The photograph, still in pristine condition, obviously made by a master photographer, is historic in that it shows no less than nine holders of European thrones, some stable, some shaky. The date is May, 1910, and the shattering Great War is but four years off. Standing in the back row (from left to right) are Haakon VII of Norway, Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, Manoel II of Portugal, Wilhelm II of Germany (The Kaiser), George I of Greece and Albert I of Belgium; seated in the front row are Alfonso XIII of Spain and Frederick VIII of Denmark with their host, in whose palace the photograph was taken in the central position – George V of Great Britain.
Haakon VII was born in 1872 and crowned king in 1905. He reigned until his death in 1957 at eighty-five; though king of Norway, he was born Prince Carl of Denmark, 2nd son of Frederick VIII but was elected king of Norway when that country voted for independence from Sweden. In 1896 he married Maud, youngest daughter of Edward VII of Britain. He was popular with the people and greatly reduced ‘pomp and ceremony’. He refused to abdicate when Germany invaded Norway in 1940, and got himself to England, where he carried on the work of resistance. He returned in triumph in 1945 and was succeeded after his death in 1957 by his son Olav V.
Ferdinand I was born in 1861, and was first Prince and then King of modern Bulgaria. He reigned from 1887 – 1918; he was bullied at first by Premier Stambolov but later took increasing control of the government. He declared Bulgaria independent of the Ottoman Empire (1908) and presumed to take the title Tsar. Two years after the photograph was taken he joined the Balkan League against Turkey, but became an ally of the Central Powers, invading Serbia in 1915. After defeat in 1918 he abdicated, succeeded by his son Boris III.
Manoel II was born in 1889 and was king of Portugal in 1908/10, thus almost escaping the photograph, which shows his extreme youth (he was twenty-one) His father Carlos was assassinated along with Crown Prince Luis and Manoel became king in February, 1908. After the revolution of October, 1910 he abdicated and settled down to the life of a not very wealthy country gentleman in England. He died comparatively young in 1932.
Wilhelm II was born in 1859 and was German Emperor and King of Prussia from 1888 – 1918. He was the eldest son of Frederick III and Victoria (daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria which made him a grandson of the Great Queen and Empress of India). We have written in this website in full about the Kaiser, who was not actually responsible for the First World (or Great) War, though he put Germany on the road to conflict by pledging full support to Austria/Hungary after the murder of Franz Ferdinand of Austria at Sarajevo. He was not much more than a figurehead during the Great War and when it ended in 1918 President Wilson of the US refused to negotiate while he remained on the German throne. He went to the Low Countries where he remained until 1941, ironically still living in a country now occupied by Hitler’s Germany.
George I was born in 1845, second son of Christian IX of Denmark. He was a Danish naval officer, who, on the deposition of king Othon of Greece was chosen and elected king of the Hellenes by the Greek National Assembly. In 1867 he married a niece of Tsar Alexander of Russia – the Grand Duchess Olga. Involved in the infamous Balkan Wars of 1912/13 he was murdered at Salonika in 1913 and succeeded by his son Constantine I.
Albert I was born in 1875 and was king of the Belgians from 1909 – 1934. He succeeded his uncle Leopold II. When the Great War broke out Albert refused German insistence on an unhindered route through Belgium, and led his armies in an unarguably heroic resistance, finally withdrawing to Flanders. It was Albert who commanded the combined Belgian and French armies in the last offensive on the Belgian coast in 1918, and he re-entered Brussels on 22 November. Aged only forty-three he was by no means finished however, and took an active part in the re-construction of his country; the Albert Canal which links Liège with Antwerp is named after him. Sadly, he was killed in a mountain climbing accident in the Ardennes in 1934, and was succeeded by his son Leopold III.
Alfonso XIII was king of Spain from his birth in 1886. He was a member of the Spanish Bourbons – los Borbónes. He was the posthumous son of Alfonso XII, and his mother María Cristina of Austria was regent on his behalf until 1902 when he was sixteen years old. We have written already about this semi-tragic monarch in this website; suffice to say that bombs were thrown at his carriage on the day of his wedding with Ena of Battenberg, that in 1923 he permitted Primo de Rivera to destroy the parliamentary system and establish a dictatorship, that the dictator’s fall from public popularity left Alfonso discredited, and that in 1931, following terrific Republican gains in local elections, he decided to leave Spain (and his wife and family), never to return. He died in Rome in 1941, after ‘abdicating’ in favour of his son don Juan, who never became king. He loved visiting England, and the English social scene, but was known by the ladies for his gallantry, and also for his atrocious halitosis, which may have been caused by excessive cigarette smoking.
George V was a grandson of Queen Victoria, son of Edward VII who, as the Prince of Wales, had caused many headaches for his mother Queen Victoria and father Prince Albert. George was a different kettle of fish however. Born in 1865, he had only recently become king when the photograph was taken. His reign saw the creation of the Union of South Africa (1910). He served as an officer in the British Navy and became Prince of Wales in 1901; he married Mary of Teck in 1893 and became the father of a Prince of Wales (David) who caused even more rumpus than Edward VII. He was king during the General Strike of 1926. His family consisted of five sons and a daughter. He was famous for using rough nautical expressions, even in front of the ladies. He died in 1936, much mourned across Europe (except possibly in Germany/Austria). His wife Queen Mary carried on with her philanthropic work and queenly duties until her death in 1953 at seventy-six.
Frederick VIII was born in 1843 and lived until 1912, just two years after this photograph was made at Buckingham Palace. He was the brother of Queen Alexandra of Britain, who married the then future Edward VII. He went to Iceland to give the Icelanders home rule in 1904. He married Louise of Sweden, and was celebrated for his simple, uncluttered and unceremonious home life. His second son, Carl, became Haakon VII of Norway, seen here first on the left in the back row. He was succeeded in Denmark by his eldest son, Christian X.