The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the road to World War One by Miranda Carter

Penguin Books, 2010,

£10.99 (2010 pricing)

498pp, soft covers;

illustrated plus notes, bibliography and index.

Also available as an eBook.

ISBN 978-0-141-01998-7

Miranda Carter describes Wilhelm’s lack of lack of tact and diplomacy, that Nicholas II was weak, horrified when his hearty father Alexander III died unexpectedly (of Bright’s Disease) at the age of 49. He complained that he was unready to rule and was unfit to be an emperor. He never 'became ready’. Married to a woman he loved, all Nicholas wanted to do was play ‘happy families’; Alexandra was crushingly shy and uncomfortable with court life. Together the pair alienated subjects by hiding away at Tsarskoe Selot and their reliance on Rasputin further alienated them from both the court and population.

Franz-Joseph of Austria’s problems were different. His ethnically diverse empire was unmanageably large, court protocol stultifying. Although the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand’s assassination freed him of the burden of an heir he did not like, he proved too old to deal with 20th century war knowing that his empire could not survive it.

Miranda Carter’s The Three Emperors shows that these three nations lacked diplomatic ability and judgement. None had recognised how industrialisation and urbanisation had changed the attitudes of the workers, many of whom had swapped agricultural life for the cities and, now, demanded greater rights.

George V comes across as a simple, rather brusque man; neither particularly bright nor demonstrative, both crushed by the war and the inevitable alienation of close family members. He found the murder of the tsar and his family a severe blow. However, as he had back-pedalled on providing asylum for the imperial family, one wonders how much this preyed on his mind for the rest of his life

Once you start reading this book it is so easy to see disaster lurking around the corner, particularly after 1870.


Reviewed by Barbara Taylor