Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



In the decades following the Second World War, historians writing about militarism and politics during the German Empire have often mentioned Count Alfred von Waldersee (1832-1904), the army’s Quartermaster-General (1882-1888) then Chief of the General Staff (1888-1891), portraying him as a stereotypical warmongering Prussian political general who sought to enhance his own influence, especially by aspiring to the chancellorship. They have typically viewed Alfred von Waldersee within the contexts of civil versus military relations and the era and entourage of Wilhelm II (r. 1888-1918), but these frameworks do not help accurately explain the man, his motivations, how he saw himself, and his relationship to power. Using archival material that has never before been utilized judiciously and extensively by a professional historian, this study seeks to question, reevaluate, and revise the traditional interpretation of Waldersee by analyzing his private life, public image, and the limits of his ambition. This thesis argues that Alfred von Waldersee needs to be understood as a man formed by his experiences in the age of Wilhelm I; this was the era in which his opinions about domestic and international affairs solidified and he became a political partisan in Berlin. He was a monarchist, but one whose conception of the Prusso-German monarchy was based on the rule of Wilhelm I, his friend and ideal sovereign. In his actions throughout the 1880s, Waldersee sought to defend the traditional power of the Kaiser against what he considered the sovereign’s enemies: threatening foreign powers, constitutionalism, democracy, socialism, Jews, and Catholics. This project also focuses on his relationship with his American-born wife, his anti-Semitism, his views on preventive war, and his relationship with the press. During his life, but especially from 1882 to 1891, Waldersee did not aspire to gain political power for himself; he never wanted to become Chancellor. As an intimate and aide-de-camp to the Kaisers, Waldersee did not operate outside the convoluted power structure of the German Empire. In the colorful, modernizing Europe of the late nineteenth century, Waldersee saw the world in black and white and represented one of the last gasps of an earlier age.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Marchand, Suzanne



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History Commons