1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/William II. of Hohenzollern
WILLIAM II. OF HOHENZOLLERN (1850-), German ex-Emperor and ex-King of Prussia (see 28.667). When the hour of the downfall of the German Empire and the Prussian dynasty, following upon the military collapse of Germany, arrived in Nov. 1918, the ex-Emperor's flight to Holland bore in the eyes of his countrymen the aspect of a pitiable incident, rather than of a tragic climax. For a considerable portion of the rest of the world, which had frequently overestimated his personal, as distinguished from his official, significance, his conduct and bearing on the eve of the war, throughout its course, and at the moment of his country's disaster, may indeed have come as something of a revelation. There followed a series of disclosures as to his exploits in previous years, above all that piece of personal diplomacy, the Treaty into which he tricked the still more inadequate Emperor of Russia at their meeting at Björkö on the Russian Imperial yacht (July 23, 24, 1905), and the equally characteristic “Willy-Nicky” correspondence (mainly in 1904-5), so-called on account of the signatures which the two Imperial correspondents appended to their letters. Only the Kaiser's share in that correspondence has (1920) been published. The Björkö Treaty, which was signed by the Tsar without consultation with the minister responsible for the foreign policy of Russia, represented an attempt by William II. to imitate Bismarck's Treaty of Reinsurance with Russia (1887-1890), which the great Chancellor had concluded behind the back of his ally Austria-Hungary, and which was allowed by his successor, Caprivi, to lapse in 1890 as being “too complicated”—i.e. too full of duplicity.
In William II.'s Treaty of Björkö, Russia and Germany engaged “to make foreign disturbers of the peace quiet, and in case of necessity to stand by one another with their armed strength.” Count Lamsdorff, then Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, was “profoundly excited and upset” when he read the document, since, as it stood, it imposed upon Russia the obligation of fighting on Germany's side if Germany were involved in war with Russia's ally, France. It is true that Russia also pledged herself to make every effort to gain France over to this new alliance, the object of William II. being to organize a continental coalition against Great Britain. When Count Witte, on his return from signing peace with Japan at Portsmouth (U.S.A.), was informed by Count Lamsdorff of the terms of the Treaty, he asked: “Does not his Majesty (Nicholas II.) know that we have a treaty with France?” “Of course his Majesty knows that,” Count Lamsdorff replied, “but the fact must have slipped from his mind, or, what is more probable, he was befogged by William's verbiage, and he failed to grasp the substance of the matter” (Count Witte's Memoirs, English ed. 1921). Count Witte and Count Lamsdorff were afterward able to obtain the abandonment of the Treaty, while Prince Bülow and the German Foreign Office, conscious of the absurdity of their master's achievement, were content to let the Imperial agreement be treated as non avenu. In the Willy-Nicky correspondence, which he conducted in bad English, William had endeavoured to hold Nicholas to the bargain by adjuring him, “God is our testator” (sic). The correspondence represents an mttempt on the part of William to exercise a kind of tutorship over Nicholas even in Russian home affairs and to instill into his mind suspicions both of France and of Great Britain.
During the years immediately preceding the World War William II. was only gradually recovering from the contretemps which overtook him in 1908, when Prince Bülow, then Chancellor, repudiated the utterances published on William's behalf in the Daily Telegraph (Oct. 28 1908) and exacted from him by the threat of resignation a public promise that he would in future abstain from such personal incursions into the realm of foreign policy. The Emperor nevertheless continued when he visited foreign courts to impress upon those with whom he came into contact his conviction that he was an autocrat in the conduct of Germany's foreign relations.
At the end of Oct. 1910 he visited the Belgian court, accompanied by the Empress, and addressing the King of the Belgians said: “May our relations of confidence and friendly neighbourliness be drawn ever closer! May welfare and blessing be shed by Your Majesty's reign upon your Royal house and upon your people! That is my desire, which springs from the depths of my heart.” At the Hotel de Ville he addressed the Mayor, M. Max, who four years later was to be sent to a German prison by the invaders of his country, and spoke of the “sober and industrious” Belgian people, expressing at the same time “our profound gratitude and our warmest wishes for the prosperity of Brussels and for a happy future.” When the Emperor delivered these speeches he knew that Count von Schlieffen's plan for violating Belgian neutrality in the event of war with France lay cut and dried in the pigeon-holes of the German General Staff, and it was a plan which he himself had endorsed. In May 1911 he paid his last visit to England, and was present as the guest of King George V. at the unveiling of the monument to Queen Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace, when the King, whose advisers remained ignorant of certain of the Emperor's wilder intrigues and schemes, referred to “the strong and living ties of friendship between the thrones and persons of the two sovereigns.”
