George V

George V
George V
Full-length portrait in oils of a blue-eyed, brown-haired man of slim build, with a beard and moustache. He wears a British naval uniform under an ermine cape, and beside him a jewelled crown stands on a table.
Coronation portrait by Sir Luke Fildes, 1911
King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, Emperor of India (more ...)
Reign 6 May 1910 – 20 January 1936
Coronation 22 June 1911
Predecessor Edward VII
Successor Edward VIII
Prime Ministers See list
Imperial Durbar 12 December 1911
Consort Mary of Teck
Edward VIII
George VI
Mary, Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood
Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester
Prince George, Duke of Kent
Prince John
Full name
George Frederick Ernest Albert
House House of Windsor
House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Father Edward VII
Mother Alexandra of Denmark
Born 3 June 1865(1865-06-03)
Marlborough House, London
Died 20 January 1936(1936-01-20) (aged 70)
Sandringham House, Norfolk
Burial 29 January 1936
St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle
Religion Church of England

George V (George Frederick Ernest Albert; 3 June 1865 – 20 January 1936) was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 through the First World War (1914–1918) until his death in 1936.

George was a grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and the first cousin of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. From 1877 until 1891 he served in the Royal Navy. On the death of Victoria in 1901, George's father became King Edward VII, and George was made Prince of Wales. On his father's death in 1910, he succeeded as King-Emperor of the British Empire. He was the only Emperor of India to be present at his own Delhi Durbar.

As a result of the First World War, other empires in Europe fell while his expanded to its greatest extent. In 1917, he became the first monarch of the House of Windsor, which he renamed from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha as a result of anti-German public sentiment. His reign saw the rise of socialism, communism, fascism, Irish republicanism, and the Indian independence movement, all of which radically changed the political landscape. The Parliament Act 1911 established the supremacy of the elected House of Commons of the United Kingdom over the unelected House of Lords. He appointed the first Labour ministry in 1924 and in 1931, the Statute of Westminster recognised the dominions of the empire as separate, independent kingdoms within the Commonwealth of Nations. He was plagued by illness throughout much of his later reign and at his death was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII.


Early life and education

George was born on 3 June 1865, at Marlborough House, London, as the second son of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Albert Edward and Alexandra. His father was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. His mother was the eldest daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark. As a son of the Prince of Wales, George was styled His Royal Highness Prince George of Wales at birth. He was baptised in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 7 July 1865 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley.[1]

Boy wearing a sailor suit
George as a young boy, 1870

As a younger son of the Prince of Wales, there was little expectation that George would become King. He was third in line to the throne, after his father and elder brother, Prince Albert Victor. George was only seventeen months younger than Albert Victor, and the two princes were educated together. John Neale Dalton was appointed as their tutor in 1871. Neither Albert Victor nor George excelled intellectually.[2] As their father thought that the navy was "the very best possible training for any boy",[3] in September 1877, when George was twelve years old, both brothers joined the cadet training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth, Devon.[4]

For three years from 1879, the royal brothers served on HMS Bacchante, accompanied by Dalton. They toured the colonies of the British Empire in the Caribbean, South Africa and Australia, and visited Norfolk, Virginia, as well as South America, the Mediterranean, Egypt, and East Asia. In Japan, George had a local artist tattoo a blue and red dragon on his arm.[5] Dalton wrote an account of their journey entitled The Cruise of HMS Bacchante.[6] Between Melbourne and Sydney, Dalton records a sighting of the Flying Dutchman, a mythical ghost ship.[7] When they returned to Britain, Queen Victoria complained that her grandsons could not speak French or German, and so they spent six months in Lausanne in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to learn another language.[8] After Lausanne, the brothers were separated; Albert Victor attended Trinity College, Cambridge, 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 1891–1892. From then on, his naval rank was largely honorary.[9]


Pale-eyed young man with a beard and moustache
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 Malta. 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. Marie's mother was the only daughter of the Tsar of Russia. She resented the fact that, as the wife of a younger son of the British sovereign, she had to yield precedence to George's mother, the Princess of Wales, whose father had been a minor German prince before being called unexpectedly to the throne of Denmark. Guided by her mother, Marie refused George when he proposed to her. She married Ferdinand, the heir to the King of Romania, in 1893.[10]

In November 1891, George's elder brother Albert Victor became engaged to his second cousin once removed, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck. She was known within the family as "May", nicknamed after her birth month. May's father, Prince Francis, Duke of Teck, belonged to a morganatic, cadet branch of the house of Württemberg. Her mother, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, was a male-line grand-daughter of King George III and a first cousin of Queen Victoria.

