Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst was born in the Marmorpalais, Potsdam, on 6 May 1882 and was the eldest child and son of Wilhelm II, German Emperor, and Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein.
At the moment of his birth, Wilhelm was third in the line of succession after his father and grandfather, Friedrich Wilhelm, who was married to Victoria, Princess Royal. Wilhelm’s parents did not have a good relationship with Crown Princess Victoria and she was deliberately snubbed when her advice for a suitable nurse for the baby prince was not sought.
When Wilhelm I died on 9 March 1888, he was succeeded by his son who was terminally ill with throat cancer. Friedrich III only reigned for ninety-nine days before his death led to the accession of Wilhelm II and young Wilhelm became the heir apparent to the German and Prussian thrones.
On 6 June 1905, Wilhelm married Cecilie, the daughter of Friedrich Franz III, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and Anastasia Mikhailovna of Russia. The young couple lived at the Kronprinzenpalais in Berlin and the Marmorpalais in Potsdam until they were given the Schloss Cecilienhof in 1917. Wilhelm and Cecilie went on to have six children, four sons and two daughters, but the marriage was an unhappy one as Wilhelm had numerous affairs. Wilhelm inherited a reputation for being a playboy who opposed his father at every opportunity.
When the First World War broke out, Wilhelm was named as commander of the 5th Army despite his lack of experience, however he was ordered to defer to his chief of staff, Konstantin Schmidt von Knobelsdorf. Wilhelm was also made a commander of the Crown Prince’s Corps in August 1915 and the German propaganda machine began to promote him as a German hero. During the war, Wilhelm had a brief affair with the legendary spy, Mata Hari, who was paid to seduce him by the French in order to gain German military secrets. However, Wilhelm’s role was so minimal, he had no real information to provide.
After the end of the war, Wilhelm and his father were forced to sign abdication documents and Wilhelm was interned on the island of Wieringen, near Den Helder in the Netherlands. In August 1923, Wilhelm was allowed to return to Germany on the condition he never engage in politics and the family were later granted permission to resume living at Cecilienhof. Wilhelm broke his promise about remaining out of politics and he invited Hitler to visit his home on several occasions during the 1930s and openly supported his rise to power. However, Wilhelm was supporting Hitler under the mistaken belief the monarchy would be restored and when he realised Hitler had no intention of doing so, he began to lose interest.
Wilhelm became head of the House of Hohenzollern after his father’s death in 1941 but Hitler became suspicious of him and put him under surveillance. When the war ended, Cecilienhof was seized by the Soviets and Wilhelm was captured by French Moroccan troops in Austria, however he was allowed to live under house arrest at Schloss Hohenzollern. On 20 July 1951, Wilhelm died of a heart attack in his Hechingen home and was later buried at Schloss Hohenzollern.