George V of England (reign: 1910-1936)
King George V ascended the throne as King of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland after the death of his father, Edward VII, in 1910. His reign saw many significant changes not only in English history but across the world. The English monarch and his ministers at Westminster had to contend with a myriad of issues, including the rise of socialism and communism which led to the overthrow of the last tsar of Russia, as well as the rise of Irish republican sentiments.
George V’s leadership and competence was of world renown, and he was praised for steering the affairs of England through one crisis after another. He successfully drew the balance between neutrality and moderation and recognized his role as an arbitrator rather than an ultimate decision maker.
Early Years, Education and World Tours
Born in Marlborough House, London, during the reign of his grandmother Queen Victoria, George was the second son of King Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark.
He was baptized by Charles Longley, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at Windsor Castle a month after his birth. In 1871, George, together with his older brother, Albert Victor, received tuition from John Neale Dalton, who was Queen Victoria’s chaplain.
Growing up, Prince George had an endearing sense of humor, mischief and a fun-loving nature that earned him the nickname, “The Right Royal Pickle.” His favorite pastimes included stamp collecting. The young prince went to extreme measures to collect original sketches sent by Rowland Hill to the government. Not surprisingly, he was appointed president of the Philatelic Society in 1896.
George and Albert Victor enlisted in the Royal Navy, and for 3 years served on HMS Bacchante. Their service took them on tours through regions such as the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and South Africa. They even visited Japan, where they gifted Emperor Meiji’s wife, Empress Haruko, two wallabies that they had brought from Australia.
After more extensive voyages, they came back to England. The brothers later spend several months in the Swiss French speaking canton of Lausanne as a failed attempt by the Queen to get her grandsons to learn another language.
Albert Victor headed off to Cambridge to study at Trinity College and while George continued to immerse himself in many tours around the world as part of his service in the Royal Navy.
While serving in the British Navy which was stationed in Malta, George grew very fond of his cousin Princess Marie of Edinburgh, who was the daughter of his uncle, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. There were even talks of him getting married to Marie; however, his mother and aunt strongly kicked against the union. Therefore, Marie went on to marry Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, who later became monarch of Romania.
Death of his older brother, Prince Albert Victor
During his service as commander of the HMS Melampus in 1892, Albert Victor died of pneumonia, putting George in the direct line of succession. Only six weeks before his death, Albert Victor had secured a formal engagement with his second cousin once removed, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck.
In May of that same year, Prince George was created Duke of York.
Marriage to Mary of Teck
During the Prince‘s service in the navy, he met and fell in love with Princess Mary of Teck. The two had grown fond of each other during the mourning of Albert Victor.
In July, 1893, George married Mary in an elaborate ceremony that took place at the Chapel Royal, St. James Palace. Theirs was the first royal wedding at the venue since the death of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who was the husband of Queen Victoria. After the ceremony, Mary was styled as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York.
The couple spent their honeymoon at York Cottage in Sandringham, where they made their residence for the next three decades.
The beginning of the marriage had some rocky moments. It was after the birth of their first child, Edward, that things got better. Ultimately, the couple enjoyed a happy marriage which produced a daughter and 4 more sons.
Duke of Cornwall & York
After the death of Queen Victoria in early 1901, George in his role as the Duke of York, escorted his father to the First Privy Council of the New Reign at the Banqueting Hall in St. James Palace, where he swore allegiance to the new king.
That same year, he launched the First Parliament of the British Commonwealth of Australia. Together with his wife, he made visits throughout the British Empire and travelled to countries such as South Africa, Canada and New Zealand. He also resumed his royal tours to Berlin, India and Burma.
During a visit to Australia, the Mayor of Auckland John Logan Campbell named the Cornwall Park in Auckland in the honor of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall. George had inherited the title of Duke of Cornwall after his father, Edward VII, ascended the throne in 1901. He thus came to be referred to as the Duke of Cornwall and York.
Prince of Wales
During King Edward VII’s birthday on November, 9, 1901, George was created Prince of Wales for the rest of his father’s reign. During this time, Edward created opportunities to prepare his son for his future role as king. George was granted access to state documents in order to keep abreast with the goings on of the nation.
The most notable features of his role as the Prince of Wales were his colonial tours just similar to the ones he had made as duke. In 1901, he and his wife made extensive global tours, visiting places such as Egypt, Singapore, Mauritius and Newfoundland.
The couple travelled to Spain for the wedding of King Alfonso XIII and Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, George’s first cousin. A week later, they were in Norway for the coronation of King Haakon VII, George’s cousin and brother-in-law.
Reign & Notable Accomplishments
Upon his father’s death in May, 1910, the then inexperienced and terrified George succeeded him as king becoming the ruling sovereign throughout the First World War (1914-1918). The coronation was held at Westminster Abbey in June the following year.
After the event, the new king and his wife, Queen Mary, travelled together for several engagements across the world. This included a trip to Delhi to attend an outdoor gathering known as the Delhi Durbar. In India, he and his wife were recognized as the Emperor and Empress of India on 12 December 1911.
As the British monarch at the time also held the title of Emperor/Empress of India, George’s ascension to the throne meant that he inherited that title as well. None of his two predecessors – Queen Victoria and Edward VII – ever attended the Delhi Durbar. It was also at the this ceremony that George announced the movement of the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi.
During his early reign, George V had to contend with a number of domestic matters that really rocked the monarchy. This included a constitutional crisis in the House of Lords regarding the Liberals’ inability to get any legislation past their political opponents. The Tories, for example, rejected the budget proposed by the Liberals in the House of Commons. It was after the king had declared his intention to create enough Liberal nobles in the House of the Lords to pass the measure that the Tories finally gave in.
