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German Crown Princess Victoria Criticizes Bismarck’s Personal Regime as Dictatorial (1887-89)

German Crown Princess Victoria was the daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria and married to Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (1831-1888), who ruled as Kaiser Friedrich III for a mere 99 days before dying of throat cancer on June 15, 1888. When Friedrich ascended to the throne in March 1888, he was unable to implement significant liberal reforms, not only because of his illness but also because of the powerful network that Bismarck had established to retain his power after the death of Kaiser Wilhelm I. In these letters, Victoria comments on Bismarck’s omnipotence and what it has already cost Germany. She admires Bismarck’s considerable talents in the diplomatic sphere but believes that he has corrupted the nation’s political life. The following excerpts from Victoria’s correspondence are not precisely dated. It should be noted, however, that during part of this period – for those 99 days – she was not crown princess but actually German Kaiserin (wife of the Kaiser).

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What we have suffered under this régime!!! How utterly corrupting has his [Bismarck’s] influence been on his school – his employés, on the political life of Germany! It has made Berlin almost intolerable to live in, if one is not his abject slave!! His party, his followers and admirers are fifty times worse than he is! One feels as if one would like to send up one great cry for deliverance and that if it were answered, one great deep sigh of relief would be given. Alas, all the mischief wrought would take years to repair!! Of course those that only look at the outside aspect of things see Germany strong, great and united, with a tremendous army (in time of war near three millions of men!), a minister who can dictate to the world, a sovereign whose head is crowned with laurels, a trade that is making an effort to outdo all others, the German element making itself remarked everywhere in the world (even if not loved or trusted). They cannot think we have any reason to complain, but only to be thankful. If they did but know at what price all this is bought!

[ . . . ]

What a fuss has been made about the [ . . . ] anniversary of Prince Bismarck coming into office! More than one sad and bitter thought fills our mind when one thinks of the means he has used to achieve great things and of the havoc he has made of much that was precious, of good and useful men’s lives and reputations, etc., and of the evil seeds he has sown, of which we shall some day reap the fruits.

It is perhaps not his fault, he is un homme du moyen âge – with the opinion and principles of those dark days when la raison du plus fort était toujours la meilleure and what was humane, moral, progressive and civilized was considered silly and ridiculous, and a Christian and liberal spirit absurd and unpraktisch. The young generation see his prestige and his success and are proud of it and like basking in the sunshine of his fame and celebrity. He has done very grand things and has unequalled power and unrivalled strength at this moment! Oh, if they were but used for the good cause, always one would be ready to admire and to bless him! He has made Germany great, but neither loved, free, happy, nor has he developed her immense resources for good! Despotism is the essence of his being; it cannot be right or good in the long run!

[ . . . ]

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