Victoria and Albert's 1840 marriage, unlike most royal matches at the time, was a love match. However, certainly on Albert's part, there were political goals in mind as well. A German prince by birth (and also first cousin to his wife, herself half German), Albert's greatest wish was for his future children "to carry the seed of liberalism to the Continent to fulfill his vision of a Europe converted to constitutional monarchy, led by a united and liberal Germany with Prussia at the helm". Thus, the marriages of his and Victoria's children were of great importance in planning future alliances. Their nine children produced eight sovereigns or the spouses of future sovereigns who participated in or were affected by World War I: Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, Queen Sophie of Greece, King Edward VII of Great Britain, Queen Maud of Norway, Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, Queen Marie of Roumania, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden, and Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain.
Though Victoria and Albert's dream of a liberal and united Europe hinged primarily on Germany, ironically, it was to be their grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, son of Victoria, the Princess Royal, and Friedrich III, who received much of the blame for what would become the bloodiest war that modern Europe had ever faced. Pompous and overbearing, he was described by various family members as "the fool", "the most brilliant failure in history", having "the attitudes of a tyrant or despot", and "the greatest criminal for having plunged the world into this ghastly war which has lasted over 4 years & 3 months with all its misery" -yet still "at his heart he was pro-British". Despite his parents' best efforts at teaching their son liberal ideas, he remained staunchly conservative and authoritarian, under the influence of his grandfather, Wilhelm I, and Otto von Bismarck. It was Chancellor Bismarck, not the liberalism of Victoria and Albert, who ultimately united the German states into one country and who had spent the better part of his career negotiating contradictory alliances that would keep Russia and France from forming an alliance that would be problematic to Germany.
In 1890, however, Wilhelm abruptly dismissed him and "as soon as word of Bismarck's dismissal reached St. Petersburg", Catrine Clay relates, "Alexander III began negotiating for a Franco-Russian alliance". This would prove problematic following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 when Austria, Germany's ally, declared war on Serbia, Russia's ally, on July 28th. As Wilhelm felt that Germany did not need to become involved in the conflict unless Russia did, he telegraphed Tsar Nicholas II, who was both his distant cousin and the husband of his first cousin, Alexandra, urging him to let the Austrians deal with the nation responsible for the murder of their heir to the throne. Nicholas, however, was under great pressure from his generals to order a full mobilization of the Russian army to declare war on Serbia, though he assured Wilhelm that this did not mean war and that the prospect of peace was still negotiable. The Kaiser, however, was enraged at the mobilization and declared war on Russia on August 1st. World War I had begun. After Germany's defeat, Wilhelm II abdicated the throne on November 9, 1918, which prompted his cousin, George V of Great Britain, to write note that "he did great things for his country, but his ambition was so great that he wished to dominate the world...it has been tried before, & now he has utterly ruined his country & himself...". He would prove to be the sole sovereign grandchild of Victoria and Albert who supported the Central Powers, but was by no means the only one to lose his throne.
Wilhelm's younger sister Sophie had a similarly difficult period during the time of the First World War. In 1889, she married Crown Prince Constantine of Greece and they became king and queen in 1913 following the assassination of Constantine I's father, George. The Greek people showed much enthusiasm for her in the beginning, as she had set up hospitals during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and nursed wounded soldiers.
This enthusiasm waned after the outbreak of the First World War, as Constantine I was committed to keeping his country neutral (as he felt aiding the Allies would cause Bulgaria to invade Greece) while the Greek people (and Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos in particular) were adamant that Greece join the war on the side of the Allies. Rumors started flying as to why the royal family would wish to remain neutral. Sophie, as a Prussian-born princess, was accused of everything from having pro-German sympathies to spying for her brother, the Kaiser, to trying to poison her husband. In reality, Sophie, who told an Englishman, "don't forget that although I may be the sister of the Kaiser, I'm also the daughter of the Princess Royal", was actually Pro-British. Ultimately, Greece finally did join the Allies -but only after Venizelos led a coup against the monarchy and deposed it in 1917. Similar coups and revolutions would plague Greece for the next fifty years, as the country alternated between being a monarchy and a republic, as not only was Sophie's husband eventually restored to the throne, but all three of her sons became kings of Greece as well.
