Wilhelm was a great dissapointment to both his parents. Wilhelm was torn between his liberal parents n one side and his conservative grandfather and Chancellor Bismarck on the other. Hinzpeter's tutoring did not have the effect that his parents had desired. The young Wilhelm as he prepared to leave his parent's household was as one biographer described him was "an arrogant prigish youth" who "worshipped Chancelloe Bismarck's policies and accepted his program of "blood and iron". [Van der Kriste, p. 26.] Prince Wilhelm was only a small boy during the wars with Denmark (1864), Austria (1866), and France (1870-71). These wars must have had an enormous impression on him. One has to wonder if his subsequent commitment to the military was not inspired by boyhood memories. Certainly he must have felt the need to follow the example of his grandfather who used the military to expand Prussia and create the German Empire by force of arms. One has to wonder if the dazzling military victories of his boyhood were just too much for his liberal parents to compete with.
We get views of Wilhelm's character from many sources.
Wilhelm was a great dissapointment to both his parents. Wilhelm was torn between his liberal parents n one side and his conservative grandfather and Chancellor Bismarck on the other. Hinzpeter's tutoring did not have the effect that his parents had desired. The young Wilhelm as he prepared to leave his parent's household was as one biographer described him was "an arrogant prigish youth" who "worshipped Chancellor Bismarck's policies and accepted his program of "blood and iron". [Van der Kriste, p. 26.]
Wilhelm's mother described her older son as having the Prince of Wales' (future Edward VII) "pleasant, admirable ways--and can be very winning. He is not
possessed of brilliant abilities, nor any strength of character or talents, but he is a very dear boy and I hope and trust will grow up to be a good and useful man."
[Victoria, Wife of FrederickIII, Letters of the Empress] This is an interesting passage, for two reasons. First Vicky and Bertie had squalbed like cats and dogs as
children in the nursery. Second, as adults, Wilhelm and the Prince of Wales disliked each other.
Wilhelm's father wrote to Bishmarck about his son, explaining that he "is inclined to form his judgements far too speedily, lacks maturity, and has a tendency towards overwealming pride". [Ludwig, p. 563.] His father had opposed Bismarck throughout the Chancellor's near 30 years of office. Bismarck visits the day before his death. Now he fears for his Germany and his experienced son. He places his wive's and Bismarck's hand together in a hope that they will be able to guide Prince Wilhelm. [Ludwig, p. 567.]
Many did not speak frankly to Prince Wilhelm as a young man, given the increasing liklihood that sooner rather than later he would become Kaiser. Thus criticism from his parents, apauled by his imaturity and lack of judgement, must have increasingly stung him. This appears to have been especially true of his very bright and well-read mother. There was little respect for women in male-dominated Germany and ilhelm as an adult becomes increasingly critical of the mother that he had been so devoted to as a boy.
Prince Wilhelm first met his Aunt Alice, his mother's closest sibling, while an infant when his parents visited England. While Prince Wilhelm was at University in Bonn, he would often spend the weekend with his Aunt Alice and Hessian counsins at their modest palace in Darmstadt. His mother encouraged him to visit with her sister's family as the atmosphere was less formal than the Prussian court and she thought it would be good for him. He would go riding or rowing with his younger cousins or play croquet and tennis. His pomposity and self importance was clearly ion display even as a youth. He was apt to stop the games at a moment's notice and order them to listen to him read passages from the Bible. The
cousins found him much like a likable older brother, but according tomone historianm "... too mercurial, volitilem and restless, full of energy one moment, morose and
brooding the next. They nivknamed him 'Wilhelm the Sudden" and 'Gondola Billy'. [Van der Kriste, Wilhelm II, p. 21.] Victorians have speculated on his behavior.
Some think it was a way of showing his rank or perhaps an effort to show that desoite his arm, he was not in any way handicapped.
Bismark saw in Prince Wilhelm what he referred to pas "Potsdam obtuseness". [Ludwig, p. 563.] He seeks to educate the young Prince in world affairs. There are fascnating documents upon which Wilhelm pens comments to official documents and Bismarck points out the the lack of understanding by adiitional notes. In one example Prince Wilhelm reads a dispatch by Bismarck to the German Ambassador in Vienna concerning war talk in Berlin. Bismarck writes, "This indestructable realm of the Russian nation, made strong by its climate, by its steppes, and by the simplicity of its needs, ... would, after its defeat, remain our mortal foe, and one thristing for revenge--jyst as France is in the West. In this way, a situation of permanent tension would be created, and I do not propose to take upon myself the responsibility of bringing such a situation to pass. The destruction of a 'nationality' has, during the whole century, proved impossible for the strngest of the great powers to the much weaker Polish nationality. .... We shall be wise to treat Russia as a elemental danger, against whose inroads we must build dikes." Wilhelm commented upon Bismarck's comment about creating another revengeful nation, "No more than at present." Bismarck replies, "Much more I assure you!" Regarding the thirst for revenge comment, Wilhelm writes, "Eager for revenge, perhaps, but not in a position to take it". Bismarck responds, "But they would be very soon, just as France has now been for 12 years." Regarding the destruction of nationality Wilhelm writes, "But their fighting forces can be destroyed". Bismarck's reply, "They can be restablished in 5 years, cf. France".