In Feb. 1912 Lord Haldane visited Berlin in order to discuss proposals for a concurrent limitation in the increase of British and German naval armaments. As Lord Haldane states in his book Before the War, the visit was the sequel of a personal initiative of William II. through the medium of Sir Ernest Cassel. The Emperor had been concerned at the state of tension, dangerous to peace, which had attended the Morocco negotiations with France in the previous year. That critical episode had arisen out of the despatch of the German gunboat Panther on July 11 1911 to Agadir, not long after William II.'s return from his visit to England. In the meetings of German ministers with Lord Haldane, at one of which (between Lord Haldane and Adml. von Tirpitz) the Emperor was present in the self-imposed capacity of audience or chorus, he manifestly endeavoured for Lord Haldane's benefit to play for the time being the part of a constitutional monarch, exhibiting the balance of the ministerial advice from one side (Tirpitz) and from the other (Bethmann Hollweg) by which he had to guide his course. Lord Haldane's conclusion was that William II., and with him Germany, suffered from the lack of a constitutional system with a responsible government, the ministers being chosen more or less arbitrarily by the Emperor “and chosen in varying moods as to policy. . . . Thus the Kaiser was constantly being pulled at from different sides, and whichever minister had the most powerful combination at his back generally got the best of the argument. He had constantly to fix one eye on public opinion in Germany, and another on public opinion abroad. It is therefore not surprising that Germany seemed to foreigners a strange and unintelligible country.” Lord Haldane's opinion gives one aspect of the situation, but hardly takes sufficient account of the wayward personal initiative of William II., springing either from his own conceptions (as at Björkö) or from casual outside influences which his ministers were unable to control. Incidentally it may be mentioned that except, perhaps, for the Eulenburg episode in 1905-7 there was no so-called Court party, although military influences were frequently at work. As Prince Bülow said, the mischief which was done by sudden personal interventions of the Emperor was manifest, but nothing was known of the mischief which had been prevented.
In home affairs there was a fresh Imperial outburst about Alsace-Lorraine in May 1912, when the Emperor threatened the Burgomaster of Strassburg with the withdrawal of the new constitution of the Reichsland, which had been granted in the previous year. The threat was ill-considered, but Bethmann Hollweg defended it in the Reichstag.
In March 1912 William II. paid a visit to the Emperor Francis Joseph at Schönbrunn, and in April he met King Victor Emanuel at Venice by way of preparing for the renewal of the Triple Alliance, which took place on the following Dec. 5. There was a visit of King Ferdinand of Bulgaria to Berlin in June, and in July the Emperor met the Tsar at Baltic Port. An incident which excited considerable attention was the presence of William II. for the first time at manœuvres of the Swiss army, and the favourable popular reception of the Imperial visitor at Berne, Basle and Zürich (Sept. 3-7 1912). A good number of German-Swiss officers had studied military affairs in Germany, and William II., for obvious reasons, seized every opportunity of encouraging the professional sympathies between the two armies, which bore fruit during the World War in the partiality of the Swiss General Staff.
It is noteworthy that during the critical years of the Balkan wars and negotiations, particularly in 1913, William II. kept more than usually in the background. His government was coöperating at the London Ambassedors' Conference for the localization of the conflict and the restoration of peace. He was, nevertheless, cultivating close personal relations, afterward to bear fruit during the World War, with his brother-in-law, Constantine, who had succeeded his assassinated father on the throne of Greece in March 1913. He sent Constantine flattering telegrams on his military prowess, and was consequently able in Aug. 1913 to induce the King of Greece to remove the last obstacle to the Peace of Bucharest (Aug. 10) by withdrawing the Greek claims, as against the Bulgarian, to the Thracian Hinterland of Kavala. King Carol of Rumania, at whose request the intervention had taken place, telegraphed to his kinsman, “thanks to you, the peace will be final.”
