June 15, 1888: Wilhelm II becomes German Emperor and King of Prussia.
On June 15, 1888, Wilhelm II succeeded his father Frederick III, whose rule lasted under 100 days, as Kaiser of the German Empire and King of Prussia. A grandchild of Queen Victoria and cousin to both Tsar Nicholas II and George V of Britain, Wilhelm was twenty-nine when his rule began, and fifty-nine when it ended at the close of World War I. One of his first significant acts as emperor was to dismiss Otto von Bismarck as chancellor and replace him with Leo von Caprivi, who was himself replaced by Chlodwig, Prince of Hohenloe, who was finally replaced by Bernhard von Bülow. As a leader, Wilhelm is generally regarded as impulsive and volatile, especially with regard to foreign policy - his well-publicized blunders alienated Great Britain, France, and other nations, as did Germany’s increased efforts to build and strengthen its overseas empire. And, despite his forceful personality, he was also reportedly easily influenced by his ministers and generals.
One goal which he pursued tirelessly was the expansion of the Imperial German Navy, which was to rival the British Royal Navy and help Germany become an indisputable military power. His attitude toward Britain (the country of his more liberal mother) was mixed and supposedly shifted back and forth between admiration and resentment. Although the Treaty of Versailles placed much of the blame for the outbreak of the war on Germany (and therefore on Wilhelm), more recent assessments have cast Wilhelm as less an instigator than an accomplice, guilty nonetheless, whose agenda and lack of tact fostered unstable conditions that eventually gave rise to world war.