KING, KAISER, TSAR by Catrine Clay


Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War
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Did sibling rivalry lead to the slaughter that was World War I? This psychobiography makes a good case in the affirmative.

BBC documentarian Clay delivers only a bit of news, but lights up some of the shadows in the lives of the cousins who would become George V, Wilhelm II and Nicholas II. Georgie was a bit of a thickie, Willie a born victim and Nicky pleasing but ineffectual. Each, descended from Queen Victoria, had unusual burdens, but young Wilhelm had more than his share. Mauled by a doctor’s forceps on delivery, he could not easily do some of the things other boys of his age and class did, such as ride a horse or shoot a bow. When Nicky and Georgie came over to Germany to play, they often left Willie out of the proceedings; moreover, Nicky never liked Willie personally, and he “was snubbed by his English relations, again and again and often with relish, feeding his paranoia and playing right into the hands of the Anglophobes,” the Prussian nationalists who came to dominate his administration. Small wonder that as early as 1910, Germany was spoiling to go to war to avenge the slights against its thoroughly militarized (if, we learn, gay) emperor; small wonder that Wilhelm took the Triple Entente, which hemmed Germany between England and Russia, as a personal insult. Clay ventures that, though Tsar Nicholas was no help, George might have been able to negotiate a workable peace, since some difficult episodes with Queen Victoria had already demonstrated that Wilhelm was well capable of reason. As it happened, George was the only one of the cousins whose rule survived the vicious war that followed; the Bolsheviks executed Nicholas and his family, Wilhelm went into exile on the coast of Holland, railing daily against socialists and Jews, and the world lurched on toward a still greater catastrophe.

Readable, if something of a footnote to history.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8027-1623-1
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2007


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