When Nine Kings Were All In One Room

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Podcast Transcript

On May 20, 1910, an event occurred that had never occurred before or since. 

Gathered for the funeral of the British King Edward VII, nine different European monarchs assembled inside Windsor Castle for a photo.

In the immediate years after this image was taken, life would change dramatically for most of the monarchs. 

Learn more about the day nine kings were in one room and what happened to them later on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

On May 6, 1910, King Edward VII died. 

Edward had a very odd reign as king. He was the son of Queen Victoria, who was queen forever, and he was the heir apparent for almost 60 years. 

When Victoria died in 1901, he took the throne at the age of 59.

He was by all accounts one of the most popular British monarchs of the last century, but his reign was to be short-lived. He passed away just 9 years after his ascension. 

Those nine years saw a lot of changes in the world. 

When Victoria died, her funeral had a large number of royals from around Europe, but not necessarily other monarchs themselves.

When a leader of a country died, news of it would travel as fast as a horse or a ship could carry the information. Likewise, once they got the news, if you wanted to attend the funeral, it would take you just as long, if not longer, to go back. 

The end result is that you would seldom see monarchs attending funerals of other monarchs prior to the 20th century. It wasn’t like a coronation where you had some advance notification. 

The first decade saw dramatic changes in communications and transportation. News could travel almost instantly via telegraph and telephone. Trains and steamships could also carry passengers faster.

So, when Edward VII died, it was possible for other European monarchs to attend.

However, it wasn’t just a matter of technology. As I covered in a future episode, many many royal families in Europe were all related to Queen Victoria, and hence, Edward VII. These royal families were all quite literally one big family.

So, it was in this environment that the funeral of Edward VII became such a noteworthy affair. 

It was the biggest gathering of royalty in history and, as you’ll see, a feat that is now impossible to surpass. 

The funeral was held on May 20, two weeks after the king’s death. With almost instantaneous notification of his death, that gave plenty of time for monarchs of Europe to assemble…..kind of like the Avengers, but with giant walrus mustaches of the period.

The funeral was held in Westminster Abbey, and afterward, there was a massive procession from the Abbey to Windsor Castle. There were an estimated 3 to 5 million people along the route. Most interestingly was a very long procession of royal representatives from around the world. 

In addition to the handful of monarchs in attendance, there were also attendees from royal houses as far away as Japan, Siam, and Egypt.

When the procession arrived at Windsor Castle, the decision was made to take a photo of the nine monarchs who were in attendance. 

The photo wasn’t that big of a deal really at the time. It was something that was done because everyone was there. 

Who were the nine kings in attendance? 

The first was obviously King George V of the United Kingdom. The son of King Edward VII. 

Also in attendance were: 

  • King Haakon VII of Norway
  • Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria
  • King Manuel II of Portugal
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany
  • King George I of Greece
  • King Albert I of Belgium
  • King Alfonso XIII of Spain
  • and King Frederick VIII of Denmark.

It is hard to tell when one phase of history begins, and another one ends. In hindsight, you could say that the funeral of Edward VII might have been the last hurrah for the 19th-century European order. 

Just four years later, the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated, and it sparked the first world war, which upended everything.

Franz Ferdinand was in attendance at the funeral and took part in the procession. 

The lives of these nine men are sort of a microcosm of much of European history over the next several decades. 

Let’s start with King George V of Great Britain. 

George actually probably did the best of the kings in attendance. He was King during World War I and, by all accounts, did a fine job leading the country, at least as a source of inspiration. 

The name of the dynasty changed from the very German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the much more British-sounding House of Windsor. Likewise, many titles that he and other family members had back in Germany were all relinquished.

He died in 1936 at the age of 70. His son, Edward VIII, was involved in a massive scandal for wanting to marry an American divorcee, which resulted in his abdication of the throne. 

King Haakon VII of Norway was probably most famous for refusing to abdicate the throne when the Nazis invaded. He fled to England and from there spent the war helping the Norwegian resistance.  He even refused to abdicate even under the threat of Nazis rounding up Norwegians and putting them in concentration camps.

He returned to Norway in 1945 to a hero’s welcome. He passed away in 1957 at the age of 85, having preserved the Norwegian monarchy, which still exists today.

Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria didn’t fare quite so well. Bulgaria joined the Central Powers during the first world war, and Tsar Ferdinand found himself at war with England. 

Ferdinand wanted the land back that Bulgaria had lost during the Balkans war, particularly from Serbia, so they aligned themselves with Germany and Austria. 

However, as you know, Ferdinand picked the wrong side. He ended up abdicating the throne in 1918 in a bid to preserve the Bulgarian monarchy. It worked for a while. His son Boris III died in 1943 during the Second World War and was replaced by his six-year-old son, Simeon. 

The monarchy was abolished in 1946 by the communists.

King Manuel II of Portugal became king in 1908 when his father, Carlos I, and his older brother Luís Filipe were assassinated. 

Manuel didn’t last very long on the throne. Just a few months after the funeral in October, the Republican Revolution took place in Portugal, which abolished the monarchy. 

He then found himself on the royal yacht, sailing to England where he was met by King George. 

He lived the rest of his life in exile, and despite several attempts during his lifetime, the monarchy was never restored in Portugal.

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany also found himself at war with his first cousin, George V at the start of World War I. 

He eventually had to abdicate at the end of the war as a condition by the United States to begin negotiations, thus ending the German Monarchy. 

He lived and died in exile outside the town of Doorn in the Netherlands. His home was captured by Germans after the invasion of the Netherlands, and no special honors or acknowledgment of his previous position was offered by Hitler. 

His funeral in 1941 was small, and despite requesting there be no Nazi flags or imagery, his request was ignored. 

King George I of Greece had already been king for 47 years by 1910. He only lived a few more years as he was assassinated on March 18, 1913. He was shot in the back while walking down the street. 

His son didn’t fare much better. He ended up abdicating the throne twice, and his grandson also had multiple periods as king with exile in between. 

The Greek monarchy was abolished in 1973.

King Albert I of Belgium had ascended to the Belgian throne just a few months before the funeral. 

During World War I, Belgium probably suffered more than any other country. Unlike other monarchs during the war, Albert actually commanded troops and was on the front lines and in the trenches. He allowed his 12-year-old son Leopold to enlist and fight as a private.

He died on February 17, 1934, in a mountaineering accident in Belgium. He was an accomplished mountaineer, and there have been rumors and conspiracies surrounding his death ever since. 

King Alfonso XIII of Spain had a path that was similar to that of his neighbor Albert in Portugal. After an election that was considered a referendum on the Spanish monarchy in 1931, he left Spain and settled into exile in Rome. 

Technically, he never abdicated the throne, but his two oldest sons renounced their claims. His third son, Juan Carlos, became king when the monarchy was re-established after the death of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. 

He died in 1941, still living in exile in Italy.

The last of the monarchs was King Frederick VIII of Denmark. He reigned for only two more years after he died of a heart attack while passing through Germany on the way back to Denmark from France.

He collapsed on a park bench, and when he was found, he had no documentation on him. The police found his body but had no clue it was the King of Denmark until it was identified by a hotel manager the next day.

Given the odd circumstances of his death, there were rumors surrounding it almost immediately, especially considering that there was a brothel nearby.

These nine kings, who were assembled in one spot for just one day, all went on to very different futures. 

All of them, save for Geroge V, either abdicated or died very suspicious or untimely deaths. 

The 20th century wasn’t a good one for European monarchies. Most of them were abolished or had their powers severely curtailed. 

As it turns out, sometimes it isn’t so good to be the king. 

Everything Everywhere Daily is an Airwave Media Podcast. 

The executive producer is Darcy Adams.

The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.

Today’s review comes from listener DBAU20 from Apple Podcasts in Australia. They write:

“Garry has been a soothing discovery during this time of the Covid pandemic. My good friend JK Power (Hi JK and happy breakfast, dude) brought me to you. Heartfelt thanks for this great work in the perfect format for our times. You really time the multiverse together. For your list of future episodes please consider; Hashima Island, commonly called Gunkanjima (Battleship Island). Also, to complement both DARPA & Bell Labs, please consider an episode focus on The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)”

Thanks, DBAU! I will certainly make a note of your episode suggestions. 

Remember, if you leave a review or send me a boostagram, you too can have it read the show.