King George V., with Queen Mary, and likewise the Tsar Nicholas II., were present in Berlin at the marriage on May 24 1913 of William II.'s only daughter, Princess Victoria Louise, with Prince Ernest Augustus of Cumberland, at last acknowledged as Duke of Brunswick, a marriage which was described as marking the reconciliation between the Guelphs of Hanover and the Hohenzollerns after the feud which had lasted since the conquest of Hanover by Prussia and the expulsion of the dynasty in 1866. These festivities were followed on June 16 and 17 by brilliant celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the accession of William II., with copious references by German sovereigns and official personages to the military strength of the German Empire under his sway as the guarantee of European peace.
A curious incident occurred in the same month. The Emperor disclosed the fact that one of his predecessors on the Prussian throne, Frederick William IV., had in a political testament recommended his successor, if opportunity arose, to annul the Prussian Constitution which he had granted, or rather imposed, in 1848. William II. announced that he had magnanimously burned this document.
A visit which excited considerable speculation at a later date, when, during the World War, the future of the Russian borderlands became a question of practical politics, was that which William II. paid on June 12 1914 to the ill-fated heir to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Francis Ferdinand, and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, at Konopisht Castle in Bohemia. The Emperor was accompanied by Adml. von Tirpitz. It is most probable that, apart from the sustained and ultimately successful efforts of William II. to win the reluctant personal sympathies of Francis Ferdinand (partly by encouraging his ambition to make his wife—who was not of royal birth—Empress when he should succeed to the throne), the object of the visit was to enlist his host's support for the extension of Austrian and inferentially of German naval power and influence in the Mediterranean. The story that the Emperor broached vast schemes for providing, after a contemplated European war, kingdoms for Francis Ferdinand's two sons by resuscitating the Greater Poland of the Jagiellos and by creating a great South-Slav State stretching to Salonika, seems entirely fanciful. A main feature of these alleged schemes was that the hereditary Austrian dominions should politically come into the confederated German Empire. Such an idea was never entertained by any sovereign or government during the Hohenzollern epoch. It had been, indeed, the so-called “Great German” policy of the German Liberals in 1848, but it was rejected by Bismarck and by the ruling classes of Prussia. Its realization, apart from other considerations, would have entailed a diminution of the influence of the Prussian Throne and Government, and an immense strengthening of German Catholicism. It again became, of course, the cherished aspiration of republican Germany and republican Austria after the World War. But it never was an old-Prussian or a Hohenzollern policy.
The news of the assassination of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife at Serajevo on June 28 1914 reached William II. on his yacht at Kiel during the regatta. His first exclamation, “Now I must begin all over again, my work of years is undone,” showed that he had reckoned upon the Archduke as an instrument of German policy when he should ascend the thrones of the dual monarchy. William II. returned from Kiel to Potsdam for a week, and the laying of the mines which caused the world-explosion began. On July 5 Count Hoyos arrived at Potsdam with a letter from the Emperor Francis Joseph containing a memorandum, written before the Serajevo assassination, describing the situation in the Balkans, the menace of the Pan-Slavist agitation, particularly in Serbia, and the changed attitude of Rumania. It was only by cultivating friendship with Bulgaria and by isolating and diminishing Serbia as a factor in the Balkans that these dangers could be averted. The crime of Serajevo, it was added, had only confirmed this estimate of the situation. William II. gave Count Hoyos a reply in which he said that any contemplated action against Serbia ought to be taken without delay, that Russia would certainly be hostile, but that he had long reckoned upon this eventuality. If it came to war between Austria and Russia, Germany would loyally take her stand by her ally. A conference (not, as erroneously reported, a Crown Council, which would have meant the presence ' of the whole Prussian Ministry) afterwards took place, and was attended by the Chancellor (Bethmann Hollweg), the War Minister (Gen. von Falkenhayn), the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Zimmermann) and the Chief of the Emperor's personal Military Cabinet (von Lyncker) . And on the following day, July 6, there was a conference with Adml. von Kapelle, Tirpitz's right hand man at the Admiralty (Tirpitz was on leave), and with representatives of the War Ministry and the General Staff. It was resolved to take measures of preparation for the event of war, and orders in this sense were issued. At the same time it was arranged that all appearance of unusual excitement or activity should be avoided, and that the Emperor should, according to programme, proceed upon his annual cruise in northern waters. He left for Kiel on the same day, and joined the fleet during its summer manœuvres off Norway. He was constantly kept informed by telegraph of the progress of events. And now began the famous series of his marginal notes, afterward published under the German Republican Government, upon the despatches he received. He was at first enthusiastic for the most energetic measures against Serbia. He suggested that Austria should reoccupy the Sandjak, so as to sever the union of Serbia and Montenegro and prevent Serbian access to the sea. Then “there will be a row at once,” he wrote. He deprecated war councils and conferences at Vienna, “because,” as Frederick the Great had said, “the timid party always gets the upper hand.” On July 19 he ordered the German battle-fleet not to disperse, so that it could at a moment's notice be recalled to Kiel. His chief anxiety at this stage was for the safety of the Baltic, and he wrote an angry marginal note because “the civilian Chancellor (Bethmann Hollweg) had not yet grasped his meaning.” He (William II.) must “concentrate his forces on land and sea.”
