So GORGEOUS was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens—four dowager and three regnant—and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.
In the center of the front row rode the new king, George V, flanked on his left by the Duke of Connaught, the late king’s only surviving brother, and on his right by a personage to whom, acknowledged The Times, “belongs the first place among all the foreign mourners,” who “even when relations are most strained has never lost his popularity amongst us”—William II, the German Emperor. Mounted on a gray horse, wearing the scarlet uniform of a British Field Marshal, carrying the baton of that rank, the Kaiser had composed his features behind the famous upturned mustache in an expression “grave even to severity.” Of the several emotions churning his susceptible breast, some hints exist in his letters. “I am proud to call this place my home and to be a member of this royal family,” he wrote home after spending the night in Windsor Castle in the former apartments of his mother. Sentiment and nostalgia induced by these melancholy occasions with his English relatives jostled with pride in his supremacy among the assembled potentates and with a fierce relish in the disappearance of his uncle from the European scene. He had come to bury Edward his bane; Edward the arch plotter, as William conceived it, of Germany’s encirclement; Edward his mother’s brother whom he could neither bully nor impress, whose fat figure cast a shadow between Germany and the sun. “He is Satan. You cannot imagine what a Satan he is!”
This verdict, announced by the Kaiser before a dinner of three hundred guests in Berlin in 1907, was occasioned by one of Edward’s continental tours undertaken with clearly diabolical designs at encirclement. He had spent a provocative week in Paris, visited for no good reason the King of Spain (who had just married his niece), and finished with a visit to the King of Italy with obvious intent to seduce him from his Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria. The Kaiser, possessor of the least inhibited tongue in Europe, had worked himself into a frenzy ending in another of those comments that had periodically over the past twenty years of his reign shattered the nerves of diplomats.
Happily the Encircler was now dead and replaced by George who, the Kaiser told Theodore Roosevelt a few days before the funeral, was “a very nice boy” (of forty-five, six years younger than the Kaiser). “He is a thorough Englishman and hates all foreigners but I do not mind that as long as he does not hate Germans more than other foreigners.” Alongside George, William now rode confidently, saluting as he passed the regimental colors of the 1st Royal Dragoons of which he was honorary colonel. Once he had distributed photographs of himself wearing their uniform with the Delphic inscription written above his signature, “I bide my time.” Today his time had come; he was supreme in Europe.
Behind him rode the widowed Queen Alexandra’s two brothers, King Frederick of Denmark and King George of the Hellenes; her nephew, King Haakon of Norway; and three kings who were to lose their thrones: Alfonso of Spain, Manuel of Portugal and, wearing a silk turban, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria who annoyed his fellow sovereigns by calling himself Czar and kept in a chest a Byzantine Emperor’s full regalia, acquired from a theatrical costumer, against the day when he should reassemble the Byzantine dominions beneath his scepter.
Dazzled by these “splendidly mounted princes,” as The Times called them, few observers had eyes for the ninth king, the only one among them who was to achieve greatness as a man. Despite his great height and perfect horsemanship, Albert, King of the Belgians, who disliked the pomp of royal ceremony, contrived in that company to look both embarrassed and absentminded. He was then thirty-five and had been on the throne barely a year. In later years when his face became known to the world as a symbol of heroism and tragedy, it still always wore that abstracted look, as if his mind were on something else.
The future source of tragedy, tall, corpulent, and corseted, with green plumes waving from his helmet, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir of the old Emperor Franz Josef, rode on Albert’s right, and on his left another scion who would never reach his throne, Prince Yussuf, heir of the Sultan of Turkey. After the kings came the royal highnesses: Prince Fushimi, brother of the Emperor of Japan; Grand Duke Michael, brother of the Czar of Russia; the Duke of Aosta in bright blue with green plumes, brother of the King of Italy; Prince Carl, brother of the King of Sweden; Prince Henry, consort of the Queen of Holland; and the Crown Princes of Serbia, Rumania, and Montenegro. The last named, Prince Danilo, “an amiable, extremely handsome young man of delightful manners,” resembled the Merry Widow’s lover in more than name, for, to the consternation of British functionaries, he had arrived the night before accompanied by a “charming young lady of great personal attractions” whom he introduced as his wife’s lady in waiting with the explanation that she had come to London to do some shopping.
