During the last days of July 1914 telegrams flew between the King, the Kaiser and the Tsar. George V, Wilhelm II and Nicholas II, known in the family as Georgie, Willy and Nicky, were cousins. Between them they ruled over half the world. They had been friends since childhood.
But by July 1914 the Trade Union of Kings was falling apart. Each was blaming the other for the impending disaster of the First World War. 'Have I gone mad ' Nicky asked his wife Alix in St Petersburg, showing her another telegram from Willy. 'What on earth does William mean pretending that it still depends on me whether war is averted or not!'
Behind the friendliness of family gatherings lurked family quarrels, which were often played out in public. Drawing widely on previously unpublished documents, this is the extraordinary story of their overlapping lives, conducted in palaces of unimaginable opulence, surrounded by flattery and political intrigue. And through it runs the question: to what extent were the King, the Kaiser and the Tsar responsible for the outbreak of the war, and, as it turned out, for the end of autocratic monarchy
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.