Wilhelm II: Prince and Emperor, 1859-1900

By Lamar Cecil | Go to book overview
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Twelve
OUR ARROGANT COUSIN, ALBION

OF ALL THE NATIONS of Europe, none exercised so enduring a fascination on the last German Kaiser as Great Britain. From his boyhood trips to England to his embittered old age, in which on his modest estate in Holland he liked to pose as an Edwardian country gentleman, Wilhelm II loved no land so much save his own Germany, from no quarter did he so crave approval, and to him no disappointments were so acute as those sent his way from London. To the Kaiser, as heir to the Hohenzollern throne, as ruler, and finally in exile, England was an obsession, but his eager pursuit of this chimera, alternately adored and hated, always proved ultimately fruitless.

The root of Wilhelm's affection for England lay, of course, in his birth, for he was a son of England as well as of Prussia. His mother, Princess Royal of England, never ceased to love her home country, and she was determined that her children revere it as well. From infancy, Wilhelm received a steady diet of adulation of England, but as a young man he became exposed to other influences that challenged the British precepts his mother had tried to instill. By the time Wilhelm became twenty in 1879, he had begun to turn against his mother and against England, a process which intensified during the following decade. The principal victim of this attitude was his perplexed and wounded mother, but eventually the entire Royal Family became casualties of Wilhelm's hostility. His distaste for England was partly due to family complications but also to more general causes, to the animosity toward England harbored by the Prussian aristocracy, to the fact that in the 1880s the entire atmosphere of Anglo-German relations was changing for the worse because of Chancellor Bismarck's preference for Britain's rival, Russia, and to the increasingly rancorous economic competition between Europe's two leading industrial and commercial powers. None of these difficulties would ever be

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