The text of the Austrian note to Serbia was communicated officially to the German Foreign Office on July 22, but the German ambassador in Vienna, Tschirschky, had had it on the previous day, and had probably telegraphed it direct to the German Emperor. It was presented at Belgrade on July 23.
The Kaiser at first exulted over a firmness of which he had thought Austria incapable, and expressed the belief that all Slav states were hollow. “Just tread firmly on the feet of this rabble!”—he added. On hearing that Count Berchtold, the Austrian Foreign Minister, did not desire to take any territory from Serbia he wrote, “Donkey! Austria must retake the Sandjak. . . . Austria must become preponderant over the smaller states at the expense of Russia, else there will be no peace.” On the report of Serbian mobilization he recalled the German fleet from the North Sea to Kiel. “If Russia mobilizes, our fleet must be ready in the Baltic, and so it is going home.” The chancellor had suggested on July 26 that the Emperor should calm European anxiety by remaining in Norwegian waters, but he was now thoroughly aroused, and on the following day he returned to Potsdam. There he received the text of the Serbian reply, and at first thought it “a great moral success.” No doubt the Serbians were liars and orientals, and Austria, he said in a letter to his chancellor, might do well to claim a “satisfaction d'honneur” and to exercise “une douce violence” by a temporary occupation of Serbian territory as a guarantee.
Anxiety about the attitude of Great Britain was now beginning to influence the Kaiser's mind, and his rage was sudden and great when his ambassador in London reported that Sir Edward Grey regarded the situation as serious and had suggested mediation. He described this as a piece of English pharisaism, and Sir Edward Grey as a “base deceiver, arch-base and Mephistophelian. Great Britain ought to put pressure upon Russia,” etc. On July 29 began the rapid interchange of telegrams between the Kaiser and the Tsar, which was to be continued up to and even immediately after the German declaration of war, and in which the object of the Kaiser's frequently rhetorical appeals was to induce Russia to reverse her measures of mobilization against Austria and to refrain from mobilization toward the German frontier. He hoped to score over Russia, by a policy of menace, a diplomatic victory in the Serbian question similar to, but far greater than, that which he had obtained in 1909, when, as he boasted, he had appeared beside his Austrian ally “in shining armour.” On July 29 a “Kronrat” with the whole body of the Kaiser's military and political advisers was held at Potsdam, and from Bethmann Hollweg's interview the same evening with the British ambassador (Sir Edward Goschen) and his bid for British neutrality it seems clear that the decision had fallen in favour of war.
After the proclamation of the state of “danger of war” (drohende Kriegsgefahr) on July 31, and the delivery of an ultimatum on the same day at St. Petersburg, and after a public mobilization order on the afternoon of August 1, a previously prepared declaration of war against Russia was delivered by the German ambassador at St. Petersburg on the evening of August 1.
Throughout the final episode of the German attempts to secure British neutrality the Kaiser was in a state of violent rage and disappointment, and he gave vent to his feelings in a memorandum to his chancellor on July 30 which may well be the wildest outburst of political passion that a monarch ever committed to paper. He declared that Great Britain had caught Germany in the trap of her loyalty to her Austrian alliance, that this was the crowning success of the policy of King Edward VII., who “though he is dead, is still stronger than I am”; and, finally, he exhorted the chancellor to inflame the Mahommedan world, for “if we are to bleed to death, England shall at least lose India,” William II.'s brief exchange of telegrams with King George V., based, as the Emperor's assumptions were, on a false report by brother, Prince Henry, and on a mistaken account by the German ambassador in London of a telephonic conversation with Sir Edward Grey, may be mentioned in passing. If King George's Government would assure the neutrality of France, the Kaiser was prepared to “employ elsewhere” his troops then moving against her. After Sir Edward Goschen had asked for his passports, a Berlin mob broke the windows of the British embassy. The Kaiser sent an aide-de-camp to the ambassador with an unkingly message, truculently delivered, expressing his regret, but telling Sir E. Goschen that he would “gather from these occurrences an idea of the feelings of the German people respecting the action of Great Britain in joining with other nations against her old allies of Waterloo.”