George V, son of Edward VII, became king of Great Britain following his father's death in 1910. Known as the Sailor King because he spent much of his youth in the navy, George was never meant to become king. After his older brother died in 1892, however, he inherited not just his place in the succession, but his fiancée as well. As per alliances with Russia and France, Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, an act that the paranoid Wilhelm II's believed proved that his cousins, George V and Nicholas II, had been conspiring against him. Just as with Sophie of Greece, George V's German heritage was something of an embarrassment. In 1917, following the advice of his Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, he changed the British royal family's name from the Germanic House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the more English House of Windsor. This prompted the Kaiser, somewhat humorously, to remark that he would be attending a performance that evening of The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
George V had maintained a special relationship with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia since childhood, as their mothers, princesses of Denmark, were sisters. Indeed, they would often sign their correspondence as "your devoted cousin and old friend". In addition, George and Nicholas' wife Alexandra, grandchildren of Queen Victoria, were also first cousins. This relationship would come to a close prior to the end of the First World War when George, once again acting on the advice on Lord Stamfordham, denied his cousin the Tsar and his family asylum in Britain after the Tsar had abdicated his throne and the family had been taken prisoner by the Bolshevik army. The now ex-Tsar was regarded as something of a tyrant in Great Britain and George could not face the possibility that his cousin's presence could cause an anti-monarchist movement to gain strength. George V had no cause to worry, however, because when the war ended he kept his throne and the monarchy was stronger than ever.
George's younger sister, Maud, paved a different path on the road to monarchy. In 1896, she married her first cousin, Prince Charles of Denmark, and settled down for what she hoped would be a quiet country life. In 1905, however, Norway's independence from Sweden was finalized and the decision of whether the country was to become a monarchy or republic had to be made. None other than Prince Charles of Denmark soon became the favorite candidate. Nonetheless, he refused to take the throne until the Norwegian people were given their say. In a vote of 260,000 to 69,000, they elected Charles (who took the name Haakon VII) and Maud to the Norwegian throne. This democratically elected monarchy was yet another which proved to be safe by the end of World War I, due to the fact that Norway remained neutral. Though her country was not directly involved, Maud, like many of Queen Victoria's granddaughters, took to charity work and nursing during the conflict.
Perhaps one of the most famous descendants of Queen Victoria was Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. Born Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, she was the daughter of Queen Victoria's daughter, Alice and Ludwig IV of Hesse-Darmstadt and she took the name Alexandra Feodorovna upon her conversion to Russian Orthodoxy and subsequent marriage to Tsar Nicholas II in 1894. Though he ruled Russia as an autocrat, most members of his family and ministers considered Nicholas weak and ineffectual -his and Alexandra's cousin the Kaiser even declaring that he was "only fit to live in a country house and grow turnips". Alexandra was of a more domineering nature than her husband and exerted pressure on him to exercise his God-given autocratic will and distrust any and all political reform and those who would wish to enact it.
Despite her love for Nicholas and her adopted country, the Russian people found Alexandra cold and aloof, a feeling that intensified following the birth and subsequent diagnosis of hemophilia in their only son Alexei when the Imperial family all but disappeared from society and then later during the outbreak of the First World War. Because she was born a German princess, Alexandra, like her cousin Sophie of Greece, was suspected of being a German spy. Like Sophie, this could not have been further from the truth. Not only had she been practically raised by the English Queen Victoria since her mother's death, even her German-born father had taught her to hate the Kaiser! During the war, Alexandra, like many of her female relations, immersed herself in the war effort and proudly donned a nurse's uniform to tend to wounded soldiers.
Ultimately, the Imperial family had worse problems to deal with than the First World War. Nicholas' determination for Russia to remain autocratic and keep the majority of power out of the hands of the Duma had sparked a revolution within the country in 1917. On March 15 of that year Nicholas abdicated, ending three centuries of Romanov rule in Russia. Nicholas, Alexandra, and their five children were promptly put under house arrest. Though there was once the hope that the family would be allowed asylum in England, those plans fell through. Finally, on the night of July 16/17, 1918, the entire family was executed by members of the Bolshevik army. Yet another throne was lost during the horrors of World War I.
Standing in great contrast to her more aloof and shy cousin Alexandra of Russia was Queen Marie of Roumania. Born Princess Marie of Edinburgh, she was the daughter of Queen Victoria's son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Alexander II. Pretty and vivacious, she married Crown Prince Ferdinand of Roumania in 1893 and was accepted by the Roumanian people immediately -indeed, she writes that upon her arrival in Bucharest, the people "cheered and their eyes which had seen death in every form, had contemplated every horror or war and retreat, stared into mine, and there was confidence in that look they sent me, a sort of dumb trust which suffering and defeat could not uproot".
