The year 1888 in Germany is known as the year of the three emperors. Wilhelm ascended the throne in 1888 after his elderly grandfather and then his father died unexpectely after reigning for only 3 months. The history of Germany and Europe may have been very different if Wilhelm's father had been healthier and had a long reign. Bismarck and Wilhelm's grandfather were successful in frusrtating Wilhelm's parents attempt to raise a son with a liberal outlook. Under the guise of training him for his future royal duties, Bismarck saw Wilhelm as a conservative foil against his parents liberalism. While the Chacellor's scheme to frustrate Wilhelm's parents succeeded, it did no produce the Kaiser that Bismarck envisioned.
The year 1888 in Germany is known as the year of the three emperors. Wilhelm ascended the throne in 1888 after his elderly grandfather and then his father died unexpectely after reigning for only 3 months. The history of Germany and Europe may have been very different if Wilhelm's father had been healthier and had a long reign.
Bismarck and Wilhelm's grandfather were successful in frusrtating Wilhelm's parents attempt to raise a son with a liberal outlook. Under the guise of training him for his future royal duties, Bismarck saw Wilhelm as a conservative foil against his parents liberalism. As Wilhelm thought he was not well trated at home, he had attempted to develop a relationship with the Chancellor. The two were drawn together out of mutual hostility toward Prince Wilhelm's parents. [Ludwig, p.563.] While the Chacellor's scheme to frustrate Wilhelm's parents succeeded, it did not produce the future Kaiser that Bismarck envisioned. Wilhelm's father Friedrich died within 4 months of becoming Kaiser. Wilhelm inherited the throne, but proved uncontrollable. Wilhelm distanced himself from his English mother and dismissed Bismarck. He felt Bismarck lectured him like a school boy, which he no doubt did because the new Kaiser behaved so imaturely. Those around Wilhelm seeing their careers blocked by Bismarck, from the very beginnin urged Wilhelm to dismiss the Chancellor. Waldersee tells him, "Frederick, Your Majesty, would hardly have become Frederick the Great if, at the opening of his reign, there had been in charge of affairs a man of Bismarck's power and importance, and if he had kept this man in office." [Ludwig, p. 567.] The comment was telling. Wilhelm did indeed want to be Wilhelm the Great. And he wanted to rule as well as reign. Once Bismarck made it clear to Wilhelm that he intended to continue governing as Chancellor as long as he served, his days in office were numbered. Wilhelm not only dismissed Bismarck in 1890, but in a few short years he undid some of Bismarck's central policies, especially the prime one--keep France isolated.
One would have thought that with an English mother that Wilhelm would have developed a fondness for England. As a boy he indeed was very close to his mother and made constant visits to England with her. Bismarkck considered his mother a dangerous foreign influence, especially because of her liberal views. As a young man Wilhelm's attitude toward his mother changed markedly and with it his attitudes toward his English realtives, including Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. He is known to have made extrodianarily crude comments about them, even to their realtives in foreign courts. More is involved here than a family squable. Wilhelm's private comments about his family and belicose public comments on diplomatic incident well as his decisssion to build a navy to challenge England were major factors in changing England from viewing Prussia/Germany as an ally against France to seeing Germany as England's principal adversary requiring a raprochment with France. Thus undoing Bismarck's principal admonition--isolate France.
Wilhem was the virtual absolute monarch of the most powerful nation in Europe. Unlike his English relatives, the German Emperor was not a figurehead. The authority of the Reichstag was limited. He was generally considered to be an able and energetic, but bombastic and seld-absorbed leader. Wilhelm II was probably the most powerful world figure at turn-of-the-century Europe. His policies, especially his foreign policies, however, proved disastrous. As a result, when World War I begun Germany found itself figting an allince of tyhe most powerful nations in Europe.
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).
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