Six weeks after the formal engagement, Albert Victor died of pneumonia, leaving George second in line to the throne, and likely to succeed after his father. Queen Victoria still regarded Princess May as a suitable match for her grandson, and George and May grew close during their shared period of mourning.[11] A year after Albert Victor's death, George duly proposed to May and was accepted. They married on 6 July 1893 at the Chapel Royal in St. James's Palace, London. Throughout their lives, they remained devoted to each other. George was, on his own admission, unable to express his feelings easily in speech, but they often exchanged loving letters and notes of endearment.[12]

Duke of York

Country house, partially obscured by greenery, viewed from across a pond. The observable frontage comprises five gables, with a turret between the four gables on the left and the rightmost gable.
York Cottage at Sandringham House: George and May lived here from 1893 until 1926.

The death of his elder brother effectively ended George's naval career, as he was now directly in the line of succession.[13] George was created Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney by Queen Victoria on 24 May 1892,[14] and received lessons in constitutional history from J. R. Tanner.[15] 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,[16] a relatively small house in Sandringham, Norfolk, where their way of life mirrored that of a comfortable middle-class family rather than royalty.[17] George preferred a simple, almost quiet, life in marked contrast to the lively social life pursued by his father. His official biographer, Harold Nicolson, later 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."[18] George was a well-known stamp collector, which Nicolson denigrated,[19] but George 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.[20]

George and May had five sons and a daughter. 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.[21]

Prince of Wales

George 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 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, he 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, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the Colony of Newfoundland. The tour was designed by Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain with the support of Prime Minister Lord Salisbury. Its primary goal was to reward the dominions for their participation in the South African War of 1899–1902. At every stop George ceremoniously presented thousands of specially designed South African War medals to colonial troops. In South Africa the royal party was greeted by elaborate decorations, expensive gifts, fireworks displays, and met with civic leaders, African leaders, and Boer prisoners. Despite this outward display, not all residents responded favourably to the tour. Many white Cape Afrikaners resented both the display and the expense, the events of the war having weakened their capacity to reconcile their Afrikaner-Dutch culture with their status as British subjects. Critics in the English-language press decried the enormous expenditures at a time when families faced severe hardship.[22] In Australia the Duke opened the first session of the Australian Parliament upon the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia.[23] The tour gave New Zealanders a chance to show off their progress, especially in their adoption of up-to-date British standards in communications and the processing industries, and to be honoured by the Duke for what he praised as their military values, bravery, loyalty, and obedience to duty. The implicit goal was to advertise New Zealand's attractiveness to tourists and potential immigrants, while avoiding news of growing social tensions. The visit to New Zealand focused the attention of the British press on a land few knew about.[24] On his return to Britain, in a speech at London's Guildhall, George warned of "the impression which seemed to prevail among [our] brethren across the seas, that the Old Country must wake up if she intends to maintain her old position of pre-eminence in her colonial trade against foreign competitors."[25]

On 9 November 1901, George was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester.[26] King Edward VII wished to prepare his son for his future role as King. In contrast to Edward himself, whom Queen Victoria had deliberately excluded from state affairs, George was given wide access to state documents by his father.[13] George in turn allowed his wife access to his papers,[27] as he valued her counsel and May often helped write her husband's speeches.[28]

From November 1905 to March 1906, George and May toured British India, where he was disgusted by racial discrimination and campaigned for greater involvement of Indians in the government of the country.[29] The tour was almost immediately followed by a trip to Spain for the wedding of King Alfonso XIII to Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, at which the bride and groom narrowly avoided assassination.[30] A week after returning to Britain, George and May travelled to Norway for the coronation of King Haakon VII and Queen Maud, George's sister.[31]

King and Emperor

Gold coin with left-facing profile portrait of George V
A half-sovereign minted during George's reign (Bertram Mackennal, sculptor)