Though, at the outbreak of World War I Roumania was neutral, Marie's support was firmly in the Allied camp. This was at great contrast to her husband's uncle, Carol I, who was born a German prince and openly sided with the Central Powers. After Carol's death in late 1914, Marie's husband became king and she openly began coaxing him to join the war on the side of the Allies, which he did in 1916. Though Ferdinand had no particular affinity for the Allied cause, the public (due to their love for Marie) did and he felt that a defeat of the Central Powers could lead to Roumania gaining the territory of Transylvania from Austro-Hungary. As was the practice of many of her female cousins, Marie threw herself into the war effort by joining the Red Cross and personally nursing wounded soldiers.
It was to be her post-war activities, however, which would gain Marie her biggest acclaim. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Roumania, which had signed a separate peace agreement with Germany, was being overlooked -a fact which the Big Four (Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, and Vittorio Orlando), despite their many disagreements, seemed to agree with. As Prime Minister Ion Bratianu was making no headway, Queen Marie was sent to Paris to negotiate. She charmed everyone but Wilson (who was shocked by the queen's outspokenness) and by the time she returned to Roumania, she had succeeded in doubling its territory, gaining the Banat and Bukovina, southern Dobruja, Bessarabia, and Transylvania. Marie's crown was more than secure.
Like Roumania and Greece, Sweden, the adopted country of Marie's cousin Crown Princess Margaret, was neutral at the beginning of World War I. Unlike Roumania and Greece, it stayed that way. Born Princess Margaret of Connaught, she was the daughter of Queen Victoria's son, Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Princess Luise Margarete of Prussia. In 1905, she married Crown Prince later Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden. Neutrality was difficult for Margaret, for though she was half-German, her sympathies lay entirely with England and the Entente, while her mother-in-law Queen Victoria of Sweden, who was a German princess by birth, openly supported the Central Powers.
Margaret's unique position of residing in a neutral country during the war was to be of great use to her extended family members, many of whom were on opposing sides of the conflict but still wished to communicate with each other. She was what one cousin called a "liaison officer" as she would not only pass messages along from one family members on opposing sides of the war, but would trace wounded and missing soldiers and prisoners of war. Sadly, she died after an infection set in following surgery in 1920 before becoming queen, though her role in the war was duplicated in World War II by her husband's second wife, Queen Louise.
Spain was yet another neutral nation during the conflict, though, like Greece, it would later face difficulties that would rock its monarchy. Its queen was Victoria Eugenie, was the daughter of Prince Henry of Battenberg and Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice. In 1906, she married Alfonso XIII of Spain and, in a sign of things to come, survived an assassination attempt on her wedding day when an anarchist threw a bomb at her and Alfonso's carriage that killed several people and horses. Victoria Eugenie, like her cousin Alexandra of Russia, was a carrier of hemophilia and she passed it down to two of her sons. While this disease brought Nicholas and Alexandra's relationship closer, it tore Victoria Eugenie and Alfonso's apart and after the births of their six children they remained together only for appearances' sake.
As Victoria Eugenie was born and raised in England, naturally, she supported the Entente, while her mother-in-law Dowager Queen Maria Christina, who had been born an Austrian Archduchess, supported the Central Powers. Alfonso XIII, torn between the two women, never revealed where his true allegiance was. Though she could not publicly take a stand, Victoria Eugenie nevertheless helped to found the Spanish Red Cross and, in addition to nursing wounded soldiers, she raised money to build hospitals. In 1931, the elections of many republican candidates showed the public support for the abolition of the monarchy and after a Republic was declared, the Spanish Royal Family went in to exile where they would remain until the death of Francisco Franco in 1975.
Ultimately, after World War I, five of the monarchies which housed grandchildren of Queen Victoria would remain: Great Britain, Norway, Roumania, Sweden, and Spain, while the monarchies of Germany, Greece, and Russia fell. Though it came at the price of war, abdication, and assassination, the end of the conflict nevertheless brought forth the culmination of at least part of the original dream of Victoria and Albert: a more liberal, constitution driven, Europe -though this was undoubtedly not what they had in mind.