King George V
King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Emperor of India
George V (George Frederick Ernest Albert) (3 June 1865 – 20 January 1936) was the last British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, changing the name to the House of Windsor in 1917. As well as being King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (from 1927, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and the Commonwealth Realms, George was also the Emperor of India. George reigned from 6 May, 1910 until his death.
George V changed the house name of the British Royal Family from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor. He also relinquished all German titles and styles on behalf of his relatives who were British subjects. In 1931, the Statute of Westminster separated the crown so that George ruled the dominions under a separate title for each land.
George was born on 3 June 1865, at Marlborough House, London. His father was HRH Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII, the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. His mother was Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra, the youngest daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. As a grandson of Queen Victoria in the male line, George was styled His Royal Highness Prince George of Wales at birth.
As a younger son of the Prince of Wales, there was no expectation that Prince George of Wales, as he was then styled, would take the throne. His elder brother, His Royal Highness Prince Albert Victor was second in line to the throne after his father. As children, the two boys were very close and were sent away together to naval college as a way of finishing their education, but their characters were very different. The elder, known to the family as Eddy, was unstable — possibly even mentally retarded — whilst George had inherited the steady, dutiful disposition of his grandmother, Queen Victoria.
George served in the navy until 1891. He travelled the world and visited many areas of the British Empire. He also acquired many tattoos, and a parrot that he took home to England with him.
In 1891, Prince Albert Victor became engaged to his first cousin once removed, Her Serene Highness Princess Victoria Mary of Teck ("Princess May"), the only daughter of His Serene Highness Prince Francis, Duke of Teck and Her Royal Highness Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck. However, Albert Victor died of pneumonia six weeks later, leaving Prince George the heir apparent to the throne upon the death of Queen Victoria.
Queen Victoria still favoured Princess May as a suitable candidate to marry a future King, so she persuaded George to propose to May. George duly proposed and May accepted. Despite being an arranged marriage, May and George soon were deeply in love. George never took a mistress, and wrote to May every day.
Their marriage took place on July 6, 1893 at the Chapel Royal, St James's Palace in London. The couple had six children in total, listed below.
Duke of York
In 1892, Queen Victoria created George, Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney . After George's marriage to May, she was styled Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York.
The Duke and Duchess of York lived mainly at York Cottage , Sandringham, Norfolk a relatively small house where their way of life was almost that of an ordinary family. George preferred to live a simple life, a marked contrast to his parents. He was also a very strict father, to the extent that his children were terrified of him.
As Duke and Duchess of York, George and May carried out a wide variety of public duties. In 1900, they toured the British Empire, visiting Australia, where the Duke opened the first session of the Australian Parliament upon the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Prince of Wales
On January 22, 1901, Queen Victoria died, and George's father, Albert Edward ascended the throne as King Edward VII. At that point George inherited the titles of Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay. For the rest of that year, George was styled Duke of Cornwall and York, until November 9, 1901 when he was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester.
King Edward VII wished his son to have more preparation and experience prior to his future role. In contrast with Queen Victoria, who excluded Edward from state affairs, George was given wide access to state documents and papers. He often read over the papers with his wife, Princess May, who had a much wider intellect than himself. May also helped write speeches for her husband the Prince.
On May 6, 1910, King Edward VII died, and the Prince and Princess of Wales ascended the throne. George was now King George V and May chose the regal name of Queen Mary. This was in keeping with Queen Victoria's wishes that no British Queen be named Victoria after her death. Their coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 22 June 1911.
On 11 December 1911, the King and Queen travelled to India for the Delhi Durbar, where they were presented to an assembled audience of Indian dignitaries and princes, as the Emperor and Empress of India. George wore the newly-created Imperial Crown of India at the ceremony. Later, the Emperor and Empress travelled throughout India, visiting their new subjects. George took the opportunity to indulge in hunting tigers.
World War One
As King and Queen, George and Mary saw Britain through World War I, a difficult time for the Royal Family, as they had many German relatives. Although a female-line great granddaughter of King George III, Queen Mary was the daughter of the Duke of Teck, a morganatic section of the Royal House of Württemberg. King George's paternal grandfather was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; the King and his children bore the titles Prince and Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke and Duchess of Saxony. The German Emperor Wilhelm II, who was widely despised by the British public, was the king's first cousin, "Willy." The King had brothers-in-law and cousins who were British subjects but who bore German titles such as Duke and Duchess of Teck, Prince and Princess of Battenberg, Prince and Princess of Hesse and by Rhine, and Prince and Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sønderburg-Augustenberg. Writer H.G. Wells wrote about Britain's "alien and uninspiring court", and George famously replied: "I may be uninspiring, but I'll be damned if I'm alien."
