As most know, prior to the First World War, the world was a much more monarchist place. Some seemingly timeless monarchies had fallen before the war (such as in China and Portugal) and more would actually fall in the aftermath of World War II rather than World War I. However, there was a very definite shift away from monarchy after the First World War, particularly in Europe, as well as a shift away from liberal democracy, capitalism and traditional religion as all of these ideas, as well as monarchy, were seen as having “failed” to prevent the catastrophe that was the First World War and the bungled aftermath of it which, rather than preventing future disasters, simply paved the way for an even more destructive conflict to come over an even greater portion of the world. So, what were the fates of those monarchies involved in the First World War? Here is a brief summary:
The Allied Nations:
The Central Powers:
The United Baltic Duchy: This was part of the effort by Germany to create a buffer between the German heartland and Soviet Russia as well as, in the words of Hindenburg, to have a place to anchor the left flank of the German army in the next war against the communists. The idea was to combine Estonia and Latvia into a monarchy called the United Baltic Duchy that would be in personal union with the Kingdom of Prussia. In charge of the duchy was to have been Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg-Schwerin but, of course, the Allied victory meant the idea never came to fruition.
The Kingdom of Lithuania: For much of 1918 the German forces in Lithuania presided over a short-lived independent monarchy after Lithuania was detached from Russia. Duke Wilhelm of Urach was chosen in the summer to become King Mindaugas II of Lithuania but he never visited the country and after the collapse of Germany the Lithuanians took back the offer to make him their king.
The Kingdom of Finland: When the Russian Empire collapsed into revolution, the Germans gave aid to the White faction and royalist Finns resisting a Soviet takeover. The result was the short-lived Kingdom of Finland or at least the attempt at such. It was to be reigned over by Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse, however the downfall of Germany and the victory of the Allies caused the Finns to scrap the idea of monarchy and adopt a republican form of government.
The Kingdom of Poland: After driving out the Russians, Germany and Austria-Hungary recognized a nominal Kingdom of Poland under a regency of pro-German officials. Austria-Hungary had first wanted Poland partitioned and later there were disagreements between Germany and Austria-Hungary over who should be the new King of Poland with each side proposing more than one candidate. In the end, the Allies were victorious and the idea of a monarchy collapsed before a monarch could be decided on.
The Hetmanate of Ukraine: Also known simply as the Ukrainian State, this was the short-lived effort in 1918 to create an independent Ukraine that was friendly to the Central Powers. Officially it was more like a Cossack military dictatorship than an actual monarchy, but based on the subsequent history of the family, it was essentially to be a monarchial state with the office of Hetman being hereditary. The Austrians had wanted a Hapsburg as King of Ukraine but the Germans favored the Hetman, Pavlo Skoropadskyi, who had deep family ties in the Ukraine. In the end, the Hetman was overthrown by the socialists and Ukraine was absorbed by the Soviet Union. An independent Belarus was also declared under German occupation but it was, from the outset, republican.
The Principality of Albania: The status of Albania was ambiguous throughout World War I. The original independent leader of Albania, Prince Wilhelm, was driven out of the country shortly before the war started. He wished to regain his throne, Austria-Hungary wished to absorb Albania and many local Muslims wished to reunite with Ottoman Turkey. In the end, the Allies agreed to partition Albania with most becoming an Italian protectorate. Eventually, a Kingdom of Albania was established after the war by President Ahmed Zogu.
The Dervish State: This was a nominal Islamic monarchy which claimed sovereignty over parts of Italian and British Somalia and the Empire of Ethiopia led by Mohammed Abdullah Hassan, the so-called “Mad Mullah”. Recognized by the German and Ottoman Empires it was part of an effort by the Germans and Turks to bring the Horn of Africa under Central Powers control, mostly in the name of Ottoman Turkey. It was defeated by Italo-British colonial forces and Somalis loyal to Italy.
Ireland: During World War I the German Empire sent weapons and support to the Irish by submarine in an effort to encourage rebellion against Great Britain. This resulted in the failed Easter Rising of 1916 which, although considered a sort of birthday of the Irish republic, also had a monarchist element to it. Because success was seen to depend on the victory and goodwill of the Germans, some backed the idea of making Ireland a monarchy with the Kaiser’s son Prince Joachim as King.
China: There was plenty of monarchist activity in China while World War I was raging. In 1916 the General-turned-President Yuan Shihkai declared himself “Emperor of China” only to face an immediate backlash and his hasty retreat a few months later. When the Republic of China voted to declare war on Germany, one of the reasons given was supposed German support for a restoration of the monarchy under the old Manchu dynasty. In 1917 the last Qing Emperor was restored by a monarchist general but this lasted less than 2 weeks before republican forces crushed the effort.
There were, of course, numerous other German intrigues, from efforts to encourage a rebellion in India to the proposal to have Mexico declare war on the United States and persuade Japan to betray the Allies and join the Central Powers. However, other schemes did not involve monarchies or efforts to restore monarchies but were republican in nature.
In the end, it is hard to see any real gain for the cause of monarchy by the First World War. Some monarchs came out of it with great prestige (like King Albert in Belgium) but the benefits were often illusory. Many monarchies were lost and even those that survived were left in a position of being overstretched, almost broke and beholden to foreign powers. Others emerged victorious but embittered that their meager gains did not match their extensive losses. For some, their victory caused them to have an exaggerated sense of strength and importance that did not serve them well in the long run. In short, for the cause of monarchy as well as the cause of the world in general, the Great War was disaster that left both victor and vanquished in a terrible position; it would just take the victors longer to realize it.