European Royalty: Germany


Figure 1.--This is a Prussian royal prince painted in 1746, unfortunately I have misplaced his name and am not sure who he is at this time.

The modern German state was founded by the Hohenzollern family with the support of the brilliant Iron Chancelor, Count Otto von Bismark. The creartion of Germany began with the accesion of William I to the throne of Prussia in 1861. The Prussian Government under the guidance of Bismark began to pursue domesic and international policies designed to make Prussia the dominate force in the German Confederation which had been previously dominated by Austria. The policies formulated by Bismark and others included Albrecht von Roon and Helmuth von Moltle included the supression of the Prussian democratic movement, expansion of the military, and an aggresive attitude toward Austria. The first outward manifesttion of the policy was the seizure of Danish possesions Schleswig-Holstein (1864). War soon followed with Austria and the Prussian victory (1866) established the Hohenzollern's as Germany's premier royal family.

Holy Roman Empire (The First Reich)

The widely accepted view during the 20th century of a strong German national tradition, quite ironically, only existed as goal or vision for hundreds of years. It was perhaps this lack of a national tradition that made so many Germans such fervent nationalists. A strong national cultural tradition did exist for hundreds of years, but not a political one. Germany attained unification under centralized rule much later than most other European countries. The powerful German dynasties of the middle ages never succeeded in establishing a German nation-state because they were bound by the legacy of the traditions of the Holy Roman Empire. Underneath the umbrella tradition of the empire, a multiplicity of small states operated under the autonomy and sovereignty of local and regional nobles. In the late 18th century it has been reported that as many as 314 states and 1475 estates comprised Germany, making it look like a patchwork quilt. Centuries of religious struggle contributed to this fragmentation. Religious strife dominated central Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Reformation (1521) resulted in prolonged and bloody warfare that was largely carried out on German soil. The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) was the culmination of this devastating period. Large portions of Germany were decimated with an estimated 30 percent of the population being killed. In the Palatinate, one source estimated only 50,000 people surviving out of a population of one million. The horrors of the Thirty Years' War lived on in popular memory as those of no other war in Europe until the 20th century.

Conferation of the Rhine (1806-13)

The Confederation of the Rhine was an outgrowth of the Napoleonic Wars. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte formed a conederation of German states after is overwealming defeat of Austeri, the major German state, at Austerlitz (1806). The Confederation included the newly created kingdoms of Bavaria and Württenberg, the grand duchies of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, and Berg, and several other smaller principalities. Most of the other German states, except Austria and Prussia joined the Confederation. The countries which joined the Confederation were required to disavowed their allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire, and Francis II, the last Holy Roman Empire. Francis had restiled himself Emperor of Austria after declining the title Holy Roman emperor in 1806. Napoleon attempted to direct both the domestic and the foreign affairs of the Confederation. Napoleon could not focus on these efforts because of repeated international crisis. Napoleon’s retreat from Russia (1812–13) irrevocably weakened Napoleon and resulted in the collapse of the Confederation.

German Confederation (1815-66)

The Congress of Vienna created the German Confederation at the end of the Napoleonic Was (1815). One result of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna was a consolidation of the German political division. The Holy Roman Empire in 1648 included an amazing 234 separate political units. Most were small political units, including 51 Free Cities and numerous ecclesiastical states, including the important Archbishoprics of Salzburg, Magdeburg, and Trier and the Bishopric of Münster. The German Confederation while it still included 32 entities was a major simplification. The Confederation included only 4 Free Cities and no ecclesiastical territories, but with 51 entities, Germany was still ungovernable with two major competing powers (Prussia and Austria) and several major states (Bavaria, Honover, Saxony, and others). The Confederation had the same boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire in 1648 upon the signing of the Treary of Westphalia. The central authority had even less authority than that of the Holy Roman Empire and even this was further empaired by the conflict between Austria and Prussia. The Confederation was destroyed by Prussia with the defeat of Austria and several other German states (Bavaria and Hannover) in the Austro-Prussian War (1866).

Prussian Kings

The German Empire was organized under the leadership of Prussia. Prussia's role in the 1870-71 war with France and earlier wars with Austria and Denmark had established Prussia's dominate position among the German states. Other German states had more liberal, democratic political systems. But it was Prussia with its conservative, military outlook that became the cental core of the Germam Empire. The King of Prussia became the first Kaisser or Emperor. Information on Prussian kings is available here.

The German Empire (Second Reich)

The last obstacle to the creation of the German state was France, ruled at the time by the Emperor Napoleon III. The Prussian victory over Austria had fundamentally changed continental power relationships. Confronted with the emergence of a united German state with all that portended for the ballence of power in Europe and beset by other difficulties, Napoleon III decided to pursue a bellicose policy with Prussia. A diplomatic dispute arrising out of Bismark's attempt to secure the vacant Spanish throne for a Hohenzollern, provided a mutually agreeable cause belli. The French Government declare war on Prussia in 1870. The efficently organized Prussian Army aided with forces of other German states desimated the army of the French Second Empire which collapsed on September 4, 1870 at the Battle of Sedan. Continued resistance by a new French Republic proved futile and Paris fell in 1871. The peace which followed resulted in hugh indemnities and French cessesion of Alsace Loraine, virtually ensuring a future war. Under the auspices of Prussia, its largest state, Germany was united into a federal system in 1871. The resulting combination consisted of 22 states and the 3 former city-states or urban republics of Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck. Kaiser Wilhelm served as the first emperor of the unified Germany which was referred to as the Second Reich. This structure lasted until 1918 when Germany lost extensive portions of territories to France, Poland, Belgium, Denmark and Czechoslovakia. Hitler and NAZI rule beginning in the 1933 marked the Third Reich. The devastation of World War II resulted in the further loss of territory including the provinces of Silesia, Pomerania, East Prussia and part of Brandenburg to Poland and the Soviet Union. Germany was also split into Eastern and Western sectors following the NAZI capitulation.