On 17 July 1917, George V issued an Order in Council that changed the name of the British Royal House from the German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the House of Windsor, to appease British nationalist feelings. He specifically adopted Windsor as the surname for all descendants of Queen Victoria then living in the United Kingdom, excluding females who married into other families and their descendants.
Finally, on behalf of his various relatives who were British subjects he relinquished the use of all German titles and styles, and adopted British-sounding surnames. George compensated several of his male relatives by creating them British peers. Thus, overnight his cousin, Prince Louis of Battenberg, became Louis Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Milford-Haven, while his brother-in-law, the Duke of Teck, became Adolphus Cambridge, 1st Marquess of Cambridge. Others, such as Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein and Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, simply stopped using their territorial designations. In Letters Patent dated 30 November 1917, the King restricted the style "His (or Her) Royal Highness" and the titular dignity of "Prince (or Princess) of Great Britain and Ireland" to the children of the Sovereign, the children of the sons of the Sovereign, and the eldest living son of the eldest living son of a Prince of Wales.
The Letters Patent also stated that "the titles of Royal Highness, Highness or Serene Highness, and the titular dignity of Prince and Princess shall cease except those titles already granted and remaining unrevoked." Relatives of the British Royal Family who fought on the German side, such as Prince Ernst August of Hanover, 3rd Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale (the senior male-line great grandson of George III) and Prince Carl Eduard, 2nd Duke of Albany and the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (a male line grandson of Queen Victoria), were simply cut off; their British peerages were suspended by a 1919 Order in Council under the provisions of the Titles Deprivation Act 1917. George also removed their garter flags from St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle under pressure from his mother, Queen Alexandra.
Another of George's cousins was the Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, a first cousin of George through his mother, Queen Alexandra. Nicholas II's mother was Queen Alexandra's sister. The two men were almost identical in appearance. When the revolution of 1917 toppled the Russian monarchy, George asked his ministers to ensure that the Tsar and his family be saved and brought to Britain for their safety. However, little was done, due to the diplomatic implications of such a rescue, and perhaps because of concern that revolution might then spread to the British Isles.
After World War I, many of the old monarchies that ruled European countries began to fall. Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia was executed in 1918. The monarchies of Germany, Austria, Spain, Romania and Greece also fell to revolution and war. All of these countries were ruled by relatives of George. In 1922, George sent a Royal Navy ship to rescue his cousins, Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg and their children, including Prince Philip, who would later marry George's granddaughter, Elizabeth II. George also took an interest in the political turmoil in Ireland, expressing his horror at government-sanctioned killings and reprisals in a letter to Prime Minister Lloyd George.
The war also took its toll on George's health, which began to deteriorate rapidly. He had always had a weak chest, a weakness exacerbated by heavy smoking. A bout of illness saw him retire to the sea, by Bognor Regis in West Sussex where Queen Mary helped nurse him back to health. But he managed to see the silver jubilee of his reign, in 1935, by which time he had become a well-loved king.
George's relationship with his heir, Prince Edward also deteriorated in his later years. George was disappointed in Edward's failure to settle down in life and disgusted by his many affairs with married women. He was also reluctant to see Edward inherit the crown. In contrast, he was fond of his second eldest son, Prince Albert and doted on his eldest granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth; he nicknamed her "Lilibet", and she affectionally called him "Grandpa England".
George was quoted as saying about his son Edward: "After I am dead the boy will ruin himself in 12 months," and later about Albert and Lilibet: "I pray to God that my eldest son Edward will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne."
George died on 20 January 1936, at Sandringham House and is buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. His end was allegedly hastened by his physician, Lord Dawson , who, it is rumored, gave him a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine. The courtier wanted to end the King's suffering, and perhaps hoped the monarch would die before midnight so that his death could be announced in the morning The Times rather than in the less prestigious afternoon newspapers.
Legend has it that, while officially George V's last words were "How is the Empire?", they were actually "Bugger Bognor."
At George's funeral procession, as the funeral cortege turned into New Palace Yard, the Maltese Cross fell from the Crown and landed in the gutter. This was viewed as a bad omen for the next King, Edward VIII, who would abdicate before the year was out.
George was a well-known stamp collector, and played a large role in building the Royal Philatelic Collection into the most comprehensive collection of United Kingdom and Commonwealth stamps in the world, in some cases setting record purchase prices for items. His enthusiasm for stamps, though denigrated by the intelligentsia, did much to popularise the hobby.
Styles from birth to death
- 1865-1892: His Royal Highness Prince George of Wales
- 1892-1901: His Royal Highness The Duke of York
- 1901: His Royal Highness The Duke of Cornwall and York
- 1901-1910: His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales
- 1910-1936: His Majesty The King
Royal Christmas speech
Last updated: 10-12-2005 08:13:57