On this week’s Snapshot of History* we’ll be exploring Victoria’s legacy as the ‘Grandmother of Europe’. With her most politically prominent grandchildren including: George V, Wilhelm II and Alexandra of Russia!
If videos aren’t accessible to you, or they’re just not your thing, you can read the full script below.
Recently on ITV there was a four part series starring Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell called Victoria about one of Britain’s longest reigning monarchs. The Victorian era is not a period of history I usually read about, but after beginning to watch the series I began to sympathise with the struggle Victoria must have had, becoming Queen so young with so little training. Ruling from aged 18 to her death in 1901 in a reign that spanned 63 years Victoria witnessed an immense amount of change in Britain, technologically, socially and culturally. However it is an epitaph attributed to her that I want to explore here. Namely her legacy as ‘the Grandmother of Europe’.
Victoria only married once, and this was to her cousin Prince Albert of Sax-Coburg-Gotha in 1840 in London at St James Palace. Their marriage was a loving one despite their passionate rows. This can be attested by Victoria’s visible grief at Albert’s premature death in 1861, when she dressed in black and became a recluse. During their 21 year marriage they had nine children:
Many of their children made prestigious marriages into other European Royal Houses, for example Germany, Spain and Sweden, resulting in many of Europe’s future monarchs tracing their ancestry back to Victoria. Considering Victoria had 42 grandchildren they cannot all be discussed here!
However we will explore the most politically prominent of her grandchildren, who were:
- George V of England
- Wilhelm II of Germany
- Alexandra of Russia
George V was the son of Victoria’s heir and successor Edward VII. George was different to his father, and it is generally agreed that he “brought to the monarchy a renewed air of solid responsibility, married faithfulness, straightforwardness and attention to duty”. He married Mary of Teck and their marriage is one of the longest royal marriages recorded.
Victoria’s other grandchild Wilhelm was the son of her eldest child Victoria, who had married Prince Frederick William of Germany in 1858. Wilhelm was their first child and had a difficult start in life, after being born with Erb’s Palsy which caused nerve damage in his arm. His mother tried various methods to cure this, to no avail, with her methods described by some as “almost medieval” He married Princess Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein with whom he had seven children.
Alexandra was another of Victoria’s grandchildren through her daughter Princess Alice, who had married the Duke of Hesse in 1862. In 1894 she married the Grand Duke Nicholas Romanov of Russia, and unlike many royal marriages of the time married for love.This match wasn’t initially viewed positively by either of their families, especially as there was concern Alexandra carried haemophilia – a hereditary disease which Queen Victoria had carried and passed through three of her daughters with it becoming known as the Royal disease. This proved accurate as Nicholas and Alexandra’s only son Alexei was born with the disease, which involves the blood not being able to clot which can result in excessive bleeding from injuries.
An event that involved and severely affected the lives of George, Wilhelm and Alexandra was the First World War. This is when their family ties through Queen Victoria broke. Wilhelm became estranged with George due to his arms expansion which was seen as a threat to Britain, also he had supported England’s enemies in the Boer War. George and Alexandra’s husband Nicholas were connected despite Alexandra, as their mothers were sisters. In their letters to each other Georgie and Nicky as they affectionately referred to each other showed disdain for Wilhelm.
When the First World War broke out, Germany and England were against each other and George became embarrassed by his close association to Wilhelm through their grandmother Victoria. This resulted in him changing the British Royal Family’s name to Windsor. Although Nicholas allied with England for the war, he faced increasing domestic problems. This erupted into the Russian Revolution, placing Nicholas and Alexandra in an incredibly dangerous position. Considering their close relationship with George, the suggestion was raised that George could let his cousins take refuge in Britain. Yet he refused. For although Victoria’s grandchildren were family – they were also political leaders of the biggest nations in Europe. George did not want to inspire revolutionary attitudes in England, so refused to offer refuge to his cousins. Alexandra was murdered along with Nicholas and their children at Yekaterinburg in 1918 by the Bolsheviks. After this act George was criticised for his decision not to offer his cousin refuge.
His relationship with his remaining cousin Wilhelm was antagonistic as they and their nations fought against each other. The war as we know did not end well for Wilhelm. Germany was nearing catastrophe, and before Wilhelm had even agreed to it his abdication was announced publicly by his politicians. Wilhelm, left Germany for the neutral Netherlands and remained there in exile for the rest of his life. George won the war but things had forever changed in Europe, not the least were the lives of Victoria’s grandchildren.
When exploring European monarchy in the late 19th and early 20th century most key royal figures are related through Victoria, casting an interestingly personal note to large world events like the First World War.
Thanks for reading, I’ve love to hear your thoughts and comments below!
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* Amendment: Please note this video was made before the blog’s re-branding to Some Sources Say.
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Biography.Com, Alexandra Feodorovna <http://www.biography.com/people/alexandra-feodorovna-37295> [accessed 14 November 2016]
Cavendish, Richard and Pip Leahy, Kings & Queens: The Story of Britain’s Monarchs from Pre-Roman Time to Today (Cincinnati: David and Charles, 2006)
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English Monarchs, Victoria Princess Royal <http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/saxe_coburg_gotha_11.html> [accessed 14 November 2016]History, Kaiser Wilhelm II <http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/kaiser-wilhelm-ii> [accessed 14 November 2016]