Emperor William First - George Upton

The Emperor's Death

"The days of our years are threescore and ten years; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore, yet is their strength labor and sorrow." So sings the Psalmist, and thus it was with the life of Emperor William,—a ceaseless round of toil and weariness, of care and struggle, that reached its climax in those astounding victories that strengthened the throne of Prussia and brought about the unification of Germany. Even in his old age he was not permitted to end his days quietly, as we have seen, but still devoted his whole time and strength to the welfare of the Fatherland, nobly striving to maintain peace both at home and abroad. He had lived to see Germany a free and united Empire once more, with a position among the nations of the earth she had never before attained, and might well say with Simeon, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace," were It not for the war clouds that still hung about the horizon, and had the Crown Prince stood beside him in all his old health and vigor, ready to take the reins of government from his hands. This was the great sorrow that clouded his declining years and caused him painful anxiety as to the future in view of his own death, which could not now be far distant. The Emperor naturally possessed a powerful constitution, strengthened by the regular life he led and his freedom from early excesses of all kinds. An occasional cold, or attack of a painful but not at all serious ailment to which he had been subject for many years, would confine him to his room or bed for a short time, but except for this he had enjoyed excellent health. But having reached an age far beyond that usually allotted to mortals, it was not strange that during his latter years, whenever it was announced that His Majesty was ill, the physicians' daily reports were anxiously awaited, or that when the aged monarch again appeared at the familiar corner window of his palace he was greeted with cheers by the assembled crowds, while the solemn tones of the "Heil Dir, im Siegerkranz,"  swelled up into the sky.

It was on Friday, March 2, 1888, that the Emperor drove out for the last time. There was an icy north wind blowing in Berlin that day, and he contracted a cold which, in his already somewhat enfeebled health, he was unable to throw off. His physical condition was aggravated, too, by anxiety over the political situation and his son's illness; and when in addition to this news was received of the sudden death of a favorite grandson, Prince Louis of Baden, the shock was too great for the old man to recover from. On Monday, March 5, his condition was far from encouraging, and on the following day it became even more critical. A sleepless night greatly reduced the patient's strength, and on Thursday, toward evening, he sank into a death-like stupor, from which, except for one or two brief intervals of consciousness, he never rallied. At half-past eight the following morning, March 9, the soul of the aged hero, the father of the Fatherland, passed quietly away into the land of eternal peace.

During the Emperor's last hours the members of his family, together with some of the highest court officials, were gathered round his bedside. On Thursday afternoon, at the suggestion of Prince William, the dying man was asked if he would like to see the Court Chaplain, Dr. Kugel, and on his assenting the divine was sent for. After a few words of greeting to his royal master, in which he expressed the sympathy of the whole people, he recited some passages of Scripture, and at the sick man's request a few verses of some of his favorite hymns, followed by a prayer, the Emperor now and then responding clearly, with an expression of satisfaction or assent. From seven till ten o'clock that evening there seemed a marked improvement, during which the august patient conversed cheerfully with Prince William. The greater part of the family, feeling much encouraged, permitted themselves a few hours of sleep. Toward four o'clock in the morning, however, symptoms of collapse showed themselves. He became unconscious again, and it was evident that death was near. The family and watchers were hastily summoned and Dr. Kugel again sent for. He recited the Lord's Prayer, Her Majesty the Empress joining in, and then read the twenty-seventh Psalm, beginning "The Lord is my light and my salvation." When he had finished, the Grand Duchess of Baden, who had hastened to her father's bedside at the first news of his illness, leaned over and asked: "Did you understand, Papa?"

The Emperor answered clearly, "It was beautiful."

The Emperor's Death Bed


She then asked: "Do you know that Mamma is sitting here beside you, holding your hand?"

The dying man's eyes opened and he looked long at the Empress, then closed them for the last time. His parting look was for her, but his last sigh for the beloved son, stricken unto death and in a foreign land, as was evident from the touching cry, "Alas, my poor Fritz!"

When life was extinct, all present knelt while Dr. Kogel offered a prayer, concluding with the supplication, "O Lord, have mercy on our royal house, our people, and our country, and in the death of the Emperor may Thy words be fulfilled, 'I will bless thee, and thou shalt prove a blessing.' Amen."

The excitement throughout the country at the news of Emperor William's death was tremendous. Bells were tolled from every church spire, flags hung at half mast or were wrapped in crape, while hundreds of sad-faced people wandered into the churches to pray or seek comfort in the words of the priests.

On the night of March 11 the earthly remains of the deceased Emperor were taken from the palace to the cathedral, where they were to lie in state. In spite of a heavy wind and snowstorm the Unter den Linden was so thronged with people that progress was impossible, and the police had hard work to keep the way clear, yet the most solemn stillness prevailed. At five minutes before twelve the regular tramp of marching troops was heard and torchbearers were seen issuing from the palace. The soldiers took their places, Colonel von Bredow with a squadron of the body-guard being in charge of the arrangements, and formed a solid wall on both sides of the street from the palace to the cathedral, long crape streamers falling from the plumes on their helmets.