A regiment of minor German royalty followed: rulers of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Waldeck-Pyrmont, Saxe-Coburg Gotha, of Saxony, Hesse, Württemberg, Baden, and Bavaria, of whom the last, Crown Prince Rupprecht, was soon to lead a German army in battle. There were a Prince of Siam, a Prince of Persia, five princes of the former French royal house of Orléans, a brother of the Khedive of Egypt wearing a gold-tasseled fez, Prince Tsia-tao of China in an embroidered light-blue gown whose ancient dynasty had two more years to run, and the Kaiser’s brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, representing the German Navy, of which he was Commander in Chief. Amid all this magnificence were three civilian-coated gentlemen, M. Gaston-Carlin of Switzerland, M. Pichon, Foreign Minister of France, and former President Theodore Roosevelt, special envoy of the United States.
Edward, the object of this unprecedented gathering of nations, was often called the “Uncle of Europe,” a title which, insofar as Europe’s ruling houses were meant, could be taken literally. He was the uncle not only of Kaiser Wilhelm but also, through his wife’s sister, the Dowager Empress Marie of Russia, of Czar Nicolas II. His own niece Alix was the Czarina; his daughter Maud was Queen of Norway; another niece, Ena, was Queen of Spain; a third niece, Marie, was soon to be Queen of Rumania. The Danish family of his wife, besides occupying the throne of Denmark, had mothered the Czar of Russia and supplied kings to Greece and Norway. Other relatives, the progeny at various removes of Queen Victoria’s nine sons and daughters, were scattered in abundance throughout the courts of Europe.
Yet not family feeling alone nor even the suddenness and shock of Edward’s death—for to public knowledge he had been ill one day and dead the next—accounted for the unexpected flood of condolences at his passing. It was in fact a tribute to Edward’s great gifts as a sociable king which had proved invaluable to his country. In the nine short years of his reign England’s splendid isolation had given way, under pressure, to a series of “understandings” or attachments, but not quite alliances—for England dislikes the definitive—with two old enemies, France and Russia, and one promising new power, Japan. The resulting shift in balance registered itself around the world and affected every state’s relations with every other. Though Edward neither initiated nor influenced his country’s policy, his personal diplomacy helped to make the change possible.
Taken as a child to visit France, he had said to Napoleon III: “You have a nice country. I would like to be your son.” This preference for things French, in contrast to or perhaps in protest against his mother’s for the Germanic, lasted, and after her death was put to use. When England, growing edgy over the challenge implicit in Germany’s Naval Program of 1900, decided to patch up old quarrels with France, Edward’s talents as Roi Charmeur smoothed the way. In 1903 he went to Paris, disregarding advice that an official state visit would find a cold welcome. On his arrival the crowds were sullen and silent except for a few taunting cries of “Vivent les Boers!” and “Vive Fashoda!” which the King ignored. To a worried aide who muttered, “The French don’t like us,” he replied, “Why should they?” and continued bowing and smiling from his carriage.
For four days he made appearances, reviewed troops at Vincennes, attended the races at Longchamps, a gala at the Opéra, a state banquet at the Elysée, a luncheon at the Quai d’Orsay and, at the theater, transformed a chill into smiles by mingling with the audience in the entr’acte and paying gallant compliments in French to a famous actress in the lobby. Everywhere he made gracious and tactful speeches about his friendship and admiration for the French, their “glorious traditions,” their “beautiful city,” for which he confessed an attachment “fortified by many happy memories,” his “sincere pleasure” in the visit, his belief that old misunderstandings are “happily over and forgotten,” that the mutual prosperity of France and England was interdependent and their friendship his “constant preoccupation.” When he left, the crowds now shouted, “Vive notre roi!” “Seldom has such a complete change of attitude been seen as that which has taken place in this country. He has won the hearts of all the French,” a Belgian diplomat reported. The German ambassador thought the King’s visit was “a most odd affair,” and supposed that an Anglo-Frenchrapprochement was the result of a “general aversion to Germany.” Within a year, after hard work by ministers settling disputes, the rapprochement became the Anglo-French Entente, signed in April, 1904.
