Today’s book about World War I isn’t a book. It’s a TV series made back in the 1970s and only recently available on DVD. "Fall of Eagles" is a lengthy BBC dramatization of the downward spiral of the Russian, Austrian, and German ruling houses as they lurched toward war and then came to grief during that ruinous conflict.
We are familiar with the decadence of the Austrian world before the Great War from the works of Robert Musil, Joseph Roth, and others. But we sometimes forget the similar decay in some of the other royal families of Europe. The House of Romanov, in part because of the ruinous Japanese war, was in nearly as precarious a state as the Hapsburgs. The Wittelbachs of Bavaria also lost their throne during the war.
The Hohenzollern family, which is considered by many historians to be the instigator of the war, lost the most. Wilhelmenian Germany, recently united by Bismark and firmly under the control of the former kings of Prussia, was enjoying a robust economy and science and the arts were flourishing.
"Fall of Eagles" has a few things going for it, not least the appearance of the remarkable Patrick Stewart as Lenin and a young Michael Kitchen as Trotsky, almost unrecognizable under the facial hair. Gemma Jones is also in the production as are some other British actors well know from more recent TV dramas.
Wihelm (no relation) points out that although the eagle was a Roman symbol it was those parts of Europe that were not conquered by the Romans who chose it as a symbol of their ruling clans, and in Germany and Russia, called their ruler Caesar. Those who were Roman colonies took a "been there, done that" attitude and stuck with their lions and fleur-de-lis.