coat Full-length dove-grey Prussian army officer's single-breasted greatcoat with integral cape. The coat features nine metal female housings around the base of the neck permitting a removable collar to be fitted (absent) by pop-studs. To the front of the coat are fitted six removable plain patterned dished gilt buttons (the three lower are all tarnished). To the upper edge of the plastron front is fitted a metal hook, enabling the coat to be fastened for a snug fit by passing the hook into a small fitted open buckle attached to the underside of the coat. Level with the lowest front button is fitted a similar hook and buckle for the same purpose. There are two open slash pockets to the lower waist, one either side. To the extreme sides of the waist are fitted two scalloped false vertical pockets decorated with three plain gilt buttons each, with the top edge of both having a short half-belt attached. When the half-belt is secured together the heavy coat is drawn backwards and folded for ease of storage. Both cuffs have deep ornamental turn-backs, stitched permanently into place. Inside, the coat is is fully-lined in coarse heavyweight grey blanket material and has deep internal chest pockets, one to each side. The pockets are secured by small cloth-covered buttons. The right side also features an additional open side pocket, allowing the front shanked buttons to be reached and removed for cleaning. To the inside neck, embroidered in black thread on grey silk is a rectangular patch featuring the Imperial Crown above a stylised 'W', with the numbers, ' 01' beneath. The integral cape is half-length and fully lined in grey silk. The left sleeve is 54cm in length (10cm shorter than the right). There is slight moth to the front and rear of the cape but of no visual significance.
Born Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert Hohenzollern von Preussen in 1859, the future Kaiser (Emperor) of Imperial Germany survived a particularly difficult breech birth, the consequences of the struggle to save both mother and child being long and reaching. Although handicapped for life with a withered and weak left arm, a problematic neck, and hearing defects to his left ear, he overcame his physical difficulties with determination to become an accomplished swimmer, horseman, and rower. The greatest influence of his young years was imposed upon him by his personal tutor, who instilled a harsh and spartan regime, often at odds with the virtues valued by his English mother, Victoria, the Princess Royal (eldest daughter of Queen Victoria). The princess often remarked how politically and socially backward her adopted country was compared to Great Britain, which added to a rift that blighted the relationship between mother and son until her death and a grudging admiration for England. Highly intelligent, the prince was apt to become headstrong, temperamental and outspoken, with mood swings that were often in later life unpredictable. He was also fiercely competitive and possessed of a cruel sense of humour, taking pleasure at humiliating those less able to answer back and confirming his insecurities. Following the death of his father Kaiser Friedrich III, the prince succeeded him to become Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1888. The earlier part of his reign saw the biggest fundamental changes in Germany as industrialisation swept the nation. Believing in the absolute power of monarchy he distrusted parliament and felt threatened by socialist politics; he did however have a genuine interest and sympathy for those millions that toiled in industry and occasionally intervened in industrial disputes despite the protests of his advisors. This period also coincided with a distinct militarism that was to be the hallmark of his reign and a massive expansion of the armed forces. The Kaiser's relationship with England and his extended family were often contradictory. Proud of being the grandson of Queen Victoria he openly admired much that was English, extolling the advantage of having grandparents that ruled both British and German Empires, but also made no apologies for his outspoken and politically embarrassing criticism of his uncle the Prince of Wales, and Britain when it suited him. His personal stance and opposition to the war in South Africa soured Anglo-German ties temporarily, but his relentless competitive pursuit of building a fleet of warships to equal that of the Royal Navy fed the scepticism of those in England that were his critics. International relations could not have been worse as crisis followed crisis and with scandals in the British and American press claiming that the Kaiser had stated that Britain and Germany were headed for war, and the sooner the better. Both Germany and Britain denied there was any truth in the allegations, but soon after, in 1908, the Kaiser suffered a nervous breakdown. For a brief period his ability to rule was questioned. The Kaiser was well aware of the social fragility of the Empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia, and following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand he encouraged Austria-Hungary to be swift and decisive in exacting revenge on Serbia as a lesson. But when Russia threatened to intervene on Serbia's behalf the possibility of greater escalation prompted Wilhelm to make last-minute efforts to his cousin Tsar Nicholas to try and avert wider complications. His chancellor was also ordered to mediate between Austria and Serbia but both attempts were of little use and too late. Keen to initiate action with Austria against Russia, the German General Staff were mindful that any strike against Russia would herald military action from France, a consequence of an earlier treaty of friendship between those two nations. Wilhelm, conscious of the need to contain the war, warned his generals that Britain would remain neutral only as long as France was left alone, but von Moltke, head of the General Staff argued that France must first be dealt a swift knockout blow before the army could head east to support Austria. The Kaiser gave in. Toasting early victories with pink champagne and bestowing decorations, the Kaiser withdrew from public as Germany faced reverses. From 1916 Hindenburg and Ludendorff controlled the war and Wilhelm had little influence on military matters and his popularity diminished. As the situation deteriorated with political unrest and starvation within Germany, and ultimate military defeat, his own General Staff rebelled against him, calling for his abdication. Fearing the same fete as his late cousin Tsar Nicholas, Wilhelm fled from his Belgian Headquarters to exile in neutral Holland where he was granted asylum on 11 November 1918. The former Kaiser purchased a house and lived out the rest of his days as a country gentleman but remained an unrepentant nationalist and anti-semetic, arguably with much in common with the Nazis who he paradoxically disliked, their methods being too course and common for his taste. Wilhelm had always believed Germany would reinstate the monarchy and approaches were made to Hitler on his behalf, but Hitler had no interest. Wilhelm died in Holland in 1941, aged 82.
This greatcoat was purchased when the property of the Royal House of Hannover was sold by public auction at Schloss Marienburg in October 2005. Kaiser Wilhelm II had a large variety of uniforms (over three hundred) representing many regiments of the army as well as those of the navy, and in the tradition of a sovereign monarch enjoyed the status of honorary colonel of many overseas formations, including those of Great Britain and Imperial Russia. As a consequence of his withered left arm, all of his jackets and coats were tailored to accommodate his shorter limb.