The Family Relationships that Couldn’t Stop World War I

Monarchs of WWI

In the latest Brookings Essay, “The Rhyme of History: Lessons of the Great War,” noted historian Margaret MacMillan compares current global tensions—rising nationalism, globalization’s economic pressures, sectarian strife, and the United States’ fading role as the world’s pre-eminent superpower—to the period preceding the Great War. In illuminating the years before 1914, MacMillan shows the many parallels between then and now, telling an urgent story for our time.

One aspect of the war upon which she remarks is the close connection among the three principal monarchs of the age, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany; King George V of England; and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. In fact, they were all cousins with each other: Wilhelm and George were first cousins, George and Nicholas were also first cousins, and Wilhelm and Nicholas were third cousins.*

World War I family tree
WWI family relationships

(family tree image by Marcia Underwood; see essay for image credits)

Wilhelm’s mother was the sister of George’s father; George’s mother and Nicholas’ mother were sisters from the Danish royal family. All three men were also fifth cousins, being equal descendants of King George II of England.

Read MacMillan’s essay to learn much more about the lessons of 1914 for our age.

* this post has been amended to further clarify the cousin relationships among these men.