At midnight the bells of the cathedral began to toll, and an hour later the head of the procession appeared, advancing slowly between a double line of torches, led by the first division of the body-guard under Colonel von Bredow. Behind these at some distance was a battalion of foot guards, followed by all the Emperor's servants in a body, including his own coachman, Jager, and valet. Then came thirty non-commissioned officers with snow-white plumes, bearing on their shoulders the coffin of the deceased Emperor, covered with a plain black pall. Immediately behind it rode the Crown Prince and Prince Henry, followed by all the generals and foreign military attaches, among them Count Moltke. Then another division of mounted body-guards clattered by, and the procession ended in a long line of carriages.

The interior of the cathedral was an impressive sight. The chancel had been converted into a grove of palms and laurels, in the centre of which, on a black catafalque, rested the casket of purple velvet heavily decorated with gold. On either side stood huge candelabra from which countless tapers shed their soft radiance, while close beside were placed white satin stools embroidered in gold. At the foot of the coffin were laid the rarest and costliest wreaths. After it had been lifted on to the catafalque the Emperor's own valet, who had always attended to His Majesty's personal wants during his lifetime, approached and lifted the pall. Even in death the monarch's features wore the same expression of noble serenity that had characterized them in life. Upon the venerable head was placed the military forage cap. The body was clothed in the uniform of the First Foot Guards, the historic gray cloak drawn carefully about the shoulders. His only decorations were the Star of the Order of the Black Eagle, the collar of the Order of Merit, and the Grand Cross of the Order of the Iron Cross. At his feet lay a single wreath of green laurel. Keeping watch on the right side of the bier stood two of the palace guards with arms lowered, on the left two artillerymen with raised arms, this honorary service being shared in turn by all the guard regiments. From this time until the day of the funeral the cathedral became the centre of attraction, not only to the people of Berlin but to the thousands of strangers who thronged the capital anxious to obtain one more last look at the beloved Emperor. From early morning till far into the night a vast multitude surrounded the cathedral, waiting and hoping to gain entrance; but although an average of seventy-five hundred people passed through the edifice every hour, there were still hundreds left outside, unable to gratify their desire.

Meanwhile Unter den Linden, through which the funeral procession was to pass on its way to the mausoleum at Charlottenburg, had been transformed into a street of mourning. Art and patriotism combined to achieve the highest results of the decorator's skill, and the wide thoroughfare presented an appearance of gloomy magnificence impossible to describe here in detail. All the public buildings were draped in black and elaborately decorated; the streets were lined with Venetian masts connected with festoons of black and surmounted by the royal golden eagle, while many ornamental structures of various kinds had been erected, some enclosing statues of allegorical figures. The Brandenburg Gate was most imposing, and well might it be, for the sovereign who had entered it so often as a conqueror was now to pass out of it for the last time. All along the Siegesallee also were displayed signs of mourning, while at Charlottenburg the public grief found touching expression in the crape-wreathed banners and sable-hung houses and monuments.

The funeral obsequies were held on Friday, March i6. On the stroke of eleven the brazen tongues of the cathedral bells gave the signal, which was answered by those of all the churches in Berlin tolling at intervals all during the ceremonies. At the same time the doors of the cathedral were opened; the various officers took their appointed places at the head and foot of the coffin. The Minister of State and the Lord Chamberlain stepped behind the tabourets on which lay the imperial insignia,—crown, sword, orb, sceptre, etc.,—the generals and military deputies present grouping themselves on the lower step of the estrade. The invited guests, knights of the Black Eagle, members of the diplomatic corps, heads of noble houses, and others who had assembled in the outer part of the church, were then shown to their places, and last of all the Empress Victoria, Queen Elizabeth of Romania, and the royal princesses entered and took the seats placed for them in a semicircle before the altar, the other foreign princesses occupying an enclosure to the left. The foreign ambassadors had places reserved for them in the body of the church immediately behind the most illustrious guests.

The funeral services, which at the Emperor's own request were conducted by the Court Chaplain, Dr. Kugel, assisted by the cathedral clergy, began shortly after noon. While the mourners were assembling the organist had been playing soft preludes into which Emperor William's favorite tunes were skilfully woven, but when all had arrived its deep tones died away and the service began with the reading of portions of the ninetieth Psalm and of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle of Saint John. Then came the singing of "I know that my Redeemer liveth "by the cathedral choir and the funeral sermon by Dr. Kogel. He had chosen as his text the verses from Saint Luke, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation," and the trembling tones of the great preacher betrayed his deep emotion as he spoke of the dead monarch, to whom, as spiritual adviser, he had stood so close. After a short prayer, followed by other selections from the choir, the congregation joined in singing a hymn, and the service concluded with the pronouncing of a benediction over the departed Emperor.

