William I, German Emperor

William I or Wilhelm I[2] (German: Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig; 22 March 1797 – 9 March 1888) was King of Prussia from 2 January 1861 and German Emperor from 18 January 1871 until his death in 1888. A member of the House of Hohenzollern, he was the first head of state of a united Germany. He was de facto head of state of Prussia from 1858, when he became regent for his brother Frederick William IV, whose death three years later would make him king.

Wilhelm I
Photograph of an elderly Wilhelm, a bald man with side whiskers
The Emperor in 1884
German Emperor
Reign18 January 1871 – 9 March 1888
Proclamation18 January 1871, Versailles
PredecessorMonarchy established
SuccessorFrederick III
ChancellorOtto von Bismarck
King of Prussia
Reign2 January 1861 – 9 March 1888
Coronation18 October 1861
PredecessorFrederick William IV
SuccessorFrederick III
Prime Ministers
See list
Holder of the Bundespräsidium of the North German Confederation[1]
In office1 July 1867 – 31 December 1870
ChancellorOtto von Bismarck
Born22 March 1797
Kronprinzenpalais, Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, Holy Roman Empire
Died9 March 1888(1888-03-09) (aged 90)
Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin, German Empire
Burial16 March 1888
(m. 1829)
German: Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig
English: William Frederick Louis
FatherFrederick William III of Prussia
MotherLouise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
ReligionLutheran (Prussian United)
SignatureWilhelm I's signature
Military career
Allegiance Kingdom of Prussia
 German Confederation
Service/branch Prussian Army
(active service)
Years of service1809–1858
(active service)
(active service)
Unit1st Guards Regiment
Commands held
AwardsIron Cross

Under the leadership of William and his minister president Otto von Bismarck, Prussia achieved the unification of Germany and the establishment of the German Empire. Despite his long support of Bismarck as minister president, William held strong reservations about some of Bismarck's more reactionary policies, including his anti-Catholicism and tough handling of subordinates. In contrast to the domineering Bismarck, William was described as polite, gentlemanly and, while staunchly conservative, more open to certain classical liberal ideas than his grandson Wilhelm II, during whose reign he was known as Wilhelm the Great (German: der Große).

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