THE LAST KAISER: A Biography of Wilhelm II by Tyler Whittle

THE LAST KAISER: A Biography of Wilhelm II

Email this review


He once declared, ""We Hohenzollerns are the bailiffs of God"" but had to unceremoniously abdicate at the end of WW I: the quixotic Kaiser Wilhelm II is no longer regarded as a figure of menace, and this deft contribution to the crowned-heads-of-Europe genre by the author of books on British royalty clinches the portrait of a case of arrested development. More than earlier biographies, it concentrates on dynastic and ceremonial matters, as opposed to political or military developments. This is quite appropriate for the young Kronprinz, kept untrained in statecraft by Chancellor Bismarck, and for the manic-depressive emperor barely informed about the course of WW I defeat. This imperial Cupid, as William Manchester has called him, was always preoccupied with his family, promoting his cousin's marriage to Czar Nicholas (and his own to a bovine lesser noble of questionable breeding). Other friends and relatives included his deranged grandfather and the gorgeous Empress of Austria, who tried out a diet of blood, milk, and sand. Under such circumstances, Wilhelm's self-command--after a spartan youth including medical tortures to amend his withered arm--becomes more impressive than his instability or irresolution during such crises as the 1907 exposure of many of his close associates as homosexual orgiasts. (Whittle excludes Wilhelm from any suspicion of infidelity with male or female.) The book is written in a cheerful, slangy, super-British style that turns Wilhelm into ""William,"" making him seem even more puerile. But after all, despite a lengthily described rebellion against his liberal Anglophile parents, he remained devoted to Iris grandmother Queen Victoria; she died in his arms, and the Kaiser signed off at least one letter to her as ""your queer and impetuous colleague."" A neat entertainment with collateral insights.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Times Books (formerly Quadrangle/New York Times)