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George V (George Frederick Ernest Albert; 3 June 1865 – 20 January 1936) was King of the United Kingdommarker and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 1910 through World War I (1914–1918) until his death in 1936. He was the first British monarch of the House of Windsor, which he created from the British branch of the German House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

From the age of twelve George served in the Royal Navy, but upon the unexpected death of his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, he became heir to the throne and married his brother's fiancée, Mary of Teck (known as "May" to her family after her birth month). Although they occasionally toured the British Empire, George preferred to stay at home with his stamp collection and lived what later biographers would consider a dull life because of its conventionality.

George became King-Emperor in 1910 on the death of his father, King Edward VII. George was the only Emperor of India to be present at his own Delhi Durbar, where he appeared before his Indian subjects crowned with the Imperial Crown of India, created specially for the occasion. During World War I he relinquished all German titles and styles on behalf of his relatives who were British subjects, and changed the name of the royal house from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor. During his reign, the Statute of Westminster separated the crown so that George ruled the dominions as separate kingdoms, preparing the way for the future development of the Commonwealth. His reign also witnessed the rise of socialism, communism, fascism, Irish republicanism, and the first Labour ministry, all of which radically changed the political spectrum.

George was plagued by illness throughout much of his later reign; he was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward.

Early life and education

George was born on 3 June 1865, at Marlborough Housemarker, London. His father was the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. His mother was the Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra), the eldest 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.

George as a young boy, 1870

He was baptised in the private chapel of Windsor Castlemarker on 7 July 1865, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Thomas Longley. As a younger son of the Prince of Wales, there was no expectation that George would become King as his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, was second in line to the throne after their father. Given that George was born only fifteen months after his brother, Prince Albert Victor, it was decided to educate both royal princes together. The Prince of Wales appointed John Neale Dalton as their tutor, although neither Albert Victor nor George excelled intellectually. In September 1877, both brothers joined the training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouthmarker. Their father thought that the navy was "the very best possible training for any boy".

For three years from 1879 the royal brothers served as midshipmen on HMS Bacchante, accompanied by Dalton. They toured the colonies of the British Empire in the Caribbeanmarker, South Africa and Australia, and visited Norfolk, Virginiamarker, as well as South America, the Mediterraneanmarker, Egyptmarker, and the Far East. In Japan, George had a local artist tattoo a blue and red dragon on his arm. Dalton wrote an account of their journey entitled The Cruise of HMS Bacchante. Between Melbourne and Sydney, Dalton records a sighting of the Flying Dutchman, a mythical ghost ship. When they returned to Britain, the brothers were separated; Albert Victor attended Trinity College, Cambridgemarker, while George continued in the Royal Navy. He travelled the world, visited many areas of the British Empire, and served actively until his last command in 1891. From then on his naval rank was largely honorary.


George, 1893
As a young man destined to serve in the navy, Prince George served for many years under the command of his uncle, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who was stationed in Maltamarker. There, he grew close to and fell in love with his uncle's daughter, his first cousin, Marie of Edinburgh. His grandmother, father and uncle all approved the match, but the mothers, the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Edinburgh, both opposed it. The Princess of Wales thought the family was too pro-German, and the Duchess of Edinburgh disliked England. When George proposed, Marie refused, guided by her mother. She later became Queen of Romania.

In 1891, Albert Victor became engaged to his second cousin once removed, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (known as "May" to her family, after her birth month), the only daughter of Prince Francis, Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. However, Albert Victor died of pneumonia six weeks later, leaving George second in line to the throne and likely to succeed after his father. This effectively ended George's naval career, as he was now expected to assume a more political role.

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. The marriage of George and May took place on 6 July 1893 at the Chapel Royal, St. James's Palacemarker in London. The marriage was a success and throughout their lives the couple exchanged notes of endearment and loving letters.

Duke of York

On 24 May 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, a relatively small house in Sandringhammarker, Norfolk where their way of life mirrored that of a comfortable middle-class family rather than royalty. George preferred the simple, almost quiet, life in marked contrast to his parents. Even his official biographer despaired of George's time as Duke of York, writing: "He may be all right as a young midshipman and a wise old king, but when he was Duke of York ... he did nothing at all but kill [i.e. shoot] animals and stick in stamps."

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 was denigrated by the intelligentsia.

Randolph Churchill claimed that George was a strict father, to the extent that his children were terrified of him, and that George had remarked to Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby: "My father was frightened of his mother, I was frightened of my father, and I am damned well going to see to it that my children are frightened of me." In reality there is no direct source for the quotation and it is likely that George's parenting style was little different from that adopted by most people at the time. George and May had five sons and a daughter.

