Born with the name Tokugawa Keiki on 38 October 1837, he was brought up under strict supervision and tutelage by mostly male educators of his father. Taught in the arts, swordfighting, martial arts, politics and government, Keiki would be discovered as an evidently promising future leader, being highly intelligent with keen leadership skills.
He would be adopted by his father to the Hitotsubashi family to be able to have a slightly higher advantage of being a shogunal successor. Upon the death of the 13th shogun, Shogun Ietsuna, in 1858, Tokugawa Keiki, daimyo of Hitotsubashi, is nominated as Shogun, with supporters showing his skill in efficiently managing Hitotsubashi government at young age. But enemies led by Ii Naosuke gained support and put up Tokugawa Iemochi as 14th Shogun. Tokugawa Keiki, his supporters and his family were placed under severe house arrest.
The reign of Tokugawa Iemochi is marked by incompetence and mismanagement of government. Upon the assassination of Ii Naosuke in 1860, to save the Tokugawa shogunate from self-destruction, Tokugawa Keiki was nominated in 1862 to be a member of the 5-man council of elders (advisers), the Roju. Keiki then took numerous steps to quell the rising rebellion, and gathered allies to counter the rebellious Choshu province and deals with foreign states. In 1864, Keiki successfully defeated the Choshu forces in their attempt to capture the imperial gates in Hamaguri, allying with forces from Satsuma and others.
In 1866, Shogun Iemochi fell ill and died, leaving the Tokugawa bakufu very weak and losing control, with no successor competent enough to save the government. Tokugawa Keiki was strongly supported by all Tokugawas and its allies as the only person with enough skill and experience to save Government. Tokugawa Keiki became the 15th Tokugawa Shogun in 1866, taking the name Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Immediately upon Yoshinobu's ascension as shogun, major changes are then initiated. A huge government overhaul is then undertaken to start reforms to strengthen the Tokugawa government.
A national army and navy are formed and the outlook is that the Tokugawa shogunate is gaining ground towards renewed strength and power. Fearing the renewed strengthening of the Tokugawas under a strong and wise ruler, daimyos from Satsuma, Choshu and Tosa form an alliance to counter the bakufu. Under the banner of sonno joi and the propaganda of the "Rebirth of Ieyasu" to usurp the Emperor, they waged war against the Tokugawa bakufu, successfully gaining strong support from other daimyos. After a number of huge losses on the side of the Tokugawa, still reeling from its past weakness, Yoshinobu agreed that the Tokugawa could not win the civil war, and that Japan needed to be united strong against more potent and powerful foreigners. In 1867, Yoshinobu stepped down as shogun, returning all power to the Emperor. He is placed under house arrest, removed of all titles, land and power. He was later on released, as he showed no more interest and ambition in national affairs. He retired in Shizuoka, the retiring place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of Tokugawa shogunate. In 1902, the Meiji Emperor allowed him to reestablish his own house as a Tokugawa branch (beeke) with the highest rank in the peerage, that of prince (kōshaku) for his loyal service to Japan. Prince Tokugawa Yoshinobu [peer] died on 22 January 1913.