Sunday, June 26, 2016

Wilhelm II und seine Geschwister by Barbara Beck

Kudos to German publisher, Friedrich Pustet, which publishes competent and interesting royal books.  One of the firm's more recent books is Wilhelm II und seine Geschwister, which translates to Wilhelm II and his siblings.

German historian Barbara Beck has written a competent book that focuses on the relationship between Kaiser Wilhelm II and his younger brother and sisters (Henry, Charlotte, Viktoria, Margarete and Sophie).  It  is not a surprise to say that the relationships were complicated and difficult.

Beck's style veers between a Ph.D dissertation (minus the footnotes) and a popular history.  The bibliography includes German and English language scholarly and standard books and articles.

Wilhelm II was a flawed man, his personality, his decisions made for family and country, were all formed by his deformed arm, his relationship with parents, his confused identity (British mother) and a desire to run a country and a family with an iron fist.

He could put boundaries on Henry and his wife, Irene (and Henry would have been a very different Kaiser had he been the older son), and Wilhelm's relationship with Charlotte, the sister closest in age, was the strongest although she had streaks of independence.  Charlotte, the wife of the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, focused on herself - rather on the big picture.

Wilhelm's relationship with his three younger sisters, Victoria, Sophie and Margarete, was far different than with Charlotte or even Henry.  Victoria quickly went off the rails after her romance with Alexander of Battenberg was blocked.   No romance, no children with her husband, Prince Adolf of Schaumburg-Lippe, but what was missing from her life was the support of her family.

The author also has chapters on the two brothers, Sigismund and Waldemar, who died young.

Wilhelm, as a brother, did not have the mechanism to be the good brother.  He treated Sophie rather badly after she became the Crown Princess of the Hellenes, especially when he chastised her for converting to the Orthodox faith, not withstanding the fact that the Greek consort was required to be Orthodox.   His own personally and strident views would not allow him to comprehend the reality of Sophie's situation.

There was also no real support during the first world war and afterward when Wilhelm II was forced into exile.  Yes, there would be correspondence and meetings, but Wilhelm II's relationship with his siblings was supremely dysfunctional.

This is made clear by Barbara Beck.  This is one of more competent modern biographies on Wilhelm's relationship with his siblings.  (Someone now needs to write a biography on Wilhelm II and his children.)

The book is in German, and there are no plans to translate it into English, although ... this is a metaphorical stamping of my feet .. the book is, in my opinion, a very good candidate for translation, as I think there is a market (small as it is, but if marketed to the ideal readership, the book could sell.)

I hope Pustet Verlag will continue to publish more books like this.

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