Prince of Wales

Duke of York at Montreal and Quebec, 1901
As Duke and Duchess of York, George and May carried out a wide variety of public duties. On the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901, George's father, Albert Edward, ascended the throne as King Edward VII. George inherited the titles of Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, and for much of the rest of that year, George was styled His Royal Highness The Duke of Cornwall and York. In 1901, George and May toured the British Empire. Their tour included South Africa, Canadamarker, the Colony of Newfoundland and New Zealandmarker, where Cornwall Park in Aucklandmarker was named in their honour by its donor, John Logan Campbell, then Mayor of Auckland. In Australia the Duke opened the first session of the Australian Parliament upon the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia.

On 9 November 1901, George 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 to Edward himself, whom Queen Victoria had excluded from state affairs, George was given wide access to state documents and papers by his father. George in turn allowed his wife access to his papers, as he valued her counsel and May often helped write her husband's speeches.

In 1906, he toured British India, where he was disgusted by racial discrimination and campaigned for greater involvement of Indians in the government of the country.

King and Emperor

On 6 May 1910, King Edward VII died, and the Prince of Wales ascended to the throne, becoming King George V. George had never liked his wife's habit of signing official documents and letters as "Victoria Mary" and insisted she drop one of those names. Neither thought she should be called Queen Victoria, and so she became Queen Mary. Their coronation took place at Westminster Abbeymarker on 22 June 1911. The coronation was celebrated by the Festival of Empire in London.

Later in 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. Then the Emperor and Empress travelled throughout India, visiting their new subjects. George took the opportunity to indulge in hunting tigers, shooting 21. He was a keen marksman. On 18 December 1913, he shot over a thousand pheasants in six hours at the home of Lord Burnham, although even he had to acknowledge that "we went a little too far" that day.

World War I

From 1914 to 1918 Britain was at war with Germanymarker. The German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who for the British public came to symbolise all the horrors of the war, was the King's first cousin. Queen Mary, although British like her mother, was the daughter of the Duke of Teck, a descendant of the German Royal House of Württemberg.

The King's paternal grandfather was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; the King and his children bore the titles Prince and Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke and Duchess of Saxony. 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-Sonderburg-Augustenburg. When H. G. Wells wrote about Britain's "alien and uninspiring court", 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 and 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 women who married into other families and their descendants.

Finally, he and his various relatives who were British subjects 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 gazetted on 11 December 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, Duke of Albany and the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and 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 Chapelmarker at Windsor Castlemarker under pressure from his mother, Queen Alexandra.

When Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, George's first cousin (their mothers were sisters), was overthrown in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the British Government offered asylum to the Tsar and his family, but worsening conditions for the British people, and fears that revolution might come to the British Isles, led George to think that the presence of the Romanovs might seem inappropriate under the circumstances. Despite the later claims of Lord Mountbatten of Burma that David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, was opposed to the rescue of the Romanovs, records of the King's private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, suggest that George V opposed the rescue against the advice of Lloyd George. Advanced planning for a rescue was undertaken by MI1, a branch of the British secret service, but because of the strengthening Bolshevik position and wider difficulties with the conduct of the war, the plan was never put into operation. The Tsar and his immediate family thus remained in Russia and were murdered by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918. The following year, Nicholas's mother (George's aunt) Maria Feodorovna and other members of the extended Russian imperial family were rescued from the Crimea by British ships.

Two months after the end of the war, the King's youngest son, John, died aged 13 after a short lifetime of ill-health. George was informed of the death by the Queen who wrote, "[John] had been a great anxiety to us for many years…The first break in the family circle is hard to bear but people have been so kind & sympathetic & this has helped us much."

Later life

King George V in 1923
During and after World War I, many of the monarchies which had ruled most of Europe fell. In addition to Russia, the monarchies of Austria, Germany, Greece, and Spain also fell to revolution and war, although the Greek monarchy was restored again shortly before George's death. Most of these countries were ruled by relatives of George. In 1922, a Royal Navy ship was sent to Greece to rescue his cousins, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark (a nephew of Queen Alexandra through her brother King George I of Greece) and Princess Alice of Battenberg (a daughter of Prince Louis of Battenberg, one of the German princes granted a British peerage in 1917). Their children included 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 to Prime Minister Lloyd George. During the General Strike of 1926 the King took exception to suggestions that the strikers were 'revolutionaries' saying, "Try living on their wages before you judge them." He also advised the Government against taking inflammatory action.