Germany might have had an English entente for herself had not her leaders, suspecting English motives, rebuffed the overtures of the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, in 1899 and again in 1901. Neither the shadowy Holstein who conducted Germany’s foreign affairs from behind the scenes nor the elegant and erudite Chancellor, Prince Bülow, nor the Kaiser himself was quite sure what they suspected England of but they were certain it was something perfidious. The Kaiser always wanted an agreement with England if he could get one without seeming to want it. Once, affected by English surroundings and family sentiment at the funeral of Queen Victoria, he allowed himself to confess the wish to Edward. “Not a mouse could stir in Europe without our permission,” was the way he visualized an Anglo-German alliance. But as soon as the English showed signs of willingness, he and his ministers veered off, suspecting some trick. Fearing to be taken advantage of at the conference table, they preferred to stay away altogether and depend upon an ever-growing navy to frighten the English into coming to terms.
Bismarck had warned Germany to be content with land power, but his successors were neither separately nor collectively Bismarcks. He had pursued clearly seen goals unswervingly; they groped for larger horizons with no clear idea of what they wanted. Holstein was a Machiavelli without a policy who operated on only one principle: suspect everyone. Bülow had no principles; he was so slippery, lamented his colleague Admiral Tirpitz, that compared to him an eel was a leech. The flashing, inconstant, always freshly inspired Kaiser had a different goal every hour, and practiced diplomacy as an exercise in perpetual motion.
None of them believed England would ever come to terms with France, and all warnings of that event Holstein dismissed as “naïve,” even a most explicit one from his envoy in London, Baron Eckhardstein. At a dinner at Marlborough House in 1902, Eckhardstein had watched Paul Cambon, the French ambassador, disappear into the billiard room with Joseph Chamberlain, where they engaged in “animated conversation” lasting twenty-eight minutes of which the only words he could overhear (the baron’s memoirs do not say whether the door was open or he was listening at the keyhole) were “Egypt” and “Morocco.” Later he was summoned to the King’s study where Edward offered him an 1888 Uppmann cigar and told him that England was going to reach a settlement with France over all disputed colonial questions.
When the Entente became a fact, William’s wrath was tremendous. Beneath it, and even more galling, rankled Edward’s triumph in Paris. The reise-Kaiser, as he was known from the frequency of his travels, derived balm from ceremonial entries into foreign capitals, and the one above all he wished to visit was Paris, the unattainable. He had been everywhere, even to Jerusalem, where the Jaffa Gate had to be cut to permit his entry on horseback; but Paris, the center of all that was beautiful, all that was desirable, all that Berlin was not, remained closed to him. He wanted to receive the acclaim of Parisians and be awarded the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honor, and twice let the imperial wish be known to the French. No invitation ever came. He could enter Alsace and make speeches glorifying the victory of 1870; he could lead parades through Metz in Lorraine; but it is perhaps the saddest story of the fate of kings that the Kaiser lived to be eighty-two and died without seeing Paris.
Envy of the older nations gnawed at him. He complained to Theodore Roosevelt that the English nobility on continental tours never visited Berlin but always went to Paris. He felt unappreciated. “All the long years of my reign,” he told the King of Italy, “my colleagues, the Monarchs of Europe, have paid no attention to what I have to say. Soon, with my great Navy to endorse my words, they will be more respectful.” The same sentiments ran through his whole nation, which suffered, like their emperor, from a terrible need for recognition. Pulsing with energy and ambition, conscious of strength, fed upon Nietzsche and Treitschke, they felt entitled to rule, and cheated that the world did not acknowledge their title. “We must,” wrote Friedrich von Bernhardi, the spokesman of militarism, “secure to German nationality and German spirit throughout the globe that high esteem which is due them … and has hitherto been withheld from them.” He frankly allowed only one method of attaining the goal; lesser Bernhardis from the Kaiser down sought to secure the esteem they craved by threats and show of power. They shook the “mailed fist,” demanded their “place in the sun,” and proclaimed the virtues of the sword in paeans to “blood and iron” and “shining armor.” In German practice Mr. Roosevelt’s current precept for getting on with your neighbors was Teutonized to, “Speak loudly and brandish a big gun.” When they brandished it, when the Kaiser told his troops departing for China and the Boxer Rebellion to bear themselves as the Huns of Attila (the choice of Huns as German prototypes was his own), when Pan-German Societies and Navy Leagues multiplied and met in congresses to demand that other nations recognize their “legitimate aims” toward expansion, the other nations answered with alliances, and when they did, Germany screamed Einkreisung!—Encirclement! The refrain Deutschland ganzlich einzukreisen grated over the decade.
