In 1914, on the eve of the First World War, Europe was tense as the thought of the coming conflict occupied everyone’s minds, a conflict that to some appeared more like a family feud. Why? The monarchies of Europe were so interconnected through centuries of marriages that, despite being enemies through 5 years of war, many of them were blood related family.
In 1826, the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was reorganised to become that of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Its first duke was Ernest I whose family had ruled the previous duchy. In 1831, Ernest’s younger brother became Leopold I of Belgium after he was offered the position by the Belgian National Congress, who had recently declared independence from Holland. This was the first outward move of the house and established a line that still exists in Belgium today though the current King, Philippe I. Ernest’s nephew went on to marry Queen Maria II of Portugal and their descendants ruled Portugal until it was made a republic in 1910.
But the connections of this house did not stop there. In 1840, Ernest’s second son, Albert, married Queen Victoria of Britain. It was not the start of such relations, however, as the two were first cousins. Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, the fourth son of King George III, had married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who was Ernest’s sister.
Through the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the British monarchy became part of the House of Saxe-Coburg, and this remained so until it was changed to Windsor during the First World War due to anti-German sentiment.
It was through this marriage that the web of relations evolved further, as the nine children of Victoria and Albert married into noble families across the continent, earningVictoria the nickname “Grandmother of Europe”. Their eldest daughter, Victoria, married Frederick, crown Prince of Germany and Prussia who later ruled both kingdoms. Their son became Wilhelm II, and ruled Germany until the monarchy was abolished in 1918.
The heir to the English throne and later King Edward VII married Princess Alexandra of Denmark, a controversial choice because of the German connections in Edward’s family who were in a state of tension with Denmark. Victoria’s second daughter, Alice, married Louis IV, grand Duke of Hesse and their daughter eventually became Alexandra, Empress of Russia, through her marriage to Tsar Nicholas II. Certainly Queen Victoria’s nickname rings true.
Another house that established itself through various monarchies across Europe was the House of Bourbon. Although it had older roots, this house began its royal connection in 1268 with a marriage into the French monarchy, the result of which established the son as Duke of Bourbon. Through marriage they came to rule the Kingdom of Navarre and eventually founded the Bourbon dynasty in France when Henry IV became king.
The Bourbons went on to establish themselves in Spain when, just before the War of the Spanish Succession in 1700, the Spanish king, Charles II, left the throne to his grand-nephew, Philip of Bourbon who became Philip V. This founded a dynasty which still exists today through Felipe VI.
The Bourbons also moved into Italy. Philip V married the niece of the Duke of Parma and their eldest son, Charles, inherited this small, independent kingdom. He later went on to become King of Naples, furthering their Italian titles.
It was through this connection that a later descendant of Charles, Prince Felix, married, in 1919, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, who was also his first cousin. Their son eventually became Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg and, in turn, his son is Duke of Luxembourg today, as well as first cousin to King Philippe of Belgium. It is with this connection that the journey across the relations of European monarchs is brought full circle.
It was through links like these that George V went to war with his cousin, Wilhelm II in 1914. Though the connections established here barely scratch the surface of the web of relations that existed and continue to do so throughout Europe, it is interesting to note how united these nations are through their past and present rulers. Despite the wars and disputes between them, they were, and are very much, one big family.