In 1932, George agreed to deliver a Royal Christmas speech on the radio, an event which became annual thereafter. He was not in favour of the innovation originally but was persuaded by the argument that it was what his people wanted. He was concerned by the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, and warned the British ambassador in Berlin to be suspicious of the fascists. By the silver jubilee of his reign in 1935, he had become a well-loved king, saying in response to the crowd's adulation, "I cannot understand it, after all I am only a very ordinary sort of fellow."

George's relationship with his heir, Prince Edward deteriorated in these later years. George was disappointed in Edward's failure to settle down in life and appalled by his many affairs with married women. He was reluctant to see Edward inherit the crown. In contrast, he was fond of his second eldest son, Prince Albert (later George VI) and doted on his eldest granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth; he nicknamed her "Lilibet", and she affectionately called him "Grandpa England". George said of his son Edward: "After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within 12 months," and of Albert and Lilibet: "I pray to God my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne."


World War I took a toll on George's health, and his heavy smoking exacerbated recurring breathing problems. He long suffered from emphysema, bronchitis, chronic obstructive lung disease and pleurisy. In 1928, he fell seriously ill, and for the next two years his son Edward took over many of his duties. The King retired for a brief period to the seaside resort of Bognor Regismarker in Sussexmarker. A myth later grew that his last words, upon being told that he would soon be well enough to revisit the town, were "Bugger Bognor!"
George never fully recovered. In his final year, he was occasionally administered oxygen. On the evening of 15 January 1936, the King took to his bedroom at Sandringham Housemarker complaining of a cold; he would never again leave the room alive. He became gradually weaker, drifting in and out of consciousness. By 20 January, he was close to death. His physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, issued a bulletin with words that have become famous: "The King's life is drawing peacefully to a close." Dawson's private diary, unearthed after his death, reveals that the King's last words, a mumbled "God damn you!", were addressed to his nurse when she gave him a sedative on the night of 20 January. Dawson wrote that he hastened the King's end by giving him a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine, both to prevent further strain on the family and so that the King's death could be announced in the morning edition of The Times newspaper. King George V died at 11:55 p.m. on 20 January, 1936.

At the procession to George's Lying in State in Westminster Hall, as the cortège turned into New Palace Yard, part of the Imperial State Crown fell from on top of the coffin and landed in the gutter. The new king, Edward VIII, saw it fall and wondered whether this was a bad omen for his new reign. He would abdicate before the year was out, leaving Albert, Duke of York, to ascend to the throne.

As a mark of respect to their father, George's four surviving sons, Edward, Albert, Henry and George, mounted the guard, known as the Vigil of the Princes, at the catafalque on the night of 28 January, the day before the funeral. He is buried at St George's Chapelmarker, Windsor Castlemarker.


The German composer Paul Hindemith, who was in London preparing to perform the British premiere of his work Der Schwanendreher, went to a BBC studio on the morning after the king's death and in six hours wrote Trauermusik (Mourning Music). It was performed that same evening in a live broadcast by the BBC, with Adrian Boult conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the composer as soloist. The scheduled premiere was cancelled.

An equestrian statue of King George V was unveiled outside Brisbane City Hall in 1938 as a tribute to the King from the citizens of Brisbanemarker, Australia. The square in which the statue stands was originally called Albert Square, but was later renamed King George Square in honour of the King. In London, a statue by William Reid Dick stands outside the east end of Westminster Abbeymarker.

The King George's Fields in London were created as a memorial by a committee in 1936 chaired by the then Lord Mayor of the City of London. Today, they are each registered charities and are under the guidance of the National Playing Fields Association. The national stadium of Newfoundland in St. John'smarker was named King George V Parkmarker in 1925. Jerusalem and Tel Avivmarker both have major thoroughfares named for King George V. Both date back to the period of the British Mandate for Palestine. In Parismarker, a large avenue from the top of the Champs-Elyséesmarker down to the Seinemarker river and an underground stationmarker were named for George V; as are Avenue Georges, Shawiniganmarker, Quebecmarker, Canada; King George V Avenue, Sale, Victoriamarker, Australia; King George V Secondary School, Malaysiamarker; and King George V Schoolmarker and King George V Memorial Park in Hong Kongmarker.

The World War I Royal Navy battleship HMS King George V and the World War II Royal Navy battleship HMS King George V were named in his honour. George V gave both his name and donations to many charities, including King George's Fund for Sailors (later known as Seafarers UK).