Edward’s foreign visits continued—Rome, Vienna, Lisbon, Madrid—and not to royalty only. Every year he took the cure at Marienbad where he would exchange views with the Tiger of France, born in the same year as himself, who was premier for four of the years that Edward was king. Edward, whose two passions in life were correct clothes and unorthodox company, overlooked the former, and admired M. Clemenceau. The Tiger shared Napoleon’s opinion that Prussia “was hatched from a cannon ball,” and saw the cannon ball coming in his direction. He worked, he planned, he maneuvered in the shadow of one dominant idea: “the German lust for power … has fixed as its policy the extermination of France.” He told Edward that when the time came when France needed help, England’s sea power would not be enough, and reminded him that Napoleon was beaten at Waterloo, not Trafalgar.
In 1908, to the distaste of his subjects, Edward paid a state visit to the Czar aboard the imperial yacht at Reval. English imperialists regarded Russia as the ancient foe of the Crimea and more recently as the menace looming over India, while to the Liberals and Laborites Russia was the land of the knout, the pogrom, and the massacred revolutionaries of 1905, and the Czar, according to Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, “a common murderer.” The distaste was reciprocated. Russia detested England’s alliance with Japan and resented her as the power that frustrated Russia’s historic yearning for Constantinople and the Straits. Nicholas II once combined two favorite prejudices in the simple statement, “An Englishman is a zhid (Jew).”
But old antagonisms were not so strong as new pressures, and under the urging of the French, who were anxious to have their two allies come to terms, an Anglo-Russian Convention was signed in 1907. A personal touch of royal friendliness was felt to be required to clear away any lingering mistrust, and Edward embarked for Reval. He had long talks with the Russian Foreign Minister, Isvolsky, and danced the Merry Widow waltz with the Czarina with such effect as to make her laugh, the first man to accomplish this feat since the unhappy woman put on the crown of the Romanovs. Nor was it such a frivolous achievement as might appear, for though it could hardly be said that the Czar governed Russia in a working sense, he ruled as an autocrat and was in turn ruled by his strong-willed if weak-witted wife. Beautiful, hysterical, and morbidly suspicious, she hated everyone but her immediate family and a series of fanatic or lunatic charlatans who offered comfort to her desperate soul. The Czar, neither well endowed mentally nor very well educated, was, in the Kaiser’s opinion, “only fit to live in a country house and grow turnips.”
The Kaiser regarded the Czar as his own sphere of influence and tried by clever schemes to woo him out of his French alliance which had been the consequence of William’s own folly. Bismarck’s maxim “Keep friends with Russia” and the Reinsurance Treaty that implemented it, William had dropped, along with Bismarck, in the first, and worst, blunder of his reign. Alexander III, the tall, stern Czar of that day, had promptly turned around in 1892 and entered into alliance with republican France, even at the cost of standing at attention to “The Marseillaise.” Besides, he snubbed William, whom he considered “un garçon mat élevé,” and would only talk to him over his shoulder. Ever since Nicholas acceded to the throne, William had been trying to repair his blunder by writing the young Czar long letters (in English) of advice, gossip, and political harangue addressed to “Dearest Nicky” and signed “Your affectionate friend, Willy.” An irreligious republic stained by the blood of monarchs was no fit company for him, he told the Czar. “Nicky, take my word for it, the curse of God has stricken that people forever.” Nicky’s true interests, Willy told him, were with a Drei-Kaiser Bund, a league of the three emperors of Russia, Austria, and Germany. Yet, remembering the old Czar’s snubs, he could not help patronizing his son. He would tap Nicholas on the shoulder, and say, “My advice to you is more speeches and more parades, more speeches, more parades,” and he offered to send German troops to protect Nicholas from his rebellious subjects, a suggestion which infuriated the Czarina, who hated William more after every exchange of visits.
When he failed, under the circumstances, to wean Russia away from France, the Kaiser drew up an ingenious treaty engaging Russia and Germany to aid each other in case of attack, which the Czar, after signing, was to communicate to the French and invite them to join. After Russia’s disasters in her war with Japan (which the Kaiser had strenuously urged her into) and the revolutionary risings that followed, when the regime was at its lowest ebb, he invited the Czar to a secret rendezvous, without attendant ministers, at Björkö in the Gulf of Finland. William knew well enough that Russia could not accede to his treaty without breaking faith with the French, but he thought that sovereigns’ signatures were all that was needed to erase the difficulty. Nicholas signed.
