Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert

Wilhelm II, German Emperor

Wilhelm II (German: Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert; 27 January 1859 – 4 June 1941) was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia.

He reigned from 15 June 1888 until his abdication on 9 November 1918 shortly before Germany’s defeat in World War I.

As the eldest grandchild of Queen Victoria, Wilhelm’s first cousins included George V of the United Kingdom and many princesses who, along with Wilhelm’s sister Sophia, became European consorts.

For most of his life before becoming emperor, he was second in line to succeed his grandfather Wilhelm I on the German and Prussian thrones after his father, Frederick.

His grandfather and father both died in 1888, the Year of Three Emperors, making Wilhelm emperor and king.

He dismissed the country’s longtime chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, in 1890.

Wilhelm took control of foreign and military policy with a bellicose “New Course” to cement Germany’s status as a respected world power.

However, he frequently undermined this goal by making tactless, alarming public statements without seeking his ministers’ advice.

Additionally, his regime did much to alienate itself from the other Great Powers by initiating a massive naval build-up and challenging French control of Morocco.

His turbulent reign ultimately culminated in Germany’s absolute guarantee of military support to Austria-Hungary during the crisis of July 1914, one of the key developments leading to the outbreak of World War I.

A lax wartime leader, he left virtually all decision-making regarding military strategy and organisation of the war effort to the Great General Staff.

This broad delegation of authority gave rise to a de facto military dictatorship whose belligerent foreign policy led to the United States’ entry into the war on 6 April 1917.

After losing the support of the German military and his subjects in November 1918, Wilhelm abdicated and fled to exile in the Netherlands. 

He remained there during the German occupation and died in 1941.