We have included information om royal births in the HBC site, primarily as a matter of historical refference. Wilhelm's birth is, however, of considerable importance. Wilhelm was born in Berlin in 1859. It was breech birth and the German doctors in attendance thought that both Wilhelm and his mother would die--few babies survived breech births in the mid-19th century. Victoria's mother, in fact, rose to the English throne because her cousin Princess Charlotte died in child birth. Actually the German doctors in attendance largely gave up on Wilhelm who appeared to be dead. A consequence of the breech birth and poor care by the atending German doctors was an accident that weaked Wilhelm's left arm, which became withered and virtually useless. Manny historians believe that this handicap had a major impact on the formation of Wilhelms's character.
Wilhelm was born in Berlin in 1859. It was breech birth and the German doctors in attendance thought that both Wilhelm and his mother would die--few babies survived breech births in the mid-19th century. Victoria's mother, in fact, rose to the English throne because her cousin Princess Charlotte died in child birth. Actually the German doctors in attendance largely gave up on Wilhelm who appeared to be dead. Most of teir attention was devoted to saving the mother's life. Wilhelm's seemingly lifeless body was given over to a mid-wife, Fraulein Stahl. She smacked the baby until, to the surprise of the attending doctors, tiny Wilhelm finally began to cry. [Van der Kriste, p. 6]
Fraulein Stahl wrapped the baby and presented him to his parental granparents, Wilhelm and Augusta, and court attendedents. They congadulated their son Prince Friederich who was still disdraught as Vicky's life was still in question. When it was learned 3 days later that the baby's arm was not functioning, his grandfather remarked with little felling, that he was not sure that congratualtions had been on order for the birth of a defective prince. [Van der Kriste, p. 7]
Only a few days after Wilhelm was born, his attendent Mrs. Innocent, drew Dr. Martin's attention to his lifeless left arm. Friedrich was immediately informed, but his German doctors assured him that the paralysis was temporary and that it would disappear with gentle massage. Of course it never did. Apparently in the birth process, the baby's arm had been torn from the socket and the musseles largely detached. As the boy grew, his left arm developed 6 inches shorter than the right arm and he had almost no strength in it. Interestingly, while there was no strength in his left arm, his right hand because he used it so much had a poweful grip. As a result, the Kaiser as an adult delighted when being presented to some one with a vice-like hand shake. he would even turn his rings inwards to add to the person';s discomfort. He would often allude to the "mailed fist" when meeting English visitors. [Van der Kriste, pp. 6-7]
A consequence of the breech birth and poor care by the atending German doctors was an accident that weaked Wilhelm's left arm, which became withered and virtually useless. In the birth process, the baby's arm had been torn from the socket. Both the mussles and nerves for the left arm and hand had been torn from the spinal column.
It was not just Wilhelm's arm that was injured at birth. The damage to the arm also affected Wilhelm's neck. As a result his head was tilted destinctly to the left. Wilhelm's hearing was also impaired. He petriodically suffered from distressing growths and inlamations of the inner year. As an adult he had an operation which left him totally deaf in his right ear.
Wilhelm's withered left arm (like FDR's polio), was generally covered up by the press of the day. Few Germans were aware of it. It is visible in only a few photographs. Even as a boy, Wilhelm became very adept at covering it up--especially when a portrait was being taken. He would normally place it in a coat pocket. As a result, Wilhelm cout not handle a ordinary knife and fork at dinner time. An aide would carry a specially designed combined implement and the person sitting next to him at dinner would quietly cut his food. [Van der Kiste, p. 6.]
Many historians believe that this handicap had a major impact on the formation of Wilhelms's character. Wilhelm was a handicapped child that through strength of character became a capable horesman and marksman. Wilelm overcame these severe disabilites and became an admirable horseman and an indefatigable huntsman. Most historians believe that his handicap had a great impact on the development of his character.
One is struck by the comparison with another handicapped leader--President Roosevelt. Their disabilities, however, had very different affects on the two men. Rossevelt's struggle with polio deeped, helping him to appreciate the struggle of others. Wilhelm's handicap had no such impact on him. This is the case despite an educational program that involved meeting German workers--an experience a young Franklin Roosevelt never had.
Wilhelm's disability seems to have created a need for him to constantly prove himself a man. This was probably a major factor in his developing a narcissistic personality. He became bombastic, vain, insensitive, and possessed with grandiose notions of his personal abilities and divine right rule. This personality in fact paralleled those of the new Germany: strong, but seeing itself and surronded and failing to achieve its proper status.
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: Germany's
Last Emperor (Bodmin: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 244p.
Van der Kriste has written several valuable books on European royalty including focusing one on royal childhood.
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