On 6 May 1910, King Edward VII died, and George became King. He had never liked his wife's habit of signing official documents and letters as "Victoria Mary" and insisted she drop one of those names. They both thought she should not be called Queen Victoria, and so she became Queen Mary.[32] Later that year, a radical propagandist, Edward Mylius, published a lie that George had secretly married in Malta as a young man, and that consequently his marriage to Queen Mary was bigamous. The lie had first surfaced in print in 1893 but George had shrugged it off as a joke. In an effort to kill off rumours, Mylius was arrested, tried and found guilty of criminal libel, and was sentenced to a year in prison.[33]

The new King and Queen's coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 22 June 1911,[13] and 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 on 12 December 1911. George wore the newly-created Imperial Crown of India at the ceremony, and declared the shifting of the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi. On 15 December, he laid the foundation stone of New Delhi with Queen Mary.[34] They travelled throughout the sub-continent, and George took the opportunity to indulge in big game hunting in Nepal, shooting 21 tigers, 8 rhinoceroses and a bear over 10 days.[35] He was a keen and expert marksman.[36] On 18 December 1913, he shot over a thousand pheasants in six hours[37] at the home of Lord Burnham, although even he had to acknowledge that "we went a little too far" that day.[38]

George inherited the throne at a politically turbulent time. The Liberal Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, led a minority government dependent upon the support of Irish Nationalists. Asquith's reforming People's Budget had been rejected the previous year by the Conservative-dominated House of Lords. Asquith had asked the previous King to give an undertaking that he would create sufficient Liberal peers to force the budget through the House if it was rejected again. Edward had reluctantly agreed, with conditions, and after a general election in January 1910 and fearing the mass creation, the Conservative peers let the budget through. Asquith attempted to curtail the power of the Lords through constitutional reforms, which were again blocked by the Upper House. Like his father, George reluctantly agreed to Asquith's request to create sufficient Liberal peers after a general election if the Lords blocked the legislation. After the December 1910 election, the Lords once again let the bill pass on hearing of the threat to swamp the house with new peers. The subsequent Parliament Act 1911 permanently removed the power of the Lords to veto money bills. As part of his Irish policy, Asquith introduced legislation that would give Ireland Home Rule, but the Conservatives and Unionists opposed it. Desperate to avoid the prospect of Civil War in Ireland between Unionists and Nationalists, George called a meeting of all parties at Buckingham Palace in July 1914 in an attempt to negotiate a settlement. After four days the Conference ended without an agreement. On 18 September 1914, the King gave his assent to the Home Rule Bill, but its implementation was postponed by a Suspensory Act due to the outbreak of World War I.[39]

First World War

George V dressed in the ceremonial robes of the Order of the Garter uses a broom to sweep aside assorted crowns labelled "Made in Germany"
"A good riddance"
A 1917 Punch cartoon depicts George sweeping away his German titles.

From 1914 to 1918 Britain was at war with Germany. 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. The King's paternal grandfather was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; consequently, the King and his children bore the titles Prince and Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke and Duchess of Saxony. Queen Mary, although British like her mother, was the daughter of the Duke of Teck, a descendant of the German Dukes of Württemberg. 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, and Prince and Princess of Schleswig-Holstein. 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."[40]

On 17 July 1917, George appeased British nationalist feelings by issuing a royal proclamation that changed the name of the British Royal House from the German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor.[41] He and all his British relatives relinquished their German titles and styles, and adopted British-sounding surnames. George compensated his male relatives by creating them British peers. His cousin, Prince Louis of Battenberg, who earlier in the war had been forced to resign as First Sea Lord through anti-German feeling, became Louis Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Milford Haven, while Queen Mary's brothers became Adolphus Cambridge, 1st Marquess of Cambridge, and Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone. George's cousins Princess Marie Louise and Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein dropped their territorial designations.

Two bearded men of identical height wear military dress uniforms emblazoned with medals and stand side-by-side
King George V (right) and his cousin Tsar Nicholas II in German military uniforms in Berlin before the war. Note the close physical resemblance between the two monarchs.[42]

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.[43] 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 reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (a male-line grandson of Queen Victoria), were cut off; their British peerages were suspended by a 1919 Order in Council under the provisions of the Titles Deprivation Act 1917. Under pressure from his mother, Queen Alexandra, George also removed the Garter flags of his German relations from St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.[44]

