AUGUSTA VICTORIA OF SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN
Auguste Viktoria Friederike Luise Feodora Jenny was born at Dolzig Castle on 22 October 1858 and was the eldest daughter of Friedrich VIII, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, and Adelheid of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.
Augusta was a grand-niece of Queen Victoria through her older half-sister, Feodora of Leiningen, who had married Ernst I, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, and was known within her family as Dona. Augusta grew up in Dolzig until the death of her grandfather, Christian August II, Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, in 1869, after which the family inherited Castle Primkenau.
Augusta’s father was a descendant of the House of Oldenburg as his paternal grandmother, Louise Auguste of Denmark, was a royal princess. Friedrich was also descended from ancient Danish noble ancestry on his mother’s side which made him the most Danish prince of his generation. Friedrich was raised as a future King of Denmark as the current king had no issue, however Christian of Glücksburg succeeded as Christian IX. The death of the Danish king led to unrest within the twin duchies of Schleswig-Holstein as German nationalists argued Danish rule had come to an end with the death of the king. The Danish government argued otherwise, and the turbulence led to the Second War of Schleswig which saw the duchies fall into the hands of Prussia. Friedrich was allowed to keep his title as Duke of Schleswig-Holstein but he now owed his allegiance to Prussia.
On 27 February 1881, Augusta married her second cousin Wilhelm of Prussia and they would eventually have seven children. Initially, the Imperial family were not pleased with the match, however Wilhelm had been encouraged to marry Augusta by Otto von Bismarck who believed the union would bring an end to the dispute over Schleswig-Holstein. Wilhelm was also on the rebound after having fallen in love with his first cousin, Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, only to have his proposal of marriage rejected.
Wilhelm’s mother, the Crown Princess, had high hopes the marriage would help heal the rift between her and her son but she soon realised Augusta would always take her husband’s side. Wilhelm was often cruel to his mother and Augusta seemed to take delight in snubbing her when she got the opportunity. Augusta also had an antagonistic relationship with Wilhelm’s sisters who were close to their mother. When Wilhelm’s sister, Sophia, announced she was converting to Greek Orthodoxy, Augusta was so distressed by her decision, she went into premature labour with her son, Joachim. Wilhelm and Augusta never forgave Sophia.
When Wilhelm’s grandfather died on 9 March 1888, his father succeeded him but he was suffering from an incurable throat cancer and would end his reign after just 99 days. On 15 June 1888, Wilhelm succeeded as German Emperor and King of Prussia but he would be the last Hohenzollern to hold those titles. Although Bismarck had been carefully grooming Wilhelm from a young age, his manipulations would soon backfire as Wilhelm grew impatient with the older man’s policies and resented his position of power. Bismarck’s belief he would have full control over the young Emperor’s actions was quickly dispelled when Wilhelm began to plot against Bismarck’s foreign and social policies. The relationship between the two became so volatile, Bismarck was forced to resign in 1890.
Without Bismarck’s interference, Wilhelm was free to impose his own rule and his chancellors were appointed to his bidding. Wilhelm was determined to make Germany a world power and he began by building a navy to rival its British counterpart. Leaving his chancellors to take care of the day job, Wilhelm would spend hours designing ships and would become increasingly erratic with his ideas. One of Wilhelm’s greatest problems was his lack of patience and he yearned for Germany to have global significance like his British relatives with whom he had developed a frosty relationship.
First World War
Wilhelm was deeply shocked when his close friend, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated on 28 June 1914 and an investigation was started into claims Serbia was behind it. Although the Serbians denied it, the Austrians were not satisfied with the response and maintained the Archduke’s death had to be avenged. However, Austria needed the backing of Germany if it was to take any action against Serbia and Wilhelm assured them his country was well prepared for war. Wilhelm soon grew tired of the procrastinations and ordered his ambassadors to urge the Austrians to declare war quickly, however Austria refused to act until the Germans guaranteed their full support. However, there were risks involved since it was a foregone conclusion Russia would come to Serbia’s defence but the Germans gambled with the notion Russia would not come to Serbia’s aid due to the antipathy felt by other European nations.
While Austria was still deliberating, Russia warned Germany it would not tolerate an aggressive move towards Serbia and the French declared their intent to ally with Russia. The Germans thought the Russians were bluffing and diplomats were confident Russia’s military response would be much smaller than they were letting on. When Austria did finally make a move on Serbia, Wilhelm suddenly got cold feet and sent a message to the Austrians not to start a war but they declared war on Serbia on 28 July. The following day, the Austrians opened fire on Belgrade thus starting the First World War. As expected, the Russians mobilised their forces to help Serbia, even though Wilhelm had directly appealed to Tsar Nicholas II to support Austria.
Meanwhile, German ministers were discussing the possibility of attacking France but they decided to wait until Russia had openly engaged in warfare so the blame could be placed squarely on them in the interests of preserving British neutrality. However, the British placed their forces on alert and duly warned Germany an attack on France would lead to a declaration of war between Britain and Germany. Wilhelm was nervous about a British retaliation but his attempts at persuading his ministers to limit the attack to Russia came too late. The Germans sent France an ultimatum to abandon the alliance with Russian but the French responded by mobilising their on troops. On 1 August, German troops invaded Luxembourg while declaring war on Russia, France and Belgium. On 4 August, Britain declared war on Germany.
As the war continued, Wilhelm’s role declined as the German high command took ever increasing control under al Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff. As the war progressed and it became clear Germany was on the losing side, Wilhelm’s popularity declined alarmingly and he was shocked when revolution broke out in 1918. On 9 November 1918, Wilhelm was forced to abdicate as German Emperor and King of Prussia, ending 400 years of Hohenzollern rule, and Germany was declared a republic. The following day, Wilhelm was forced into exile in the Netherlands who refused to extradite him when the Allies pressed for him to be prosecuted.
The shock of the abdication and the suicide of her son, Joachim, on 18 July 1920, undermined Augusta’s health and she died on 11 April 1921.
Wilhelm, German Crown Prince
Wilhelm married Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and they had six children. He was the last German Crown Prince as the monarchy was abolished.
Eitel Friedrich of Prussia
Eitel married Sophia Charlotte of Oldenburg but they had no children. The marriage was an unhappy one and ended in divorce.
Adalbert of Prussia
Adalbert married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, and they had three children. After the Second World War, the couple settled in Switzerland.