German Royalty: Wilhelm II's Childhood--Franco Prussian War

Figure 1.--Wilhelm was photographed here in 1870 either right before or during the Franco Prussian War. He would have been about 11 years old. The War must have left a great impression on him.

The Franco-Prussian War occurred when Wilhelm was about 11 years old. His father played a prominent role in the struggle and Wilhelm and his brother under the direction of their tutor followed events closely. As a result of the War, the Hohenzollern family was raised to imperial status. The whole episode must habe made a great impression on Wilhelm and influenced his view of his role as kaiser.

The Young Princes

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 made a great impression on Wilhelm and his brother Henry. Prussia fought a war with Austria un 1866, but Wilhelm had been much younger--onlu about 7 years old. At age 11 the imopact of the war with France must have been much moire significant. Both he anf Henry at the time were being tutored bt Dr. Hinzpeter. The outcome was of course the defeat of Emperor Napoleon III of France and the proclimation of a new German Empire with their grandfather the first kaiser--Wilhelm I. Their father sent home captured French colors and eagles (the symbols of a French marshall) from the front as well as the keys to surendedered cities. Their tutor Dr. Hinzpeter put a map up on the wall of their schoolroom and they put in colored flags to follow troop movements. It was at Homburg that they received word of the great German victory at Sedan. Cheers from the street woke them up and they watched a torch-light parade in their nightshirts from the balcony, not knowing the crowd below could see them. The next day Hinzpeter scolded them for undignified behavior. Victorious troops paraded in Berlin after the War. Wilhelm was allowed to participate. He rode a small dappled horse, riding between his father and Uncle Friederich, Grand Duke of Baden--both generals at the front. [Van der Kriste, 1999, p. 16.]

The War

The Franco-Prussian War is the 1870-71, conflict between France and Prussia that permitted the unification of a united Germany under the Prussian kingdom, overwealming the more liberal traditions of some other German states. The War was largely provoked by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (the Iron Chancellor) as part of his carefully crafted plan to unify German under Prussian leadership. This result was a huge, poweful state imbued with Prussian militarism and with the power to aggressively persue the new Germany's imperial ambitions. This fundmentally changed the European power ballance. The resulting defeat of Louis Napoleon by the Prussians in 1870 brought the Third Republic to power in 1871. One of the reforms they introduced were smocks for schoolboys, part of the new Republican ideal to reduce the influence of class and privlidge. The two northeastern provinces of France, Alsace-Loraine, were ceded to Germany in the Treaty of Frankfurt. These were both border provinces and there were already large numbers of German-speakers in both provinces, especially Alsace. The population was, however, largely French orientened--even some of the German families. The loss to France was so heart-felt in France that it almost made another war inevitable. One impact on boys' clothing was that when the Third Republic in 1871 mandated smocks in French schools, Alsace-Loraine were no longer part of France.


Ludwig, Emil. Bismarck: The Story of a Fighter (Little, Brown, and Company, 1927).

Röhl, John C.G. Young Wilhelm : the Kaiser's early life, 1859-1888, translated by Jeremy Gaines and Rebecca Wallach.

Van der Kiste, John. Kaiser Wilhelm II: Germany's Last Emperor (Bodmin: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 244p.

Wilhelm II. My Early Life (New York, 1926).

Victoria, Wife of Frederick III, Letters of the Empress.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: September 23, 2002
Last updated: September 23, 2002