Prussia as a separate State merged, with many other Germanic kingdoms, grand dukedoms and principalities into a united Germany. But Prussia had a great deal of history beforehand. Just one example – if Prussia in the form of Marshall Blucher and his Prussian troops (qv.) had not arrived in the nick of time in 1815, the Battle of Waterloo might well have been won by Napoleon Bonaparte (qv.) and the whole history of Europe after the battle would have been radically different.
Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, was born at the tail end of the eighteenth century, in 1797. He also became Emperor of Germany thanks mainly to Prince von Bismarck (qv.), whose ambition to unite all the Teutonic states succeeded.
Wilhelm I devoted most of his life to the advancement and welfare of the Prussian army, over which he took command in order to suppress the Revolution of 1848, in Baden. After ascending to the throne in 1861 he announced to an astonished Europe – ‘a new era of liberalism’ – but the rest of Europe did not have to hold its breath for long. In 1862 the King (as he then was) invited Bismarck to become his Minister/President, and this prudent act prevented any wisecrack liberal ideas from permeating the Germanic psyche. Bismarck and liberalism could not mix.
The King proceeded to rely totally on Bismarck’s policies, giving that ambitious man the chance greatly to increase Prussia’s influence. Before one could shout ‘Raus!’ there was a Franco-Prussian War in which the King took command of his armies, and indeed received the surrender of Napoleon III at Sedan in September, 1870. Meanwhile Otto von Bismarck was working hard on his plan to unify Germany; in 1871 the King was invited by all the German princes (at the Prince’s instigation) to become Emperor of Germany, at the creation of the Second German Empire.
Two attempts were made on Wilhelm I’s life but he survived both, and saw his own popularity strengthen. These failures were however sufficient pretext for the King and Bismarck to step down hard on socialism. The King/Emperor died in 1888.
Wilhelm II, King of Prussia & Emperor of Germany
was born a grandson of Queen Victoria and Wilhelm I, in 1888, the same year as the latter’s death. He was the son of Frederick, also King of Prussia, who had married a daughter of Queen Victoria.
This Wilhelm was a different kettle of fish to his grandfather, in that he forced the resignation of Bismarck and embarked on a far from liberal reign, a ‘New Course’ policy regarded across the embassies and parliaments of Europe as nothing less than warmongering. Among his reforms stood out his support of von Tirpitz’ plan to build a German Navy to rival Britain’s. He was offensive to Britain, and to her Queen, sending a congratulatory telegram to the leader of the Boers in South Africa, after the gloomy failure of The Jameson Raid (qv.).
Turkey was loathed and feared by the British (and almost everybody else) so Wilhelm was amiable and supportive to the Turks (who later were to join him in the First War against the Allies (see Laurence of Arabia qv.). He irritated and provoked the French in the Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911. And then to cap it all he encouraged the Austro/Hungarian Empire against Serbia in 1914, which quickly led to the outbreak of World War I.
Wilhelm through his grandmother was first or second cousin to almost all the reigning European monarchs, including George V of Gt. Britain, the Tsar of Russia and the King of Greece. Still, it is only fair to point out that the Kaiser’s personal share of responsbility for the expensive, bloody and salutary conflict is probably less than was imagined at the time. He played little or no part in the War itself (he was not permitted to) and in 1918 at the end of the War was forced to abdicate. He died at the age of eighty-two in exile. During the dubious debate at the Treaty of Versailles (1919-23 qv.) after the First War, discussions took place as to whether or not the Kaiser should be tried and executed for his participation in the causes, but good sense prevailed.