Sons and Heirs pp 247-262 | Cite as

Wilhelm’s War: A Hohenzollern in Conflict 1914–18

  • Katharine Anne Lerman
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Modern Monarchy book series (PSMM)


As soon as news broke about the assassinations at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Victor Ernst August, heir to the Prussian and imperial German thrones, appeared on the public tennis courts in the Baltic seaside resort of Zoppot with several local young ladies, determined to squeeze in a few last games before the Prussian court declared a period of official mourning.1 Such scandalous displays of self-indulgence by the Kaiser’s eldest son were not uncommon before 1914. Banished by his father to Danzig in 1911 and often evading parental strictures, Wilhelm (as he was generally known) enjoyed an informal, carefree and rather wild existence in the years prior to the First World War, allowing neither his regimental duties nor his wife and four young sons to inhibit the pursuit of his own pleasure. Wilhelm basked in his celebrity, mixed across social classes and was known to have a taste for sport, hunting, foreign travel, fast cars, fashionable clothes and pretty women. He competed in steeplechases and flew with Orville Wright. While he was seen as refreshingly natural by members of the younger generation, his behaviour was judged reprehensible by the more sedate sections of German society. Within government circles and on the left, he was viewed as a political liability on account of his extreme right-wing views.2 ‘Take care not to shoot the Kaiser’, the diplomat and foreign secretary Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter quipped when an acquaintance was invited to a royal hunt, ‘he who comes next is far worse’.3


General Staff Western Front Constitutional Monarchy Crown Prince Army Command 
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© Katharine Anne Lerman 2016

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  • Katharine Anne Lerman

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