World War One had an unintended consequence, one that no one imagined when the war began: It destroyed many of Europe’s royal families.
In terms of life altering events that the war created, this is perhaps a minor change, although a notable one. These monarchies had been part of history and culture for such a long time it no doubt seemed as if it always would be that way.
Three of these monarchies were led by first cousins. By the war’s end, one would be dead, one would be deposed and one would remain in power.
All were the grandsons of Queen Victoria.
Born in 1868, Nicholas II became emperor of Russia, grand duke of Finland and king of Poland in 1894. He was more commonly known by the title Tsar.
He was a reluctant monarch. He had neither the preparation nor the desire to lead.
He married Alexandra, who was also the grandchild of Queen Victoria. They had five children.
Neither he nor Alexandra enjoyed public engagements, and he was not great at public speaking. This was misinterpreted by the Russian public.
Nicholas became a victim of the Russian Revolution and was forced to abdicate the throne in 1917. He, his wife and children were executed the following year.
- He witnessed his grandfather’s assassination.
- The high number of Russians who died in World War One (more than three million) was a contributing cause of the revolution.
- He and his immediate family are now saints in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Born in 1859, Wilhelm II became emperor of Germany and king of Prussia in 1888, but he is more often called by the German word for emperor “Kaiser”.
He married Augusta Victoria. They had seven children.
In 1918, he was forced to abdicate two days before the war ended and fled to the Netherlands.
- He was a breech birth and was born with a withered arm which he tried his entire life to conceal.
- His mother tried to raise him as an English gentleman.
- Despite fighting with Austria-Hungary, Germany was the greater power.
- He believed the Nazi party would bring the monarchy back in power.
Born in 1865, George V became king of the United Kingdom and its dominions and emperor of India in 1910 upon the death of his father Edward VII. Despite this, however, the Edwardian age isn’t said to have ended until the outbreak of the war.
George was never supposed to be king. His elder brother Albert Victor was to have that honor, but he died in 1892 of pneumonia during an influenza pandemic.
George married his brother’s fiancée, who went on to become the famed Queen Mary. He loved his wife but found it difficult to express his feelings verbally so he wrote her letters. They had six children; five outlived him.
- During the war, he visited the front on numerous occasions. Mary visited hospitals.
- He changed the royal family’s last name to Windsor in 1917 to disassociate the royal house from Germany and align it with the British people.
- He was criticized for not offering the Russian royal family asylum but did authorize the rescue of the Greek royal family in 1922. One of the children rescued would later marry George’s granddaughter Elizabeth.
- He was the first British monarch to make a radio broadcast.
- He is quoted as saying, “…I am only a very ordinary sort of fellow” and “I will not have another war. I will not!…”
Did you know Nicholas II, Wilhelm II and George V were cousins? Leave a comment below.
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