PETER FROST takes a look in the royal cupboard and comes up with a few skeletons.
Hidden away in a wardrobe in one of our Queen’s many palaces is a rather grand World War One German Army uniform.
The uniform belonged to our present Queen’s grandfather, George V. He, you may remember, was King of England during World War One. So why did he own and wear a German uniform? The uniform of the enemy?
There were close family links between the British and German monarchs in 1914. Indeed the royal ruling class all over Europe had many interests in common, mostly keeping their own rebellious working classes under control.
Communists, socialists, anarchists, and many other working people were flexing their political muscles, organising, demonstrating, even lobbing the occasional bomb. They were terrifying to the Kings, Kaisers, and Czars all over Europe.
When royalty met, and they did often in some grand palace, the topic of conversation was likely to be how to keep the working people of Europe under control.
So the King of England was fitted out for his uniform as Admiral of the Imperial German Navy, Prussian Field Marshal, Colonel-in-Chief of several German Regiments. He and his other European royals would stand proudly together to show the common man who was really the top dog.
At the time, both sides of the family, British and German, used the name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. It wasn’t until 1917, when German bombs started raining down over England, dropped by German Gotha bombers (below) that the British lot changed their family name to the rather less embarrassing Windsor.
Jingoistic propaganda has sanitised history and today most of us do not realise how close the two wings of the family were. Queen Victoria, for instance, died in the Kaiser’s arms in 1901.
They called the funeral of King Edward VII in May 1910 the Parade of Kings. Over fifty emperors, kings, crown princes, archdukes, grand dukes and princes followed a dead king through the streets of London.
This was the obscene flowering of European royalty with more monarchs in Europe than there had ever been. Even excluding the many kingdoms and duchies that went to make up the German empire, there were still twenty reigning European monarchs.
Few of those watching that tawdry funeral procession could have imagined that it marked a royal sunset.
Spin-doctors of the time had given Queen Victoria the comforting name the Grandmamma of Europe. During World War One there were no less than seven of Victoria’s direct descendants, and two more of her Coburg relations, on European thrones. Incest it seems is a game the Royals always like to play.
Kaiser Wilhelm II, King George V of Great Britain and Csar Nicholas II of Russia were not just cousins, they were first cousins. They played together as boys. They married other royals and attended each other’s grand weddings.
History records it was an act of regicide that catapulted Europe into war. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo. In fact that killing was the just the culmination of a train of political events leading inexorably to war.
Meanwhile in Russia, for the third cousin, Csar Nicholas II, things took a different course. The previously all-powerful Romanov dynasty was swept away by the forces of progress.
Soon the greatest social experiment in world history would begin – the building of the world’s socialist state – with no place for Kings, Kaisers or Czars.
This article was syndicated in a number of papers across Europe to mark the centenary of the start of World War One on 2 August 2014.