On August 4, William II. opened the session of the last Reichstag of his reign by a war speech, to which he added a personal appeal to the deputies (the Social Democrats alone were absent) to support him “through thick and thin,” and individually to shake hands with him in token of their promise to do this. To one of the deputies he said. “Now we will give them (his enemies) a good thrashing.”
If during the World War William II. ever attempted to interfere in military dispositions, it is clear that the leaders of the army were successful in preventing his effective intervention. He paid the inevitable visits to the fighting lines at critical moments, especially when a German success was believed to be impending, but there is no reason to believe that he was ever, in accordance with the traditions of his house, under fire. He once or twice narrowly escaped aeroplane attacks, but this was accidental. He lived in his comfortable Imperial train or in a portable asbestos hut, or at Supreme Headquarters at Pless Castle in Silesia, and afterward at Spa. He took no practical military part in the war. His crude rhetoric was from time to time employed in firing the ardour of his troops, as when he exhorted them in Oct. 1914 to destroy French's “contemptible little army,” or when in the last year of the war he celebrated the 30th anniversary (June 15 1918) of his accession by describing the struggle as a mortal combat between Anglo-Saxon and Prusso-German ideals. In the eyes of his people his personal prestige did not increase; it distinctly diminished, even before the last phase of open aversion from him. He formally retained the final decision in military as in political affairs. There was a long and bitter struggle between three successive chancellors (Michaelis may be left out of account) and the higher military command on a variety of questions—hypothetical terms of peace, the Brest Litovsk negotiations, the armistice question, and, throughout the war, the best method of maintaining the war-spirit of the population. More than once Hindenburg and Ludendorff threatened to resign, and it was between them and Bethmann Hollweg that William II. had to choose when he parted (July 14 1917) with his first war chancellor. “The Government,” as Ludendorff says, “had itself to blame, as it frequently appealed to its agreement with the chief military command, and dismissed proposals and demands on the ground that the military leaders objected.”
In naval matters the Kaiser had greater success in resisting the authoritative methods of Grand Adml. von Tirpitz, and carrying out his own policy and Bethmann Hollweg's of holding the High Seas Fleet in reserve, or (as he called it in his order of Aug. 6 1914) “on the defensive.” For a long time Bethmann, and perhaps also William II., seem to have hoped that Great Britain might be detached from the Allies, if the struggle for naval ascendency were not too keenly pressed. This hope was chimerical, but Bethmann was not a far-seeing statesman, and the views of the Kaiser, who reckoned upon an intact fleet as a valuable political asset for peace negotiations, were seldom based on sound calculations. Tirpitz found himself compelled to resign on March 16 1916.
William II.'s reputation in peace-time had been largely based upon the spectacular setting which he gave to his policy and upon his rhetorical speeches. All effects of that kind gradually failed him during the World War, and some of them lent themselves to ridicule. In Jan. 1916 he had a meeting with his Balkan ally, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, at Nisch, when Ferdinand at a banquet addressed him in obsequious terms and exclaimed in unconsciously ambiguous Latin, “Tu es Caesar et gloriosus!” The Emperor's part in the attempts to secure a “German Peace” in 1916 and 1917 was singularly unfortunate. The declaration issued on Dec. 12 1916 by Germany and the powers associated with her was manifestly a manœuvre to anticipate President Wilson's peace action, to represent the Allies as blood-thirsty and unconciliatory, and to hearten the German working-classes for the fight. It gave no information as to terms, and it contained no reference to the crucial question of the future of Belgium. What the Kaiser's ideas of peace terms at that date may have been is a matter of inference from what has since become known regarding his attitude some six months later. After the Reichstag's so-called “Peace Resolution” of July 1917, efforts were made to induce the Vatican to interest itself in the question of peace, and ultimately a papal note on the subject was issued. In a document addressed on behalf of William II. to Mgr. Pacelli, the Papal Nuncio at Munich, the Kaiser's peace terms were described as including an indemnity of 30 milliard dollars from the United States and 40 milliard dollars from France. Longwy and Briey, rich mineral districts on the French frontier, were to go to Germany, and Great Britain was to give up Malta. The disclosure of these items in the Imperial document was made in the Reichstag on April 27 1921, by the Independent Socialist, Dr. Breitscheid, Chairman of the Reichstag Committee for investigating responsibility for the origin and prolongation of the World War. In 1917 as in 1916, the only peace which William II. and his military and political backers contemplated was a peace with victory (Siegfrieden).
