Could Queen Victoria have prevented World War I?

Could the devastating conflict have been prevented if the 'Grandmother of Europe' have lived longer? BBC History Revealed put the question to historian Lucy Worsley…

Queen Victoria, her husband Prince Albert, and their nine children.

Queen Victoria was known as the ‘Grandmother of Europe’ – she had 34 grandchildren survive into adulthood, and they would go on to rule the majority of Europe. The irony of World War I is that the three major players – George V of Britain, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany – were cousins.

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The future German emperor, Wilhelm II, was a frequent visitor to England as a child. Son of Victoria’s eldest child, Vicky, he was made a Knight of the Garter on his 18th birthday. As he grew older, he became more distant from his British relatives.

Despite this, he rushed to be by his grandmother’s side when she was close to death. Lucy Worsley suggests this may have been to do with an expected legacy rather than being a doting grandson: “I think the reason he was assiduous at turning up was because he felt that he ought to inherit her role as the leader of Europe, whereas his uncle, the future Edward VII, obviously thought he was going to inherit it. The Kaiser kept turning up because he thought he was better than his uncle.”

But it’s unlikely Victoria could have done anything to prevent her family’s squabbles turning into worldwide chaos if she’d lived longer. Tensions across Europe had been bubbling away for many years.

Read more about the ties between Queen Victoria’s grandchildren.

Lucy Worsley is a familiar face on British TV screens having presented a host of history programmes. Her latest book is Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow. 

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This Q&A was first published in the May 2019 issue of BBC History Revealed