July 21, 2014
The British King’s Old German Uniforms May See The Light Of Day
One almost forgotten aspect of World War I was that it was very much a family feud – just done on a national scale and costing tens of millions of lives. This is because the heads of state of Great Britain and Germany were, in fact, first cousins. Both Britain’s King George V and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II were grandsons of Queen Victoria. George V was also related to Czar Nicholas II through his mother’s side of the family, and was also a cousin to Nicky’s wife Alexandra through Queen Victoria.
Prior to the outbreak of the First World War 100 years ago, it was common for the monarchs throughout Europe to hold honorary ranks in each other’s armies and navies.
When the war broke out in August 1914, no one expected it to be a long and bloody affair, but soon the uniforms from the foreign nations – more importantly, the enemy combatant nations – were put away.
The British newspaper the Daily Mail reported that there are now calls that some of the uniforms included “Teutonic uniforms to mark his roles as Admiral of the Imperial German Navy, Prussian Field Marshal, Colonel-in-Chief of the 1st Guard Dragoon Regiment and Colonel-in-Chief of the Kürassier Regiment Graf Getzler (Rhine) No 8.”
Now there are calls for those uniforms – not seen by most people in more than 100 years – to be displayed to mark the 100th anniversary of the war. Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay, a First World War expert, said the uniforms should be placed on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
“These are hugely significant items,” Mackinlay told the Daily Mail. “Not only do they tell the extraordinary story of the schism between the Royals occasioned by the war, but they are also works of considerable skill and artistry in terms of the fabric and design. They have been kept in pristine condition. Displaying them would highlight that despite the fact that these close first cousins were the heads of the two principal belligerent countries, the tragedy of the First World War could not be averted.”
It could also shed some light on a few things that most people don’t know about the British royal family. For one, until the First World War, the family name was not “Windsor.” It was actually Saxe-Coburg Gotha, the family name for the Belgian-born, but very much German, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.
It was decided during the war that the family name was too German and needed to be changed to something more British. The name that was finally chosen was Windsor, after the family estate Windsor Castle, located outside of London. The name was changed by Royal proclamation in July, 1917.
While Kaiser Wilhelm II is today remembered, if at all, as being the man arguably most responsible for the war, he had been very close to his grandmother. “Many young people today do not realise how close the two wings of the family were – or that Queen Victoria died in the Kaiser’s arms in 1901,” Mackinlay added.
As Mackinlay noted, the uniforms could highlight the fact that the war couldn’t be avoided, even with cousins at the head of the various powers. Of course, it should be noted that it was the Liberal government under Herbert Henry Asquith in the UK that decided to enter the war, as King George V’s powers as monarch were not absolute.
The other point to consider is that King George V was not a monarch who was fond of military uniforms. While his cousin Nicholas in Russia typically wore a uniform of sorts, it was Kaiser Wilhelm II who was practically never seen without a uniform – he was known to change several times a day, depending on the occasion.
Now, 100 years later, it would be fascinating to see the German uniforms of the British King – and get a peak back in time, when the horrible war that was to come was truly unthinkable.