The Willy-Nicky Telegrams

The Willy-Nicky Telegrams
Kaiser Wilhelm II with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1905, wearing the military uniforms of each other’s nations.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)


The Willy Nicky Telegrams

Following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of the Austro Hungarian Empire, on 28 June 1914, the darkening storm clouds of war began rapidly gathering across Europe.

Soon after the assassination, a series of curious telegrams was exchanged between Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, ostensibly in a bid to avert the gathering crisis of a European war.

Wilhelm and Nicholas were third cousins and frequently corresponded in their common language of English, calling each other “Willy” and “Nicky”. The correspondence concerned became known as the “Willy-Nicky telegrams” and there were ten of these sent between 29 July and 1 August 1914.

From the outset, both rulers appeared to have a different agenda, with the telegrams initially showing Nicholas attempting to avoid a war, but Wilhelm more intent on keeping Russia out of the conflict that he thought inevitable.

Initially the tone was conciliatory, with the Tsar pleading with Wilhelm to try and limit the escalating mobilisations but then the telegram exchange became more ominous with both leaders warning each other of the increasingly dire consequences of the developing situation.

Nicholas wrote on 29 July:

“Thanks for your telegram conciliatory and friendly. Whereas official message presented today by your ambassador to my minister was conveyed in a very different tone. Beg you to explain this divergency! It would be right to give over the Austro-Servian problem to the Hague conference. Trust in your wisdom and friendship. Your loving Nicky”

Nicholas’s suggestion that the conflict be taken to the Hague Convention for resolution was a last ditch attempt to avoid war but was ignored by Wilhelm.

At the beginning of the telegram exchange the Tsar had cancelled Russian mobilisation but this was quickly resumed on the 31 July when Nicholas believed that Wilhelm’s responses were unsatisfactory.