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 Russian royals might seem inappropriate under the circumstances.[45] Despite the later claims of Lord Mountbatten of Burma that David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, was opposed to the rescue of the Russian imperial family, the letters of the King's private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, suggest that it was George V who opposed the rescue against the advice of the government.[46] Advanced planning for a rescue was undertaken by MI1, a branch of the British secret service,[47] but because of the strengthening position of the Bolshevik revolutionaries and wider difficulties with the conduct of the war, the plan was never put into operation.[48] The Tsar and his immediate family remained in Russia, where they were murdered by Bolsheviks in 1918. The following year, Nicholas's mother (George's aunt) Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark) 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 at the age of 13 after a lifetime of ill health. George was informed of his death by Queen Mary, 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."[49]

In May 1922, the King toured northern France and Belgium, visiting the First World War cemeteries and memorials being constructed by the Imperial War Graves Commission. The event was described in a poem, The King's Pilgrimage by Rudyard Kipling.[50] The tour, and one short visit to Italy in 1923, were the only times George agreed to leave the United Kingdom on official business after the end of the war.[51]

Later life

Pale-eyed grey-bearded man of slim build wearing a dress uniform and medals
King George V in 1923

Before the First World War, most of Europe was ruled by monarchs related to George, but during and after the war, the monarchies of Austria, Germany, Greece, and Spain, like Russia, fell to revolution and war. In March 1919 Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Lisle Strutt was dispatched on the personal authority of the King to escort the former Emperor Charles I of Austria and his family to safety in Switzerland.[52] In 1922, a Royal Navy ship was sent to Greece to rescue his cousins, Prince and Princess Andrew. Prince Andrew was a nephew of Queen Alexandra through her brother King George I of Greece, and Princess Andrew was 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. The Greek monarchy was restored again shortly before George's death.

Political turmoil in Ireland continued as the Nationalists fought for independence; George expressed his horror at government-sanctioned killings and reprisals to Prime Minister David Lloyd George.[53] At the opening session of the Parliament of Northern Ireland on 22 June 1921, the King, in a speech part drafted by Lloyd George and General Jan Smuts, appealed for conciliation. A few days later, a truce was agreed. Negotiations between Britain and the Irish secessionists led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. By the end of 1922, Ireland was partitioned, the Irish Free State was established, and Lloyd George was out of office.

The King and his top advisers were concerned about the rise of socialism and the growing labour movement, which they associated with republicanism. Their concerns, although exaggerated, resulted in a redesign of the monarchy's social role to be more inclusive of the working class and its representatives—a dramatic change for George, who was most comfortable with naval officers and landed gentry. In fact the socialists no longer believed in their anti-monarchical slogans and were ready to come to terms with the monarchy if it took the first step. George took that step, adopting a more democratic stance that crossed class lines and brought the monarchy closer to the public. The King also cultivated friendly relations with moderate Labour party politicians and trade union officials. George V's abandonment of social aloofness conditioned the royal family's behaviour and enhanced its popularity during the economic crises of the 1920s and for over two generations thereafter. The years between 1922 and 1929 saw frequent changes in government. In 1924, George appointed the first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, in the absence of a clear majority for any one of the three parties. George's tactful and understanding reception of the first Labour government (which lasted less than a year) allayed the suspicions of the party's sympathisers.[54] During the General Strike of 1926 the King advised the Government of Conservative Stanley Baldwin against taking inflammatory action,[55] and took exception to suggestions that the strikers were "revolutionaries" saying, "Try living on their wages before you judge them."[56]

A group pose of eight men in smart evening wear. The King sits in the middle surrounded by his prime ministers.
1926 Imperial Conference: George V and the prime ministers of the Commonwealth. Clockwise from centre front: George V, Baldwin (United Kingdom), Monroe (Newfoundland), Coates (New Zealand), Bruce (Australia), Hertzog (South Africa), Cosgrave (Irish Free State), King (Canada).

In 1926, George hosted an Imperial Conference in London at which the Balfour Declaration accepted the growth of the British Dominions into self-governing "autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another". In 1931, the Statute of Westminster formalised George's position as "the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations". The Statute established "that any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles" would require the assent of the Parliaments of the Dominions as well as Parliament at Westminster, which could not legislate for the Dominions, except by consent.

