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Royalty and Military Service During World War I

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The author is an air warrior, military historian and writer on warfare and military history

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (1905)

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (1905)


Just before the outbreak of the First World War the overall global picture was very different from what it is today. Most of the big powers from Russia to Japan, England, and Germany were ruled by monarchies. Most of the protagonists opposing each other were from royalty and many of them were interrelated but that did not stop them from fighting against each other.

Members of the royal households who headed these countries wished to show their patriotism to their nation and many of them enlisted as soldiers and officers to fight the great war. The First World war 1914-18 was the first war that had a global impact. Fought essentially between the Allies against the Central Powers led by Germany, the war brought to the fore the role of royalty in battle. It is very interesting to study the history of this period and the role of royalty in this war. It will not be out of place to say that the war was the swan song of royalty for at the end of the war most of the monarchies collapsed.

Archduke Eugen of Austria (1863–1954)

Archduke Eugen of Austria (1863–1954)

The royals as soldiers

In 1914 the scene on the world stage still supported the monarchy. Nobody knew at that time that within a period of four years great empires like the Ottoman empire and many houses that ruled big countries like Germany and Russia would cease to exist by the end of the war.

This was the period when most countries in Europe were headed by monarchs and royalty reigned supreme. After the end of the war, many of the royal families across Europe ceased to exist, like the Russian Tsars and the German dynasty. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his entire family were murdered by the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and the Kaiser of Germany was deposed after his defeat.

One of the constituents on the side of Germany was the Austria-Hungarian Empire. In fact, the match that lit the war started with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (1863-14), heir to the throne. Many members of the royal family of the House of Hapsburg took part in this war. Archduke Friedrich, Duke of Teschen was the supreme commander of the Austro –Hungarian army with the rank of Field Marshal. He was removed from command in 1917 when Emperor Charles himself took over command of the army. He died in 1936.

Another significant name is that of Archduke Charles Stephen who was Grand Admiral of the Austro-Hungarian (K.u.K.) Navy. He died in 1933. The name of Archduke Eugen of Austria is also prominent. He was a Field Marshal and commander in the Balkans and later of the entire southwestern front. He was the Archduke of Austria and Prince of Hungary. He died in 1954.

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Another major figure from royalty during World War I was Archduke Joseph August of Austria. He was the last Field Marshal of Austria and was commander of the VII Corps, the 6th Army, and eventually the Army Group Tirol. He died in 1962.

Many other members of royalty from the Austria-Hungary royal family took part in the war. Prominent are Archdukes Franz Salvator, Josef Ferdinand, Karl Albrecht, and Leo Karl. They held positions from the rank of Major General to Colonel and captain.

No history of Royalty and the First World War can be complete without mentioning the German Monarch Emperor Wilhelm II. He led the German war effort and greatly strengthened the navy. But defeat in the war forced him to abdicate and he died in 1942.

The Royal family of England also made their contribution to the war effort. During World War, I, Prince Albert, Duke of York was a turret officer aboard HMS Collingwood and took part in the Battle of Jutland. Another name connected with the royalty of England is Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn who rose to the rank of Field marshal and later was governor-general of Canada. He was the 7th child and 3rd son of Queen Victoria and died in 1942.

Two other members of British royalty namely Prince Arthur of Connaught and Prince Maurice of Battenberg are also mentioned in the archives. Prince Maurice was a Lieutenant in the King's Royal Rifle Corps and was killed at the battle of Ypres. Prince Maurice was the youngest grandchild of Queen Victoria.

Most members of the Royal family of England served in junior positions during the war and left the army or navy at the end of the war.

From India, the Maharaja of Jodhpur led the famous horse cavalry in Mesopotamia against the Turks and the Ottoman empire.

Prince Arthur

Prince Arthur

Last word

The First World War was a watershed in world history and marked the demise of monarchy all over Europe. The big powers who had dominated the world for close to 300 years became republics. A few dynasties which lingered on like the Italian monarchy saw their end in WW II.

Monarchy and World War I is a fertile field for research for people who love history. I wonder if the royal houses at that time realized that they were breathing their last in the oxygen tent.

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