Welcome!

Thank you for visiting! Please feel free to leave a comment. I accept anonymous comments as long as they are polite.

All written content is protected by copyright but if you wish to contact me regarding the content of this blog, please feel free to do so via the contact form.


Please pay a visit, too, to HILLIARD & CROFT

And:

Christina Croft at Amazon

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Happy Birthday, Kaiser Wilhelm

Perhaps it is because we are such complicated beings that people try to create some sense of order in the chaos of emotions and thoughts within each person’s life. When you think of the hundreds of thousands of thoughts that enter your mind each day, the many emotions through which you move and the millions of images that enter your visual, auditory and olfactory fields it’s small wonder that people try to organise and label so many experiences, and so many other people. Scientists slot things into categories – gasses, liquids solids, elements, minerals, species etc. etc. – everything labelled and in order to prevent confusion. Perhaps for the sake of clarity, historians sometimes adopt the same method, labelling people as good or bad, black or white, innocent or guilty.


In the annals of history, Kaiser Wilhelm is categorised clearly as either mad or bad. I feel for this man, though very few people seem to have much that is good to say of him and I don’t believe this is simply because he happened to be on the losing side of WW1 – after all, few people write in a critical way of Franz Josef or Karl of Austria. Something about this man arouses either scorn and mockery or dislike, and it is my firm belief that this is because no one hated the Kaiser as much as he hated himself. All that grandiose posturing, the uniforms the huge moustache, concealing the lost little boy whom he remained to the end of his life. He was a bundle of contradictions – playful and bizarre one moment, angry the next; adoring his grandmother and holding her while she died; alternatively adoring and despising his mother, whom he treated appallingly; desperately longing to be loved, while at the same time needing to appear strong and above the rest of mankind; hating and loving and envying England; changing mood from one moment to the next; wanting to feel part of his large extended family, yet so desperately longing for the respect of his cousins that his behaviour was often beyond irrational (as when he threatened to ban his sister from entering Germany simply because she had converted to Orthodoxy, but a short time later was encouraging his cousin, Alix, to convert in order to marry the Tsarevich); and perhaps most strikingly, his genuine sense of his own self-righteous innocence at the outbreak of war.
This would-be powerful man remained a victim of his own insecurities all his life. No wonder he suffered at least two nervous breakdowns.

I have often read descriptions of him as ‘bonkers’ and I think it is rather sad that he is written off so easily. Clearly, he did have many psychological issues that remained unresolved - sometimes he played rather cruel tricks on people or behaved inappropriately (slapping Ferdinand of Bulgaria on the bottom and wondering why he was affronted??), but I don’t think he was deliberately cruel and I think he was capable of a great deal of love – as he showed at his grandmother’s deathbed. He loved animals and children. It must have taken a great deal of determination to overcome not only the physical disability of his left arm, but also the psychological effects of knowing he wasn’t the perfect specimen of a prince that his people expected. He rode brilliantly; he spoke many languages fluently; he was an intellectually intelligent man who loved art and literature and wanted to make Germany a place of learning and culture which extended to all classes. He fell in love with his cousin, Ella, and felt rebuffed that his love was unrequited....and later, when he married, he remained faithful to his wife. I think the speed with which he remarried following the death of his first wife, says something of his need to be mothered....He spent his entire life seeking the approval of the mother whom he treated so badly.

The photographs of him in Doorn after his ‘escape’ from Germany, show the face of a
very sad and broken man. Every time I think of him, I think of Longfellow’s lines:

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”

So...Happy Birthday, Willy – the contradictions in your character often seem to be mere exaggerations of the contradictions within us all.

9 comments:

Matterhorn said...

I was touched by this post. Thank you. That last photograph is very sad, indeed, but he also looks wiser and more thoughtful there.

It's interesting that today is Kaiser Wilhelm's birthday, because today is also the anniversary of the death of Queen Marie-José of Italy, who was the daughter of King Albert of Belgium. It's rather odd to think that Wilhelm and Marie-José are in some way connected by these important dates in their lives, since, as a little girl, during World War I, M-J was vehemently hostile to the Kaiser and to anything German (although her own family, of course, was of German, and partly Hohenzollern descent). It's natural that she should have taken this attitude, since her country had been attacked by the Kaiser's armies and at her age, she saw things in a very black-and-white way, as children tend to do. But in the end, I suppose, she had some experiences in common with Wilhelm--loss, sorrow, dethronement and exile...

Christina said...

Thank you for your comment and this interesting information about Marie Jose’s anniversary. I know so little about her (I tend to stop paying attention after 1918,and ought to correct that!). It’s no wonder she felt as she did about the Kaiser and his army - who wouldn’t in such circumstances, seeing foreign troops marching through your peaceful land? – and I think, on reflection, the Kaiser himself would have understood that. I must find out more about this lady....and I am sure that the ‘Cross of Laeken’ blog is the best place to go for that :-)

Anonymous said...

Your fascination with the Kaiser fascinates me, Christina. His parents were a happy marriage, so I don't know why he became such a complicated character. On the other hand, Emperor Karl grew up in a broken home, his father being an unfaithful husband and his mother a very strict and monotonous woman. That clearly shows that it's up to every person to decide what kind of human being she or he wants to become in life.

Christina said...

Thank you for your comment. My fascination with him is partly due to research I am carrying out for a new book, and partly because I think, like many other historical people, he has been painted rather one-dimensionally whereas I think there was a lot more too him. Extreme characters (saints and 'sinners') do fascinate me...and they seldom turn out to be quite as black or white as first presented.
The second part of your comment (about his upbringing) inspired a whole series of thoughts, about which I intend to post later. Thank you!!

Christina said...

Thank you for your comment. My fascination with him is partly due to research I am carrying out for a new book, and partly because I think, like many other historical people, he has been painted rather one-dimensionally whereas I think there was a lot more too him. Extreme characters (saints and 'sinners') do fascinate me...and they seldom turn out to be quite as black or white as first presented.
The second part of your comment (about his upbringing) inspired a whole series of thoughts, about which I intend to post later. Thank you!!

Tracey said...

Some have speculated that the lengthy and complicated birthing process that Willie went through may have resulted in a loss of oxygen to the brain for a brief period, possibly exaplaining some of his future personality "quirks". Certainly the monstorous treatments he was made to suffer in his early years for his arm had a long lasting psychological effect on him.

Christina said...

I agree, Tracey. The trauma to his arm was caused by doctors shaking and pulling at him during and just after his birth - probably because he wasn't breathing and was deprived of oxygen. There is such a lot more to this than first meets the eye, isn't there?
(As soon as there is more time, I hope to post more about his childhood...and huis relationship with his mother). Thank you for your comment - it is greatly appreciated :-)

Isabela said...

Touching. You are really changing my mind about him- I read an old biography who speaks so badly about him. He is not bad... just complicated, I guess.

Christina said...

Thank you, Isabela. I'm sorry to be so late in uploading your comment. I only just saw it! Thank you for visiting!!