Gateway to the Classics: The World at War by M. B. Synge
The World at War by  M. B. Synge

L'oncle de l'Europe

"'In the years that shall be I will bind me nation to nation And shore unto shore,' saith our God."
—Stephen Phillips (Midnight, 1900).

No sooner had Lord Roberts issued his proclamation annexing the two Dutch Republics, than he hurried home to England. This was at the end of the year 1900. With his own lips he had been able to tell the Queen the news of his South African success. A few weeks later she lay dying in her sea-girt home at Osborne, in the Isle of Wight.

If the relationship between England and Germany had not always been of the best, it reached its highest point of enthusiasm when the Kaiser hurried across the water to the bedside of his grandmother with signs of affection and distress. There was sympathy in the silent crowds through which he drove with his uncle—then Prince of Wales—from the station, and the words "Thank you, Kaiser," fell on his ears.

Queen Victoria died in his arms, it is said, two days later, 22nd January 1901. The Kaiser's sympathy with the Royal Family produced a deep impression in England. One of the first acts of the new King Edward VII. was to hand his nephew the sword of a Field-Marshal, and to present the Crown Prince of Germany with the Order of the Garter. In the uniform of the Prussian Imperial Dragoons, the new King drove the Kaiser to the station on his departure, 5th February, amid cheering and enthusiastic crowds.

His reception in Germany was of a less cordial nature. Indignant crowds bitterly resented his fortnight's absence in England. For the additions to the British Empire after the South African War were unwelcome to the German advocates of World Power.

Not only Germany, but many a European sovereign could claim kinship with the new King of England. Queen Victoria had left thirty-one grandchildren and thirty-seven great-grandchildren, many of whom were married to the Crown Princes and heirs of neighbouring countries. Thus one granddaughter, Sophie, was married to Constantine, the eldest son of the King of Greece; another, Marie, to Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Rumania; another, Maud, afterwards to become Queen of Norway, to a son of the King of Denmark; another, Ena, to King Alphonso of Spain; another, Alexandra, was wife of the Tsar Nicholas of Russia. And it were well to bear in mind these relationships on that day when Europe went forth to war, divided against herself.

The Queen had held aloof from the tangled affairs of Europe. Her interests had mainly lain in domestic and Imperial affairs, and it was natural that her death found England alone in "splendid isolation." It was a storm-tossed country that Edward VII. was called to rule—a country looked on with bitter hatred by those who might have been her neighbours and her friends.

But the youth and training of the new King had prepared him for a more international outlook, and he was anxious to see a better understanding between the larger nations of Europe. How far he succeeded may be gathered from the names that have clung to him after his short reign. He was "L'oncle de l'Europe" and "Edward the Peacemaker."

At the age of thirteen, before France became a Republic, he had been taken to Paris as the guest of Napoleon III. and the Empress Eugenie. Here, even as a young boy, he won golden opinions that endeared him to the French people throughout his life.

"Le petit bonhomme," said the French, "est vraiment charmant."

Forty-seven years later, as King of England, he was to become the "chief architect" of the great Anglo-French Agreement. His relations with Germany had been close and intimate from boyhood, when he first went over to Potsdam, the capital of Prussia, to see his sister Victoria who had married the young Prince Frederick, the Crown Prince.

He had been early to Denmark's capital, Copenhagen—the home of Alexandra, King Christian's daughter, whom he married in 1863, "bride of the heir of the Kings of the Sea." And many a time did he stay with his wife's Danish parents at their castle of Fredensberg, where large family parties were wont to assemble, speaking, it is said, seven different languages! For many a foreign court was related to Denmark, including Russia, Greece, and Norway.

Indeed, Russia was closely connected with both the English King and Queen, for Princess Dagmar, a sister of Queen Alexandra, had married the Tsar Alexander II. On his assassination in 1881 they had hastened to Russia, and been present when the new Tsar Nicholas II. was married to King Edward's niece, Alexandra, daughter of Princess Alice. The King did not live to hear the tragic end of that tragic marriage.

This close kinship with Russia ushered in a period of peace and goodwill with England, and the "entente cordiale" might have extended in this direction, but the Tsar's "intellectual helplessness invited the terrible tragedy which ultimately ended his inglorious career," and the man who signed himself "ever your most loving nephew Nicky," brought his great country to hopeless grief.

King Edward had been to Brussels to see his great-uncle, Leopold I. He had stayed with King Pedro V. of Portugal, whose father, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg, was a cousin of both his parents.

He had stayed with Franz Joseph I., Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and his beautiful Queen, Elizabeth of Bavaria, at Vienna. He had hunted stag and chamois with their ill-fated only son, the Crown Prince Rudolf, shortly before his tragic suicide in 1889. With Carol, King of Rumania, and "Carmen Sylva," his wife, at their country palace amid the great Carpathian Mountains, he had stayed for bear-hunting, and he knew full well their capital, Bucharest—the "Petit Paris "of the Balkan States.

He knew the first young King of Bulgaria, Alexander of Battenberg, a nephew of the Russian Tsar, and he was both amazed and distressed when he was kidnapped by Russian officers and forced to abdicate. His successor, Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was indeed related, though distantly, to King Edward.

Such familiarity with most of the courts of Europe and their rulers was bound to produce good results, and under the King's genial understanding the isolation of England was giving way.

The "petit bonhomme "of 1854 had become "l'oncle de l' Europe "in 1910.

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