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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: The War of the Victorian Cousins

By: Tom Morrow

Tracing and understanding the family history of Britain’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, their nine children, 20 grandsons and 22 granddaughters, is daunting at best.

The marriages of the nine Victorian children created their own “United Nations.” Up until the early part of the 20th century, royalty throughout Europe married off their sons and daughters to each other thinking it was a safe and prudent way to provide important alliances for diplomatic, military, economic, and social benefit. In most cases, including the marriage of Victoria and Albert, the marriages were arranged often without the two principles ever knowing or even meeting one another.

The nine Victorian children, (in order of birth), Victoria, Albert Edward (King Edward VII), Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold, and Beatrice, had children, many of whom were responsible for igniting a powder keg that would plunge the world into what was deemed “The War to End All Wars.”

The Victorian cousins ended up ruling Germany, Russia, Norway, Greece, Romania, Spain, and of course, Great Britain.

Victoria’s and Albert’s first child, Princess Victoria, was married to Prussia’s (Germany) Crown Prince Frederick. From that marriage, Queen Victoria’s first grandchild became the future German Emperor, Wilhelm II, the leading bad guy in WWI.

Prince Albert Edward, who, upon Victoria’s death, became King Edward VII, married Denmark’s Princess Alexandra. From that union came Britain’s future King George V, (the grandfather of present-day Queen Elizabeth II). Also, their daughter, Maud, became queen of Norway.

Princess Alice married Louis the IV, Grand Duke of Hesse (a small duchy in Germany). They had two sons and five daughters, one of whom became Russia’s Czarina Alexandra. She married Czar Nicholas II, whom, along with their family, were overthrown during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

The storied career of Mountbatten, youngest son of Princess Victoria and Louis Battenberg IV, is a book in itself. As Britain’s Admiral of the Fleet, “Dickie” Mountbatten was the WWII Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia forces, and was the last Viceroy of India. Louie was the favorite uncle and mentor of present-day Prince Charles. Mountbatten was the uncle of Prince Phillip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. (Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth II are third cousins).

(Note: During World War I, Britain’s royal family changed their name from “Battenberg” to the less-German name of “Windsor.”

The Royal families of Europe were a maze of Victoria’s descendants. What was designed to be marriages of convenience, ensuring mutual benefit ended in a horrific World War. That tinderbox was ignited with the July 1914 assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

The assassin was a Serbian. The Kingdom of Serbia was an ally of Russia; Bosnia was in the Austrian-Hungary Empire, an ally of Germany. This diplomatic mess set off a crisis causing Austria-Hungary to give Serbia an “or else” ultimatum, which invoked the series of royal alliances. Within a month the First World War began.

During World War I, the primary royal heads-of-state were Queen Victoria’s grandchildren: Britain’s King George V, who was allied with France, as well as his cousin, Russia’s Czarina Alexandra. Those three nations formed the “Allied Forces.” On the other side, Cousin Wilhelm II, the Kaiser of the German Empire, was allied with Kaiser Franz Josef of the Austria-Hungary Empire, as well as the Ottoman Empire (Turkey, and what today is Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria), forming the “Central Powers.” The war ripped Europe apart with only Britain’s monarchy surviving. The Russian revolution toppled Nicholas and Alexandra; Kaiser Wilhelm was banished to Holland; the Austria-Hungary and Ottoman empires crumbled.

Six descendants of Victoria and Albert were victims of assassination, all during the 20th century: Russia’s Alexandra and her husband, Czar Nicholas II, their son, Alexei, daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. The last was of Louis Mountbatten killed in 1979, by the IRA.

This report is only the tip of the iceberg regarding European royal family inter-marriages. If you venture into the family lineage of Queen Victoria, be prepared to endure a mind-boggling, often confusing, family tree. It would take a sizeable book to explain everything — many of which have been written.

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