The events which led up to the collapse of Germany and flight of William II. in Nov. 1918 were political as well as military. Even so stout a Catholic conservative as the Chancellor, Count Hertling, had described the Prussian franchise question, for example, as “a matter of life and death for the dynasty.” Internal reforms were long overdue, and this one had been promised in the Kaiser's edicts of April and July 1917, though only as a result of the apprehensions excited by the revolution in Russia. The obstinacy of the Prussian reactionary Chamber of Deputies and the Upper House delayed the reform until the monarchy fell. In the Reichstag the Imperial prerogatives—especially the right in certain circumstances to make war and peace—were being dealt with by a committee on the Constitution. Prince Max of Baden's Coalition Government, which included several Social Democrats, was avowedly installed for the purpose of introducing Parliamentary Government as well as for making peace. Here again reform came too late.
On Aug. 14 1918, the alarm which Ludendorff had communicated to the Kaiser regarding events in the field and the moral of the German troops had induced William II. and his political advisers to contemplate applying to Queen Wilhelmina of Holland for mediation, but nothing was done for some weeks. In the middle of Sept. the Kaiser addressed to the workmen at Krupp's an appealing speech which showed that he recognized the military situation and the internal conditions of Germany to be almost desperate. He returned at the beginning of Oct. from headquarters at Spa to Berlin.
Meanwhile an urgent appeal by Hindenburg and Ludendorff to the German Government to open negotiations at once for an armistice had reveabd the desperate state of affairs at the front to the members of the Government, including the Social Democrats. Shortly after the Emperor's return, the constitutional changes limiting his prerogatives had been adopted by the Reichstag, and the bill was awaiting his signature. On Oct. 28 he accepted the constitutional law in a letter to Prince Max, in which he avowed sentiments with regard to the rights and duties of the representatives of the people which might have saved his dynasty if he had expressed them years or perhaps even some months earlier. The question of his abdication had now definitely arisen and was being ventilated toward the end of Oct. in the Socialist and the Democratic press. President Wilson's frank declaration that he could not trust the word of the existing rulers of Germany gave a great impetus to the discussion. William II. on the throne, whatever might be his revised sentiments, was regarded in Germany as an obstacle to peace. The Independent Socialists had gone further than the other parties of the Left and, through the mouth of their leader, Haase, had declared in the Reichstag that it was no longer a question of the Kaiser alone, but of the Prussian and other German dynasties. The Majority Socialists, who at that stage would have been satisfied with the abdication of William II. and the renunciation of the Crown Prince's rights to the succession, were forced by the attitude of the Socialist left wing to make at least the Kaiser question most urgent. Scheidemann, in his book Der Zusammenbruch (1920), gives an account of the reception of the members of the Imperial Government by the Emperor on Oct. 20 1918 at Bellevue Castle in Berlin. It was the first time (with the exception of a parliamentary soirée at the residence of Dr. Helfferich in July 1917, at the time of the so-called Peace Resolution) that William II. had met the new Social Democratic Secretaries of State, men whom he had formerly described in public speeches as “fellows without a country.” Scheidemann says that the Emperor, in uniform, advanced holding in his hand a piece of cardboard, on both sides of which on typewritten sheets the words he was to address to his new ministers were pasted. William II. wore a forced smile and moved the cardboard sheet to and fro as if he meant to say “You know how these things are made up.” He read the address with a loud voice, and “it would have made an excellent impression,” Scheidemann says, “if it had been delivered some years earlier.” It expressed the intention that nowhere in the world should there be freer institutions than in Germany. It concluded, however, with a reference to “the last breath and the last blow”—a phrase which was singularly out of place in view of the desperate efforts to obtain an armistice. The Kaiser afterward affably conversed with the Socialists who were presented to him. After he had departed, it was decided by the Ministry that the speech should not be published, as the situation was so far advanced that it would have made a ridiculous impression.
