Prince Heinrich and the Hohenzollern Dynasty
If there is such a thing as a quintessential “Sailor Prince”, then it is probably Prince Heinrich, the younger brother of Emperor William II. According to the American journalist Frederic Wile, this “Admiral Royal” held “a place in the affections of his Fatherland almost second to none.” Heinrich’s career as a naval officer, an unusual step for a Prussian prince, ran parallel to the rise of the Imperial German Navy from a young institution lacking prestige to a focal point of imperialist dreams. Throughout his career, Prince Heinrich performed a series of world cruises and public diplomacy missions (e.g. to the USA in 1902, to East Asia in 1897-1900/1912 or to South America in 1914). With each highly mediatized event, his popularity in Germany and abroad grew. During the First World War, the Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic Fleet would be one among a triad of royal rallying figures. Only the revolution of 1918 dealt an abrupt blow to his public image.
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On the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary in 2012, the Landesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein hosted a special exhibition about Prince Heinrich, curated by Christina Schmidt. The exhibition catalogue offers a wealth of further information and images. It also includes my essay about Prince Heinrich’s popular reception in Wilhelmine Germany: “Auf der Kommandobrücke steht der Zollern-Admiral“.
When, in the first few years of his reign, Emperor William II showed signs of erratic behaviour, some members of the political establishment wondered whether his younger brother Heinrich might have to become regent. You can find out more about William’s and Heinrich’s private and political relationship – and about the question what if? – in my Blog Post on the Heirs-to-the-throne project website: A better William?