Each of these banknotes were produced during the final ruling years of the royal houses of Habsburg, Hohenzollern, and Romanov, which all fell in 1918. For nearly a thousand years these royal houses dominated the continent, often ruling over many different countries at a time. However, none would withstand the abdications and revolutions spurred by World War I.
A 20 kronen note from Austro-Hungary represents the Habsburgs, printed just one year before the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand kicked off World War I in 1914 (Ferdinand himself was an Austro-Hungarian Habsburg). The House of Romanov is represented by a Russian 5 ruble note printed during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, who met a bloody end after being executed by the Bolsheviks. Two different styles of German banknotes representing the House of Hohenzollern are also included, a large imperial 10 marks from 1908 and a small notgeld from 1917 - 1918 showing Kaiser Wilhelm II and his Commanders in Chief Hindenburg and Ludendorff.
The Habsburgs ruled over swaths of the continent for about a millennia, from the time of Count Otto II in 1108, through 300 years of the Holy Roman Empire, until Armistice Day, 1918. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a Habsburg, was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne when he was assassinated by Serbian nationalists in Sarajevo in 1914—an event that famously began the Great War. The Archduke's cousin Charles I took the throne in 1916, becoming the last monarch of the great House of Hapsburg. Charles did not formally abdicate, hoping to return to power, but his attempts to restore the monarchy were unsuccessful. He died in exile in Madeira in 1922.
The Hohenzollerns served as princes, dukes, kings, and emperors of Prussia, Germany, and Romania for some 900 years. The Zollern line was founded in the eleventh century by Burkhard I, one of the dukes of Swabia in Southwest Germany, and remained in power until the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1918. Although intelligent and well-meaning, Wilhelm was also impatient, arrogant, and ill-tempered, and these character flaws contributed mightily to his demise. He was forced abdicate in 1918, living the rest of his 82 years in the neutral Netherlands—but never renouncing his now-meaningless title as King of Prussia.
Mikhail Romanov, just 16 years old and terrified at the prospect of rule, became tsar in 1613, the first of a line that included Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, solidifying the political situation in Russia for the next 300 years. The last tsar, the hapless Romanov Nicholas II, ruled during the Bloody Sunday Massacre, the humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, and most of all the Great War, in which over three million Russians perished. Nicholas was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the 1917 February Resolution and summarily executed with the entire royal family a year later.
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