William was in ecstasy. He had made good the fatal lapse, secured Germany’s back door, and broken the encirclement. “Bright tears stood in my eyes,” he wrote to Bülow, and he was sure Grandpapa (William I, who had died muttering about a war on two fronts) was looking down on him. He felt his treaty to be the master coup of German diplomacy, as indeed it was, or would have been, but for a flaw in the title. When the Czar brought the treaty home, his ministers, after one horrified look, pointed out that by engaging to join Germany in a possible war he had repudiated his alliance with France, a detail which “no doubt escaped His Majesty in the flood of the Emperor William’s eloquence.” The Treaty of Björkö lived its brief shimmering day, and expired.
Now came Edward hobnobbing with the Czar at Reval. Reading the German ambassador’s report of the meeting which suggested that Edward really desired peace, the Kaiser scribbled furiously in the margin, “Lies. He wants war. But I have to start it so he does not have the odium.”
The year closed with the most explosive faux pas of the Kaiser’s career, an interview given to the Daily Telegraph expressing his ideas of the day on who should fight whom, which this time unnerved not only his neighbors but his countrymen. Public disapproval was so outspoken that the Kaiser took to his bed, was ill for three weeks, and remained comparatively reticent for some time thereafter.
Since then no new excitements had erupted. The last two years of the decade while Europe enjoyed a rich fat afternoon, were the quietest. Nineteen-ten was peaceful and prosperous, with the second round of Moroccan crises and Balkan wars still to come. A new book, The Great Illusionby Norman Angell, had just been published, which proved that war had become vain. By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument Angell showed that in the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor would suffer equally with the vanquished; therefore war had become unprofitable; therefore no nation would be so foolish as to start one. Already translated into eleven languages, The Great Illusion had become a cult. At the universities, in Manchester, Glasgow, and other industrial cities, more than forty study groups of true believers had formed, devoted to propagating its dogma. Angell’s most earnest disciple was a man of great influence on military policy, the King’s friend and adviser, Viscount Esher, chairman of the War Committee assigned to remaking the British Army after the shock of its performance in the Boer War. Lord Esher delivered lectures on the lesson of The Great Illusion at Cambridge and the Sorbonne wherein he showed how “new economic factors clearly prove the inanity of aggressive wars.” A twentieth century war would be on such a scale, he said, that its inevitable consequences of “commercial disaster, financial ruin and individual suffering” would be “so pregnant with restraining influences” as to make war unthinkable. He told an audience of officers at the United Service Club, with the Chief of General Staff, Sir John French, in the chair, that because of the interlacing of nations war “becomes every day more difficult and improbable.”
Germany, Lord Esher felt sure, “is as receptive as Great Britain to the doctrine of Norman Angell.” How receptive were the Kaiser and the Crown Prince to whom he gave, or caused to be given, copies of The Great Illusion is not reported. There is no evidence that he gave one to General von Bernhardi, who was engaged in 1910 in writing a book called Germany and the Next War, published in the following year, which was to be as influential as Angell’s but from the opposite point of view. Three of its chapter titles, “The Right to Make War,” “The Duty to Make War,” and “World Power or Downfall” sum up its thesis.
As a twenty-one-year-old cavalry officer in 1870, Bernhardi had been the first German to ride through the Arc de Triomphe when the Germans entered Paris. Since then flags and glory interested him less than the theory, philosophy, and science of war as applied to “Germany’s Historic Mission,” another of his chapter titles. He had served as chief of the Military History section of the General Staff, was one of the intellectual elite of that hard-thinking, hard-working body, and author of a classic on cavalry before he assembled a lifetime’s studies of Clausewitz, Treitschke, and Darwin, and poured them into the book that was to make his name a synonym for Mars.
War, he stated, “is a biological necessity”; it is the carrying out among humankind of “the natural law, upon which all the laws of Nature rest, the law of the struggle for existence.” Nations, he said, must progress or decay; “there can be no standing still,” and Germany must choose “world power or downfall.” Among the nations Germany “is in social-political respects at the head of all progress in culture” but is “compressed into narrow, unnatural limits.” She cannot attain her “great moral ends” without increased political power, an enlarged sphere of influence, and new territory. This increase in power, “befitting our importance,” and “which we are entitled to claim,” is a “political necessity” and “the first and foremost duty of the State.” In his own italics Bernhardi announced, “What we now wish to attain must be fought for,” and from here he galloped home to the finish line: “Conquest thus becomes a law of necessity.”
