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War of the Three Brothers: Why Friendship and Family Ties Didn't Keep the Monarchs of the Three Empires from World War
War of the Three Brothers: Why Friendship and Family Ties Didn't Keep the Monarchs of the Three Empires from World War

The devastating consequences of the First World War forever reshaped the political map of the world. As a result, 2 revolutions took place, 4 empires disappeared, more than 20 million people died. It is striking that at the origins of this conflict were people who, by their origin, upbringing and childhood experience, were supposed to serve as a solid bulwark of peace. The three emperors, the sovereigns of the three powerful powers, were related to each other and had been friends for many years.

Blood Matters

The First World War is called the War of Three Cousins: the English King George V was a cousin of the Russian Emperor Nicholas II - their mothers were sisters, and the German Emperor Wilhelm II and George V were the direct grandchildren of Queen Victoria. This ruler, who had 9 children and 42 grandchildren, deservedly received the unspoken title of "grandmother of all Europe." Her numerous regal offspring indeed later connected practically all the ruling houses with a network of kinship. The last Russian empress was also her granddaughter. Moreover, she was considered a favorite, her grandmother affectionately called her Sunny.

Queen Victoria and her kin. Coburg, April 1894 To the left of Queen Victoria sits her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II, directly behind them - Tsarevich Nikolai Alexandrovich and his bride, nee Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt (six months later they will become the Russian emperor and empress)

Children's friendship

In their youth, the future rulers of states often met and were very friendly. Even as adults, shortly before the war, which divided them into two camps, they refer to each other in personal correspondence and telegrams as "Nicky", "Willie" and "Georgie". Moreover, Wilhelm and Nikolai will also call each other cousins, although in fact they were a second cousin and nephew (they formally became cousins ​​after Nikolai's marriage). However, Nikolai and Georg had especially warm relations. Their letters have always been distinguished by their sincerity:

Young Nicholas II and George V

The cousins-monarchs were so similar that during the wedding ceremony of George V, the jubilant crowd mistook the Russian tsar for their ruler - the Times wrote about this curiosity in 1893.

The royal brothers were often happy to emphasize their resemblance

Before the war

The three august rulers of the great powers, tied by family ties and strong friendship, seemed to the whole world to be a stronghold of stability. Journalists nicknamed them "the trade union of monarchs." Just before the war, the cousins ​​strengthened this opinion in every possible way - they communicated with families, willingly posed for magazines and newspapers, emphasizing their friendly intentions. All three had ranks in the "fraternal" armies. Wilhelm, for example, was both an English and a Russian admiral, and was also the chief of the Russian 13th Narva Hussar Regiment.

Wilhelm II and Nicholas II in 1905. The emperors in this photo have changed their military uniforms

However, very soon George and Nicky will find themselves on one side of the barricades, and Willie on the other. Georg, the only one of the three, will retain his throne as a result of the bloody massacre. For Nikolai, the subsequent instability in the country will cost his life. Moreover, a recent friend George will not want to accept him with his family in England, which could have saved the Romanovs from execution. Wilhelm, abdicated and blamed for all the horrors of World War I, will spend the rest of his life in the Netherlands.

August brothers in arms: Emperor of All Russia Nicholas II, King George V of England and King Albert I of Belgium

Historians of the First World War have an opinion explaining why the friendly alliance of the three autocrats did not save the world from catastrophe.It is possible that at that time the emperors did not really have all the political power that absolute monarchy implies. Foreign policy was largely done by the ministers, who deployed the sleigh of world diplomacy towards war. As an example, the secret Russian-German Treaty of Bjork, directed mainly against England, is cited. It was fully prepared by Nicholas II in secret from his advisers and came as an unpleasant surprise for Ministers Witte and Lamsdorf. As a result, it never actually entered into force.

The Treaty of Bjork was signed personally by Emperors Nicholas II and Wilhelm II near the Baltic island of Bjorkyo aboard the royal yacht Polar Star

Reading the telegrams exchanged between the august rulers of the great powers just before the start of the four-year slaughter, one is struck by their positive attitude. Indeed, it begins to seem that if everything depended only on their will, then the bloody conflict in which 38 out of 59 states existing at that time were involved would never have begun.

The English historian Christopher Clarke, in his bestseller on World War I, The Sleepwalkers, expressed his views on the shortsightedness of monarchs:

The question remains painful for the two great powers and does not have an unambiguous answer why the British King George V did not save his brother and close friend Emperor Nicholas II from death.

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