Queen Victoria I the last and arguably one of the greatest queens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In her reign the British Empire expanded into the largest realm in history up to that point. Its navy was unmatched and it was without doubt the premier economic power.
For Queen Victoria herself, though, her life was something of a tragic one. All her male sons predeceased her, along with her husband Prince Albert. By the end of her life Victoria was sad and lonely, and had invested much of her hope and heart into her daughter. The Princess Royal Victoria rose to the throne after her mother's death in 1901 - but her reign was a short one. In August 1901 Queen Victoria II died of breast cancer, her short reign dominated mostly by mourning for her mother's passing and her own health problems. Throughout the entire episode of her reign, she was tended to by her husband William - Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany. Inkeeping with a romantic and sentimental side to his personality, he was devoted to his wife, neglecting many of his responsibilities in order to care for her. By the time of the Queen's passing Wilhelm was tantamount to a national hero in Britain. Applauded and loved by people across the social spectrum, there was overwhelming desire for him to become the next King. Despite lapsing into depression following his wife's death, Wilhelm's ambition drove him to rise to the challenge and after a week-long succession crisis, Wilhelm II became King William V of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The two nations were no longer ruled by husband and wife. They were ruled by one man, and the world's foremost two empires were now in personal union.
Ambition in both nations steered the empires into an inevitable course of union. The beginning of the 20th century saw strong Anglophilia and Germanophilia in the respective nations, transcending nationalism. The personal union welcomed in a new era of discussion and cooperation between the upper classes of both nations and within months the optimistic visions of unstoppable joint ventures of imperialism gripped both Britain and Germany. Public pressure was overwhelming and as early as 1902 motions were being made for union between the two nations.
This would rapidly come to dominate political circles and soon Westminster and the Reichstag were in constant communication over how to achieve a successful union. It was felt that ruling both nations would be easily achieved, since it was 'even simpler' than overcoming the communication difficulties inherent in proposals for an Imperial Federation. Nonetheless, it proved incredibly difficult to unite the authoritarian German system with the growing democratic British system - especially with growing tension within Westminster between the Lords and Commons. Three bitter years of debate ensued. The quagmire was finally broken when a number of key German politicians drowned in a North Sea storm in 1904 (an event which was to later have much larger ramifications). This led to the leading voices in the 'pro-Authoritarian' debate and eventually a breakthrough to a strong democratic parliament - of nearly 1,000 members. This necessitated the construction of a new, purpose-built capital to accommodate such a large parliament was commenced around the Steinhuder Meer - a location chosen for its scenic location, ease-of-reach by both land and sea, and its position in Hanover, an area historically in personal union with Britain.
The nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Ireland and Germany came into existence in 1905, with William becoming its first King. His full title was 'By the Grace of God, King William of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany and of the Anglo-German Dominions beyond the Seas King William, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India'. Four years later the first elections had been held and the nation was rapidly establishing its own identity, fusing German and British culture. This was the era of the 'cultural engineer', a term that arose to describe the hundreds of aristocrats and social scientists who made a scientific art of blending culture and language and reinterpreting history. This flurry of activity was to become an established and recognized scientist in the following century, and several influential novels, treatises and films managed to bridge the cultural gap.
However, the physical gap remained. The incident of the prominent German politicians drowning was not easily forgotten and indeed repeated in numerous incidents over the following years. As cultural union began, the military found its own way to draw itself together (in the midst of a large reorganisation process): considering an invasion of Belgium and northern France, with the intent of creating corridor of land all the way to Channel.
Though politically this intent was kept quiet, there were nonetheless several obvious moves in this direction: the repealing of the 1839 Treaty of London (guaranteeing Belgium's neutrality) was scrapped, which as a consequence encouraged Belgium to look to France for defence. Anglo-German military exercises often took place near the Belgian border. Quietly, the Schlieffen Plan was revised to include British troops in an invasion of France.