Having proved the “necessity” (the favorite word of German military thinkers), Bernhardi proceeded to method. Once the duty to make war is recognized, the secondary duty, to make it successfully, follows. To be successful a state must begin war at the “most favorable moment” of its own choosing; it has “the acknowledged right … to secure the proud privilege of such initiative.” Offensive war thus becomes another “necessity” and a second conclusion inescapable: “It is incumbent on us … to act on the offensive and strike the first blow.” Bemhardi did not share the Kaiser’s concern about the “odium” that attached to an aggressor. Nor was he reluctant to tell where the blow would fall. It was “unthinkable,” he wrote, that Germany and France could ever negotiate their problems. “France must be so completely crushed that she can never cross our path again”; she “must be annihilated once and for all as a great power.”
King Edward did not live to read Bernhardi. In January, 1910, he sent the Kaiser his annual birthday greetings and the gift of a walking stick before departing for Marienbad and Biarritz. A few months later he was dead.
“We have lost the mainstay of our foreign policy,” said Isvolsky when he heard the news. This was hyperbole, for Edward was merely the instrument, not the architect, of the new alignments. In France the king’s death created “profound emotion” and “real consternation,” according to Le Figaro. Paris, it said, felt the loss of its “great friend” as deeply as London. Lampposts and shop windows in the Rue de la Paix wore the same black as Piccadilly; cab drivers tied crepe bows on their whips; black-draped portraits of the late king appeared even in the provincial towns as at the death of a great French citizen. In Tokyo, in tribute to the Anglo-Japanese alliance, houses bore the crossed flags of England and Japan with the staves draped in black. In Germany, whatever the feelings, correct procedures were observed. All officers of the army and navy were ordered to wear mourning for eight days, and the fleet in home waters fired a salute and flew its flags at half-mast. The Reichstag rose to its feet to hear a message of sympathy read by its President, and the Kaiser called in person upon the British ambassador in a visit that lasted an hour and a half.
In London the following week the royal family was kept busy meeting royal arrivals at Victoria Station. The Kaiser came over on his yacht the Hohenzollern, escorted by four British destroyers. He anchored in the Thames Estuary and came the rest of the way to London by train, arriving at Victoria Station like the common royalty. A purple carpet was rolled out on the platform, and purple-covered steps placed where his carriage would stop. As his train drew in on the stroke of noon, the familiar figure of the German emperor stepped down to be greeted by his cousin, King George, whom he kissed on both cheeks. After lunch they went together to Westminster Hall where the body of Edward lay in state. A thunderstorm the night before and drenching rains all morning had not deterred the quiet, patient line of Edward’s subjects waiting to pass through the hall. On this day, Thursday, May 19, the line stretched back for five miles. It was the day the earth was due to pass through the tail of Halley’s comet, whose appearance called forth reminders that it was traditionally the prophet of disaster—had it not heralded the Norman Conquest?—and inspired journals with literary editors to print the lines from Julius Caesar:
When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
Inside the vast hall the bier lay in somber majesty, surmounted by crown, orb, and scepter and guarded at its four corners by four officers, each from different regiments of the empire, who stood in the traditional attitude of mourning with bowed heads and white gloved hands crossed over sword hilts. The Kaiser eyed all the customs of an imperial Lying-in-State with professional interest. He was deeply impressed, and years later could recall every detail of the scene in its “marvelous medieval setting.” He saw the sun’s rays filtered through the narrow Gothic windows lighting up the jewels of the crown; he watched the changing of the guards at the bier as the four new guards marched forward with swords at the carry-up and turned them point down as they reached their places, while the guards they relieved glided away in slow motion to disappear through some unseen exit in the shadows. Laying his wreath of purple and white flowers on the coffin, he knelt with King George in silent prayer and on rising grasped his cousin’s hand in a manly and sympathetic handshake. The gesture, widely reported, caused much favorable comment.
