Even during war George V was trying to maintain his good relations with other European royals without bias to which side they supported. He provided help to some members even for those on the opposite side as for instance in case of the Austrian Emperor, but surprisingly he did not help one monarch who was close to him not only as the sovereign, but also as a family member. The consequences of the King´s decision resulted in a fatal end on this occasion. The Tsar unlike George V was an autocratic monarch and this would influence the King in his discussions with his government.
2.5.1Rejection of the Tsar’s asylum
In April 1915 the Tsar made a destructive decision to command the army and to leave the capital. After the February revolution in 1917, the Tsar was forced to abdicate and he and his family were moved first to the Czarskoye Sielo and then to the town of Yeakaterinburg. During the entire time he was desperately waiting to be granted asylum. (Csar Nicholas II abdicates, n.d.). For decades it was believed that the British Government was the authority that had withdrawn the asylum for Tsar Nicholas II´s family after his abdication March 15, 1917; March 2 in the Julian calendar. Clayová (2006, p.336) points out that until Kenneth Rose´s biography of George V was published, the public believed that Prime Minister Lloyd George and his Cabinet were responsible for denying the Tsar asylum. Rose brings a new view stating that the first idea of the asylum came in March 1917 from Pavel Milyukov, the Foreign Minister of the Provisional Government of Russia, and it was reported to London by Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador in Russia. After an official request from Milyukov, the Foreign Office suggested that Denmark or Switzerland would be a more appropriate place for the Tsar to reside. It led to a more urgent message from Milyukov to get the Tsar out of the country as soon as possible. (Rose, 1983, p. 210).
A meeting was held at Downing Street on March 22 to discuss this matter and it was agreed that the Emperor would be accepted in Britain but the question of the Tsar´s residence was joined with the question of how the Tsar and his family would support themselves. Sir George Buchanan, together with the asylum offer, requested that the Russian Government would provide enough finances for the Tsar to live in suitable dignity. The letter from Lord Stamfordham to A. J. Balfour, the Foreign Secretary, however shows that the King had second thoughts about his royal cousin´s future.
The King has been thinking much about the Government´s proposal that the Emperor Nicholas and his family should come to England. As you are doubtless aware, the King has a strong personal friendship for the Emperor and therefore would be glad to do anything to help him in this crisis. But His Majesty cannot help doubting not only on account of the danger of the voyage, but on general grounds of expediency, whether it is advisable that the Imperial Family should take up their residence in this country. The King would be glad if you would consult the Prime Minister, as His Majesty understands that no definite decision has yet been come on the subject by the Russian Government (Rose, 1983, p.211).
On August 2 Balfour replied that it would be impossible to withdraw the invitation that was sent on the guidance of His Majesty´s Ministers. Four days later Stamfordham wrote to Balfour:
Every day, the King is becoming more concerned about the question of the Emperor and Empress coming to his country. His Majesty receives letters from people in all classes of life, known or unknown to him, saying how much the matter is being discussed, not only in clubs, but by working men, and that Labour Members in the House of Commons are expressing adverse opinion to the proposal.…The King desires me to ask you whether after consulting the Prime Minister, Sir George Buchanan should not be communicated with, with a view to approaching the Russian Government to make some plan for the future residence of their Imperial Majesties? (Rose, 1983, p.212)
Later Stamfordham informed the Prime Minister about the King´s awkward position and expressed that a different location such as France or Spain for the Tsar´s family should be suggested. He also informed Buchanan that the previous agreement to accept the Tsar could no longer stand and asked him to inform Petrograd. This affair became embarrassing for the King, as well as for the British Government. Just as the King was concerned about his popularity, the Government needed to ensure military cooperation with the new Russian leaders. (Rose, 1983, p.213)
As much as this event seems not to be in line with the King´s character, Rose (1983, p.215) states: ”What does remain certain is that the King, by persuading his Government to withdraw their original offer of asylum, deprived the Imperial family of their best, perhaps their only, means of escape.” He also appends (p.216) that no evidence of dealing with the Tsar´s imprisonment could be found in the Royal Archives at Windsor. This suggests that the Tsar was abandoned by his royal cousin King George V. There is also no record of the King expressing any regrets, much less his own role in this tragic event.
Lloyd George never revealed the King´s role in the negotiations. When it became known that he was writing his memoirs, Maurice Hankey, the Cabinet Secretary, was to decide to what extent Lloyd George could quote from the official documents and he decided that this chapter should be restrained. Lloyd George noted:
An agitation had also started in this country, which indicated that there was a strong feeling in extensive working-class circles, hostile to the Czar coming to Great Britain. However, the invitation was not withdrawn. The ultimate issue in the matter was decided by the action of the Russian Government, which continued to place obstacles in the way of the Czar´s departure. (Rose, 1983, p.218).