William II. knew what was in the air, and on Oct. 30 he quietly left Berlin for the western front. The revolution now broke out in the navy at Kiel and on Nov. 7 at Munich. Everything had been prepared by the Independent Socialists for the Berlin outbreak which came on the 9th, although another date had originally been contemplated. The Governmental Socialists, unable to control the movement, felt themselves constrained to address an ultimatum on the abdication question to the Chancellor, Prince Max. Emissaries from the Government had been at Spa from Nov. 3 urging the Emperor to abdicate, but he was stubborn and considered that it was his duty to remain and save Germany from Bolshevism. “Moreover,” he said, “I should willingly work with the new order and the new Government; various gentlemen in it whom I have met are very sympathetic to me.” On the morning of Nov. 9 Hindenburg was early at the Villa Fraineuse, the Emperor's quarters at Spa. The field-marshal had had a thorough discussion of the situation with representatives of the different army commanders, and at one o'clock he sent a final report to the Villa Fraineuse stating that, in the fairly unanimous opinion of the generals, the troops could still be relied upon to fight against the enemy, but would never fight against their own comrades, i.e. in defence of the Kaiser and the Prussian dynasty. Meanwhile, abdication was constantly being urged by telephone from Berlin. About two o'clock a precise answer was sent to Berlin that the Kaiser abdicated as German Emperor but not as King of Prussia. The reply came by telephone: “Too late: we have already published his abdication.” To the Crown Prince, who had arrived for luncheon, the Emperor said as he departed about three: “Tell the soldiers that it is not true that I have abdicated as King of Prussia.” Later, Hindenburg arrived at the Villa with Gen. Groener and Adml. Scheer. It was then “put in the Kaiser's mouth” to abdicate as King of Prussia also. When he left the conference he said to Count Dohna-Schlodien, his aide-de-camp, “You have no longer any Supreme War Lord.”
All the afternoon and evening his suite urged him, in view of the feeling among the troops, to escape to Holland. He at first refused, but consented to go and dine in the Imperial train. On the way he said: “I am so awfully ashamed. I cannot find it in my heart to do this. I cannot go away. If there be but one faithful battalion here, I shall remain at Spa.” He thus was contemplating a fratricidal war in defence of his crown. In the train one alarming message after another arrived regarding disorder on the lines of communication and concerning the approach of retreating troops to Spa. To those around him the Kaiser said: “At other times I have always known what to do, now I am at a loss.” At 10 P.M. Adml. von Hintze urged him to start, for “in an hour it might be too late.” The Kaiser finally said: “To facilitate peace for the nation I shall go to Holland. If I went to Germany, it would be supposed that I wanted to rally a new party to help me to make a coup d'état.” He now considered himself relieved from any duties toward the army, as it had left him in the lurch; nor did he recognize any duty toward the Government which, on its own responsibility, had announced his abdication.
At 5 o'clock next morning, Nov. 10, the Emperor left his train and, with a small suite, fled in motor-cars across the Dutch frontier to Eysden, where he arrived about 8 A.M. According to one account (Lady Norah Bentinck's The ex-Kaiser in Exile), he had walked up to a Dutch soldier at the frontier, saying, “I am the German Emperor,” and had offered his sword; but no one knew what to do. At 10 A.M. his railway train arrived at Eysden, and he took refuge in it and there spent that day and the following night. Arrangements had meanwhile been made, apparently through the Dutch authorities, with Count Godard Bentinck, who with some reluctance consented to receive him as a guest “for a few days” in his castle at Amerongen. The Imperial train left Eysden at 9 A.M. and at 3 P.M. reached Maarn where Count Bentinck and Count Lynden, governor of the province of Utrecht, were awaiting the ex-Kaiser on the platform. There was a considerable suite in the train, who remained to unpack large quantities of food and wine which they had brought with them. Count Bentinck arrived at Amerongen in his motor-car with the Emperor as evening was falling, and, as the guest entered the house, his first words were “now give me a cup of real good English tea.” On Nov. 28 William II. signed his formal abdication at Amerongen, renouncing his rights to the Crown of Prussia and his consequential rights to the German Imperial Crown. On the same day the Empress Augusta Victoria arrived from Wilhelmshöhe Castle to join her husband. His personal suite, which had been a burden to his host, was soon reduced to two officials, a master of ceremonies and an aide-de-camp, but he retained a number of his servants. He seldom ventured, save for motor-car drives, beyond the precincts of the castle, which is surrounded by a moat. He spent most of his time in sawing logs of wood, an occupation in which he was so diligent that he provided the castle with firewood for the whole winter. As souvenirs, instead of autographs, he used to give away small blocks of wood on which he had inscribed his monogram. In June 1920 the ex-Kaiser and the ex-Kaiserin left Amerongen for Doorn, a property which the ex-Kaiser had just purchased, and which is situated near the main road between Utrecht and Arnheim. The house and grounds were henceforth watched by Dutch soldiers. Up to March 1920 the Allies' demand for his extradition was an open question, and notes were exchanged on the subject with the Dutch Government, which officially regarded him as a German refugee but undertook to prevent any political activities on his part. He was believed to have ample means, although it was reported toward the close of 1921 that he had been compelled further to reduce his establishment. In the autumn he managed to send a rhetorical message to a royalist demonstration in Berlin at which Ludendorff was present.
