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Kaiser is the German word for "emperor". Like the Bulgarian, Serbian and Russian Tsar it is directly derived from the Roman emperors' title of Caesar, which in turn is derived from the personal name of a branch of the gens (clan) Julia, to which Gaius Julius Caesar, the forebear of the first imperial family, belonged. Although the British monarchs styled "Emperor of India" were also called "Kaisar-i-Hind" in Hindi and Urdu, this word, although ultimately sharing the same Latin origin, is derived from the Greek: Καῖσαρ (kaisar), not the German Kaiser.
In English, the term 'the Kaiser' is usually reserved for the emperors of the German Empire and the emperors of the Austrian Empire. During the First World War, anti-German sentiment was at its zenith; the term the Kaiser—especially as applied to Wilhelm II of Germany—thus gained considerable negative connotations in English-speaking countries.
The Holy Roman Emperors (962–1806) called themselves Kaiser, combining the imperial title with that of King of the Romans (assumed by the designated heir before the imperial coronation); they saw their rule as a continuation of that of the Roman Emperors and used the title derived from the title Caesar to reflect their supposed heritage.
In 1806 the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved, but the title of Kaiser was retained by the House of Habsburg, the head of which, beginning in 1804, bore the title of Emperor (Kaiser) of Austria. After 1438, the Habsburgers had provided most of Holy Roman Emperors, so they saw themselves as legitimate heirs to the title they adopted. Despite Habsburg ambitions however, the Austrian Empire could no longer claim to rule over most of Germany. There were four Kaisers of the Austrian Empire who all belonged to the Habsburg dynasty.
With the Unification of Germany in 1871, there was some debate about the exact title for the monarch of those German territories (such as free imperial cities, principalities, duchies, and kingdoms) that agreed to unify under the leadership of Prussia, thereby forming the new German Empire. The first Kaiser himself preferred either Kaiser von Deutschland ("Emperor of Germany") or Kaiser der Deutschen ("Emperor of the Germans"). In the end, his chancellor Bismarck's choice Deutscher Kaiser ("German Emperor") was adopted as it simply connoted that the new emperor, hearkening from Prussia, was a German, but did not imply that this new emperor had dominion over all German territories. Especially the Austrian Kaiser would have been offended otherwise. There were only three Kaisers of the (second) German Empire. All of them belonged to the Hohenzollern dynasty, which, as kings of Prussia, had been de facto leaders of lesser Germany.
The Kaisers of the Austrian Empire (1804–1918) were:
The Kaisers of the German Empire (1871–1918) were:
Georg Friedrich Ferdinand, Prince of Prussia, is currently head of the House of Hohenzollern, which was the former ruling dynasty of the German Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Karl von Habsburg is currently the head of the House of Habsburg.
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