"Chapter 111." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
VICTORIA reigned for sixty-three years, so that only those who were themselves growing old at the time of her death could remember when this wonderful little old lady did not rule. She bound herself firmly to the hearts of her people, calling forth a passionate love and loyalty such as no other queen throughout the ages had received. She became a part of the Empire, a part of our every day life, and when she died the whole nation mourned as for the loss of a friend.
Edward VII. was already sixty years old when he came to the throne, and as a ruler the nation at large knew little about him. For, even in her old age, Queen Victoria had held the reins of government firmly, giving up to others nothing of her rights of office. But never perhaps did King grow more rapidly in the knowledge and love of his people than did Edward VII. Soon he won not only the love of his own people, but the good will of foreign peoples as well, and by his tact, understanding and ready sympathy earned for himself the name of Edward the Peacemaker.
He had need of all his skill and understanding. For just at this time, for one reason or another, many of the peoples of Europe had no very kindly feeling towards Great Britain. Yet at one time it seemed as if his reign would be too short in which to do any good, or that he would never be crowned at all.
Much to the relief of both King and people, on May 31 the Boer war was ended, and the coronation was fixed for June 26, 1902. Now that peace had come the people felt that it was indeed a time to rejoice. So throughout the land joyous preparations were made. Streets and houses were decorated with flags and wreaths, bonfires were built, entertainments of all kinds were planned. Then like a bomb shell in the midst of all these preparations, two days before the coronation, came the news that the King was dangerously ill, and that an operation must be performed at once. The coronation could not take place.
The nation was staggered, unwilling to believe the news, yet fearful. Such a thing had never happened before, and now that it had happened it left people dumbfounded.
The operation was performed at once. Two days of anxious waiting followed, then it was announced that the King was out of danger; he would get well. He got well so quickly that six weeks after the first day arranged, the coronation took place with great splendor.
To those who saw it, it seemed like a fairy tale come true. The King, and Queen, and their courtiers, gathered together in the gray old Abbey of Westminster, seemed no longer gracious, well-dressed ladies and gentlemen. They were transformed into fairy princes and princesses, wearing stately robes, golden crowns, and glittering jewels. But beneath the glitter and the show there was something deeply solemn, for King Edward was no mere king of pageantry.
Since the days when the Tudors and the Stuarts held the scepter with despotic hands, and forced their will upon the people, the authority of the British monarch had been greatly lessened. But still the power of the king for good or evil is great, and quickly King Edward showed himself a right kingly king, with both the will and the power for good.
King Edward used his power towards peace and a better understanding among the nations of Europe. In the spring of 1903 he visited King Carlos of Portugal, then going on to Rome, he visited both the King of Italy and the Pope. At Paris he was warmly welcomed by the President of France. Later he visited both the Emperor of Austria and the Czar of Russia. Everywhere he charmed the people, and left behind a better understanding.
It is interesting to remember that King Edward VII. was the first king of England to visit Austria since the far off days when Richard the Lionheart, journeying through the land on his return from Palestine, had been seized and imprisoned. This time, whatever the real feelings of the Emperor were, no dark dungeons or chains awaited the King, but only smiles and pleasant words.
The result of all these visits was that peace was kept with the whole of Europe, at a time when it seemed that very little might have caused a war, and after centuries of misunderstanding an agreement known as the Entente Cordiale was signed with France.
King Edward was related in one way or another to nearly all the crowned heads of Europe, and he was so friendly with every one, that the French called him the Uncle of Europe. But there was one ruler who was not pleased with King Edward's doings. That was his nephew, the Emperor of Germany. He did not like King Edward's making friends with France, for he thought that must mean that Great Britain would become Germany's enemy. He thought, too, that in visiting Italy King Edward was trying to break the friendship between that country and Germany. In fact he thought that the genial, kindly King Edward was full of deep and dark designs, that he was trying to weave an evil spell around Germany, and to cut her off from the rest of Europe. He failed to see that he too had the power to make friends with the other nations just as King Edward had done, and that it was his own fault if he were "hemmed in" by enemies instead of by friends. If Britain agreed to cease quarreling, and live in concord with the rest of Europe, it could not possibly hurt Germany, unless Germany was bent on making war.
King Edward had no dark designs. He loved peace. He believed that to make war lightly was not only foolish but wicked, and because he had made friends with France he had no intention of quarreling with Germany. So he was able, in appearance at least, to bring his nephew out of his sulks, and the trouble which had been growing between England and Germany seemed to pass away.
