The doppelganger royal cousins who went from childhood friendship to a gruesome death

King George V with his maternal cousin Tsar Nicholas II
King George V with his maternal cousin Tsar Nicholas II

Two cousins who shared uncannily similar faces and dispositions, idyllic summer holidays and, it seemed, a destiny: to be emperors. In the end, however, George V and Tsar Nicholas II would meet very different fates.

The relationship of the Romanovs and their British cousins has been placed under the spotlight in Season Five of Netflix's The Crown.

Nicholas - the last ever Russian tsar - and his family met a grizzly end. After being forced to abdicate during the Russian revolution in 1917, the reign of the Romanov dynasty officially came to an end. A year later the imperial family was executed in July after a long period of house arrest.

RUSSIA - CIRCA 1910:  Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra Pose with third Children Before the Revolution  (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra with their Children before the revolution. (Getty Images)

Nicholas' cousin George, on the other hand, helped the British monarchy thrive well into the 20th century until his death in 1936.

Queen Victoria, branded a "compulsive, often dreadfully insensitive matchmaker", was George's paternal grandmother, and through her he boasted descendants in nearly every royal court across Europe. But it was George's friendship with his Russian cousin from the other side of his family, that marked the Tsar out as one of his closest relatives.

Connected since childhood

"I look upon you," George wrote to his Russian cousin in 1894, "as one of my oldest and best friends".

The two men had been connected by the closeness of their mothers since childhood: Danish princesses and sisters Alexandra and Dagmar married into the British and Russian Royal Families respectively.

The informal and relaxed summer holidays in Denmark the sisters spent together with their children are said too have been enjoyed by Nicholas and George and led to their becoming fast friends, something which author Miranda Carter wrote was "vigorously encouraged" by Alexandra.

The Tsarevich of Russia (1868 - 1918, later Czar Nicholas II of Russia, left), with his cousin, Prince George, Duke of York (1865 - 1936, later King George V), UK, 1893. Nicholas is in Britain for George's wedding to Princess Mary of Teck. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Nicholas, then the Tsarevich of Russia, with his cousin George in 1893. (Getty Images)
1874:  Alexandra, consort of Prince Edward (later King Edward VII) and her sister the Empress Marie Dagmar of Russia, (1847 - 1928, left), consort of Tsar Alexander III. Both women are daughters of King Christian IX of Denmark.  (Photo by Bergamasco/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Alexandra and her sister the Empress Marie Dagmar of Russia. (Getty Images)

Their summers in the Danish countryside were said to be in imbued with the "outdoorsy, informal, uncultured and unsophisticated" nature of the Danish royals. Queen Victoria even said of the tight-knit sisters: "They are wonderfully united and never breathe one word against each other [...] I do admire this."

George and Nicholas were "both shy, solitary" and loved life in the countryside, with there being "almost nothing the two men wanted less" than to get involved in politics.

The dull king

"The King is duller than the Queen" — or so said essayist Max Beerbohm in his satirical poem Ballad Tragique a Double Refrain, which extolled the royal couple's lack of virtues more than anything else.

George V was not a man that inspired much enthusiasm from his contemporaries and described by grandmother Queen Victoria as "very small and not very pretty" upon his birth.

The British and Russian royal families, 1909, (1951). 'An official photograph to mark the visit to this country in 1909 of the late Czar and Czarina of Russia, their four daughters and the young Czarevich. With them in the picture are King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, King George V and Queen Mary, the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal'. Portrait taken at Barton Manor, Isle of Wight on 4 August 1909, of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia with their children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei; King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra with the future King George V (first cousin of the Tsar), Mary of Teck, the Prince of Wales (future King George VI) and Mary, Princess Royal. The Russian royal family were executed in 1918 by Bolshevik guards. From
The British and Russian royal families in 1909, when the Russian imperial family visited the Isle of Wight. (Getty Images)

The monarch warmed to George and his siblings as they grew older, later referring to them as "dear intelligent and thoroughly unpretending children", thanks in large part to their rural upbringing in Sandringham, which was — according to author Miranda Carter — "relatively" informal.

Despite the fact the family were "unworldly" in their rural home, and George was said to be "merry and rosy" by his grandmother, Carter wrote that his mother Alexandra was both "a very intense and loving parent [and] an erratic and selfish one" which eventually led to her children being "resistant to outsiders [and] intensely dependent on her".

As adults the two cousins remained close, writing frequently and referring to each other as "dearest" in their correspondence.

Here are two cousins, Czar Nicholas II of Russia, at left, wearing an English uniform, and King George V of England, in Russian regimentals, England, circa 1915. It was a quaint courtesy observed among royal rulers of the time when visiting each other. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
Tsar Nicholas II and King George V, each wearing the uniform of the other's country. (Getty Images)

It would, arguably, be this very perceived dullness of George, that protected the British Royal Family in an international atmosphere of dissatisfaction and revolution.

The last emperor

Whether or not Nicholas courted it, controversy was a watchword of his reign.

From the violent response to a peaceful protest in 1905 — called 'bloody sunday' — to the whispers surrounding his wife the Tsarina Alexandra's relationship with the mystic Rasputin: he was a contentious ruler.

Grigory Rasputin with Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, her five children and seated right governess Maria Vishnyakova, 1910. Found in the collection of State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Grigory Rasputin with Tsarina Alexandra and her daughters. (Getty Images)

Depicted in The Crown, the British King and Queen cooly decide over breakfast not to grant asylum to George's favourite cousin.

However in reality, anti-German sentiment had reached an all-time high in 1917, leaving George forced to change the Royal Family's name from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor — altogether more English sounding.

The Tsarina was German-born and the salacious rumours of intimacy with Rasputin made her a figure of suspicion in Britain. George V wrote in his diary about his cousin's wife when the revolution had first broken out in 1917, "I fear Alicky is the cause of it all, and Nicky has been weak".

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A caricature showing the overbearing influence of Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin (1869 - 1916) on the Imperial couple, Emperor Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, 1916. (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Caricatures such as this one from 1916, which indicates the overbearing influence of Rasputin on the Imperial couple, were widely disseminated as revolutionary sentiment grew. (Getty Images)
The Tsarevich of Russia (1868 - 1918, later Czar Nicholas II of Russia, left), with his cousin, Prince George, Duke of York (1865 - 1936, later King George V), UK, 1893. Nicholas is in Britain for George's wedding to Princess Mary of Teck. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Royal cousins Nicholas and George in the 1890s. (Getty Images)

When this was coupled with the newly formed House of Windsor's desire to survive the revolutionary spirit crossing Europe, the King's private secretary reportedly intervened and advised against offering the Russian imperial passage sanctuary.

Following the death of Nicholas and his family, George seemed — at least based on his diary entries — devastated.

After attending a service in memorial of his cousin he wrote: "Dear Nicky, who I fear was shot last months by the Bolsheviks, one can get no details, it was a foul murder, I was devoted to Nicky who was the kindest of men."

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