In the wake of a world financial crisis, the King encouraged the formation of a National Government in 1931 led by MacDonald and Baldwin,[57][58] and volunteered to reduce the civil list to help balance the budget.[57]

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.[59]

He was concerned by the coming to power in 1933 of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. In 1934 the king bluntly told the German ambassador Leopold von Hoesch that Germany was now the peril of the world, and that, if she went on at the present rate, there was bound to be a war within ten years; he warned his ambassador in Berlin Eric Phipps to be suspicious of the Nazis.[60] 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."[61]

George's relationship with his eldest son and heir, 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.[13] 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".[62] In 1935 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."[63][64]

Declining health and death

The First World War took a toll on George's health: he was seriously injured on 28 October 1915 when thrown by his horse at a troop review in France, and his heavy smoking exacerbated recurring breathing problems. He suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pleurisy. In 1925, on the instruction of his doctors, he was reluctantly sent on a recuperative private cruise in the Mediterranean; it was his third trip abroad since the war, and his last.[65] In November 1928, he fell seriously ill with septicaemia, and for the next two years his son Edward took over many of his duties.[66] In 1929, the suggestion of a further rest abroad was rejected by the King "in rather strong language".[67] Instead, he retired for a brief period to Craigweil House, Aldwick, in the seaside resort of Bognor, Sussex.[68] As a result of his stay, the town acquired the designation of 'Regis', which is Latin for 'of the King'. 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!"[69][70][71]

George never fully recovered. In his final year, he was occasionally administered oxygen.[72] On the evening of 15 January 1936, the King took to his bedroom at Sandringham House complaining of a cold; he would never again leave the room alive.[73] He became gradually weaker, drifting in and out of consciousness. Prime Minister Baldwin later said,

each time he became conscious it was some kind inquiry or kind observation of someone, some words of gratitude for kindness shown. But he did say to his secretary when he sent for him: "How is the Empire?" An unusual phrase in that form, and the secretary said: "All is well, sir, with the Empire", and the King gave him a smile and relapsed once more into unconsciousness.[74]

By 20 January, he was close to death. His physicians, led by Lord Dawson of Penn, issued a bulletin with words that became famous: "The King's life is moving peacefully towards its close."[75] Dawson's private diary, unearthed after his death and made public in 1986, reveals that the King's last words, a mumbled "God damn you!",[76] were addressed to his nurse when she gave him a sedative on the night of 20 January. Dawson wrote that he had euthanised the King by giving him a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine. Dawson noted he acted to prevent strain on the family and so that the King's death at 11:55 pm could be announced in the morning edition of The Times newspaper rather than "less appropriate ... evening journals".[76][77]

The German composer Paul Hindemith 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.[78]

At the procession to George's Lying in State in Westminster Hall, part of the Imperial State Crown fell from on top of the coffin and landed in the gutter as the cortège turned into New Palace Yard. The new king, Edward VIII, saw it fall and wondered whether it was a bad omen for his new reign.[79][80] Edward would abdicate before the year was out, leaving Albert, Duke of York, to ascend the throne (taking the title George VI).

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 before the funeral.[81] The vigil was not repeated until the death of George's daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, in 2002. He was interred at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 28 January 1936.[82]


Equestrian statue in dark grey metal of George V in military dress uniform on a plinth of red granite outside a Classical building of red sandstone
Statue of King George V in King George Square outside Brisbane City Hall
George V Canada 1 cent stamp 1930

George preferred to stay at home pursuing his hobbies of stamp collecting and game shooting, and lived what later biographers would consider a dull life because of its conventionality.[83] He was earnestly devoted to Britain and the British Commonwealth.[84] He appeared hard working and became widely admired by the people of Britain and the Empire, as well as "The Establishment".[85] Anti-intellectual and lacking the sophistication of his two royal predecessors, he nevertheless understood the British Empire better than most of his ministers; indeed he explained, "it has always been my dream to identify myself with the great idea of Empire."[86] Historian David Cannadine portrays George V and Queen Mary as an "inseparably devoted couple" who did so much to uphold "character" and "family values".[87] George established a standard of conduct for British royalty that reflected the values and virtues of the upper middle-class rather than upper-class lifestyles or vices.[88] He was by temperament a traditionalist who never fully appreciated or approved the revolutionary changes underway in British society. Nevertheless, he invariably wielded his influence as a force of neutrality and moderation, seeing his role as mediator rather than final decision maker.[89]

