Saturday, July 3, 2010
The author has written an excellent comparative account of the lives of Nicholas II of Russia, Wilhelm II of Germany and George V of England. These monarchs all reigned in pre World War I Europe in a time of great change. They are all related - Wilhelm and George are grandchildren of Victoria and Nicholas is married to Victoria’s favorite granddaughter. What a dysfunctional family! The author recounts the lives of these monarchs from 1858 until after WWI. Both public events and private family gatherings are covered. The author does a great job using primary sources to tell intimate details of family gatherings and relationships. None of these monarchs were really educated, none had experiences that allowed them to in any way understand the social change that was going on in Europe and each of them was profoundly out of touch with their people. Queen Victoria’s plan to tie together all of the European royals through intermarriage resulted in royals who were distinctly unqualified to lead their countries. The way that Europe lurches and stumbles toward WWI is told through the individual actions of these monarchs. While George and Nicholas did not cause the war, they did nothing to strengthen their governments that might have allowed a saner course to be taken. Wilhelm appears as the most dysfunctional of the trio. Bellicose and arrogant, his public rantings incite a war climate within Germany and spread fear throughout the continent. Nicholas lived in a privileged cocoon and did not interact with the Russian people at all; he was completely taken aback by the events up to and including the revolution. George while having less power than the Nicholas or Wilhelm manages to be totally spineless, refusing to take the risk of giving asylum to Nicholas and his family and then denying it after the assassination of the czar. What a motley crew, it only made me wonder why anyone would think hereditary monarchy would be a form of government worth having. This is a good book and an easier than expected read. I’d recommend it to those interested in nineteenth century early twentieth century European history.