The modern German state was founded by the Hohenzollern family with the support of the brilliant Iron Chancelor, Count Otto von Bismark. The creartion of Germany began with the accesion of William I to the throne of Prussia in 1861. The Prussian Government under the guidance of Bismark began to pursue domesic and international policies designed to make Prussia the dominate force in the German Confederation which had been previously dominated by
Austria. The policies formulated by
Bismark and others included Albrecht von Roon and Helmuth von Moltle
included the supression of the Prussian democratic movement, expansion
of the military, and an aggresive attitude toward Austria. The first
outward manifesttion of the policy was the seizure of Danish possesions
Schleswig-Holstein (1864). War soon followed with Austria and the
Prussian victory (1866) established the Hohenzollern's as Germany's premier royal family.
The widely accepted view during the 20th century of a strong German national tradition, quite ironically, only existed as goal or vision for hundreds of years. It was perhaps this lack of a national tradition that made so many Germans such fervent nationalists. A strong national cultural tradition did exist for hundreds of years, but not a political one. Germany attained unification under centralized rule much later than most other European countries. The powerful German dynasties of the middle ages never succeeded in establishing a German nation-state because they were bound by the legacy of the traditions of the Holy Roman Empire. Underneath the umbrella tradition of the empire, a multiplicity of small states operated under the autonomy and sovereignty of local and regional nobles. In the late 18th century it has been reported that as many as 314 states and 1475 estates comprised Germany, making it
look like a patchwork quilt. Centuries of religious struggle contributed to this fragmentation. Religious strife dominated central Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Reformation (1521) resulted in prolonged and bloody warfare that was largely carried out on German soil. The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) was the culmination of this devastating period. Large portions of Germany were decimated with an estimated 30 percent of the population being killed. In the Palatinate, one source estimated only 50,000 people surviving out of a population of one million. The horrors of the Thirty Years' War lived on in popular memory as those of no other war in Europe until the 20th century.
The Confederation of the Rhine was an outgrowth of the Napoleonic Wars. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte formed a conederation of German states after is overwealming defeat of Austeri, the major German state, at Austerlitz (1806). The Confederation included the newly created kingdoms of Bavaria and Württenberg, the grand duchies of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, and Berg, and several other smaller principalities. Most of the other German states, except Austria and Prussia joined the Confederation. The countries which joined the Confederation were required to disavowed their allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire, and Francis II, the last Holy Roman Empire. Francis had restiled himself Emperor of Austria after declining the title Holy Roman emperor in 1806. Napoleon attempted to direct both the domestic and the foreign affairs of the Confederation. Napoleon could not focus on these efforts because of repeated international crisis. Napoleon’s retreat from Russia (1812–13) irrevocably weakened Napoleon and resulted in the collapse of the Confederation.
The Congress of Vienna created the German Confederation at the end of the Napoleonic Was (1815). One result of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna was a consolidation of the German political division. The Holy Roman Empire in 1648 included an amazing 234 separate political units. Most were small political units, including 51 Free Cities and numerous ecclesiastical states, including the important Archbishoprics of Salzburg, Magdeburg, and Trier and the Bishopric of Münster. The German Confederation while it still included 32 entities was a major simplification. The Confederation included only 4 Free Cities and no ecclesiastical territories, but with 51 entities, Germany was still ungovernable with two major competing powers (Prussia and Austria) and several major states (Bavaria, Honover, Saxony, and others). The Confederation had the same boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire in 1648 upon the signing of the Treary of Westphalia. The central authority had even less authority than that of the Holy Roman Empire and even this was further empaired by the conflict between Austria and Prussia. The Confederation was destroyed by Prussia with the defeat of Austria and several other German states (Bavaria and Hannover) in the Austro-Prussian War (1866).
