King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War

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Overview

The extraordinary family story of George V, Wilhelm II, and Nicholas II: they were tied to one another by history, and history would ultimately tear them apart.

Known among their families as Georgie, Willy, and Nicky, they were, respectively, the royal cousins George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Nicholas II of Russia—the first two grandsons of Queen Victoria, the latter her grandson by marriage. In 1914, on the eve of world war, they controlled the destiny of ...

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King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War

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Overview

The extraordinary family story of George V, Wilhelm II, and Nicholas II: they were tied to one another by history, and history would ultimately tear them apart.

Known among their families as Georgie, Willy, and Nicky, they were, respectively, the royal cousins George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Nicholas II of Russia—the first two grandsons of Queen Victoria, the latter her grandson by marriage. In 1914, on the eve of world war, they controlled the destiny of Europe and the fates of millions of their subjects. The outcome and their personal endings are well known—Nicky shot with his family by the Bolsheviks, Willy in exile in Holland, Georgie still atop his throne. Largely untold, however, is the family saga that played such a pivotal role in bringing the world to the precipice.

Drawing widely on previously unpublished royal letters and diaries, made public for the first time by Queen Elizabeth II, Catrine Clay chronicles the riveting half century of the royals' overlapping lives, and their slow, inexorable march into conflict. They met frequently from childhood, on holidays, and at weddings, birthdays, and each others' coronations. They saw themselves as royal colleagues, a trade union of kings, standing shoulder to shoulder against the rise of socialism, republicanism, and revolution. And yet tensions abounded between them.

Clay deftly reveals how intimate family details had deep historical significance: the antipathy Willy's mother (Victoria's daughter) felt toward him because of his withered left arm, and how it affected him throughout his life; the family tension caused by Otto von Bismarck's annexation of Schleswig and Holstein from Denmark (Georgie's and Nicky's mothers were Danish princesses); the surreality surrounding the impending conflict. "Have I gone mad?" Nicholas asked his wife, Alexandra, in July 1914, showing her another telegram from Wilhelm. "What on earth does Willy mean pretending that it still depends on me whether war is averted or not?" Germany had, in fact, declared war on Russia six hours earlier. At every point in her remarkable book, Catrine Clay sheds new light on a watershed period in world history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Clay expertly weaves the story…with remarkable expertise, she provides an intimate look inside the lives of these boys as they grew into manhood and became king, Kaiser, and tsar, bringing new pleasures and details to a well-known subject."—Library Journal (starred review)

"[Clay] brilliantly narrates how just three men led their nations to war."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Clay lights up some of the shadows in the lives of the cousins."—Kirkus Review

Publishers Weekly

How did WWI happen? Was it the inevitable product of vast, impersonal forces colliding? Or was it a completely avoidable war that resulted from flawed decisions by individuals? Clay (Princess to Queen), a documentary producer for the BBC, inclines strongly to the latter explanation, and she brilliantly narrates how just three men led their nations to war. Forming a trade union of majesties, King George V (Britain), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany) and Czar Nicholas II (Russia) were cousins who together ruled more than half the world. They were a family, and thus subject to the same tensions and turmoil that afflict every family. They had "played together, celebrated each other's birthdays... and later attended each other's weddings," but still, while George and Nicholas were close, Wilhelm was something of an outsider—a feeling exacerbated by his paranoia and self-loathing. Over time, his sense of exclusion and humiliation would avenge itself on the family and eventually contributed strongly to the murder of Nicholas and the loss of his own throne. Clay's theory does have a hole—though not ruled by the "cousins," France and Austria-Hungary also played major roles in the outbreak of war—but that does not detract from the ingenuity and pleasure of her narrative. 35 b&w photos. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Did sibling rivalry lead to the slaughter that was World War I? This psychobiography makes a good case in the affirmative. BBC documentarian Clay delivers only a bit of news, but lights up some of the shadows in the lives of the cousins who would become George V, Wilhelm II and Nicholas II. Georgie was a bit of a thickie, Willie a born victim and Nicky pleasing but ineffectual. Each, descended from Queen Victoria, had unusual burdens, but young Wilhelm had more than his share. Mauled by a doctor's forceps on delivery, he could not easily do some of the things other boys of his age and class did, such as ride a horse or shoot a bow. When Nicky and Georgie came over to Germany to play, they often left Willie out of the proceedings; moreover, Nicky never liked Willie personally, and he "was snubbed by his English relations, again and again and often with relish, feeding his paranoia and playing right into the hands of the Anglophobes," the Prussian nationalists who came to dominate his administration. Small wonder that as early as 1910, Germany was spoiling to go to war to avenge the slights against its thoroughly militarized (if, we learn, gay) emperor; small wonder that Wilhelm took the Triple Entente, which hemmed Germany between England and Russia, as a personal insult. Clay ventures that, though Tsar Nicholas was no help, George might have been able to negotiate a workable peace, since some difficult episodes with Queen Victoria had already demonstrated that Wilhelm was well capable of reason. As it happened, George was the only one of the cousins whose rule survived the vicious war that followed; the Bolsheviks executed Nicholas and his family, Wilhelm went into exile on the coast ofHolland, railing daily against socialists and Jews, and the world lurched on toward a still greater catastrophe. Readable, if something of a footnote to history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802716231
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 7/28/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 391,410
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 1.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Catrine Clay has worked for the BBC for more than twenty years, directing and producing award-winning television documentaries. King, Kaiser, Tsar is her third book, resulting from her documentary of the same title. She is married and lives in London with her three children.

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Table of Contents


Illustrations     ix
Acknowledgements     xi
Note on Dates and Spellings     xiii
Family Tree     xiv
Introduction     1
Willy's Bad Start     5
Georgie, the Second Son     23
Nicky, the Third Cousin     41
The Education of Three Royal Cousins     59
Family Dramas     77
Family Strife     94
I Bide My Time     109
Willy, the Kaiser     128
A Wedding and a Betrothal     148
Nicky and Willy     167
Turn of the Century     185
Uncle Bertie and his Two Nephews     205
Willy and Nicky in Trouble     225
Dangerous Disagreements     244
Scandals and Rivalries     263
George Inherits the Throne at Last     283
Three Cousins Go to War     303
The End     324
Epilogue     352
Notes     361
Bibliography     388
Index     395
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Decent Overview of an Interesting Period of History

    For anyone interested in a good basic overview of the major monarchies of Europe (except for Austria-Hungary) in the pre-WW1 period, this book is recommended. Although somewhat tedious at times, it does give the reader a good feel for how these three royal families dealt with each other, and the rarified air in which they lived, somewhat or completely out of touch with the real world. The author confirms the conventional wisdom about Tsar Nicholas being very congenial but ineffectual, eventually to a disastrous degree. King George V had little real impact on events, but did his best to live out his appointed role. And Kaiser Wilhelm II turns out to be the villain, but a sympathetic one to some extent, when one sees what he went through as a child and adult. That does not excuse his actions, but shows how complex a personality and family relationships can be, especially among royal cousins!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2009

    nice read

    it was well researched and does explain how three related cousins led the world to near destruction and the ovbvious pitfalls of having a monarchy. some are able to run it well and other not so well. anyone interested in europe prior to and through world war 1 would be able to gain something new.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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