[Ludwig, p. 565.] The exchanges are fascinating. First Bismarck, the greatest statesman in German history has written a brilliant assessment of German-Russian relations. Then Wilhelm an inexperienced young man proceeds to comment on it like a schoolmaster with shallow comments. It shows the self importance and lack of a grounded self evaluation with which he views himself and his inability to judge others.
Bismarck in the last year of Kaiser Wilhelm's saw instances of "poor judgement on the part of Prince Wilhelm. He take amateurism appraoches to problems . He is apauled when the Prince's sends proclamations to officials as if he were Kaiser while his grandfather and father still live, proclamations in extreme poor taste and without the Government's clearance. [Ludwig, p. 563.] Bismarck compares Wilhelm with his grandfather. His grandfather was not as bright or as educated as his grandson, but Wilhelm I was more tactful and had better manners and more reserve. This made it easier for the old Kaiser to accept Bismarck's guidance. Bismarck saw the younger Wilhelm as neurotic and because of his overwealming self view, was eager to take on actions that were beyond his capacities. [Ludwig, p. 568.]
A good reflection of a man's cahracter is the people with which he assocaites. Prince Wilhelm like to surround himself with syncophants. He was trired at the criticism he got at home. Heclike to be commlement on his brilliance and intelectual abilities. Belicose generals were favorites. [Ludwig, p. 566.]
Besides his parents, there were many influences that went into forming Wilhelm's character.
As with many handicapped children, his physical disability must have had a significanty impact on his development. He dealt with it well as a child, but it may well have affected his self image. This is especially true of aggresively masucline Prussia. It should be remembered that only a few years later the NAZIs would launchg a euthensia campaign in which thousands of mentally and phyically handicapped children were murdered.
Prince Wilhelm was only a small boy during the wars with Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) were fought. He was, however, about 11 years old when the war with France (1870-71) was fouight--old enough for it to have left an impression. These wars must have had an enormous impression on him. One has to wonder if his subsequent commitment to the military was not inspired by boyhood memories. Certainly he must have felt the need to follow the example of his grandfather who used the military to expand Prussia and create the German Empire by force of arms. One has to wonder if the dazzling military victories of his boyhood were just too much for his liberal parents to compete with.
Wilhelm at the age of 7 years in January 1866 was removed from the nursery and his formal education began. Captain von Schrotter of the Guards Artillery became Wihelm's governor and his formal education in a schoolroom. I'm not sure how von Schrotter and the others involved in Wilhelm's education were chosen and to what extent the parents or grandparents made the selection. Von Schrotter became a military attaché in London. A seargent taught him to play the drum. A Potsdam school teacher was engaged to teach reading and writing. It was Georg Hinzpeter who was to have the greatest influence on Wilhelms character. Hinzpeter in mid-1866 was chosen as a civil tutor. Hinzpeter was a severe bachelor ahed 38 when he behan to work with Wilhelm. He had a doctorate in philosphy and clasical philology. Just as another German tutor, Florschütz who worked with the future Prince Consort Albert, may have been one of the most successful teachers of the 19th century, Hinzpeter despite some worthy approaches may be considered one of the least successfull teachers.
Kohut, Thomas A. Kaiser Wilhelm II and his parents, in John C. G. Röhl and Nicolaus Sombart (eds). Kaiser Wilhelm II. New Interpretations. The Corfu Papers (Cambridge, 1982).
Ludwig, Emil. Bismarck: The Story of a Fighter (Little, Brown, and Company, 1927).
Morier, Sir Robert. Memoirs and Letters, (Edward Arnold, 1911), 2 volumes.
Röhl, John C.G. Young Wilhelm : the Kaiser's early life, 1859-1888, translated by Jeremy Gaines and Rebecca Wallach.
Van der Kriste, John. Kaiser Wihelm II: Germany's Last Kaiser (Bodmin: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 244p.
Wilhelm II. My Early Life (New York, 1926).
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site royal pages:
[Main William II page]
[Main royal pages]
[Austria] [Belgium] [Denmark] [France] [Germany] [German states] [Italy] [Luxemburg] [Monaco] [Netherlands] [Norway] [Romania] [Russia] [Scotland] [Spain] [Sweden] [United Kingdom]