Research Notes – The Great War (22) Royal Cousins

The royal houses of Europe have always been a bit of an incestuous bunch —at least until recently when standards have been relaxed. For those of royal blood, their selection of future mates was largely arranged so as to form or strengthen political alliances. As a result, the pool of choices was very limited and the families of Europe (including Russia up through the 19th century) became a confusingly intermarried bunch.

Three of the principal combatants during the First World War –Britain, Germany and Russia– were ruled by men whose close family ties were unable to prevent that dreadful conflict. King George V of Great Britain, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany were first cousins. Here’s how they were related:

King George V was the son of King Edward VII and his wife Alexandra of Denmark.

Tsar Nicholas II was the son of Tsar Alexander III and his wife Dagmar of Denmark (Alexandra’s sister).

Kaiser Wilhelm II was the son of Kaiser Friedrich III and his wife Victoria of Great Britain (Edward’s sister).

Additionally, Tsar Nicholas II and Kaiser Wilhelm II were related further back in the family tree through the marriages of the tsar’s distant cousin (the granddaughter of Nicholas’ great grandfather —I’m not sure what that relationship works out to be…) to Wilhelm I, King of Prussia (Wilhelm II’s grandfather).

AND, Tsar Nicholas II married Alexandra of Hess-Darmstadt —daughter of Alice of Great Britain, sister of Edward VII, making him cousin by marriage as well.

Despite these close familial relationships, in 1914 the monarchs found themselves at war in the worst conflict the world had ever seen up to that time. By the end of The Great War, two of those monarchies had been brought to their end —the Russian through revolution and the German through defeat. Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed on July 17, 1918 by the revolutionary Bolsheviks who had been holding the Romanovs captive after Nicholas’ abdication of the throne. The kaiser was forced to abdicate the Imperial German Crown and the Prussian Kingship on November 9, 1918 as the German army was near collapse and revolution loomed on the home front. Wilhelm fled by train to the neutral Netherlands where he lived out his life in exile.

Above: George, Nicholas and Wilhelm. Three Royal Cousins.

21 thoughts on “Research Notes – The Great War (22) Royal Cousins

      1. Yep, royal marriages were all about duty, and only occasionally about love. However, both George and Nicholas very much loved their wives. Tragically, Nicholas’ marriage will doomed as far as producing an heir – Alexis inherited hemophilia through his mother. And well.. the execution. Ahhh!

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  1. Beautiful portraits of the cousins. Have you seen the video documentary Royal Cousins at War? Last year I reviewed it at my First World War blog: https://wp.me/p4zV0n-zJ

    BTW, the relationship between Nicky and the granddaughter of his great-grandfather was that of first cousin once removed (1C1R), making the other relationship between Nicky and Willy that of second cousin once removed (2C1R).

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    1. Thank you! I can never keep that stuff straight! I haven’t seen the video but will be sure to check it out. I’m reading Miranda Carter’s book: George, Nicholas and Wilhelm – Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War One. I appreciate the suggestion, thanks again!

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      1. It’s not too hard to determine relationships if you have a chart, but even as a genealogist, I couldn’t find one that I liked, so I designed my own. If you’re interested, you can download a reference chart here: https://wp.me/a30cCH-2Gq and a blank version of it here: https://wp.me/a30cCH-2Gr

        To work out a relationship, just put the common ancestor’s name in one of the blank boxes at the top of the chart, and plot the descendants down two adjacent columns. You draw a horizontal line between cousins of the same generation (1st, 2nd, etc.). A slanted line between two cousins shows how many “times removed” they are (meaning how many generations separate them from the original same-generation cousin relationship).

        I enjoyed the Royal Cousins at War video enough to watch it multiple times.

        And thank you for mentioning Carter’s book; I’ll look for it. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for that! I found the videos online and watched them today. Excellent! Miranda Carter was a contributor to the documentary. I think you’ll enjoy the book. Thanks again!

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    1. Between Wilhelm and his Uncle Edward for sure. He was very competitive and while he said he hated the British, he actually wanted to be just like them.

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