Though the challenges were far from over and his competence as a king was called into question. George V managed to successfully navigate through several catastrophes during his reign. Nevertheless, his efforts were not enough to end the increasing political and military hostility on the continent with German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Other pressing issues he had to deal with were the Home Rule in Ireland which lasted up to the First World War. There was a division between those who wanted an independent Irish State and those with loyalist tendencies. This prompted George V to organize and lead a round table discussion at the Buckingham Palace to try to resolve the differences between the opposing political parties.
The First World War
While making attempts to resolve a number of domestic situations, George V had to contend with the much greater threat of an all-out war erupting in Europe, i.e. the First World War. In spite of the efforts made to avoid the conflict, the war broke out in July, 1914, marking a pivotal moment that ended the relative stability and calm across the globe.
George V played an important role throughout the War. He personally lent various support to the English troops, visited the Western Front, the military hospitals and war factories on many occasions. It was during one such visit that his horse toppled over and injured his pelvis, giving him a lifelong health problem.
He also met with members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during which time, he knighted General Arthur Currie on the battlefield at Vimy Ridge in 1917.
In response to an anti-German sentiment in the same year, George V changed his Germanic name, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor. He thus became the first monarch of the House of Windsor.
The king also attempted to preserve his position and distance himself from Russia’s Tsarist autocracy by overruling Lloyd George’s decision to allow his embattled cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, and his family to seek asylum in England following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1918. George was afraid that the wind of revolution could sweep into the British Isles if his deposed cousin received asylum in England.
Aftermath of WWI
After the First World War, there was a national euphoria in England for having survived the tragedy. George V was one of the few European monarchs who remained standing after many revolutions had taken place on the continent. In fact, England and his colonies were not as impacted by the ordeal as other European countries had been. His first cousins Wilhelm II of Germany and Nicholas II of the Russian Empire had both abdicated their thrones.
Conversely, George faced a series of industrial unrest and strikes and also had to deal with finding a suitable replacement for Prime Minister Bonar Law upon his resignation in 1923. Eventually, he appointed Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister due to his large support in the House of Commons.
The 1931 Statute of Westminster
The aftermath of the WWI also saw monumental changes in the Empire as Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and later India. In many of those British dominions, especially India, there were increasing calls for the rights of self-rule. As a result, George and the British government passed the 1931 Statute of Westminster that recognized the British Empire’s dominions as separate, independent states within the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Those dominions were declared to be not only self-governing but also equal in status. The English monarch thus became the symbol of the Commonwealth of Nations. It was also stated that succession to the British throne could only be altered if there was agreement among all the parliaments of those British Dominions as well as the Parliament at Westminster.
It was during King George V’s reign that Australia had it’s first non-British Governor-General. In 1930, the king appointed Melbourne-born lawyer and politician Isaac Alfred Isaacs as the Governor-General of Australia.
George V’s Silver Jubilee & Death
By the end of his reign, the king had won the love and admiration of many of his people. This was evidenced by the 1935 Silver Jubilee celebrations. Masses gathered in the streets amidst jubilation as the king and queen were chauffeured through London each day. The royal couple also made a number of appearances on the balcony of the Buckingham Palace each evening for a week.
The King George V’s Jubilee Trust, instituted on the occasion, raised more than one million pounds with the aim of advancing the welfare of the younger generation. This set the tone for future royal acts of philanthropy.
At the beginning of 1936, George’s health continued to decline largely as a result of ongoing smoking-related issues. He eventually died on January 20, 1936 at age 70. George V was laid to rest at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. The day was declared a day of mourning in the Empire and all the British Dominions. His eldest son, Prince Edward (Edward VIII), succeeded him as king.
Many historians believe that the king’s physician hastened his death by injecting him with doses of morphine and cocaine while he was in coma in order for the news of his demise to be conveyed in the morning papers rather than the evening journals.
George V’s relationship with his eldest son, Edward
It’s said that George had a somewhat frosty relationship with his oldest son and heir, Prince Edward (later Edward VIII). The king had come to despise Edward’s numerous scandalous affairs with married women. He was particularly shocked when news broke out of the young prince’s affair with American socialite and twice divorcee, Mrs. Wallis Simpson. Edward’s scandalous relationship with Simpson also incurred the wrath of Cosmo Gordon Lang, the then-Archbishop of Canterbury and some lawmakers and politicians.
Lang in particular found Edward’s drive for modernity and disregard for rituals and traditions very unhealthy. The archbishop and his network of influential people in both the Church of England and the government worked against Edward in order to force him to resign the crown.
And just as George had predicted that Edward would “ruin himself within 12 months”, King Edward VIII caved into immense pressures from Lang and the old gang of courtiers (from the era of King George V, Edward’s father) and conservative church ministers. After less than year on the throne, Edward abdicated so he could marry Wallis Simpson. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Prince Albert, who was found in more pleasing light by “the Establishment”.
George’s reign had also been characterized by many memorable events, including the July Crisis of 1914 which occurred after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and wife in Sarajevo, the opening of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in 1924, and Sir Alan Cobham’s successful flight over the Himalayas in 1925.
Through it all, George played the successful role of a figurehead who ensured calm and logical reasoning among his subjects while seeing to it that many needs of the government were met.
George V’s decisions broke ground for the cordiality that existed between the monarchy and the general public in subsequent years.