Little Bits of History

Second Reich

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 18, 2015
William I of Germany

William I of Germany

January 18, 1871: William I becomes Germany’s first Emperor. William or Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig was born on March 22, 1797 in Berlin, Prussia. He was of the House of Hohenzollern and was the second son of King Frederick William III. At age ten, he was appointed by his father as an officer in the Prussian army and served from 1814 onward. He fought against Napoleon I of France and was reported to be a brave soldier. In 1815, at age 18, he was promoted to Major and also worked in a diplomatic capacity, honing skills he would use later in life. In 1829, unable to marry the woman of his choosing, he married a Princess selected by his father instead. In 1840, William’s older brother became King of Prussia but he had no children and so William was next in line for the throne.

On January 2, 1861 William rose to the throne when his brother died. William crowned himself on October 18, the anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig and it was the only crowning of a German king in the 19th century. In the midst of the Franco-Prussian War, on this date, William was proclaimed German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors in the Versailles Palace. Even the title bestowed upon the man was hotly contested. Bismarck carefully chose German Emperor over William’s preference, Emperor of Germany because this would have signaled a claim to lands outside his realm. The title of Emperor of the Germans was also ruled out as was the designation of having himself chosen “by the grace of God” and not the people of the republic.

William was now Emperor of the Second Reich. The first Reich/Realm was the Holy Roman Empire. The Second was also unofficially known as Germany and was the German nation state in existence from this date until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in November 1918 when Germany became a federal republic. These are all predecessors of today’s country – Germany. The German Empire was made up of 27 constituent territories with most of them ruled by royal families. The Kingdom of Prussia held both the most territory and the largest population but the Prussian leaders were supplanted by leaders from all over Germany.

The House of Hohenzollern were a group of various types of leaders including kings and emperors of Hohenzollern, Brandenburg, Prussia, the German Empire, and Romania. They arose from an area around Hechingen in Swabia during the 11th century and got their name from the Hohenzollern Castle. The first mention of the family was in 1061. The family split into two branches, the Catholic Swabian and the Protestant Franconian branches. Further political and religious affiliations lasted until Germany’s defeat in World War I led to the German Revolution and the family was overthrown and the Weimer Republic was established, ending the German monarchy. The House itself remains alive and well in Prussia and in the Swabian line.

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too. – Marcus Aurelius

Empires inevitably fall, and when they do, history judges them for the legacies they leave behind. – Noah Feldman

Empires won by conquest have always fallen either by revolt within or by defeat by a rival. – John Boyd Orr

Ideas have unhinged the gates of empires. – Paul Harris

Also on this day: Rudyard Kipling – In 1936, Rudyard Kipling died.
Botany Bay – In 1788, HMS Supply reached Botany Bay.
Daredevil Success – In 1911, the first plane was landed on a ship at sea.
Dr. William Price – In 1884, Price attempted to cremate his deceased infant son.
The Lap of Luxury – In 1919, Bentley Motors Limited was founded.


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