The last obstacle to the creation of the German state was France, ruled at the time by the Emperor
Napoleon III. The Prussian victory over Austria had fundamentally
changed continental power relationships. Confronted with the emergence
of a united German state with all that portended for the ballence of power in Europe and beset by other difficultieds, Napoleon III decided to pursue a bellicose policy with Prussia. A diplomatic dispute arrising out of Bismark's attempt to secure the
vacant Spanish throne for a Hohenzollern, provided a mutually agreeable cause belli. The French Government declare war on Prussia in 1870. The efficently organized Prussian Army aided with forces of other German states desimated the army of the French Second Empire which collapsed on September 4, 1870 at the Battle of Sedan. Continued
resistance by a new French Republic proved futile and Paris fell in 1871. The peace which followed resulted in hugh indemnities and French cessesion of Alsace Loraine, virtually ensuring a future war. Under the auspices of Prussia, its largest state, Germany was united into a federal system in 1871. The resulting combination consisted of 22 states and the 3 former city-states or urban republics of Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck. Kaiser Wilhelm served as the first emperor of the unified Germany which was referred to as the
Second Reich. This structure lasted until 1918 when Germany lost extensive portions of territories to France, Poland, Belgium, Denmark and Czechoslovakia.
Hitler and NAZI rule beginning in the 1933 marked the Third Reich. The devastation of World War II resulted in the further loss of territory including the provinces of
Silesia, Pomerania, East Prussia and part of Brandenburg to Poland and the Soviet Union. Germany was also split into Eastern and Western sectors following the NAZI capitulation.
The German Empire was organized under the leadership of Prussia. Prussia's role in the 1870-71 war with France and earlier wars with Austria and Denmark had established Prussia's dominate position among the German states. Other German states had more liberal, democratic political systems. But it was Prussia with its conservative, military outlook that became the cental core of the Germam Empire. The King of Prussia became the first Kaisser or Emperor. Information on Prussian kings is available here.
There were only three German empires or Kaisers. Wilhelm I brilliant guided by Bismarck unified the Germa ntion, but under the aggrssively masuline amd marshall leadership of conservative Prussia hich would place its stamp on the German nation. Fredeich III died within months of becomin Kaiser. His son Wilhelm II provd to be the most disatrous ledr in German history--until Hitler.
Many Germans had long aspired for a united nation state. This feeling became increasingly strong after the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Ironically, it was this defeat and occupation by the French that stired a feeling of German national identity. The Prussian-led victory over the French in 1870-71 caused a groundswell of popular support for the Hohenzollerns and the proclamation of William I (Wilhelm) as Emperor (Kaiser) of Germany in 1871. Kaiser Wilhelm I and Chancellor Bismarck learned on May 6, 1882, that the 23-year old Prince Wilhelm (later Kaiser Wilhelm II) was a father. Prince Wilhelm reportedly called through the window at the Marmorpalais in Potsdam when he saw his
father "He is here, Papa, he is here, a son." Three living generations of the German royal family, the Hohenzollerns, seemed to
have secured a happy future.
