Wilhelm II and Prince Heinrich: Brothers? Yes; Twins? NOT Quite!

Prince William and Prince Heinrich, c. 1886

Prince Henry was Großadmiral of the German Navy, a pilot, race driver, sailboat racer, and the brother of Kaiser Wilhelm. World War I was kind to neither.

Connections and relations count. Take Heinrich Albrecht Wilhelm von Hohenzollern, Fürst von Preussen, in time also Großadmiral of the German Kaiserliches Kriegsmarine. His parents, Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia, in time Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm and Kaisern Friedrich (Victoria), were also the parents of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Their mother was the oldest daughter of Queen Victoria. Prince Henry (as he was known internationally) and the Kaiser were nephews of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (King Edward VII), as well as of all of the Queen-Empress’s numerous children.

Henry married Princess Irene von Hessen. He at once became brother-in-law to Tsar Nicholas II (Princess Alix von Hessen), Grand Duke Serge Michielovich Romanov via his wife (Princess Elizabeth von Hessen), Prince Louis of Battenberg, (Princess Lousie von Hessen), and Princess Alice von Hessen (husband, Prince Andrew of Greece), among others.

Heinrich von Preussen was a university student of law, inventor, point-to-point touring car racer, an early (1910) pilot and organizer of international flying races, and a winner of sailing yacht races. He did defend his home country when the time came, as would any patriot. And yet, he was also far more liberal and cosmopolitan than his famous brother. According to Stanley Shaw’s 1913 biography, William of Germany, “… Prince Henry of Prussia … is probably the most popular Hohenzollern to-day.”

Growing Up Hohenzollern

Growing up as a member of the Hohenzollern dynasty had more than its share of duty. The family had ruled Prussia for roughly 700 years (eventually all of Germany). Born in 1862, Prince Heinrich somehow managed to avoid Hohenzollern arrogance, as had his father, Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm. His brother, Crown Prince Wilhelm, unfortunately had a nearly manic strain of the family quirk.

Military training was on tap for both young princes, following a relatively short but intensive education. While a direct heir to the Prussian and German thrones was by tradition destined for the army, Prince Harry was able to enlist and to remain in the growing Kaiserliches Kriegsmarine. He moved through the standard cadet program at Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein, where the navy was based.

A Rising Naval Career

Prince Henry’s first naval posting was to the Chinese port of Tsingtao, (or Kiaochow), which Germany had taken for a fueling station. “In sending Prince Henry to Kiautschau he [Wilhelm] made the remark that “imperial power means sea power, and sea power and imperial power are dependent.” And so the Prince was not only receiving valuable training, but also serving as a living symbol of the Kaiser’s vision of his Second Reich. Returning to Germany, Prince Henry undertook a variety of missions to represent the Kaiser and the empire abroad. Assigned to the Baltic Fleet and to the entire navy, Prince Henry, Princess Irene and their sons resided in Schloss Kiel..

Schloss Kiel was the obvious official residence for Prince Heinrich and Princess Irene. The Prince was based in Kiel from 1888-to-1918 as Großadmiral of the Baltic Fleet, and as the Inspector General of the German Navy. As a rural, beach front alternative, Prince Heinrich also purchased and improved an estate known as Gutt Hemmelmark.

NOT a Clone of Kaiser Wilhelm II

The Prince, albeit a thorough Hohenzollern, was definitely not a Prussian Junker. For a portion of this side to the Prince, one can begin with a spanking new race yacht, President Theodore Roosevelt and the lovely Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

The Emperor’s yacht was always named Meteor, with the number of its heritage tacked on the end; thus Meteor III. This incarnation was American-engineered and crafted. It made perfect sense for the Allerhöchste (“All-Highest,”) to send Prince Heinrich to join President Theodore Roosevelt and a huge crowd, to watch the lovely Alice christen the Imperial sloop for Kaiser.