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

  • 3 June 1865 – 24 May 1892: His Royal Highness Prince George of Wales
  • 24 May 1892 – 22 January 1901: His Royal Highness The Duke of York
  • 22 January 1901 – 9 November 1901: His Royal Highness The Duke of Cornwall and York
  • 9 November 1901 – 6 May 1910: His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales
    • in Scotland: His Royal Highness The Duke of Rothesay
  • 6 May 1910 – 20 January 1936: His Majesty The King
    • and, occasionally, outside of the United Kingdom, and with regard to India: His Majesty The King-Emperor

His full style as king was "His Majesty George V, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India", until 1927, when it was changed to "His Majesty George V, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India"




As Duke of York, George's arms were the royal arms, with an inescutcheon for Saxony, all differenced with a label argent of three points, the centre bearing an anchor azure. As Prince of Wales the centre label lost its anchor. As King, George V's arms were those of the Kingdom. In 1917, he removed, by warrant, the Saxony inescutcheon from the arms of all descendants of the Prince Consort (although the royal arms themselves had never borne the shield).Image:George V Arms-york.svg|Coat of arms as Duke of YorkImage:George V Arms-wales.svg|Coat of arms as Prince of WalesImage:UK Arms 1837.svg|Coat of arms as George V (NB: There was and is a different version of the arms for Scotland)

In popular culture

On screen, George has been portrayed by:



Name Birth Death Notes
Edward, Prince of Wales

Later Edward VIII
23 June 1894 28 May 1972 later the Duke of Windsor; married Wallis Simpson; no issue
Prince Albert, Duke of York

Later George VI
14 December 1895 6 February 1952 married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon; had issue (including Elizabeth II)
Mary, Princess Royal

Later Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood
25 April 1897 28 March 1965 married Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood; and had issue
Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester 31 March 1900 10 June 1974 married Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott; had issue
Prince George, Duke of Kent 20 December 1902 25 August 1942 married Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark; had issue
Prince John 12 July 1905 18 January 1919 Died from seizure

Notes and sources

  1. His godparents were the King of Hanover (Queen Victoria's cousin, for whom Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach stood proxy); the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Prince Albert's brother, for whom the Lord President of the Council, Earl Granville, stood proxy); the Prince of Leiningen (the Prince of Wales's half-cousin); the Crown Prince of Denmark (the Princess of Wales's brother, for whom the Lord Chamberlain, Viscount Sydney, stood proxy); the Queen of Denmark (George's maternal grandmother, for whom Queen Victoria stood proxy); the Duke of Cambridge (Queen Victoria's cousin); the Duchess of Cambridge (Queen Victoria's aunt, for whom George's aunt Princess Helena stood proxy); and Princess Louis of Hesse and by Rhine (George's aunt, for whom her sister Princess Louise stood proxy) (The Times (London), Saturday, 8 July 1865, p. 12).
  2. Sinclair, pp. 49–50
  3. Sinclair, p. 55
  4. Sinclair, p. 69
  5. Sinclair, p. 178
  6. Renamed from Bachelor's Cottage
  7. Harold Nicolson's diary quoted in Sinclair, p. 107
  8. Rose, p. 42
  9. See Sinclair, pp. 93 ff for a full discussion
  10. Rose, p. 289
  11. Sinclair, p. 107
  12. Rose, pp. 65–66
  13. George Frederick Abbott's Through India with the Prince (1906) describes the tour.
  14. Pope-Hennessy, p. 421
  15. Rose, p. 136
  16. About one bird every 20 seconds.
  17. Nicolson, p. 310
  18. At George's wedding in 1893, The Times claimed that the crowd may have confused Nicholas with George, because their beards and dress made them look alike superficially (The Times (London) Friday, 7 July 1893, p. 5). Their facial features were only different up close.
  19. Sinclair, p. 148 and Nicolson, p. 301
  20. Rose, p. 210
  21. Sinclair, p. 149
  22. Pope-Hennessy, p. 511
  23. Sinclair, p. 114 and Nicolson, p. 347
  24. Sinclair, p. 105
  25. Nicolson, p. 419
  26. Sinclair p. 154
  27. Nicolson, pp. 521–522
  28. Sinclair, p. 1
  29. Ziegler, pp. 192–196
  30. Pope-Hennessy, p. 546
  31. Pope-Hennessy, p. 558
  32. The Duke of Windsor, p. 267
  33. The cross surmounting the crown, composed of a sapphire and 200 diamonds, was retrieved by a military man following later in the procession.
  34. The Times (London), Tuesday, 28 January 1936, p. 10 col. F
  35. Velde, François (19 April 2008), "Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family", Heraldica, retrieved on 8 May 2009.


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