The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

House Doorn

A Pocket-Sized Imperial Court

When the Great War started in August 1914, all parties expected it to be over by Christmas. But the ‘frisch-fröhlichen Krieg’ proved to be not as bright & jolly as assumed, and an armistice could not be signed until four years later, in Compiègne, on 11 November 1918. Two days earlier the German Republic had been proclaimed in Weimar, and Emperor Wilhelm II (1859–1941) abdicated. Both at home & abroad he was held responsible for the outbreak of the war. To avoid prosecution, Wilhelm fled to the Netherlands on 10 November, staying at Amerongen Castle until 1920, when he purchased an estate of his own in Doorn, where he lived until his death. In 1942, his remains were entombed in a small mausoleum on the grounds of his Dutch estate.

The Gobelin Chamber at House Doorn
The Gobelin Chamber at House Doorn

When Wilhelm moved to Doorn, 59 train wagons were needed to move some 30,000 objects from his palaces in Berlin & Potsdam to furnish the 24-room 18th-century manor house. All the splendid furniture, paintings, porcelain and silver enabled the ex-Emperor to keep up his former lifestyle. The Dutch government confiscated the estate after World War II as enemy property, and in 1956 the house became a museum about the royal asylum seeker and how he lived here in exile (Spoiler: as ‘The Woodchopper of Doorn’). An exhibition on Dutch neutrality during World War I places Wilhelm’s escape to the Netherlands in a broader context.

Reader comments


One reason for Wilhelm II to flee to the Netherlands was that the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina (like other European royals at the time) was a relative of his. And although both the Queen and the Dutch government have consistently claimed complete surprise at the Emperor’s arrival in the Netherlands, there are indications that Wilhelmina had secretly made preparations in advance for her Uncle Willy’s coming.


In her article What Happens When a Bad-Tempered, Distractible Doofus Runs an Empire? published in The New Yorker earlier this year, Miranda Carter provides a fascinating evaluation of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s character, and how the incumbent President of the United States behaves very much in the same way as the Kaiser did.