Gentleman Auto Racer

When not engrossed in his command duties, Prince Henry (with Princess Irene as an avid spectator), developed and actively participated in cross-country point-to-point auto races for the luxurious and powerful open touring sedans of the day. He began with, and always kept at least one, of the latest Mercedes touring cars. He is also credited with inventing the first practical windshield wiper, which he affixed to his 1911 Mercedes.

So elegant and daring a celebrity was Prince Henry when racing, that the Prince Henry Trials became a standard pre-war event in Germany, France, Russia, Great Britain, and other points. The Mercedes-Benz Classic Automotive Museum, GmbH, notes that “this sports-enthusiast … Prince, was not only the founder and patron of the Prince Henry Trials … he himself often took part in events in his open-top 70 hp Triple Phaeton.”

The long defunct British Vauxhall auto manufacturer launched the Vauxhall Prince Henry series from 1911 until 1914. “… the name “Prince Henry” was introduced to distinguish the three cars that were entered in the 1910 Motor Trials named in honor of Prince Henry of Prussia. The Vauxhall Prince Henry also competed in other international trials including the 1911 St Petersburg-to-Sebastopol Trial … ”

Aerial Views of Germany

Heinrich earned his wings in 1910. Prince Henry was fully aware of the mortal risks as well as the exhilaration of solo flight. Quoted in the May 4, 1912 issue of Flight, Heinrich answered the reporter’s question by saying “a flying machine is neither an open grave nor a toy for children.”

A 1912 volume of Flight ran the following header for its announcement of the Prince Henry Circuit aerial competition: “The Prince H e n r y A e r i a l C u p. THE Challenge Trophy offered by Prince Henry in connection with the circuit of the Higher Rhine will be the work of the sculptor Korschmann” And so off with the Kaiser’s brother went daring royals, nobles, millionaires, and skilled adventurers through the skies of the Second Reich. Word is, that Princess Henry was an avid booster and post-race hostess.

Daredevil Point-to-Point Pilot

The last Prince Henry Circuit occurred in May, 1914, almost exactly a month to the day before Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. Ominously, pilots were divided into military and civilian for this 775 kilometer dash.

Participants (including Prince Henry at the controls of the latest German military airplane), flew a circuitous course starting over Darmstadt (in honor of Princess Henry) to the finish line in an airfield outside Cologne. Each racer had to wheel high over “controls” (markers) such as cathedral spires or castle towers, through roughly 10 cities, and finally down at Cologne.

Luckily, the flying enthusiasts got in at least one more race that only included mechanical and natural widow makers. As reported in the month-end May issue of Flight, “THIS year’s Prince Henry Circuit, … was one of the greatest events of its kind ever held in Germany, no fewer than 40 machines taking part in the circuit.” Winners divided Reich marks today worth $368,000.

To properly relate the life and times of Prinz Heinrich von Preussen throughout World War I, and the revolutions that came during or at the end of the war, could easily fill a book to itself. Absent that possibility, a companion article soon to follow must suffice.


  1. Shaw, Stanley LL.D, William of Germany, Trinity Collage, Dublin, Ireland, 1913
  2. Greenfield, Kenneth J, Der Rittermeister Militaria site, Der Rittermeister Militaria LLC, Port Richey, FL, 2011
  3. Das Bundesarchiv, “Prinz Henry in Tsingtau, 1913, {Preußen, Heinrich von|1862–1929, Großadmiral der Kaiserlichen Marine Deutschland (1862–1929)}, Berlin Germany 1913
  4. The Christening of the Kaiser’s Yacht in Harper’s Weekly: Special Souvenir Number, New York, 1902 – as found in Timothy Hughes: Rare & Early Newspapers, South Williamsport PA, 2011
  5. Ashford, Elizabeth, Art Director, Encore Editions Fine Art Prints & Frames, New Hope PA, 2011
  6. Depp, Philipp, Rolling magnificence: Representative cars up until the First World War in Mercedes Benz Classic Fan Site, Mercedes-Benz Museum GmbH, Stuttgart, Germany, 2011
  7. Sutton, John, Vauxhall Prince Henry 100th Anniversary in MotorSnaps.com, Camco Solutions Ltd, London, 2010