This photo shows Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, riding together in a carriage at an event in 1913. Both monarchs were the leaders of their respective nations during the onset of the First World War, and they were also third cousins – in telegrams exchanged between the two, written in English, they would often refer to each other as “Willy” and Nicky”. While they did not have a particularly close relationship (with Nicholas having been more amicable towards George V of England, another one of his cousins), their familial ties did imply a certain level of familiarity with each other, as well as stability between each nation – or, so, was thought.
After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the political alliances that Russia and Germany possessed demanded that should a war arise between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, Russia and Germany would be drawn into the fray as well – against each other. Naturally, both Nicholas and Wilhelm exchanged regular telegrams to each other as tensions began to rise – with both rulers expressing their apparent concerns over the potentiality of war, and their respective desires to quell it should they be able to. Despite the content of these letters implying that a peace agreement was sought, each country continued to further mobilize their forces for war, with Wilhelm eventually formally declaring war against Russia on July 20, 1914.
In the end, the familial ties between the two monarchs were not enough to quash the onset of the First World War. Political alliances aside, the individual power they had to influence the onset of war itself had diminished – the growing mobilization of each nation’s army was vehemently sought for by various politicians, military generals, and even arms manufacturers who deduced that they had much to gain from international conflict. When the time came to respond to ultimatums, the monarchs practically had no choice but to initiate what would become one of the most destructive wars in history.