(Part 4 in a series)
The title of the book tells the whole story: Miranda Carter’s 2009 work is called, “George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I.” It is a compelling account of these three heads-of-state blood relatives, with plenty of family photos included, of their picnics and collaborations that led into the greatest conflagration of modern Europe – the two World Wars and that wiped out what the experts estimate was over 200 million of the best and brightest human souls that the civilizing influences of evolution had produced.
The optimism that reigned all over Europe in the “belle epoque” era leading up to the flash point that set off the events ravaging all Europe from 1914 to 1945 was dashed beyond recognition within the first year of the Great War.
Among many other things, the outbreak of the war destroyed the optimism that underpinned the Social Gospel movement that had grown into a major force in the U.S. and Europe, led by the American theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. His small church in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City’s Manhattan attempted to address the huge influx of immigrants that swelled the U.S. population from 38 to 74 million in the decade of the 1870s alone to meet the opportunities represented by the explosive growth of the Industrial Revolution.
Despite the social disparities that also animated the works of Charles Dickens in England, there was an underlying sense that the amazing industrial progress of that era would be channeled into long term progress and benefits for the entirety of humanity.
The new progressive currents that grew up in that explosive era also were breeding grounds for labor-based movements that sought to rally underserved populations with appeals to mass strikes and other actions aimed at escalating their gains. Marxism grew up in this context, rooted in the notion of overthrowing the state and the property-owner capitalist class altogether and replacing them with organizations of workers.
Insofar as memories were still fresh of the excesses of the French Revolution and its Jacobin terror that led to the beheading of leaders of the aristocracy, the rise of the laboring and immigrant populations led to sharp, fearful reactions against the perceived threats they represented in leading ruling and elite circles, and that fear defined what became the dominant influence among the circles around the three ruling cousins in England, Germany and Russia.
Still, there was among those who saw the explosive progress of that era in a more socially positive light, the circles of inventors, artists and composers from whom the romantic era’s greatest achievements arose, including the rise of the Art Nouveau and great advances in the areas of education, philosophy and more equitable social progress.
With the support of his grandmother, Queen Victoria, this was the social context in which the intended next king of England was being reared. Born in 1862 as the eldest son of Victoria’s eldest male offspring, young Prince Eddy was being cultivated in the better, more progressive influences of that era, and that was reflected in the accounts of his kind and generous personality which was much beloved among his subjects.
By contrast, Eddy’s younger brother, George, did not exhibit such sensibilities at all, despite the great popularity of their beautiful and warm Danish-born mother Alexandra, who was becoming deaf. While Queen Victoria described Eddy as a young child as “fairy-like, placid and melancholy,” despite a father widely known for being an unfaithful panderer, gambler and parentally absent,
While Eddy “had something of his father’s charm and talent for socializing,” George began a diary at age 13 that he wrote in dutifully until his death in 1936 but whose volumes were described as “for the most part deadly, the acme of pedestrianism, dull and “showed the evaporation of his childhood liveliness…perhaps also a dyslexic’s reluctance to move beyond the most basic phrases…The pages gave almost no sign of interior life, recording every day after day the weather, the time he rose, ate and went to bed,” George’s biographer Harold Nicolson wrote.
As Eddy died at 27, it was George who prosecuted the Great War.
(To be continued. All rights reserved).