Skip to main content

William I (emperor of Germany and king of Prussia)

William I, 1797–1888, emperor of Germany (1871–88) and king of Prussia (1861–88), second son of the future King Frederick William III of Prussia and Louise of Mecklenburg. Essentially conservative, William fled to England during the revolutionary uprisings of 1848 in Prussia, and upon his return (1849) he commanded the troops that crushed the republican insurrection in Baden. When his brother King Frederick William IV was declared insane, William became (1858) regent, and on Frederick William's death William became king of Prussia. William immediately set about reorganizing and strengthening the army, and when he met the opposition of the legislature, he appointed Otto von Bismarck his prime minister in 1862. From then until the emperor's death, Bismarck guided the destiny of Prussia and Germany. Opposition to the king's and Bismarck's military program was suppressed, and in 1864 Prussia began its career of military conquest in the war with Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein. This led to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, from which Prussia emerged the leading German power. William I commanded in person in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, received the surrender of Napoleon III at Sedan, and was proclaimed (Jan. 18, 1871) emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles (see Germany). Although William often disagreed with Bismarck's policies, he ultimately was always persuaded by his chancellor. William did not favor the Kulturkampf (Bismarck's struggle against the Roman Catholic Church) but gave it his tacit consent. As a symbol of reborn German unity he was popular, but his militarism and belief in his divine right to rule drew upon him the hatred of the radical elements. Two attempts on William's life (1878) enabled Bismarck to pass severe legislation against the socialists. William's reign was crucial in European history, for it saw Germany's rise to power on the continent. His son Frederick III succeeded him.

See P. Wiegler, William the First (1927, tr. 1929); T. Aronson, The Kaisers (1971).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"William I (emperor of Germany and king of Prussia)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 20 Mar. 2018 <>.

"William I (emperor of Germany and king of Prussia)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (March 20, 2018).

"William I (emperor of Germany and king of Prussia)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved March 20, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.