Frederick was born in 1831, the son of King Wilhelm I of Prussia at Potsdam. When his father succeeded to the throne of Prussia in 1861, Frederick became Crown Prince Frederick William. Frederick was liberal in his political views, uncharacteristic for the Hohenzollerens. He opposed Count von Bismark throught his long term as Chancellor. Although opposed to the war with Austria in 1866, Frederick assumed command of the Army and led the Prussian forces to victory at the battle of Sadowa, which terminated the war which only lasted 7 weeks. During the Franco Prissian War he commanded the forces of the sothern German states. He participated in the Battle of Sedan and the seige of Paris. A man of learing and culture, Frederick and his wife, the English Princess Royal Victoria (Queen Victoria's eldest daughter), patronized art and literature and encouraged the work of the royal museums. Friederich and Victoria shared the liberal principles represented by the constitutional English monarchy. The principles had not been shared by his father or Bismark who made sure the parents did not control the upbrining of the Crown Prince. His accession to the throne was anticipated with pleasure by most Germans, who genially referred to him as "Our Fritz. For the Hohenzollern family and the politics of the
First Reich, the year 1888 was the year of the three Emperors. Kaiser Wilhelm I died on March 9. Frederich suffered from cancer of the larynx. His poor health and untimely death were to have a profound impact on the future of Germany and Europe at large. His reign lasted only 99 days. Friedrich III died on June 15, 1888. His oldest son, the 29-yr. old Crown Prince became
Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Wilhelm II is perhaps the best known of the German Kaisers and Kings of Prussia--and the greatest failure. This was not preordained. Kaiser Wilhelm's upbrining and family background equiped him ideally to play the kind of peace keeping role played by his cousin Edward VII. However this role was not to his liking. He rejected the liberal leanings of his parents and instead the beicose leanings of the Prussian Junkers appealed to him. The result was to be disastorous for Germany, Europe and the Hohenzollern dynasty. While not the monster portrayed in British war-time propaganda, the bombastic Kaisser proved until Hitler to be one of the worst rulers in German history. It was said of Wilhelm that he was a man who wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. Many historians trace his narcisistic personality to his handicap and childhood. It is not because of his parents, more than his predecessors, Wilhelm grew up in a loving family. His Uncle Edward VII, a perceptive judge of character, said of his nephew, "the most brilliant failure in Europe". Although Wilhelm can not be blamed solely for World War I, his personal instability and grandiouse image of himself and Germany certainly played a major role in bringing about the War. Certainly he became the most hated man in Europe, although today's historical judgement after Hitler and the Holacaust now sees Wilhelm as less sinister than he was viewed after World War I. In many ways, however, it was Wilhelm who made Hitler possible. Kaiser Wilheml II was a dutiful husband and father. He had had seven children, including six sons (Fredrich-Wilhelm, Eitel Friedrich, Adalbert, August-Wilhelm, Oscar Charles, Joachim Francis.
Wilhelm's oldest son, 6 year old Prince Frederich-Wilhelm officially became the Crown Prince when his father assumed the throne. His relationship with his father became more formal after he became Kaiser. At age 10, Prince Wilhelm received the rank of Lieutenant of the First Infantry Regiment, in accordance with tradition. When Prince Frederich-Wilhelm was 14 years old, another
important stage of his life began. Together with his younger brother Eitel Friedrich he was sent to the military Academy at Ploen in Schleswig-Holstein, where he became a cadet. After 4 years at Ploen he graduated on February 22, 1900. Three days later he began his officer training in Potsdam, which had been shortened from 9 months to 9 weeks. As he was 18 years old and had become of age, according to the Hohenzollern House law, he began active service with his regiment on May 6, 1900. For the occasion of the Crown Prince's coming of age, many guests attended the celebrations. He
mairred Princess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Cecilie learned to speak French fluently, as well as German, English and Russian.
The mairrage, however, was not a happy one. Crown Prince Friederich-Wilhelm had ? children, including Prince Wilhelm and Prince Louis-Ferninand. Many photographs show the Kaiser with his grand children suggesting a loving relationship. We know less about the relatiionship betwwn the children and their parents or relatiins among the children. After World War I and the addicatication of the Kaiser he followed his father into exhile. He joined the NAZI Party, mistakingly
believing that the NAZIs would reinstante the Hohenzollerens. He renounced his rights to the
throne in 1933 to marry a commoner. He died in battle during 1940.
Born on November 9, 1907, at the Marmor Palais in Potsdam, Prince Louis-Ferdinand of Prussia served as the head of his family for more than four decades. At his birth, very few would have thought that one day
Louis-Ferdinand would become the head of the German imperial family. As a
grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Louis-Ferdinand was placed third in the line of
succession behind his father, Crown Prince Friedrich-Wilhelm, and his elder
brother Prince Wilhelm, born in 1906. By the time his father died in 1951,
Louis-Ferdinand's eldest brother had renounced his rights to the throne in
1933 to marry a commoner. Prince Wilhelm of Prussia died in battle in 1940.
