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Wilhelm II (born Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert von Hohenzollern) ruled the German Empire from 1888 to 1918.
Wilhelm was born to Frederick III and Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria of Britain. Wilhelm's upbringing was strict and authoritarian. He was educated first at the Kassel Gymnasium and then at the University of Bonn.
Wilhelm became emperor of Germany in 1888 following the death of Frederick II. At the time of his accession Otto von Bismarck was still German Chancellor; however he was effectively dismissed from office by Wilhelm II two years later. The elderly Bismarck proved unable - or unwilling - to manipulate the new Kaiser as he had his predecessor.
Wilhelm was an overtly militaristic man, and believed fervently in increasing the strength of Germany's armed forces. In particular he was keen to develop a German navy the equal of Britain's Royal Navy, encouraged by Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz; the latter desire prompted the Liberal administration of the 1900's to finance rearmament of the Royal Navy.
Wilhelm's policy towards Britain was by turns contradictory. Whilst supporting South Africa during the Second Boer War of 1899-1902, he attempted a reconciliation shortly afterwards. He held a senior position within the British armed forces; and he confessed that he could not envisage a war with Britain. Yet he publicly criticized King Edward VII, whom he described as Satan. Even after war was declared in August 1914 he wrote that war would never have occurred had Queen Victoria, who died in 1901, still held the British throne.
Wilhelm suffered a nervous breakdown in 1908, consequently playing a lesser role in the government of Germany for the following few years. Wilhelm was, however, no friend of democracy.
The Great War
Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary on June 28, 1914, Wilhelm and his Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, incited Austria-Hungary to exact revenge against Serbia. Events spiralled throughout July resulting in the Great War.
Wilhelm appeared not to foresee the consequences of an Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia, pulling France, Russia and Britain into the war. Too late he attempted to scale back German involvement: he was firmly dissuaded by the German military.
Wilhelm operated as Commander in Chief of the German armed forces throughout the war. Notwithstanding this, the German military operated under its own effective control: Wilhelm was essentially a figurehead. Wilhelm opposed the replacement of Erich Falkenhayn with Paul von Hindenburg in August 1916, but the dismissal of Falkenhayn took place nonetheless.