German Historical Institute London:
Bibliography: Research on British History
in the Federal Republic of Germany

LOTHAR REINERMANN, Der Kaiser in England. Wilhelm II. und sein Bild in der britischen Öffentlichkeit, Publications of the German Historical Institute London, 48 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2001), 536 pp  €51,60

ISBN 3-506-72046-5

As far as the British public was concerned Emperor William II was undoubtedly one of the most well-known and intensely-discussed foreign monarchs. This exceptional degree of interest was due, in part, to William’s vibrant personality and his close relationship to the British royal family. It was, however, also the result of the world-power policy pursued by Germany during his rule, which threatened British colonies.

An analysis of how he was perceived by the British press indicates five different phases, during which there were extreme variations in William’ image, and these also influenced Anglo-German relations. During the first years of his reign he was generally regarded fairly benevolently in Britain, though there were some signs of a more critical attitude. It was not until 1896 that his image suffered its first serious blow in the wake of the Krüger Telegramme, and he became public enemy Number One. However, during the Boer War, and particularly as a result of William’s spectacular visit to Queen Victoria’s deathbed, his image underwent a complete transformation. Now he became the friend in need and a popular, almost legendary personality in England. From 1902 onwards increased colonial and maritime competition once again led to a more negative assessment of William in England, since he was now perceived as the core of the German threat. After the Daily Telegraph interview, which was received very negatively in Germany, the British image of the Kaiser changed once again. In the years just before the war, by means of two successful visits to England and his peaceable stance in the Second Morocco Crisis, the Emperor partly regained his former popularity. As a result, during the July Crisis of 1914 the British press had great hopes of William as the saviour of peace in Europe, thereby seriously over-estimating his influence. William’s self-stylisation as the controller of German policy (persönliches Regiment) was thus laid to rest. As a result of this disappointment the Emperor was demonised in war propaganda, culminating in the “Hand the Kaiser” campaign in the post-war period.

Ultimately, William’s image reflected the problematic Anglo-German relations to a considerable degree and made the monarch into a “representative individual”. In the twentieth century this image had great impact on the picture formed by the British of Germany and the Germans, especially since the characteristics attributed to William – for example, authoritarian, reactionary, brutal and unreliable – had, in British eyes, long-since applied to the entire German people.

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