It was a quarter before two when a salvo of artillery announced that the funeral procession was about to start. First came a squad of mounted police trotting briskly through the centre of the Linden, followed in a moment by another. Then through the cold snow-laden air sounded the strains of Beethoven's Funeral March and the trumpeters of the First Hussars appeared on their white horses, leading the musicians. In seemingly endless array followed squadrons of the First and Second Dragoons, the First, Second, and Third Uhlans, the body-guard in their gorgeous uniforms, and cuirassiers; then six battalions of infantry and regiment after regiment of artillery, all with crape-wound banners and muffled drums. The mournful strains of the funeral marches with the slow tramp of the marching columns was unspeakably melancholy and impressive in its effect, and the vast throng of spectators, held back by a barrier formed of seventeen thousand members of Berlin guilds and societies, stood in awed silence, not a voice raised or a sign of impatience visible all during the hour that the procession required in passing.

Behind the troops, at a short distance, came a group of twelve divines headed by Dr. Kogel; then a long line of court officials, gentlemen-in-waiting, and pages, their brilliant costumes forming a startling contrast to the prevailing gloom. Following these, and uniformed in accordance with their military rank, were the Emperor's two physicians, Dr. Leutbold and Dr. Tiemann, Dr. von Lauer having been kept away by illness. The gorgeously embroidered uniforms of the chamberlains and gentlemen of the bedchamber next appeared, and behind them the ministers, bearing the imperial insignia on purple velvet cushions, preceded by four marshals whose hereditary titles recalled the days of Germany's ancient splendor,—the Lord High Cup Bearer Prince Hatzfeld, the Grand Master of the Hunt Prince Pless, the Grand Master of the Kitchens Prince Putbus, and the Lord High Marshal Prince Salm.

Then came the imperial hearse, a sort of catafalque on wheels, drawn by eight horses, each led by a staff officer, and over it a yellow silk canopy adorned with the eagle and emblems of mourning, supported by twelve major-generals. The ends of the purple velvet pall that covered the bier were held by Generals von Blumenthal, von der Goltz, von Treskow, and von Oberwitz, and on either side of it walked the twelve officers who served as pallbearers. Immediately following the hearse was the deceased Emperor's favorite saddle horse, with bridle and housings of black, led by an equerry.

And now appeared an array of princes and dignitaries such as the world has seldom seen assembled. General Pape, flanked by Count Lehndorff and Prince Radziwill, bore the imperial standard in advance of the Crown Prince William, who walked alone, wrapped in a military cloak and deeply affected. About five paces behind him followed the Kings of Saxony, Belgium, and Romania, then Princes Henry, Leopold, George, and Alexander with the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Meiningen, and after them fully a hundred illustrious mourners walking four, six, and even eight abreast, Russian grand dukes, Austrian archdukes, royal representatives from Italy, England, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Denmark,—princes from all the sovereign houses of Europe, reigning or deposed, envoys and deputies from every State and Republic in the world.

But there was no attempt at display; enveloped for the most part in cloaks and furs they quietly and humbly followed the earthly remains of him who in life had been the greatest of them all, and behind them came the military deputies of foreign powers,—generals from France, pashas from the Golden Horn, princes from the north and the south, even the venerable Cardinal Galimberti, representing Pope Leo Thirteen. Conspicuous by their absence from this assembly, however, were the two pillars of the Empire, Prince Bismarck and Count von Moltke, whom the inclement weather and their state of health had kept at home. Following these personages was a vast number of mourners of all ranks, while two battalions of infantry brought up the rear.

On arriving at the Siegesallee, the procession halted while the princes and dignitaries walking behind the bier entered the equipages that were waiting to convey them to Charlottenburg, and the royal insignia was taken back to the palace in Berlin by eight officers under escort of the bodyguard. The cortege then resumed its march to Charlottenburg, where from the window of the palace the Emperor Frederick watched with streaming eyes his beloved father's last royal progress.

At the Luisenplatz another halt was made to permit the mourners to descend from the carriages and escort the remains to the mausoleum, where the Emperor's own company of the First Foot Guards was waiting to receive them. The coffin was borne in and placed temporarily between the two stone slabs that mark the resting place of Frederick William Third "The Just," as he was called by his people, and his wife, Queen Louise of blessed memory. The court chaplain offered a short prayer, a parting salute of a hundred and one guns was fired, and the last solemn rites were ended. Under the cypress boughs that shade the national sanctuary, at the feet of the parents he had honored all his life with so childlike a devotion, the remains of the heroic sovereign were laid to their eternal rest.