Wilhelm, the son of Prince Frederick Wilhelm of Prussia and Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria, was born in Berlin in 1859. He received a strict military and academic education at the Kassel Gymnasium and the University of Bonn.
In 1888 Wilhelm II became the 9th King of Prussia and the 3rd Emperor of Germany. Two years later he quarrelled and dismissed the German Chancellor, Otto Bismark. For the next few years Wilhelm, who loathed parliamentary democracy, acted as an autocratic monarch. A strong opponent of socialism, Wilhelm was a passionate supporter of German militarism and imperialism. Despite the fact he was Queen Victoria's grandson, Wilhelm pursued an anti-British foreign policy. He also gave support to South Africa during the Boer War but later unsuccessfully attempted Anglo-German reconciliation.
In 1908 Wilhelm suffered a nervous breakdown and played a less dominant role in German government for the next few years. However he continued to support German imperialism and backed Alfred von Tirpitz when he suggested building a navy to match the British Navy.
Like his chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, he encouraged Austro-Hungarian aggression after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Although he favoured a limited war Wilhelm was unhappy when the conflict developed into a world war.
Wilhelm was Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces during the First World War. However, the real power was now in the hands of the military, and the decision to replace Erich von Falkenhayn by Paul von Hindenburg, as Army Chief of Staff in August 1916, was taken against his wishes. His son, Prince Wilhelm, was a field commander on the Western Front throughout the war.
William was forced to abdicate on 9th November, 1918. He fled the country with the rest of his family and lived in Holland for the rest of his life. Wilhelm, who wrote two volumes of autobiography, Memoirs 1878-1918 (1922) and My Early Life (1926) died in 1941.