German Kaisers

There were only three German emprerors ot kaisers. Wilhelm I brilliantly guided by Bismarck unified the German nation, an achievement of monumental proportions. It was the disunity of the Holy Roman Empire that prevented Germany from dominating Europein the medieval era. And the Reformation further divided the Germans. This achieevement, however, was achieved by the aggrssively masuline amd marshall leadership of conservative Prussia which would place its stamp on the German nation. No all Germany was like Prussia. There were strong liberal and reformist sentiments in many of the other German states. But it would be Prussia that would mold the united German Empire. This militarist, conervative stamp almost did not continue. Laiser Wilhelm I's son was Crown Prince Frederich. He had liberal, reformist views. And he had married the British Princess Royal, Victoria, who shared his views and desore to transform. Germany. This had been Pribce albert's and Queen Victori's hope. Tragucally for Europe. Frederich was not in good health when his father died and he beca,e Kaiser Frederich III (1888). He died only a few months later and his son beca,e Kaider Wilhelm II. The year 1888 went down in German history as the Year of the Three Emperors. Chancellor Bismarck and Wilhem I weewell awar of the liberal bent of Frederich and their inavility to change those views. While Frderich and Victoria criticised Crown Prince Wilhelm and pointed out his limitations, his grandfather amd Bismarcked essentially wooded him telling how brilliant and capable he was. Wilhelm II, convinced og his supreme competence and entralled with the idea;s of German nationalism and milyary power proved to be e most disatrous leader in German history -- at least until Hitler. Two early steps taken by the new Kaisser was to ease out his old mentor--Chancellor Bismarck. And shortly after allow the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia to lapse. Bis marck correctly calculted that as long as the three empires (Austria-Hungarry, Germany, and Russia) were bound together by treaty, a general European war was impossible. Kaiser Wilhelm II with Bismarck gone saw little value in a treary with Russia and that Germany could be amply protected by the Empire;s poweful army. It was a decesion that would ultimately cost Wilhelm and his son the throne and destroy their Empire.

Aftermath of Empire

Several wars and conflicts followed in the wake of World War I. President Wilson hoped that the creation of nation states from the Eastern and Central European territory of the great 19th century empires (Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia) would bring a more just, enlighted, and democratic future for Europe. The British and French were less convinced, but hoped that arrangements with the new states like Czechoslovakia Poland, and Yugoslavia would help disuade Germany from any new military adventures. And limitations on the German military in the Versailles Treaty would also prevent this. The result was completely the opposite. By dismantling the Hohenzollern and Habsburg empires, the Allies opened Pandora's box in Central Europe. Nationalism was a double-edged sword. It consumed the Habsburg empire, and the effects of nationalism are still witnessed in the tragic events causing instability in the Balkans. The Treaty of Versailles shattered the image of the old Europe. A new continent was created, yet sadly enough it only lasted two decades with Hitler and the NAZI's seizure of power, in pat because of the affront to German nationalism.


Figure 5.--We were not sure at first just who these individuals were. The script is difficult to make out. It appears to say Princess Charles de Hohenzollern. It shows the wife and Children of Prince Charles Anthony Hohenzollern--a catholic branch of the German royal family. The children are Stépahnie, Marie Antoinette, and Albrecht.

Reader Comments

HBRC encourages readers to comment and correct our various pages. We are interested in additional or updated information.

An American reader, provided the following information: "Love your website. I have expended many hours looking through it and reading the interesting pages. I accidentally found your website one day while researching my family genealogy. After reviewing the German Royal pages, I wonder how my family's history fits. My Father and his family were members of the German Royal family and was married to a Russian Romanoff prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. When the Revolution transpired, they escaped to Canada and then later to German Town Nebraska in the United States. They changed their last name from Hoenzollern, but attempted to keep some semblance of the family name by using Wilhelm as the base name to change. Translating Wilhelm into an English name, it became Williams. My Grandfather's name was Frederick Wilhelm Williams. I looked through your many photographs, they remind me of my brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. One picture looks as though it were taken of my brother Marshall, both remarkable and unbelievable!! In another, the image looks EXACTLY like my brother's son, John. The photos of these people are uncanny representations of my own immediate family. When my father visits Germany, the German Government has him stay in the Hohenzollern Castle out of respect for his blood line. Also, when my Dad was in the US Army, and was being investigated for a TOP SECRET Clearance, there was some concern that he wouldn't qualify, due to his royal family heritage." [HBC note: Walt thank you for your kind comments and interesting information. We tried to respond to your e-mail but the e-mail address didn't work. Please do send us your e-mail address as we would like to discuss this with you.]

Unidentified Images

There are some Hohenzollern photographs that I have been unable to identify. Any insights on who these family members are would be greatly appreciated. We can not, for example, identify the family in figure 5. We have found additional information, but are still unable to find their geneology. We will archive here images we have been unable to identify yet.






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Created: June 6, 1998
Last updated: 10:33 PM 11/26/2015