Saturday, 4 November 2017

Royal Cousins at War

In the decades before the First World War, the monarchs of Europe were all closely related to each other, but this did not necessarily mean they held each other in high esteem: often quite the opposite.    King Edward VII of England always had a low opinion of his nephew, the Kaiser William II of Germany. After enduring his presence at Cowes Week for the yachting, he dismissed him as "Nothing but a nuisance", lacking "the feelings of a gentleman". He also commented, "Trust him? Never! He is false, utterly false!" The Kaiser's opinion of Edward was no more polite: "You can never believe what a Satan he is", William complained, after Edward worked hard to improve relations with France: "He's utterly a Satan!" When Edward died in 1910, William attended the state funeral, but commented, "No-one will miss him except the French and the Jews". 
   Russian opinions of the Kaiser were little better. Tsar Alexander III referred to him as "A rascally young fop", Nicholas II said, "He was never sincere, never for a moment", and the Tsarina Alexandra neatly summed him up thus: "He thinks himself a superman, but is little more than a clown". 
   Edward VII had a low opinion of the abilities of Nicholas, who was the nephew of his wife. He assessed the Tsar as being, "Weak as water, deplorably unsophisticated, immature and reactionary".
   Kaiser William attempted to overwhelm Nicholas with his bumptious personality; but never really grasped that foreign affairs were no longer determined by monarchs acting as individuals. On the occasion of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, William urged Nicholas to "Defend Europe from the great Yellow Peril!", and attributed his own political problems to "Socialists in the Reichstag, egged on by the Jews; fit to be hanged!" When the two met at Bjorko in July 1905, they signed a Russo-German military alliance, in clear contradiction to both their countries' existing treaties, only to find it promptly rejected by their respective ministries!
   Tsar Nicholas dismissed the British as "Yids" (by which one presumes he meant that they behaved like Jews; Nicholas being strongly antisemitic), but he was on friendly personal terms with his cousin, George V. They closely resembled each other physically; their mothers being sisters. (George is on the right here)    
Image result for Nicholas-II-and-George-V
However, this amity did not prevent George from vetoing the suggestion that Nicholas and his family should be given refuge in Britain after the Russian revolution; a veto that was to have tragic consequences.
   The Kaiser grossly overestimated George's political influence. After he had received a friendly letter from George V as the crisis of 1914 escalated, William apparently believed the King of England would intervene to stop the outbreak of war between their countries; and when Britain did declare war on Germany in August, he blamed the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey: "The dirty bastard! He's made his own King a liar!"
   Neither William II, Nicholas II or George V was particularly intelligent, and none was a suitable leader for a major country in the 20th century. But whereas William attempted to dominate events in Europe, and Nicholas was dedicated to maintaining the Tsarist autocracy (and in consequence both overacted their chosen roles), George knew perfectly well that he was only a figurehead for a Parliamentary government, and throughout the many crises of his reign always behaved with the strictest constitutional propriety. In consequence he was the only one of the three to keep his throne.  

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff as always Peter, but I wonder why you chose to identify the Kaiser as 'William' rather than 'Wilhelm', which was his name.