Trilingual plaque commemorating the opening of King George V Avenue, Jerusalem, by Herbert Samuel, High Commissioner of Palestine, 1924

Statues of King George V include those in Hobart, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide in Australia, and one by William Reid Dick outside Westminster Abbey, London. The King George V Playing Fields in the United Kingdom were created as a memorial. King George V Park in St. John's, Newfoundland, Stade George V in Curepipe, Mauritius, and King George V Memorial Grandstand at Henson Park, Sydney, are named in his honour. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv both have major thoroughfares named for King George V during the British Mandate for Palestine. In Paris, an avenue and an underground station were named for George V; as are Avenue Georges, Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada; King George V Avenue, Sale, Victoria, Australia; King George V Secondary School, Malaysia; and King George V School, and King George V Memorial Park in Hong Kong.

Two Royal Navy battleships, HMS King George V in 1911 and her namesake in 1939, 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).

On-screen portrayals

On screen, George has been portrayed by:

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 Imperial 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"


Military appointments


As Duke of York, George's arms were the royal arms, with an inescutcheon of the arms of Saxony, all differenced with a label of three points argent, the centre point bearing an anchor azure. As Prince of Wales the centre label lost its anchor. As King, he bore the royal arms. 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).[94]

See adjacent text
Coat of arms of George, Duke of York 
See adjacent text
Coat of arms of George, Prince of Wales 
See adjacent text
Coat of arms of George V of the United Kingdom 
See adjacent text
Coat of arms of George V of the United Kingdom (in Scotland) 


Name Birth Death Spouse Children
Edward VIII
Later Duke of Windsor
23 June 1894 28 May 1972 Wallis Simpson None
George VI 14 December 1895 6 February 1952 Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon Elizabeth II
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood 25 April 1897 28 March 1965 Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood
The Honourable Gerald Lascelles
Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester 31 March 1900 10 June 1974 Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott Prince William of Gloucester
Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester
Prince George, Duke of Kent 20 December 1902 25 August 1942 Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark Prince Edward, Duke of Kent
Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy
Prince Michael of Kent
Prince John 12 July 1905 18 January 1919 Never married None