The prevailing German verdict upon William II. after the war was that he had been entirely unequal, by temperament, by capacity and by education, to the task of guiding the destinies of the German nation. His training before his accession had been almost entirely in the school of Prussian militarism, and, notwithstanding his subsequent travels and his intercourse with statesmen and men of affairs in his own and other countries, he retained in many matters the narrow outlook and the modes of expression of the average Prussian officer. In his cosmogony sovereigns and dynasties occupied a place entirely apart, and he regarded himself and a certain number of other sovereigns as occupying their positions by the grace of God, and as endowed with something like infallibility in home affairs. In his public speeches he affected the rhetoric of the Prussian officers' mess-room banquets and seemed quite unable to measure the effect of his words upon international relations. He aspired to guide the art, the intellect, the industry and commerce and even the theology of his country. He never realized that the age had moved beyond him in spheres in which he was essentially a dilettante. He had a lax conception of truth and honour in his personal diplomacy, and was accustomed to shift his standpoint in foreign affairs according to the nationality of the person with whom he was conversing. Dr. Hammann, however, testifies that there were almost inexplicable lacunae in the Kaiser's memory. One of the German verdicts upon him, which does not appear to be far from the truth, was that his intellect and character had never matured.
The Empress Augusta Victoria (see 28.669), who was at the castle of Wilhelmshöhe (the place of Napoleon III.'s internment in 1870-71) at the time of the Emperor's flight, joined him at Amerongen on Nov. 28 1918. She was already suffering from a heart complaint, and anxiety with regard to her husband and the possibility of his extradition weighed upon her more than upon him. She died at Doorn Castle on April 11 1921. Her remains were conveyed to Potsdam and placed in a temporary mausoleum in the park of the New Palace. The funeral furnished an occasion for some royalist demonstrations in Berlin. The Empress, although she accompanied William II. on many of his political journeys, confined her interests mainly to her family duties and to works of charity. She had been active in promoting Christian enterprises, particularly the building of churches in Berlin. She was regarded as the model of a German housewife and of a Landesmutter, as the Germans used to call the consorts of their sovereigns.
education may be found in such books as Bismarck's Reflections and Reminiscences (English ed. 2 vols., 1898). The third vol. of these Gedanken and Erinnerungen appeared in Germany in 1921, though it is dated 1919, having long been held up by an interdict given in favour of the ex-Kaiser on the ground that the volume contained the text of confidential letters written by him. In 1921 he withdrew the interdict, as most of the obnoxious material had found its way into the newspapers. See also Prince Hohenlohe's Memoirs (1906). Recently published books bearing on the subject are Dr. Otto Hammann's Der Neue Kurs (1918), Um den Kaiser (1919), which contains perhaps the best character sketch of William II., and Der Missverstandene Bismarck (1921), also Baron von Eckhardstein's Lebenserinnerungen, 3 vols. (1919-21). For the last phase Scheidemann's Der Zusammenbruch (1921) and Die Deutsche Revolution by Ferdinand Runkel (1919) are useful, and there is a remarkable, if rather highly coloured, short character sketch by Walter Rathenau, Der Kaiser (1919). Lady Norah Bentinck wrote a book of someinterest, The ex-Kaiser in Exile (1921).
- According to some accounts he departed during the night.
- Um den Kaiser (1921).