Figure 1.--Wilhelm as a younger boy was often dressed in sailor suits, rather like his younger brother. This drawing shows him in 1861. It was published as a post card after he became kaiser so I am unsure how accurate it was. There are photogrpahs of him wearing quite similar outfits.
I have only little information about Wilhelm's childhood. He seems to have been an active baby despite his handicap. He does not appear to have been the best behaved boy. His antics during the 1863 wedding of his uncle, the Prince of Wales were noticed. He threw Beatrice's muff from the cairrage and threw the dirk from his highland outfit across the floor of St. George's Chappel during the wedding ceremony. (One his reminded at the modern Prince William's behavior at his Uncle Andrew's wedding.) I have less information about Wilhelm's behavior at home.
Vicky wrote her mother describing what an active baby Wilhelm was. She also describes him as forward, presumably meaning that he had to be watched all the time.
Within the family, Wilhelm was known as "Willy". His parents were known as "Vicky" and "Fritz".
I have only little information about Wilhelm's childhood. He seems to have been an active baby despite his handicap. He does not appear to have been the best behaved boy. His antics during the 1863 wedding of his uncle, the Prince of Wales were noticed. He threw Beatrice's muff from the cairrage and threw the dirk from his highland outfit across the floor of St. George's Chappel during the wedding ceremony. (One his reminded at the modern Prince William's behavior at his Uncle Andrew's wedding.) Wheen Uncles Arthur and Leopold, still only boys themselves, cautioned him, he apparently bit both of them on their legs. [Van der Kriste, pp. 9-10]
Crown Prince Frederick and Victoria would bring their children to England most summers. As a result many stories exist about the children while in England. Some of those asociated with Wilhelm are legendary. Vicky brough Wilhel back to Windsor about 8 montha after Bertie's wedding. The artist William Powell Frith had been comissioned to paint a group portrait of the wedding. This was a prestigious assignment for the painter of Victorian genre scenes. It proved to be one of his most difficult works. One might have thought painting a scene in London's busy Padington Station was a serious challenge. But the youngest member of the Prince of Wales' wedding party caused the artist considerable trouble. At first he made fun of the artist's whiskers. Then he daubed paint on the canvas, Frith allowed this. In the process he got paint all over him, upsetting his nurse. Firth tried to clean him up with turpentine, but a scratch meant that it really smarted Willy who punched poor Mr. Frith. Willy retreated under a table and started howling. Afterwards he refused to properly sit for the portrait. As a result, Willy's image in the painting has only the most basic likeness.
The nursery musy have been a lively place. At the time most parents firmely believed in the priciple that "children should be seen and not heard". Royal and other privildged children were often confined to the nursery. Many such children spent little time with their parents. This does not appear to have been the case for Wilhelm and his brothers and sisters.
There are dififferences of opinion concern Wilhelm's childhood. By many creditable accounts, Wilhelm had a happy childhood, despite his handicap. The royal family appears to have been a close-knit one, rather like Vicky's family. Wilhelm as a small child was allowed to sit with his mother in her studio while she painted. (Apparently his behavior improved after the incident with Firth at Windsor.) Victoria was a very capable woman and an accomplished artist. She could draw and painted in oils and water colors. She enjoyed having Wilhelm read aloud as she painted or did embroidery. Both father and mother were available to the children. This was in part due to the fact that King Wilhelm and Bismarck did their best to keep him from official duties as a result of the Danzig incident when the Prince's liberal views first surfaced to the public. Some authots present a less rosy picture of Wilhelm's childhood, often focusing on criticism of Victoria as a mother. Wilhelm as a young man became estrainged from his parents. This thus colored his view of his parents and his childhood. There are references to an unloved childhood, often by authors who have not pursued original sources or relied on Wilhelm's comments as an adult. One author, for example, in assessing Wilhelm's character maintains that he was brought up "unlovingly". [Ludwig, p. 568.] We are not sure about the sources for this statement. We are more inclined to believe thr accounts suggesting that Wilhelm had a happy childhood, but this is a topic that requires additional investigation.
Wilhelm's mother described her older son as having the Prince of Wales' (future Edward VII) "pleasant, admirable ways--and can be very winning. He is not possessed of brilliant abilities, nor any strength of character or talents, but he is a very dear boy and I hope and trust will grow up to be a good and useful man." [Victoria, Wife of FrederickIII, Letters of the Empress] This is an interesting passage, for two reasons. First Vicky and Berie had squalbed like cats and dogs as children in the nursery. Second, as adults, Wilhelm and the Prince of Wales disliked each other.
I have less information about Wilhelm's behavior at home at this time. He appears to have thrown a lot of tantrums.
Wilhelm had few boyhood friends. His principal companio was his younger brother Henry. One of the very few exceptions was surprisinly an American--Poulteney Bigelow. The American boy was the 15 year old son of the American Ambassador in Berlin who invited to play with Wihelm and his brother in Potsdam during summer 1870. Wihelm was 11 years old at the time. Poulteney found the young princes enjoyable country, especially when they were not under the eyes of there tutor Dr. Hinzpeter. The kicked footballs on the roof of Neue Palace, until they broke toommany windows. Another favorite activity was sailing a model frigate that had been given Wilhelm by an English great uncle. Henry went on to become a Admiral and some Bigelow later said that the frigate they played with was the birth of the Kriegsmarina. It later life Wilhelm and Bigelow corresponded. The Kaiser remembered his stories about the American west and served as an authority in their games of Red Indiam. [Wilhelm, 1926, p.30]
The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 made a great impression on Wilhelm and his brother Henry. Both boys at the time were being tutored bt Dr. Hinzpeter. The outcome was of course the defeat of Emperor Napoleon III of France and the proclimation of a new German Empire with their grandfather the first kaiser--Wilhelm I. Their father sent hime captured French colors and eagles (the symbols of a French marshall) from the front as well as the keys to surendedered cities. Their tutor Dr. Hinzpeter put a map up on the wall of their schoolroom and they put in colored flags to follow troop movements. It was at Homburg that they received word of the great German victory at Sedan. Cheers from the street woke them up and they watched a torch-light parade in their nightshirts from the balcony, not knowing the crowd below could see them. The next day Hinzpeter scolded them for undignified behavior. Victorious troops paraded in Berlin after the War. Wilhelm was allowed to participate. He rode a small dappled horse, riding between his father and Uncle Friederich, Grand Duke of Baden--both generals at the front. [Van der Kriste, 1999, p. 16.]
Ludwig, Emil. Bismarck: The Story of a Fighter (Little, Brown, and Company, 1927).
Röhl, John C.G. Young Wilhelm : the Kaiser's early life, 1859-1888, translated by Jeremy Gaines and Rebecca Wallach.
Van der Kiste, John. Kaiser Wilhelm II: Germany's Last Emperor (Bodmin: Sutton Publishing, 1999), 244p.
Wilhelm II. My Early Life (New York, 1926).
Victoria, Wife of Frederick III, Letters of the Empress.
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