Emperor Wilhelm I., King of Prussia
Portrait of Emperor Wilhelm I.
born on 22. March 1797 in Berlin
Royal coronation in January 1861
Proclamation of the emperor on 18. January 1871 in Versailles
died on 9. March 1888 in Berlin
In 1861 Wilhelm is crowned Prussian king. It is also he who appoints the later Reich Chancellor Otto von Bismarck as Prime Minister of Prussia and relies largely on his advice from 1862 onward.
The early years of his life
Emperor William I.
Emperor Wilhelm was the first emperor of the newly founded German Empire.
He is born as the son of King Frederick William III. of Prussia and Augusta Wilhelmine Amalie Luises of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 22. March 1797. Initially, he is not intended to be a pretender to the throne, but is rather given a strict military education from an early age. At a young age, he is also involved in armed conflicts for the first time. Wilhelm is already considered at this time to be a very dutiful and responsible man with unshakable faith in God.
1829 he marries Marie Luise Augusta Catharine of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach. The clever, liberal-minded woman has a lasting influence on Wilhelm and awakens in him an increased interest in the political events in the country.
When Wilhelm’s brother Frederick William IV. 1840 becomes king of Prussia and Wilhelm is now designated as heir to the throne, he takes a more active part in political events. He quickly proves to be a hardliner among politicians.
In 1848 he advocates a violent suppression of the revolutionary uprisings, which almost cost him his head and neck. The population is so incensed against him that the "Carthage Prince", as he was contemptuously called at the time, does well to flee to England for a few months. But he returns and is elected to the Prussian National Assembly.
When uprisings occur in the Palatinate and Baden the following year, it is Wilhelm who initiates the suppression. In the same year, he is entrusted with the General Government of the provinces of Rhineland and Westphalia. 1851 Wilhelm resides in Koblenz.
Wilhelm is rather reserved about his brother’s political views and rejects his plans for a constitution. In his opinion, a unification of Germany on a democratic basis is not sensible or desirable. It should be better done by a unification of the different princely houses under the leadership of Prussia. Therefore, he had welcomed the fact that his brother Frederick William refused the imperial crown offered to him.
In 1849 the poet Ludwig Uhland had demanded the proclamation of a German emperor in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt. After Frederick William has enjoyed the "Burgerkrone" had refused, Crown Prince Wilhelm commented: "The application to such a chief position can only come from the princes and will only be accepted by them".
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First steps as king
Seal of Emperor Wilhelm I.
When the mental condition of Prussian King Frederick William soon deteriorates further and further – he is ill with a brain disease – Wilhelm takes over the government in his place in 1858.
In 1861- Friedrich Wilhelm was already on 2. January died – Wilhelm is crowned Prussian king. He is also the one who appoints Otto von Bismarck, who later becomes Chancellor of the German Reich, as Prime Minister of Prussia, and relies on his advice to a large extent from 1862 onwards.
1863, the Austrian Emperor urges a settlement of the "German Question". It presents the model of a reform of the German Confederation, which would have meant a united Greater German Empire under Austria’s leadership. But to the congress of princes planned for this purpose Wilhelm does not go on Bismarck’s advice. This makes a unification of Germany with Austria and Prussia impossible in the long run.
Wilhelm gives decisive impetus to an army reform that soon pays off. He has the supreme command of the Prussian army in the war against Denmark in 1864, with the help of War Minister Albrecht von Roon and Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke, Wilhelm is militarily successful.
In 1866, the dispute between Prussia and Austria over the supremacy of the empire intensifies to the point of open conflict. On 3. July 1866 Prussia wins a superior victory over the Austrian troops at Koniggratz under Wilhelm’s leadership and thus decides this conflict for itself.
The year 1870 brought a serious conflict with France, which resulted in the German-French war of 1870/71 leads to. The occasion is the vacated Spanish throne, which is to be occupied by Hereditary Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. However, France is outraged by this for fear of being encircled by Charles V. in 16. Century had already once tried. The French ambassador, Count Benedetti, urges King William to renounce Leopold’s claim to the Spanish throne. Benedetti’s meeting with the Prussian king on the 13. July in Bad Ems, at which the king is dismissive, is described in detail in a telegram to Bismarck. When the minister wrote this awkwardly worded letter, the so-called Ems dispatch, receives, he cuts and shortens it to a press release. This exaggerated portrayal of Wilhelm’s reaction to the French ambassador so aroused France that Bismarck on the 19. July 1870 the declaration of war is delivered.
The first German Emperor
Portrait Emperor William I.
Am 8. August the German offensive begins, on 1. September, the French army is trapped at Sedan and Emperor Napoleon III. captured. They advance to Paris and besiege the French capital until the 28th. January 1871.
Already during this time Bismarck works out the outlines for a new German empire. Head should be the Prussian king as Emperor Wilhelm I. become. But the Prussian king vehemently refuses at first. He regards the title of emperor as an honorary post and fears that the Prussian royal crown, which he holds in high esteem, will lose value and prestige as a result. But Bismarck and also Wilhelm’s son Friedrich succeed in persuading Wilhelm to accept the imperial crown, even though the latter has never been particularly happy about it. On 18. January 1871: In the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Palace, Wilhelm is proclaimed the first German emperor in over 60 years. The imperial unity as a small-German solution is thus completed.
On 26. February 1871, the preliminary peace of Versailles is signed, on 10. May the Frankfurt peace treaty is concluded, in which France undertakes to make large payments and to cede Alsace-Lorraine to the German Empire.
In the following years, the German Reich experiences an economic upswing and develops into one of the leading industrial nations.
The Three Emperors’ Agreement of 1873 , in which Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary pledge themselves to a peaceful solution of all conflicts, is negotiated by Bismarck. It proves that Kaiser Wilhelm is the head of state, but the Reich Chancellor as the decision-maker has the real power in the country.
When two assassinations were carried out in the space of a month in 1878 by men allegedly close to Social Democratic circles – the first on 11. May the aged emperor survives completely unharmed, in the attack on 2. However, the emperor himself does not make much of a fuss when he is seriously injured in the battle of June. But the nation is shaken and Chancellor Bismarck uses the situation to take action against the socialists, whom he considers enemies of the state. The so-called Socialist Act is passed on 21. October 1878, and an unprecedented campaign of agitation and persecution begins, under which not only the socialists but also the liberals suffer.
The Three Emperors’ Year 1888
The year 1888, the Dreikaiserjahr , is fateful for the imperial family. On 9. March, Otto von Bismarck announces the emperor’s death with the following words:
"It is my sad duty to give you official notification of what you will in fact already know, that His Majesty the Emperor Wilhelm has signed at 8.30 o’clock to his fathers sleeps. It is not for me, gentlemen, to express from this official place the personal feelings with which the passing of my master fills me. [. ]. There is no need for it, because the feelings that move me live in the heart of every German. "
In the same year, his son Frederick dies and becomes Emperor Frederick III. reigns only 99 days, dies of throat cancer and Wilhelm’s grandson takes over as Kaiser Wilhelm II. takes over the regency. On Wilhelm’s hundredth birthday in 1897, Wilhelm II appoints a new president. him to "Emperor William the Great.