World War I buffs might enjoy reading this biography written by an expert in Wilhelm II’s life and ill-fated career.
Exasperated by his stupidity and academic idleness, his parents surrendered him at seven to the charge of a disciplinarian tutor in the hope that he might grow up to become a liberal, reforming monarch like Vicky’s beloved father, Albert. For all the eccentric Dr Hinzpeter’s efforts over a ten-year period, that too was to no avail.
The Kaiser grew up to be emotionally needy, bombastic, choleric, hyperactive and hypersensitive. His personality combined with the militaristic, authoritarian culture of the Prussian court to create a monarch who was extraordinarily ill-suited to lead the most powerful country in Europe at the end of the 19th century. His belief in his powers as a great strategist and the absence of anyone prepared to challenge him were major factors in helping to create the conditions and the alliances that led directly to the catastrophe of 1914. Two abiding fixations were fear of Germany’s encirclement and a conviction that only smug, malevolent Britain stood in the way of German hegemony in Europe.
Yet it was the Kaiser’s own interventions that brought those things about. The ending of Bismarck’s secret Reinsurance treaty with Russia in 1890 helped drive Russia into the arms of France. Wilhelm’s ill-conceived and vastly expensive naval race with Britain was a major factor in forcing his mother’s homeland, too, into an alliance with France. While believing that Britain could still be deterred from war against Germany he fervently encouraged the development of the Schlieffen plan to invade France through neutral Belgium; the one thing that would guarantee enlisting Britain as a belligerent.