If Queen Victoria was your grandmother, you were guaranteed a high-profile wedding to a prince or princess of her choice.
“Victoria’s descendants effectively gained automatic entry into what amounted to the world’s most exclusive dating agency,” says Deborah Cadbury. Deborah is the author of Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages That Shaped Europe.
Queen Victoria herself orchestrated the love lives of her grandchildren. While some of the matches worked out fine, others were a disaster and inadvertently helped start the first world war. Here’s how Victoria's matchmaking helped create—and destroy—modern Europe.
It was normal for a monarch to have a say in her family’s marriages. The Royal Marriage Act of 1772 gave Britain’s monarch the power to forbid any match. But Victoria went as far as controlling who her family members married. She wanted to influence Europe by spreading stable constitutional monarchies like Britain’s through marriage.
Fortunately, Victoria had enough family members to do it. She had nine children and 42 grandchildren. Seven of them, eventually, sat on European thrones in Greece, Russia, Britain, Romania, Spain, Norway, and Germany. All of them had to take sides during the World War 1.
Some of Victoria’s grandchildren followed her orders without questions. Albert Victor was second in line to the throne and, at Victoria’s command, asked Princess Mary of Teck to marry him. Victoria liked the German princess and pressured her grandson Albert to marry her although he was believed to be gay. He did as he was told but unfortunately died of influenza in 1892.
Albert’s brother, George became second in line to the throne following the death of his brother. Victoria also compelled him to marry his brother's widow Princess Mary. George obliged and became a beloved ruler.
However, not everyone obeyed Victoria's warnings. Victoria’s beloved granddaughter, Alix of Hesse, fell in love with the heir apparent to the Russian throne, Nicholas Romanov. Victoria thought the Russians were barbaric forbade Alix from marrying her lover but she didn't listen.
Alix eventually got Victoria’s grudging approval and tied the knot with Nicholas after he became Tsar of Russia. Their love was real, but tragedy was ahead. During Nicholas’ time at the helm, Russia collapsed into revolution and war, and George V, his British cousin refused to offer a helping hand, as he thought it would be politically wrong. The imperial family—Nicholas II, Alix, and their five children were all assassinated by Bolshevik troops in 1918.
Kaiser Wilhelm II was another grandchild of Victoria's, who couldn't be controlled by his grandmother's orders. He was the son of Victoria's daughter, Vicky, and Prince William of Prussia. Wilhelm later became the ruler of the German empire.
Victoria’s grandchildren, and their spouses became more and more nationalistic. They took sides even against their own family members; George V opposed his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm’s policies. This rivalry threatened the balance of power in Europe.
The result was just tragic. Cousin began to betray cousin, husbands turned against their wives. Many people lost their lives in World War I, leaving Europe in chaos. Queen Victoria had been dead for 17 years before the war but the outcome of her matchmaking still reverberated across Europe.
By the end of the war, the monarchies of Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Russia, and Germany had fallen. This meant the end of happiness for many of Victoria’s grandchildren, as well as their reigns.
Although Britain’s monarch still has the power to veto marriage till date, they exercise less power over royal marriages.
For many of Victoria’s grandchildren, the result of their royal weddings was more like a nightmare.