In the years before the First World War, the great European powers, Britain, Germany and Russia, were ruled by three cousins: George V, King-Emperor of England, the British Empire and India; Wilhelm II, the last Kaiser; and Nicholas II, the last Tsar. Together, they presided over the last years of dynastic Europe and the outbreak of the most destructive war the world had ever seen, a war which set twentieth century Europe on course to be the most violent continent in the history of the world.
Miranda Carter uses the cousins' correspondence and a host of historical sources to tell the tragicomic story of a tiny, glittering, solipsistic world that was often preposterously out of kilter with its times, struggling to stay in command of politics and world events as history overtook it. The Three Emperors is a brilliant and sometimes hilarious portrait of three men - damaged, egotistical Wilhelm, quiet, stubborn Nicholas and anxious, dutiful George - and their lives, foibles and obsessions, from tantrums to uniforms to stamp collecting. It is also alive with fresh, subtle portraits of other familiar figures: Queen Victoria - grandmother to two of them, grandmother-in-law to the third - whose conservatism and bullying obsession with family left a dangerous legacy; and of Edward VII, the playboy 'arch-vulgarian' who turned out to have a remarkable gift for international relations and the theatrics of mass politics. At the same time it weaves through their stories a riveting account of the events that led to World War One, showing how the personal and the political interacted, sometimes to devastating effect.
For all three men the war would be a disaster which destroyed for ever the illusion of their close family relationships, with any sense of peace and harmony shattered in a final coda of murder, betrayal and abdication.
Historian Carter (Anthony Blunt: His Lives\n) delivers an irresistibly entertaining and illuminating chronicle from Queen Victoria's final decades to the 1930s through linked biographies of the emperors of England (George V), Germany (Wilhelm II), and Russia (Nicholas II). Anachronisms presiding over courts that were stagnant ponds of tradition and conservatism, the three possessed average intelligence and little imagination. All were unprepared for their jobs and didn't improve with on-the-job training. Most fortunate was George, who performed his purely symbolic royal role dutifully, avoided scandal, and, alone of the three, reigned until his death, in 1936. More colorful but also tactless and unpredictable, Wilhelm took the German throne in 1888, dismissed his long-serving, brilliant chancellor, Bismarck, and launched an erratic reign that contributed to the onset and loss of WWI. Czar Nicholas showed little interest in governing except to oppose reform. In the end, the most violent reformers, the Bolsheviks, murdered him and his family. Readers with fond memories of Robert Massie and Barbara Tuchman can expect similar pleasures in this witty, shrewd examination of the twilight of the great European monarchies. 32 pages of photos, 2 maps. \n