Hermine Reuss of Greiz was one of the five daughters of Heinrich XXII, Prince Reuss of Greiz and his wife Princess Ida of Schaumburg-Lippe. Her childhood was overshadowed by the death of her mother in childbirth and the incurable disability of her only brother. A 13-year marriage to Prince Johann Georg of Schönaich-Carolath produced five children before her husband’s death of tuberculosis. However determined never to be married again, Hermine ended up meeting the exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II, and soon fate had other plans.
Even before Hermine had married the exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II, he had decided that no matter what – she would be recognised as Empress, even if just by the family. The Emperor’s physician Alfred Haehner wrote that by “choosing a princess undeniably of the blood” the Emperor’s return to Germany was now assured. “The Princess was entitled to be and would indeed become the Kaiserin.” When asked about Hermine’s future title, Wilhelm answered, “Of course Empress.”
The Emperor’s brother, one of the few family members to attend the wedding, toasted the newlyweds with the words, “I drink to the health of his Majesty the Emperor and King and of Her Majesty the Empress and Queen.” Most of Wilhelm’s family had been against the match, and Wilhelm wanted to make it clear – Hermine was his Empress.
Unlike Wilhelm, who was not allowed to travel to Germany, Hermine was able to travel to Germany, and she often did. However, even in royalist circles, she was not always kindly received. From the society in Berlin, she received the nickname Quotation Mark Empress. Bella Fromm, a Jewish aristocrat whose diary has survived, always wrote of “The Empress” when writing about Hermine. In December 1932, the same Bella Fromm recorded, “The ‘Empress’ had some one hundred thirty guests for tea today at her charity bazaar. Regret about the lost monarchy was frankly stated. Hermine had a rather superior smile on her lips, almost smug. The Doorn household has no doubt that Hitler is going to smooth the path for the Hohenzollern restoration. ‘Her Majesty’ received in black velvet, lavishly trimmed with lace. It trickled down her back on a background of pink chiffon. I was careful to avoid the customary hand kiss when my turn came, as her white kid gloves looked by that time like an ordnance map in white and red from the lipstick of those who kissed before.”
Many around the Emperor believed that Hermine would give up on the marriage once it became clear to her that there would be no restoration and she would never truly be an Empress. The Emperor’s physician Alfred Haehner wrote, “This woman will never accept a life of uncomplaining resignation, she will blame the K[aiser] for the failure of her overweening ambitions… She will not allow the rift to become public… but she will increasingly leave the K[aiser] on his own, go on her travels for longer and more frequently and lead a life wholly in keeping with her own desires.”
In the end, she proved them all wrong. Hermine and Wilhelm were married for almost 20 years until his death in 1941. They never were restored to the throne.