How powerful was the Kaiser?

KAISER_WILHELMChristopher Clark at the London Review of Books:

In January 1904, King Leopold II of Belgium was invited to Berlin to attend a birthday dinner for Kaiser Wilhelm II. The two monarchs were seated next to each other and everything was going nicely until the Kaiser suddenly brought up the question of a possible future French attack on Germany. In the event of a war between Germany and France, Wilhelm explained, he would expect the Belgians to side with Germany. So long as they agreed, he would see to it personally that Belgium was rewarded after the conclusion of hostilities with territories annexed from northern France. Leopold himself, he added, warming to his theme, could expect to be rewarded with ‘the Crown of Old Burgundy’. When the king of the Belgians, unsettled by these speculations, countered that the ministers and parliament of his country were hardly likely to approve of such far-flung plans, Wilhelm became flustered. He couldn’t respect a king, he said, who felt himself answerable to ministers and parliament rather than to God alone. ‘I will not be trifled with!’ he snapped. ‘As a soldier, I belong to the school of Frederick the Great, to the school of Napoleon. If Belgium does not go with me, I will be guided solely by strategic considerations.’ Leopold is reported to have been so upset by the exchange that, on rising from the table, he put his helmet on backwards.

The career of the last German Kaiser is littered with effusions of this kind. They range from the gross and offensive to the bizarre or merely foolish. Wilhelm II spent most of his waking hours talking, arguing, shouting, speechifying, preaching, threatening and generally unbosoming himself of his latest preoccupations to whoever happened to be within earshot. He was like a Tourette’s tic at the heart of the German state executive. Even when he made the utmost effort to restrain himself, the indiscretions kept slipping out.

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