As much as this was not true, it certainly preserved the King´s honour. Clayová (2006, p.336) adds that Stamfordham visited the archives a few months before his death in 1931. He found his letter of invitation and by his own hand he wrote: “It looks like most of the people think that the invitation was initiated by the King, whereas it was done by his Government” and signed it with the letter ‘S’.
Overall the King´s decision not to assist the Tsar, in spite of the government´s opposition, was very wise and certainly contributed to the preservation of his position. “He realized that, to most of his subjects, the Tsar was a bloodstained tyrant, that the Empress Alexandra was accused of being pro-German and that this was no time for a constitutional monarch, apprehensive of his own position, to be extending the hand of friendship to an autocrat - however closely related.” (Aronson, 2011).
The situation of the other European royal families divided them into two groups Pro or Anti German. The Greek King Constantine and his wife Queen Sophie, who was sister of the German Kaiser, were accused of being pro-German and were forced to leave Athens in June 1917. Aronson (1986, p.134) points out that Queen Sophie was also Queen Victoria´s granddaughter (and mother of Empress Victoria who was born British) and held sincere feelings for Britain and for her cousin George V and even declared that Britain was her second home. It was then suggested that George V should grant asylum for the King, Queen and their Crown Prince George on the Isle of Wight. As George V had just been through the discussion about the Tsar´s future, he disagreed and the Greek royal family found their new home in Switzerland. (Aronson, 1986, p.163).
The other monarch to be mentioned is the Belgium King Albert and his wife Queen Elisabeth. He earned his huge respect from remaining throughout the whole war with his nation and the troops. He very rarely left the country but paid a visit to George V and Queen Mary in London in July 1918 on the occasion of their Silver Wedding and George V visited King Albert in his country in November 1918 near Zeebrugge. (Aronson, 1986, p.176 )
The Romanian Queen Marie was George V´s cousin. When the Romanian army was defeated and Romania surrendered in 1917, her family was allowed to leave for England but Queen Marie refused to leave the country. She and her husband Ferdinand stayed loyal to the Allies throughout the whole war. In 1918 a French plane dropped a message from George V saying that “Romania would not be forgotten” and the Queen was very excited about this. They maintained a good relationship also after the war. Austria surrendered on November 4, 1918. After several states became independent, the Austrian Emperor Karl found himself ruling only the German speaking part of Austria. At first he refused to sign his abdication but over time he, his wife Empress Zita and their five children left Schönbrunn and moved fifty miles outside of Vienna. But when a story of an alleged Bolshevik-inspired plot reached his brother, Prince Sixtus, he pleaded the President of France for their asylum. When President Poincaré did not provide any help, he went to see George V. The King agreed and arranged for a British officer to be assigned to their protection and to escort them to their exile in Switzerland. (Aronson, 1986, p.183-7)
On September 29, 1918 the German Kaiser was informed by Hindenburg, Chief of the German General Staff, and General Ludendorff that the army was not able to hold out much longer. It was decided that if the Kaiser would be away from Berlin, it would be easier to save his crown. One month later he left for Spa in Belgium but only three days later a plea for his abdication reached his chateau. It took the Kaiser ten days to do so. Hindenburg urged him to take refuge in Holland. Aronson suggests that it may have been King George V who convinced Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands to provide the Kaiser asylum in her country. When he arrived in Amerongen, he told his host: “Now for a cup of real good English tea” (Aronson, 1986, p.189-190). Clayová (2006, p.347) adds that he never saw his cousin George V again. He neither spoke nor wrote to him. When the Treaty of Piece was signed in 1919 in Versailles, France, it also included the decision to have Kaiser Willhelm II and several high-ranking German officials tried for a “supreme offence against international humanity and the sanctity of treaties”. At that time, George V received a petition from Germany pleading him to prevent the trial. The King was doubtful but a resolution of the Dutch government stated a refusal to hand the Kaiser over that ended any other negotiations. (Aronson, 1986, p.200).
In April 1919 George V sent MHS Marlborough to Jalta to bring the Tsar´s mother Marie Feodorovna (Minny) and the Tsar´s sister Ksenia with her family to Britain. (Clayová, p.349) The Dowager Empress could only be convinced by a letter from her sister, Queen Alexandra. George V insisted the ship to land in Portsmouth where Alexandra waited for her sister and they were reunited again. According to Clayová (2006, p.352) the Kaiser never doubted who was behind his exclusion. His answer was – his uncle Edward VII and two Danish princesses – Alexandra, wife of Edward VII, and her sister Minny, Marie Feodorovna, the wife of the Russian Tsar Alexander III.