if Edward VII.
Wilhelm was a friend of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and was deeply shocked after the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914. The assassination would go on to spark the beginning of the greatest conflict the world has ever seen, World War I. Wilhelm offered support to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in trying to squash the secret organisation ‘The Black Hnad’ who carried out the assassination and even sanction the use of force by Austria against Serbia in retaliation
Wilhelm tried to keep up to date with the crisis by telegram whilst on his annual cruise of the North Sea and when he heard that an Austrian-Hungarian ultimatum had been delivered to Serbia he rushes back to Berlin. Austrian generals had already convinced 84 year old Franz Joseph I of Austria to sign a declaration of war on Serbia. This led to Russia beginning a general mobilization of its army to come to Serbia’s aid if Austria attacked. On the night of 30th July 1914 when Russia stated it would not cancel its mobilization Wilhelm wrote.
..For I no longer have any doubt that England, Russia and France have agreed among themselves—knowing that our treaty obligations compel us to support Austria—to use the Austro-Serb conflict as a pretext for waging a war of annihilation against us… Our dilemma over keeping faith with the old and honorable Emperor has been exploited to create a situation which gives England the excuse she has been seeking to annihilate us with a spurious appearance of justice on the pretext that she is helping France and maintaining the well-known Balance of Power in Europe, i.e., playing off all European States for her own benefit against us.
A further comment of Wilhelm’s showed how still even after her death he held Queen Victoria is such high regard.
To think that George and Nicky should have played me false! If my grandmother had been alive, she would never have allowed it
Wilhelm with von Hinderburg and Ludendorff
During World War I, Wilhelm’s power began to decrease as the Empire became more of a military dictatorship under Field Marshall Paul von Hinderburg and General Erich Ludendorff. The military leaders would always consult Wilhelm on political appointments with Wilhelm giving the final answer but more and more he was being more easily persuaded to go along with Hinderburg and Ludendorff’s suggestions. This was to be seen in 1917 when Ludendorff suggested that they replaced the German Chancellor Erich von Falkenhayn with Georg Michaellis. Wilhelm was unsure of Michaellis and didn’t know much about him, but accepted the suggestion.
Wilhelm was at military headquarters in Spa, Belgium when uprisings in Berlin started towards the end of the war, late in 1918. Wilhelm was in decisive and could not decide whether or not his abdication would benefit the German people. He did believe although he would have to surrender the imperial crown he would manage to keep hold of the kingship of Prussia. Trouble and revolutionary activity continued to grow and due to this his abdication to both titles was read by Chancellor Prince Max of Baden on the 9th November 1918 as American President Woodrow Wilson made it clear that Wilhelm could no longer be part of any peace negotiations. World War I ended two days later.
On the 10th November 1918, the private citizen of the German Empire Wilhelm Hohenzollern crossed the border and went into exile in the Netherlands. Article 227 of the Treaty of Versailles called for the prosecution of Wilhelm ‘for a supreme offence against international morality and sanctity of treaties, but Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands would not extradite him. George V pushed even calling his cousin ‘the greatest criminal in history’ but did oppose Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s proposal to ‘hang the Kaiser’. President Woodrow Wilson backed Wilhelmina saying that the whole balance of peace could be destroyed by punishing Wilhelm for waging war.
Wilhelm first settled in Amerongen, where on the 28th November he issued a formal statement of abdication, ending the Hohenzollerns’ 400 year rule in Prussia. He purchased a country house in Doorn, Netherlands known as Huis Doorn, moving in on 15th May 1919. In 1922, Wilhelm then published the first volume of his memoirs. He continued to live in Doorn entertaining guests, some of some standing. He liked to keep up to date with European politics and also learnt the Dutch language. His second wife Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz (Empress Augusta died on 11th April 1921) petitioned the Nazi party during the 1930’s in hope that they would support the return of Wilhelm in Germany. However, Adolf Hitler saw Wilhelm as the man who was to blame for Germany’s greatest defeat.
Wilhelm in 1933
Wilhelm greatly admired the success of Hitler at the beginning of World War II, and sent a telegram congratulating him on the fall of Paris, ‘Congratulations, you have won using my troops.’ In 1940 after the Nazi conquest of the Netherlands Wilhelm retired altogether from public life. In May of that year he rejected an offer from Winston Churchill for him to take up asylum in England, preferring to spend the last of his days at Huis Droorn.
On the 3rd June 1941 at Huis Droorn, Wilhelm died of a pulmonary embolus, aged 82. Hitler wanted the body brought back for a state funeral seeing Wilhelm as a symbol of Germanic pride and as a further symbol of how Germany had moved from the Kaiserreich to the Third Reich. Wilhelm’s request not to re-enter Germany until the monarchy was restored were respected and a small military funeral took place with only a few hundred people and he was buried in a mausoleum in the grounds of Huis Droorn.
I started writing this at the beginning as a snippet of each of Victoria and Frederick’s children, and as I continued to write I started to understand that Wilhelm was of more vast an importance to only try and fit his life into a few hundred words. He began life as Queen Victoria’s first grandchild, followed it with succession to the Imperial crown in Germany, led one of the major players in the greatest conflict of all time, ending in exile with his beloved Germany at war again. Wilhelm II, the last of the monarch of Germany.
Wilhelm’s mausoleum at Huis Droorn