Louis-Ferdinand was an artistically minded prince. He attended Berlin
University in the 1920's, traveled widely, was a patron of songwriters and did some composing himself. As a young prince, Louis-Ferdinand took full advantage of his position and
heritage. The 1920's saw him traveling extensively around the world,
particularly to the United States.
His brother's renunciation in 1933, forced Louis-Ferdinand to give up his
bachelor's existence in the United States. He was asked by his grandfather,
Kaiser Wilhelm II, to return to Germany and begin preparation for his future
task as head of the Hohenzollern dynasty. During the early 1930's two of Kaiser Wilhelm II's sons joined the Nazi Party, Oscar and August-Wilhelm. Crown Prince Friedrich-Wilhelm, and two of his other sons, also joined the Nazi Party. The Hohenzollerns mistakenly hoped that Hitler would eventually restore the German empire. Many flocked to him in the hope of having their thrones reinstated. The Nazis sought to attract as many royals as possible to their movement to gain respectability among the German people. In fact, Prince August-Wilhelm was unwise enough to proclaim that, "where a Hitler leads, a Hohenzollern can follow." Unlike many of his royal cousins, Louis-Ferdinand was deeply opposed to the Nazi regime. The Gestapo followed him constantly because he was under suspicion of plotting against Hitler.
Several wars and conflicts followed in the wake of World War I. President Wilson hoped that the creation of nation states from the Eastern and Central European territory of the great 19th century empires (Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia) would bring a more just, enlighted, and democratic future for Europe. The British and French were less convinced, but hoped that arrangements with the new states like Czechoslovakia Poland, and Yugoslavia would help disuade Germany from any new military adventures. And limitations on the German military in the Versailles Treaty would also prevent this. The result was completely the opposite. By dismantling the Hohenzollern and
Habsburg empires, the Allies opened Pandora's box in Central Europe. Nationalism was a
double-edged sword. It consumed the Habsburg empire, and the effects of nationalism are still witnessed in the tragic events causing instability in the Balkans. The Treaty of
Versailles shattered the image of the old Europe. A new continent was created, yet sadly
enough it only lasted two decades with Hitler and the NAZI's seizure of power, in pat because of the affront to German nationalism.
HBRC encourages readers to comment and correct our various pages. We are interested in additional or updated information.
An American reader, provided the following information: "Love your website. I have expended many hours looking through it and reading the interesting pages. I accidentally found your website one day while researching my family genealogy. After reviewing the German Royal pages, I wonder how my family's history fits. My Father and his family were members of the German Royal family and was married to a
Russian Romanoff prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. When the Revolution transpired, they escaped to Canada and then later to German Town Nebraska in the United States. They changed their last name from Hoenzollern, but attempted to keep some semblance of the family name by using Wilhelm as the base name to change. Translating Wilhelm into an English name,
it became Williams. My Grandfather's name was Frederick Wilhelm Williams. I looked through your many photographs, they remind me of my brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. One
picture looks as though it were taken of my brother Marshall, both remarkable and unbelievable!! In another, the image looks EXACTLY like my brother's son, John. The photos of these people are uncanny representations of my own immediate family. When my father visits Germany, the German Government has him stay in the Hohenzollern Castle out of respect for his blood line. Also, when my Dad was in the US Army, and was being investigated
for a TOP SECRET Clearance, there was some concern that he wouldn't qualify, due to his royal family heritage." [HBC note: Walt thank you for your kind comments and interesting information. We tried to respond to your e-mail but the e-mail address didn't work. Please do send us your e-mail address as we would like to discuss this with you.]
There are some Hohenzollern photographs that I have been unable to identify. Any
insights on who these family members are would be greatly appreciated. We can not, for example, identify the family in figure 5. We have found additional information, but are still unable to find their geneology. We will archive here images we have been unable to identify yet.
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