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. ^ Clay, p. 39; Sinclair, pp. 46–47
  3. ^ Sinclair, pp. 49–50
  4. ^ Clay, p. 71; Rose, p. 7
  5. ^ Rose, p. 13
  6. ^ Rose, p. 14; Sinclair, p. 55
  7. ^ Rose, p. 11
  8. ^ Clay, p. 92; Rose, pp. 15–16
  9. ^ Sinclair, p. 69
  10. ^ Pope-Hennessy, pp. 250–251
  11. ^ Pope-Hennessy, pp. 230–231
  12. ^ Sinclair, p. 178
  13. ^ a b c d Matthew, H. C. G. (September 2004; online edition May 2009) "George V (1865–1936)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33369, retrieved 1 May 2010 (Subscription required)
  14. ^ Clay, p. 149
  15. ^ Clay, p. 150; Rose, p. 35
  16. ^ Renamed from Bachelor's Cottage
  17. ^ Rose, p. 97
  18. ^ Harold Nicolson's diary quoted in Sinclair, p. 107
  19. ^ Nicolson's Comments 1944–1948, quoted in Rose, p. 42
  20. ^ The Royal Philatelic Collection, Official website of the British Monarchy,, retrieved 1 May 2010 
  21. ^ Rose, pp. 53–57; Sinclair, p. 93 ff
  22. ^ Phillip Buckner, "The Royal Tour of 1901 and the Construction of an Imperial Identity in South Africa." South African Historical Journal 2000 (41): 324–348. Issn: 0258-2473
  23. ^ Rose, pp. 43–44
  24. ^ Judith Bassett, "'A Thousand Miles of Loyalty': the Royal Tour of 1901." New Zealand Journal of History 1987 21(1): 125–138. Issn: 0028-8322; W. H. Oliver, ed. The Oxford History of New Zealand (1981) pp. 206–208
  25. ^ Rose, p. 45
  26. ^ Previous Princes of Wales, Household of HRH The Prince of Wales,, retrieved 1 May 2010 
  27. ^ Rose, p. 289
  28. ^ Sinclair, p. 107
  29. ^ Rose, pp. 61–66
  30. ^ The driver of their coach and over a dozen spectators were killed by a bomb thrown by an anarchist, Mateo Morales.
  31. ^ Rose, pp. 67–68
  32. ^ Pope-Hennessy, p. 421; Rose, pp. 75–76
  33. ^ Rose, pp. 82–84
  34. ^ Yadgaar, National Museum, New Delhi,, retrieved 18 May 2010 
  35. ^ Rose, p. 136
  36. ^ Rose, pp. 39–40
  37. ^ About one bird every 20 seconds
  38. ^ Windsor, pp. 86–87
  39. ^ King-Emperor's Jubilee 1910–1935 p. 96
  40. ^ Nicolson, p. 308
  41. ^ London Gazette: no. 30186. p. 7119. 17 July 1917. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  42. ^ 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.
  43. ^ Nicolson, p. 310
  44. ^ Rose, p. 173
  45. ^ Nicolson, p. 301; Rose, pp. 210–215; Sinclair, p. 148
  46. ^ Rose, p. 210
  47. ^ Crossland, John (15 October 2006), "British Spies In Plot To Save Tsar", The Sunday Times 
  48. ^ Sinclair, p. 149
  49. ^ Pope-Hennessy, p. 511
  50. ^ Pinney, Thomas (ed.) (1990) The Letters of Rudyard Kipling 1920–30, Vol. 5, University of Iowa Press, note 1, p. 120, ISBN 978-0-87745-898-2
  51. ^ Rose, p. 294
  52. ^
  53. ^ Nicolson, p. 347; Rose, pp. 238–241; Sinclair, p. 114
  54. ^ Frank Prochaska, "George V and Republicanism, 1917–1919." Twentieth Century British History 1999 10(1): 27–51. Issn: 0955-2359; Neville Kirk, "The Conditions of Royal Rule: Australian and British Socialist and Labour Attitudes to the Monarchy, 1901–11." Social History 2005 30(1): 64–88. Issn: 0307-1022 Fulltext: Ebsco
  55. ^ Nicolson, p. 419; Rose, pp. 341–342
  56. ^ Rose, p. 340; Sinclair, p. 105
  57. ^ a b Rose, pp. 373–379
  58. ^ Vernon Bogdanor argues that George V played a crucial and active role in the political crisis of August–October 1931, and was a determining influence on Prime Minister MacDonald, in Bogdanor, Vernon (1991) "1931 Revisited: The Constitutional Aspects", Twentieth Century British History 2 (1): 1–25 (Subscription required). Philip Williamson disputes Bogdanor, saying the idea of a national government had been in the minds of party leaders since late 1930 and it was they, not the King, who determined when the time had come to establish one, in Williamson, Philip (1991) "1931 Revisited: the Political Realities", Twentieth Century British History 2 (3): 328–338 (Subscription required).
  59. ^ Sinclair p. 154
  60. ^ Nicolson, pp. 521–522; Rose, p. 388
  61. ^ Sinclair, p. 1
  62. ^ Pimlott, Ben (1996), The Queen, John Wiley and Sons, Inc, ISBN 0-471-19431-X 
  63. ^ Ziegler, Philip (1990), King Edward VIII: The Official Biography, London: Collins, p. 199, ISBN 0-00-215741-1 
  64. ^ Rose, p. 392
  65. ^ Rose, pp. 301, 344
  66. ^ Ziegler, pp. 192–196
  67. ^ Arthur Bigge, 1st Baron Stamfordham, to Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone, 9 July 1929, quoted in Nicolson p. 433 and Rose, p. 359
  68. ^ Pope-Hennessy, p. 546
  69. ^ Roberts, Andrew; Edited by Antonia Fraser (2000), The House of Windsor, London: Cassell and Co, p. 36, ISBN 0-304-35406-6 
  70. ^ Ashley, Mike (1998), The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens, London: Robinson Publishing, p. 699 
  71. ^ Rose, pp. 360–361
  72. ^ Bradford, Sarah (1989), King George VI, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, p. 149, ISBN 0-297-79667-4 
  73. ^ Pope-Hennessy, p. 558
  74. ^ The Times, 22 January 1936, p. 7, col. A
  75. ^ The Times, 21 January 1936, p. 12, col. A
  76. ^ a b Watson, Francis (1986), "The Death of George V", History Today 36: 21–30 
  77. ^ Ramsay, J. H. R. (28 May 1994), "A king, a doctor, and a convenient death", British Medical Journal 308: 1445, 
  78. ^ Steinberg, Michael (2000), The Concerto, Oxford University Press, pp. 212–213, ISBN 0-19-513931-3, 
  79. ^ Windsor, p. 267
  80. ^ The cross surmounting the crown, composed of a sapphire and 200 diamonds, was retrieved by a soldier following later in the procession.
  81. ^ The Times (London), Tuesday, 28 January 1936, p. 10, col. F
  82. ^ Rose, pp. 404–405
  83. ^ e.g. Harold Nicolson's diary quoted by Sinclair, p. 107; Best, Nicholas (1995) The Kings and Queens of England, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 0-297-83487-8, p. 83: "rather a dull man ... liked nothing better than to sit in his study and look at his stamps"; Lacey, Robert (2002) Royal, London: Little, Brown, ISBN 0-316-85940-0, p. 54: "the diary of King George V is the journal of a very ordinary man, containing a great deal more about his hobby of stamp collecting than it does about his personal feelings, with a heavy emphasis on the weather."
  84. ^ Nicolson, pp. 33, 141, 510, 517; Gore, p. 293
  85. ^ John Gore, King George V: A Personal Memoir (1941) pp. x, 116
  86. ^ Brian Harrison, The Transformation of British Politics, 1860–1995 (1996) pp. 320, 337
  87. ^ David Cannadine, History in our Time (1998) p. 3
  88. ^ Harrison, p. 332; American reporters noted that the king "if not himself a characteristic example of the great British middle class, is so like the characteristic examples of that class that there is no perceptible distinction to be made between the two." Editors of Fortune, The King of England: George V (1936) p. 33
  89. ^ Harrison, pp. 51, 327
  90. ^ London Gazette: no. 25773. p. 102. 5 January 1888.
  91. ^ a b c d e White, Geoffrey H.; Lea, R. S. (eds.) (1959) Complete Peerage, vol. XII, pp. 924–925, London: St Catherine's Press
  92. ^ a b Supplement to the London Gazette of the 31st of May, 1910
  93. ^ "New Titles in the R.A.F." (pdf), Flight 1919: 1044, 7 August 1919,, retrieved 31 October 2011 
  94. ^ Velde, François (19 April 2008), "Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family", Heraldica, retrieved on 1 May 2010.


