Wilhelm II, German Emperor

Wilhelm II (Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert; 27 January 1859  4 June 1941), anglicised as William II, was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, reigning from 15 June 1888 until his abdication on 9 November 1918. Despite strengthening the German Empire's position as a great power by building a blue-water navy and promoting scientific innovation, his tactless public statements and erratic foreign policy greatly antagonized the international community and are considered by many to be one of the underlying causes for World War I. When the German war effort collapsed after a series of crushing defeats on the Western Front in 1918, he was forced to abdicate, thereby bringing an end to the House of Hohenzollern's three-hundred-year reign.

Wilhelm II
Portrait by T. H. Voigt, 1902
German Emperor
King of Prussia
Reign15 June 1888 – 9 November 1918
PredecessorFrederick III
SuccessorMonarchy abolished
Chancellors
Born(1859-01-27)27 January 1859
Kronprinzenpalais, Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia
Died4 June 1941(1941-06-04) (aged 82)
Huis Doorn, Doorn, Netherlands
Burial9 June 1941
Huis Doorn, Doorn
Spouse
(m. 1922)
Issue
Names
German: Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert
English: Frederick William Victor Albert
HouseHohenzollern
FatherFrederick III, German Emperor
MotherVictoria, Princess Royal
ReligionLutheranism (Prussian United)
Signature

Wilhelm II was the son of Prince Frederick William of Prussia and Victoria, Princess Royal. His father was the son of Wilhelm I, German Emperor, and his mother was the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. With the death of Wilhelm's grandfather in March 1888, his father became German Emperor and King of Prussia as Frederick III. Frederick himself died in June of that year, and Wilhelm II ascended the throne. In March 1890, he dismissed the German Empire's powerful longtime chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.

After Bismarck's dismissal, Wilhelm II assumed direct control over his nation's policies and embarked on a bellicose "New Course" to cement its status as a leading world power. Over the course of his reign, Germany acquired territories in China and the Pacific (such as Kiautschou Bay, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Caroline Islands) and became Europe's largest manufacturer. However, Wilhelm often undermined such progress by voicing xenophobic views and making threatening statements towards other countries without consulting his ministers. Likewise, his regime did much to alienate itself from other great powers by initiating a massive naval build-up, challenging French control of Morocco, and building a railway through Baghdad that threatened Britain's dominion in the Persian Gulf.[1][2][3] By the second decade of the 20th century, Germany could rely only on significantly weaker nations such as Austria-Hungary and the declining Ottoman Empire as allies.

Wilhelm's turbulent reign culminated in Germany's guarantee of military support to Austria-Hungary during the crisis of July 1914, one of the direct causes for World War I. A lax wartime leader, Wilhelm left virtually all decision-making regarding strategy and organisation of the war effort to the German Army's Great General Staff. By August 1916, this broad delegation of power resulted in a de facto military dictatorship that dominated national policy for the rest of the conflict. Despite emerging victorious over Russia and obtaining significant territorial gains in Eastern Europe, Germany was forced to relinquish all its conquests after its forces' decisive defeat on the Western Front in the fall of 1918. Losing the support of his country's military and many of his subjects, Wilhelm was forced to abdicate during the German Revolution of 1918–1919 which ultimately converted Germany from a monarchy into a democratic state (now known as the Weimar Republic). The deposed emperor fled to exile in the Netherlands where he remained through its occupation by Nazi Germany in World War II, dying in 1941.