The Germans, however, had begun to build a great navy, and they still went on building big war ships with feverish haste. They had a large army, and they did not need a large navy for defense. They could only need such a navy if they wanted to attack some one. Whom did they want to attack? Many people wanted to know that. More than any others the British wanted to know.
So one day an Englishman asked one of the German princes why they were building such a lot of war ships. It was an awkward question, and he could not give any satisfactory answer. "At any rate," he said, "we are not going to use them against Uncle Edward."
King Edward was not alone in his love of, and desire for, peace. The Czar of Russia, Nicholas II., also desired it. Even before King Edward had come to the throne he had tried to turn the thoughts of Europe towards the idea of peace, and he had persuaded all the chief nations of Europe to come to a Peace Conference at the Hague in Holland.
This conference was called together to try to find out if there was any means of persuading the peoples of Europe to reduce their armies and navies. To keep up a large army or large navy costs a great deal of money. To pay for them the people must be taxed, sometimes heavily taxed. Even if the people could easily afford to pay the taxes many people felt that the money spent on armaments, as such things are called, might be put to much better uses; that it might be spent in making life happier, better and safer. But of course it is impossible for one country to disarm if other countries will not agree to do the same. So this conference was called to see if all countries could be brought to consent, not to disarm altogether, but to reduce their armaments. It was also called to discuss the possibility of settling disputes between quarreling nations by arbitration instead of by war. Which means that if two nations quarreled, instead of fighting they should lay their quarrel before some other nation or group of nations, and let them decide who was right and who wrong.
The conference failed utterly to reduce armies and navies, because Germany would not agree to it. Germany, said her spokesman, was very well content with things as they were. The German people were not crushed under a load of taxes, they were not nearing ruin. On the contrary, life was every year becoming easier. They did not think that forced military service was a heavy burden, but looked upon it as a sacred and patriotic duty.
For years Germany had taken the lead in Europe in increasing both army and navy. To such an extent, indeed, had she done this that other nations had begun to fear her. Now as she refused to decrease either the one or the other, no nation dared do so. Therefore on that point the conference was a failure. But in the matter of arbitration it succeeded very well, and since then many disputes, such as those over boundaries between countries, have been peacefully settled by the Hague Court of Arbitration.
A second Peace Conference was called at the Hague in 1907. At this there were delegates from nearly every country in the world. But again the attitude of Germany prevented success, for her representative refused altogether to discuss the question of armaments, and even stood out against arbitration. "Arbitration," said he, "must be hurtful to Germany, as Germany is ready for war as no other country can be." It was only after great arguments, and when it seemed certain that further resistance would greatly harm Germany in the eyes of all the world, that the Emperor gave way, and his delegate agreed to the founding of the Hague Court of Arbitration.
Even in spite of Germany with her despotic ideas, which seemed to come straight out of the Middle Ages, the Hague conferences proved that the world had advanced, and that the cause of peace had made great strides against the cause of war. Yet we must rather sadly note, that in the very year in which the first conference took place war broke out between Great Britain and the Boer States of South Africa, and that a few years later, in 1904, the Czar, who had invited the conference to meet, was at war with Japan. But we must also note, that had it not been for the calmer temper of nations, of which the conference was a sign, the war between Japan and Russia might have spread, and many other nations might have been involved.
To the astonishment of almost every one, in 1902 Britain had made an alliance with Japan, and when the war broke out Russia accused Britain of helping to bring the war about by signing that treaty. Feeling ran so high that certainly fifty or a hundred years earlier Britain would have been dragged into war.
Then to make matters worse, one dark October night, the Russian fleet, passing through the North Sea on its way to the East, fired upon some English fishing smacks. One steam trawler was sunk, two men killed, and several wounded.
When the story was spread abroad England was shaken with wrath. This was an act of war, cried the hot-heads. If Russia wanted war, Russia should have war.
But the leaders of the country were calm. The Czar said he was sorry, the Russian admiral explained that it was a mistake, that he had mistaken the fishing smacks for Japanese torpedo boats. It sounded rather a lame explanation, but the British accepted it, and agreed that the whole matter should be settled by arbitration. So war was averted, and one more victory gained for peaceful methods.
King Edward VII. reigned for nine years, and when one day in May 1910 after a very short illness he died, the country mourned as it had never mourned, even at the death of the great Victoria. For King Edward was very human, and no king perhaps ever touched life at so many points on a level with his people. He was a good sportsman, a good farmer, a diligent man of business, and a charming man of the world. He enjoyed life. He wanted others to enjoy life too, and he was filled with deep sympathy towards those who suffered. When he died his people felt that they had lost a friend as well as a king.
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