  • Clay, Catrine (2006), King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War, London: John Murray, ISBN 978-0-7195-6537-3 
  • Matthew, H. C. G. (September 2004; online edition May 2009) "George V (1865–1936)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/33369, retrieved 1 May 2010 (Subscription required)
  • Nicolson, Sir Harold (1952), King George the Fifth: His Life and Reign, London: Constable and Co 
  • Pope-Hennessy, James (1959), Queen Mary, London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd 
  • Rose, Kenneth (1983), King George V, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, ISBN 0-297-78245-2 
  • Sinclair, David (1988), Two Georges: The Making of the Modern Monarchy, London: Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-33240-9 
  • Windsor, HRH The Duke of (1951), A King's Story, London: Cassell and Co 

External links

 Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "George V.". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

George V
Cadet branch of the House of Wettin
Born: 3 June 1865 Died: 20 January 1936
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Edward VII
King of the United Kingdom
and the British Dominions

Name of title changed by the
Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927
Emperor of India
Succeeded by
Edward VIII
New title
Name of title changed by the
Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927
King of Great Britain, Ireland
and the British Dominions

British royalty
Preceded by
Albert Edward, Prince of Wales
later became King Edward VII
Heir to the Throne
as heir apparent

Succeeded by
Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall
later became King Edward VIII
Prince of Wales
Succeeded by
Edward, Prince of Wales
later became King Edward VIII
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Albert Edward, Prince of Wales
later became King Edward VII
Duke of Cornwall
Succeeded by
Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall
later became King Edward VIII
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
Prince Albert Edward, Duke of Rothesay
later became King Edward VII
Duke of Rothesay
Succeeded by
Prince Edward, Duke of Rothesay
later became King Edward VIII
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Duke of York
6th creation
Merged in the Crown
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Prince George, Duke of Cambridge
Grand Master of the Order of
St Michael and St George

Title next held by
Edward, Prince of Wales
Preceded by
The Lord Curzon of Kedleston
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
The Earl Brassey

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