Saturday, 10 August 2013

wondering what could have been

With all the fuss recently about the rules of succession to the English throne (and the thrones of all the other places our Queen is Queen of) changing to not be sexist any more, I can't be the only person wondering what could have happened if the rules had changed earlier?

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince
Phillip.  Pic from here
Well, as it turns out, not a whole lot would have changed, unless we go back to Queen Victoria. Queen Elizabeth II became Queen in 1952.  She was the eldest daughter of her father, King George VI (and I'd like to take a moment to say right now that this story would be a whole lot easier if the royal family could be so kind as to come up with some original names).  Who reigned from 1936 to 1952, following the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII.  Edward was the eldest child of George V, who reigned 1910 - 1936.  George was the eldest child of Edward VII, who reigned 1901 - 1910.  However, Edward was the second child of Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria's oldest child was a daughter.  Named for her mother; Victoria, Princess Royal married the German Emperor, Frederick III.  They met at the opening of the Great Exhibition, and he was 10 years her senior.  They got engaged at Balmoral when she was just 14, although it was not announced until two years later.  They married in 1858, when she was 17.  It was hoped that their marriage would help with the relationship between England and Germany, but it is also thought that the couple were in love.

If the rules had changed in Victorian times,
she could have been Queen Victoria II
This photo is from the Wikipedia page on her
They certainly seemed capable of making babies.  Victoria and Frederick had eight children, the oldest of whom was Wilhelm.

Victoria didn't get to stay in the spotlight for long.  Only 99 days after becoming Emperor of Germany in 1888 (and still King of Prussia, since 1861), her husband died of throat cancer.  Victoria became known as The Empress Frederick.  Like Queen Victoria, her mother, she dressed in mourning for the rest of her life.  She did not remarry.  Victoria took a back seat, and her son became Emperor.  She found it difficult to get on with her son, Wilhelm, as she was much more liberal than he.  She wrote to her mother expressing her concerns about the future of Germany under her son.

Queen Victoria died in 1901.  At that point The Empress Frederick knew she had breast cancer which had spread to her spine.  She was in a lot of pain, and would die later that year.  Considering that her husband had taken on the role of Emperor, despite having terminal cancer, and what she thought of her son's treatment of Germany, I think it likely that she would have accepted the role of Queen Victoria II.  What do you think?

Photo from Wikipedia article
Either way, her son, Wilhelm II, German Emperor and King of Prussia would now ascend to the British throne.  He was, I'm afraid, a tad hopeless.  He was impetuous, bombastic, had a bad temper, and was prone to making announcements which caused trouble (I know, you'd not believe it from the photo').  He gradually worked at eroding his support in Germany, until abdicating in 1918.  His was a difficult birth, and he ended up with a withered arm - his left arm was shorter than his right, so he would hold it at an angle in photographs.  He was not keen on the English.  He blamed English doctors for the death of his father, and for his withered arm, and didn't think his English mother should have had such an influence on his father as she had.  He wanted to rule, not just reign.  In the early 1900s he was building up the German navy, with the aim of matching Britain's.  He was both jealous of Britain, and hated it.  He was also incredibly anti-semitic, and recommended wiping them out, with gas (apart from the ones he liked of course).

If Wilhelm had become King William V of England, I'm not convinced that either he, or the monarchy would have lasted very long.  British opinion of him had not been high since the 1890s, and in 1908 he gave an interview with The Daily Telegraph which contained so much in the way of emotional outbursts (including calling the English mad, repeatedly) that it alienated the British, French, Russians, and Japanese, and led for calls for his abdication in Germany.  I suspect that had he managed to make it through that, the death knell of the British monarchy would have been sounded with the outbreak of the Great War.
Photo by Alexander Bessano in 1887

Having said all this, I think that Victoria, and her politicians were just too intelligent to risk the throne going to Wilhelm.  She knew very well from her daughter what he was like, and there was no chance of her daughter outliving him, given the cancer her daughter had (which was diagnosed at Balmoral).

I think that if we're going to find out when non-sexist succession could have happened, we're going to have to go back in time a bit more.  Will I do that next time?