Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Interpreting the Kaiser

Over the weekend I read Christopher Clark's excellent Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Life in Power.



This is a really fine book which I would recommend very highly - It is, I gather, one sometimes rrecommended to Oxford History applicants to challenge their historical preconceptions. With the anniversary of the outbreak of war in 1914 approaching it has a topical appeal as well as being a very readable and insightful book.

In its view it is very similar to Giles McDonagh's biography of the Kaiser which I read the other year and posted about.

The Australian born Clark, who is Professor at Cambridge has produced a narrative that does not claim to be a full biography but rather is an essay in interpretation. As such it is very insightful, definitely revisionist, and both sane and balanced. It is also interesting as astudy of Monarchy in the early twentieth century - the early use of film of the Imperial family for example is highlighted as well as the Kaiser's perhaps unfortunate tendency to make frequent and long speeches which his staff had to try to ensure were tidied up before they reached the press. For Kaiser Wilhelm himself this was a way of reaching out to his people to communicate his ideas about education and other matters. The Daily Telegraph interview of 1907-8 rather put a stop to that.

The book is in part a riposte to the massive three volume biography by Professor John Rohl of Sussex University of the Kaiser, and other works by Rohl and his students. I think Clark makes his case well. He sees many of the problems facing the Kaiser, his Chancellors and ministers as well as his people in the curious nature of the Imperial Constitution of 1871 - what suited Bismarck then was already out of date by the time of his departure in 1890. This almost Stubbsian approach addresses many of Rohl's points.

I have now started on John Rohl's first volume (I think it is the only one so far transalred into English) Young Wilhelm. This 900 plus door stopper wights the proverbial ton to carry round. It should keep me quietly occupied over coming weeks. I will post about it when I have finished reading it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is a thoroughly interesting (Clark's) biography of a thoroughly interesting monarch who I have always regarded as a good monarch - a caring and a conscientious ruler, albeit an atrocious diplomat, who genuinely loved Germany. I can't stand the 'hang the Kaiser' nonsense, the Great War was an appalling tragedy, a mad, fratricidal war amongst the Kingdoms of Christendom that never should have been fought.