World War I had an unintended consequence: It destroyed many of Europe’s royal families. In terms of life altering events created by the war, this is perhaps a minor change, but a notable one.
When the war began, no one imagined it would revamp governments. Monarchies had been part of European history and culture for centuries. No doubt, the monarchies seemed unshakable.
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 three were Queen Victoria’s grandsons.
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 with neither the preparation nor the desire to lead.
His wife Alexandra also the grandchild of Queen Victoria. They had five children.
Neither he nor Alexandra enjoyed public engagements, and he was not skilled at public speaking. This was misinterpreted by the Russian public as indifference or aloofness.
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.
Notable events in Nicholas II life:
- He witnessed his grandfather’s assassination.
- The high number of Russians who died in World War I (more than 3 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. He is more commonly called by the German word for emperor, “Kaiser.”
He married Augusta Victoria and had seven children.
In 1918, he was forced to abdicate two days before the war’s end and fled to the Netherlands.
During World War II, Wilhem supported the Nazi cause, believing the party would bring the monarchy back to power
Notable events in Wilhelm II’s life:
- As the consequence of a breech birth, he was born with a withered arm and attempted to conceal it his entire life.
- His mother tried to raise him as an English gentleman.
- Despite fighting alongside Austria-Hungary, Germany was the greater power, and he knew it.
Born in 1865, George V became king of the United Kingdom and its dominions and emperor of India in 1910 after the death of his his father Edward VII. The Edwardian age, however, 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, the future 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.
Notable accomplishments in George V’s life:
- During the war, he visited the front on numerous occasions while Mary visited hospitals.
- In 1917, he changed the royal family’s last name to Windsor to disassociate the royal house from Germany and align it with the British people.
- The public criticized him for not offering the Russian royal family asylum, but he did authorize the rescue of the Greek royal family in 1922. One of the children rescued would later marry George’s granddaughter Elizabeth II.
- He was the first British monarch to make a radio broadcast.
- Famous quotations include “…I am only a very ordinary sort of fellow” and “I will not have another war. I will not!…”
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Updated: 19 October 2020
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