Publicly his performance was perfect; privately he could not resist the opportunity for fresh scheming. At a dinner given by the King that night at Buckingham Palace for the seventy royal mourners and special ambassadors, he buttonholed M. Pichon of France and proposed to him that in the event Germany should find herself opposed to England in a conflict, France should side with Germany. In view of the occasion and the place, this latest imperial brainstorm caused the same fuss, that had once moved Sir Edward Grey, England’s harassed Foreign Secretary, to remark wistfully, “The other sovereigns are so much quieter.” The Kaiser later denied he had ever said anything of the kind; he had merely discussed Morocco and “some other political matters.” M. Pichon could only be got to say discreetly that the Kaiser’s language had been “amiable and pacific.”
Next morning, in the procession, where for once he could not talk, William’s behavior was exemplary. He kept his horse reined in, a head behind King George’s, and, to Conan Doyle, special correspondent for the occasion, looked so “noble that England has lost something of her old kindliness if she does not take him back into her heart today.” When the procession reached Westminster Hall he was the first to dismount and, as Queen Alexandra’s carriage drew up, “he ran to the door with such alacrity that he reached it before the royal servants, “only to find that the Queen was about to descend on the other side. William scampered nimbly around, still ahead of the servants, reached the door first, handed out the widow, and kissed her with the affection of a bereaved nephew. Fortunately, King George came up at this moment to rescue his mother and escort her himself, for she loathed the Kaiser, both personally and for the sake of Schleswig-Holstein. Though he had been but eight years old when Germany seized the duchies from Denmark, she had never forgiven him or his country. When her son on a visit to Berlin in 1890 was made honorary colonel of a Prussian regiment, she wrote to him: “And so my Georgie boy has become a real live filthy blue-coated Pickelhaube German soldier!!! Well, I never thought to have lived to see that! But never mind, … it was your misfortune and not your fault.”
A roll of muffled drums and the wail of bagpipes sounded as the coffin wrapped in the Royal Standard was borne from the Hall by a score of blue-jackets in straw hats. A sudden shiver of sabers glittered in the sun as the cavalry came to attention. At a signal of four sharp whistles the sailors hoisted the coffin on to the gun carriage draped in purple, red, and white. The cortege moved on between motionless lines of grenadiers like red walls that hemmed in the packed black masses of perfectly silent people. London was never so crowded, never so still. Alongside and behind the gun carriage, drawn by the Royal Horse Artillery, walked His late Majesty’s sixty-three aides-de-camp, all colonels or naval captains and all peers, among them five dukes, four marquises, and thirteen earls. England’s three Field Marshals, Lord Kitchener, Lord Roberts, and Sir Evelyn Wood, rode together. Six Admirals of the Fleet followed, and after them, walking all alone, Edward’s great friend, Sir John Fisher, the stormy, eccentric former First Sea Lord with his queer un-English mandarin’s face. Detachments from all the famous regiments, the Coldstreams, the Gordon Highlanders, the household cavalry and cavalry of the line, the Horse Guards and Lancers and Royal Fusiliers, brilliant Hussars and Dragoons of the German, Russian, Austrian, and other foreign cavalry units of which Edward had been honorary officer, admirals of the German Navy—almost, it seemed to some disapproving observers, too great a military show in the funeral of a man called the “Peacemaker.”
His horse with empty saddle and boots reversed in the stirrups led by two grooms and, trotting along behind, his wire-haired terrier, Caesar, added a pang of personal sentiment. On came the pomp of England: Poursuivants of Arms in emblazoned medieval tabards, Silver Stick in Waiting, White Staves, equerries, archers of Scotland, judges in wigs and black robes, and the Lord Chief Justice in scarlet, bishops in ecclesiastical purple, Yeomen of the Guard in black velvet hats and frilled Elizabethan collars, an escort of trumpeters, and then the parade of kings, followed by a glass coach bearing the widowed Queen and her sister, the Dowager Empress of Russia, and twelve other coaches of queens, ladies, and Oriental potentates.
Along Whitehall, the Mall, Piccadilly, and the Park to Paddington Station, where the body was to go by train to Windsor for burial, the long procession moved. The Royal Horse Guards’ band played the “Dead March” from Saul. People felt a finality in the slow tread of the marchers and in the solemn music. Lord Esher wrote in his diary after the funeral: “There never was such a break-up. All the old buoys which have marked the channel of our lives seem to have been swept away.”