Retirement and Requiem
THE WEB OF Anglo-German understanding had always been tenuous. Queen Victoria and her eldest daughter might have thought that the English and the Germans were natural allies because of linked dynasties and shared faiths and cultural affinities, but the differences between the two countries were fundamental. Economics, political structures, communications and the differing natures of their élites, pushed the two nations into competition and misunderstanding.1 The individual efforts of the English queen and her daughter began to appear futile, as Germany, which had always refused to be England's pupil, now became her rival.
When the Empress Frederick retired to her Friedrichshof, the German economy was already outstripping the British one. Bismarck's game with overseas colonies became a matter of national prestige. Imperialism might seem irrelevant to the ousted Chancellor, but it was important to the Kaiser and his countrymen. The young Emperor was determined not to deny national feeling, but to put himself at the head of it. Half-English as he was, he could not seem to placate England. Fearing patronage by his mother's homeland, he wanted to be superior. He intended to unite his nation by outdoing hers.
By choosing to rule personally, the Kaiser found his personal choices governed largely by social and economic forces beyond his control. Queen Victoria could covertly influence politics and diplomacy; she could not decide them. The Kaiser could decide, but at the risk of public exposure. By taking power from Bismarck, he lost freedom of choice. He could not dissociate himself from his Government's demands as