My book Hermine: An Empress in Exile can be ordered here (US) and here (UK)!
Hermine decided to go see the Emperor alone, and he later wrote of their first meeting, “When I saw her, I was immediately profoundly stirred. I was fascinated. I instantly recognised that she was my mate.” Just a few days into the visit, he proposed to her. Hermine realised that she would not be able to bring all her children to live here and that her life would be severely limited by his exile.
Nevertheless, her heart said yes. She reserved the right to spend time in Germany, where the Emperor was not allowed to go by the authorities, and three of her children would stay with her. The Emperor later wrote to his friend Maximilian Egon II, Prince of Fürstenberg, “So I have found a woman’s heart, after all, a German princess, an adorable, clever young widow has decided to bring sunshine into my lonely house & to help share my solitude and make it beautiful with her warm, devoted love. Peace and happiness have taken possession of my torn, tormented heart now that she has given me her hand… My happiness knows no bounds.”
They were married on 5 November 1922 at Doorn. Still, his family was not at all happy, and the Emperor angrily wrote, “The Crown Princess is obviously furious that she is being set aside, she wanted to play the role of Empress herself.” His daughter Viktoria Luise wrote, “The fact that this woman came to Doorn with the idea of marrying the Emperor, whom she barely knew, is bad enough. Papa does not know what he is doing. His new wife will soon tire of him, of the life in Doorn and leave him.” Several family members were absent from the wedding. Still, it went ahead as usual with the Emperor’s brother Heinrich toasting, “I drink to the health of his Majesty the Emperor and King and of Her Majesty the Empress and Queen.”
Life with the Emperor in exile was one of routine. He was often outside chopping down trees, but he found joy in the presence of Hermine’s young daughter Henriette, whom he lovingly referred to as “the General.” But as expected by many, Hermine soon felt unhappy and restless. She often travelled to Silesia to care for her first husband’s estates, and when she was in Berlin, she was given the use of apartments in the Old Palace. Perhaps Hermine had fervently hoped for a restoration of the monarchy, and as Adolf Hitler rose in power, she found herself latching onto the new regime in order to lobby for it. Hermann Göring visited the exiled couple twice at Doorn and Hermine met with Adolf Hitler himself several times while in Berlin. The Emperor wrote to his aide-de-camp, “My return to the throne can not happen fast enough for her, but we won’t get there with her way. She follows the Nazis and does all she can in Berlin, and in writing from here, which does more damage than good.”
As the Second World War approached, Hermine and the Emperor suddenly found themselves in the middle of a war zone. Even a British offer of asylum could not sway him, and the Emperor said he “would rather be shot in Holland than flee to England. He had no desire to be photographed beside Churchill.” On 14 May 1940, the first German troops appeared, and the Emperor welcomed them with open arms. Hermine wrote, “The first German soldier in front of the steps to the house was such an incredible relief that I cannot find words to describe it. I shall never forget the expression on the Kaiser’s face as he stood on the steps together with the commanding officer of a regiment – suddenly he was 30 years younger.”
On 4 June 1941, the Emperor died at House Doorn at the age of 82. He did not wish to be buried in Germany without the return of the monarchy, and so he was buried on the grounds of House Doorn. Adolf Hitler’s plans for a state funeral did not go ahead. Hermine wore a heavy black veil. After the funeral, Hermine decided to return to Silesia. Her last visit to Doorn would be in 1944. In 1945, she was ordered to evacuate, and she was tricked into going to Berlin. She was arrested and taken to Frankfurt an der Oder, where she would spend her last years under house arrest in the Russian zone.
On 5 August 1947, Hermine began to feel tired, and a doctor diagnosed purulent tonsillitis. By 7 August, Hermine’s neck was so swollen that she was no longer able to eat and drink. Breathing suddenly became very hard, and when the doctor finally arrived, there was very little he could do. She died later that same day of a heart attack. Hermine’s will was clear – she wanted her body to be returned to Doorn to be buried beside the Emperor. Unfortunately, this never happened and she was eventually interred in the Antique Temple in Potsdam, alongside the Emperor’s first wife, Auguste Viktoria.
I have some questions. What was her life like after WWII? Did she flee her husband’s Silesian estate in panic of the approach of the Russians? How did they treat her – bearing in mind how cruel the Russian soldiers could be. How before the war was she able to stay in Berlin in an apartment in the palace? Which palace? And why was the government allowing Royals to stay in the palace – like a hotel? What became of the her daughter the Kaiser was so fond of, and her other children, after the war.
Most of that will be in my book! One son died at the front, the other survived the war and he tried to have her returned to Doorn but was ultimately unsuccessful. Her daughter Hermine Caroline had married a commoner so was mostly left alone. Henriette had married the Kaiser’s grandson but they were divorced after the war. She never remarried. Hermine was granted the use of the apartment by the government and it was at the Old Palace at Unter der Linden. I don’t know why exactly, perhaps they thought it was easier. Hermine was basically under house arrest by the Russians but she was treated relatively well, though her sudden death is still suspicious.