See all History Matters transcripts on Youtube

youtube thumbnail

Why are so many European royal families German? (Short Animated Documentary)

4 minutes 41 seconds

Speaker 1

00:00:00 - 00:00:18

In 1914 all of these countries in Europe were ruled by monarchs. And these were ruled by monarchs of a German royal family. Quite a lot. And given that some of these rulers could trace their houses back a thousand years and others mere decades, why were so many of them German? So a lot of this can be explained by 1 thing.

Speaker 1

00:00:18 - 00:00:43

The late unification of Germany. At the turn of the 18th century, the German-speaking parts of Europe weren't unified like the French, English or Spanish-speaking parts. It was divided into numerous smaller states, many of which had their own monarchies. And these monarchs would marry off their kids to whoever would have them. A Prussian princess married the Prince of Orange, a Brunswicker Duchess married the King of Denmark, a Badener Duchess married the King of Sweden, and 1 from Mecklenburg married the King of the United Kingdom.

Speaker 1

00:00:43 - 00:01:11

Given that all of these monarchies only really paid lip service to their overlords, the Holy Roman Emperors, there wasn't much risk in marrying them. Whereas marrying someone in the French royal family could cause issues with inheritance, which France, unlike the small German states, could press. And, over time, childless or female heirs would mean a near relative would succeed the throne, and they would be a member of their father's often German house. But what about countries individually? Well, the United Kingdom's monarchy had previously been Anglo-Saxon, French, Welsh and Scottish.

Speaker 1

00:01:11 - 00:01:46

After a flirt with Catholicism, English nobles called upon William of Orange to seize the throne from James II. He did, and Catholics were then banned from becoming ruler. William also didn't have any children and so the throne went to his sister-in-law, Anne. She continued the streak of not having an heir and died childless and so the throne passed to her cousin's son, George of Hanover, her closest Protestant relative, thereby beginning the Hanoverian dynasty, which would be succeeded by the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha dynasty, which would soon after change its name to Windsor when all things German suddenly became less popular. In Denmark, throughout most of its history, its monarchy was an elective 1.

Speaker 1

00:01:46 - 00:02:13

But when King Christopher III made the mistake of dying without an heir, the nobles had to pick somebody new. As such, they chose Christian, who was the son of the Duke of Schleswig, a region with a sizeable German-speaking minority which Denmark had a close relationship with and 1 it wanted to keep. This began the House of Oldenburg, which still reigns to this day and also in Norway. Although Norway chose a Danish prince for their throne when it split from Sweden in 1905. The German and Austrian imperial families both have their origins in the Holy Roman Empire.

Speaker 1

00:02:13 - 00:02:40

The Hohenzollerns were from Zollern here and the Habsburgs were unsurprisingly from Habsburg here in what's now Switzerland. Both slowly over the centuries increased their holdings and titles from counts to dukes to archdukes and kings before emperors. There wasn't a lot of opportunity for outside royal houses to advance in the Holy Roman Empire, and so these families just stayed German. The last major power which had a German royal family was Russia. Peter the Great was a Romanov, as was his daughter, Empress Elizabeth I.

Speaker 1

00:02:40 - 00:02:58

She died childless and the throne passed to her nephew Peter III. Peter's father was the Duke of Holstein and thus he was a part of that house. Now, Peter and his wife Catherine kept the name Romanov to tie themselves to their empire and its people. And that royal family stayed in power until, you know, a thing happened. So what about all of these smaller nations?

Speaker 1

00:02:58 - 00:03:24

Well, these nations all came into existence in the 19th century with the oversight of the great powers, who as a result got to choose who would be king. The first was Greece. Britain, France and Russia all had a stake in the new country, and thus they all wanted an ally on the throne. As such, after their first choice said no, they picked Prince Otto of Bavaria, who wasn't aligned with any of them. Next was Belgium, which, as a buffer state between Prussia and France, couldn't be aligned with either.

Speaker 1

00:03:24 - 00:03:53

As such, the British chose Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, husband of the king's niece, to keep the 2 close to ensure Belgium's independence. Romania had a German monarch after its first ruler and native Romanian became somewhat despotic and was overthrown in a coup. The new country had only recently broken away from the Ottoman Empire, and so to maintain its independence its nobles picked a prince from the Prussian Hohenzollern royal family. This essentially guaranteed their independence from Russia, the Ottomans and the Austrians next door. And for Bulgaria, the reasons were similar.

Speaker 1

00:03:53 - 00:04:23

At first it was ruled by the nephew of the Russian Emperor, but he got himself overthrown after being terrible. He was replaced by an Austrian-backed candidate which, unlike Romania, was fine because Austria-Hungary wasn't on the border with them. And after this, these royal families remained in place until either today or their eventual ousting in the 20th century. I hope you enjoyed this episode and a special thanks to my Patrons... Kelly Moneymaker, Sky Chappell, Korsha Wolf, Jerry Lambdin, Jordan Longley, Adam Stalter, Marcus Arsner, Wyan Hockey, Spencer Lightfoot, Rod D.

Speaker 1

00:04:23 - 00:04:23

Martin, Words About Books Podcast, Captain Psydog, Gustav Swan, Marvin Casal, Camoon Yoon, Winston K. Wood, Boogily Woogily, Daniel Tobian, Miss Izzet, Matthew Shipley, Aaron the White, Corey Turner, The McWhopper, Alex Schwinn, Anthony Beckett, Copper Tone, Maggie Paskowski, Shuenin, Spinning 3 Plates and Charles the First.