Kings of Europe – father's ailment
March 16, 1914
“Why do countries in England want to fight each other ?”
I had to blink in surprise at the strangely formulated question. I had just sat down in my favorite chair in the sitting room at Brownstone and was quietly reading the Boston Sunday Globe. Louisa, with her usual flamboyance and drama, came running into the room all in a fluster. “I heard Father say that he was worried about countries of England fighting each other.”
“You mean the countries of Europe, my dear,” Ginger corrected.
“You mean England has no countries?” Louisa’s eyes widened at the thought.
“I think it might be best if you paid a little more attention during geography lessons.” I tried to be stern, but it was impossible not to smile at her serious expression. ”England is a country and Europe is a collection of countries of which England is part.”
“Here, let’s take a look, shall we?” I moved to the drawer in which father kept all of his maps and chose the large rolled up document marked ‘Europe 1910’. I indicated for Louisa to follow me to the dining room and together we unrolled the map on top of the large table. “Look,” I said, pointing. “Here is England. And this is London, the main city of England. That is where I was born.”
“But Daniel was born there too, and he talks differently than you do.” She scrunched her little ski-slope nose, and added, “I think us Americans talk more properly.”
“First of all,” I said, adopting my British accent. ”People in England would jolly well disagree with that statement, and secondly, don’t forget that although you were born in Boston, your family heritage is distinctly British.”
Louisa’s pale eyebrows furrowed together as she let those words sink in. “But who are the countries that father is afraid will start fighting each other?”
“Well, that is a complicated question,” I said staring at the map. “It’s hard to say precisely at the moment, but I do know that trouble is brewing in Austria-Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria as well as in the Ottoman Empire. That would be on the one side, and on the other side are countries like England, France and Russia.” I pointed at the respective countries on the map.
“Well, why dont they just round up all the leaders of those countries and get them together in one big room?” Louisa said brightly. “Maybe at Hartigan House! I am sure if they all had some biscuits and tea together, things would get figured out. Maybe they just need to get to know each other? There was a girl in my class last year who I didn’t like at first, but then, after awhile I got to know her. We are good friends now.” My sweet little sister beamed at this last sentence.
“Ah, good for you, Louisa. Indeed…well, getting them all together before the fisticuffs start in order have some good English tea, might solve some problems all right. But I am afraid it may not be so simple. In fact, I should tell you that many of them do already know each other. Curiously, many of them are even related to each other,”
“What?” Her little mouth dropped open.
“Yes, see here we have Great Britain, which is comprised of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.“ I pointed to each of these on the map. “This area is ruled by King George V. Then, way over here, we have Russia. That is ruled by the Tsar, which is kind of like a King. His name is Nicholas II. Then over here in Germany we have Kaiser Wilhelm II. All of these three men are cousins. Queen Victoria was their grandmother. In all, she had nine children and forty-two grandchildren!”
“Oh my goodness!”
“She called it the ‘royal mob’. It’s all a very tangled affair, I’m afraid, and it gets more so when you look at it more closely. King George and Kaiser Wilhelm are actually first cousins. So are King George and Tsar Nicholas, while Wilhelm and Nicholas are third cousins. 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 are also fifth cousins, equal descendants of King George II of England.”
Louisa just stared at me. I had to smile. It was rare to see her rendered speechless.
“Not only that, Tsar Nicholas also married a cousin; Alix Feodorovna of Hesse; a German.”
Louisa rolled her eyes and tipped over sideways onto a chair in a dramatic flourish which made me chuckle. “I know, it’s a bit much isn't it?
“So, then why can’t they just get along then if they are family?” She said, sitting up straight again.
I raised an eyebrow. “Well, families do sometimes have squabbles don’t they?” Louisa nodded slowly in agreement, probably remembering one of our recent rows.
“But these squabbles would involve a lot more people than just them, since they are leaders of countries.”
“Very true,” I said, ”and good for you for realizing that, my dear. I think at the heart of it is the fact that Europe is comprised of a lot of people in a relatively small space compared to America. There are a lot of different languages and cultures living in close proximity. One country’s dreams of how the world should look like, can quickly become another nation’s nightmare.”
I paused wondering how to go further without it becoming too complicated. “Father keeps a close eye on what’s happening in Europe right now and I think he’s worried that each country is starting to view the other as the aggressor and itself as the victim. Rising tensions could result in some troubling days ahead, I’m afraid. No telling what could be the spark that catches flame. ”
“War?” Louisa said in a small voice.
“Let’s pray that doesn’t happen. But you should not worry about such things too much.” I gave her hand a squeeze. “It is good for you to know about your own family background and realize that you are European in heritage. However, you are now in America, and Europe is a very long ways away from here. You should concentrate on being a ten year old girl, which means school work, being a kind person, and an obedient daughter.”
“I think I can manage that.”
“Yes, you can. Don’t forget to also throw in some fun.” I squeezed her hand again and smiled,.“Things have a way of straightening themselves out over time, so just go about your business of being you. Now please roll this map up and put it back in the drawer where from where it came.”
Louisa dutifully collected the map, and after placing it back in it’s place left the room leaving me with my thoughts. I wondered how big of a storm was brewing on the other side of the globe and if the monarchs of Europe would eventually be able to put peace ahead of their own agendas. For now though, the evening was peaceful enough. I still had a paper to read and a fire by which to keep warm.