An Emporer in Exile: Kaiser Wilhelm’s Life at Utrecht’s Huis Doorn


Categorie: Andrew Balcombe, History |

As a holiday diversion, War Is Boring‘s new Netherlands correspondent Andrew Balcombe offers this lesson in history and revenge, reprinted from The Holland Times.



As far as Dutch museums go, Huis Doorn must rate as one of the most unique. Unlike the Anne Frank House, which is promoted throughout the media and Dutch society, Huis Doorn has in many ways missed out on the limelight.

The Anne Frank House is a shrine to a Jewish child and her family. It fills visitor’s hearts with a deep sorrow and gives no place to hide from the horrors visited upon the innocent. The same cannot be true for Huis Doorn however, despite its infamous occupant, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who in 1918 was blamed for the outbreak of the First World War.

The early days of an exile
In 1918, following a last ditch German offensive that sustained massive losses on the western front and a revolution in Germany, Wilhelm was advised in the face of pending defeat, to abdicate his crown.

On 10 November the last German Emperor and his military entourage caught a train from the Belgian town of Spa to Liege. They then transferred to a convoy of cars and arrived at six that evening at the Dutch border town of Eijsden, just south of Maastricht.

The request for asylum was formerly delivered and the Dutch government agreed. Their Queen, Wilhelmina (1880-1962), was a blood relative of Kaiser Wilhelm and was duty bound to offer him asylum. Wilhelm was considered to be a Prince of Orange because of the many inter-marriages between the Dutch House of Orange and the German House of Hohenzollern. Wilhelm’s mother, Victoria (1840-1901) was also Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, making him a direct relative of the English Monarchy.

Finding a home
Wilhelm’s original Dutch residence was first going to be Paleis Het Loo near Apeldoorn. This, however, was deemed unsuitable because of its close location to the German border.

As an interim measure, the Dutch government approached the owners of Kasteel Amerongen in the province of Utrecht. Here, it was agreed the exiled Kaiser would be put up for an initial three days until something suitable was found. During this time, Wilhelm dismissed his Generals and they departed for Germany.

The three days at Amerongen turned into 18 months. The Kasteel’s owner, Godard Graaf van Aldenburg Bentinck (1857-1940), belonged to the Order of Saint John and he too was obliged to help “a brother” in need.

On 28 November, Wilhelm’s first wife, Empress Auguste Viktoria (1858-1921), came to join him from Germany. As a condition of his stay in the Netherlands, the Dutch government demanded that Wilhelm live as a private person and not offer any political views. He also had to consent to being censored.

At the time, the Dutch were under immense pressure from Britain’s Prime Minister Lloyd George (1863-1945) and American President, Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924 to hand Wilhelm over to be hung as a war criminal. Queen Wilhelmina repeatedly refused their demands and lectured the ambassadors of these countries about the legitimacy of being a neutral country that offers political asylum.

In August 1919, in a secret deal, Wilhelm bought Huis Doorn from Baron van Heemstra- de Beaufort for 500,000 guilders (approx. 227,000 euros). The estate took up 60 hectares of prime countryside near the town of Doorn in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. The reason for secrecy was to avoid inflaming the Allies’ anger. They had already threatened to blockade the Netherlands over the refusal to hand Wilhelm over.

Assassination attempt
The below passage, from the memoirs of the Kaiser’s Flügeladjudant, Von Ilsemann, describes in simple unimaginative detail what happened:

On 16 September 1919, in Amerongen, The Emperor, his adjutant Von Ilsemann and Hofmarschall Dommes were walking in the garden of Amerongen Kasteel between 9 and 10 in the morning. A Frenchman saw them on the Veerweg from behind the wall around the castle and garden of Amerongen. He wanted to shoot the emperor, but eventually didn’t dare to fire his gun. The Amerongen police did catch him and he made a confession. Count Bentinck of Amerongen decided immediately to heighten the wall around his estate.

The French, who lost 1.4 million soldiers in the war, perhaps had good reason to be vengeful.

Read the rest in The Holland Times.

(Photo: via The Holland Times)


3 Responses to “An Emporer in Exile: Kaiser Wilhelm’s Life at Utrecht’s Huis Doorn”

  1. NOREEN says:

    I only have one question is this true a distance cousin has this written in our family tree i know she has mentioned that it was in a family bible : Kaiser Wilhelm stayed at the VanGorden home in Holland when he was abdicated from Germany. That was in DOORN UTRECHT HOLLAND. is there any proof of this please let me know
    thank you

  2. Jon S. Oskovich says:

    Kaiser Wilhelm should’ve never been allowed to escape to Holland. The despicable conduct of the German soldiers in Belgium and France forced upon him the mantel of a war criminal. Although he wasn’t responsible for beginning WW I, his outbursts that reached the media seem in concert with the mindless rapacity of the German soldier in occupied territories. How fitting had the Kaiser been hung, a just requital for the helpless people that had been shown no mercy as Germans sang “Deutchland uber alles.”

  3. [...] Emotions were running high in Paris, and beyond. The public in both France and Britain demanded their leaders “hang the Kaiser” and the Big Three were inclined to do just that, which explains why Wilhelm chose Holland for his self-imposed exile. Their Queen, Wilhemina (seriously) was a relative of his and, as such, was bound by familial ties to granting him asylum. The Holland Times explains the situation (reprinted at this blog):  [...]

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