George V

George V


George V was King of the United Kingdom and
the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 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 to 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, most other European empires fell while the British Empire
expanded to its greatest effective extent. In 1917, George 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 British
House of Commons over the unelected House of Lords. In 1924 he appointed the first Labour
ministry and in 1931 the Statute of Westminster recognised the dominions of the Empire as
separate, independent states 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, in 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 and
Louise of Hesse-Kassel. 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. 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 17 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.
As their father thought that the navy was “the very best possible training for any boy”,
in September 1877, when George was 12 years old, both brothers joined the cadet training
ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth, Devon. 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 1881 on a visit to Japan, George
had a local artist tattoo a blue and red dragon on his arm, and was received in an audience
by the Emperor Meiji; George and his brother presented Empress Haruko with two wallabies
from Australia. Dalton wrote an account of their journey entitled The Cruise of HMS Bacchante.
Between Melbourne and Sydney, Dalton recorded a sighting of the Flying Dutchman, a mythical
ghost ship. 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. After Lausanne, the brothers were separated;
Albert Victor attended Trinity College, Cambridge, while George continued in the Royal Navy.
He travelled the world, visiting many areas of the British Empire. During his naval career
he commanded Torpedo Boat 79 in home waters then HMS Thrush on the North America station,
before his last active service in command of HMS Melampus in 1891–92. From then on,
his naval rank was largely honorary. Marriage 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. 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 granddaughter
of King George III and a first cousin of Queen Victoria.
On 14 January 1892, 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. George
had only just recovered from a serious illness himself, after being confined to bed for six
weeks with typhoid fever, the disease that was thought to have killed his grandfather
Prince Albert. 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. 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.
Duke of York The death of his elder brother effectively
ended George’s naval career, as he was now second in line to succeed to the throne, after
his father. George was created Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney by Queen
Victoria on 24 May 1892, and received lessons in constitutional history from J. R. Tanner.
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 Sandringham, Norfolk, where their way of life mirrored that of a comfortable middle-class
family rather than royalty. 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.” George was an avid stamp collector,
which Nicolson disparaged, 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.
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. In October 1894, George’s uncle-by-marriage,
Tsar Alexander III, died and his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, ascended the Russian throne.
At the request of his father, “out of respect for poor dear Uncle Sasha’s memory”, George
joined his parents in St. Petersburg for the funeral. George and his parents remained in
Russia for the wedding a week later of Nicholas to another one of George’s first cousins,
Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, whom Queen Victoria had once hoped would marry George’s
elder brother. Prince of Wales 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 Malta, Ceylon,
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
to reward the dominions for their participation in the South African War of 1899–1902. George
presented thousands of specially designed South African War medals to colonial troops.
In South Africa, the royal party met civic leaders, African leaders, and Boer prisoners,
and was greeted by elaborate decorations, expensive gifts, and fireworks displays. Despite
this, not all residents responded favourably to the tour. Many white Cape Afrikaners resented
the display and expense, 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 cost at a time when families faced severe hardship. In Australia, the Duke opened the first session
of the Australian Parliament upon the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia. In New Zealand,
he praised the military values, bravery, loyalty, and obedience to duty of New Zealanders, and
the tour gave New Zealand a chance to show off its progress, especially in its adoption
of up-to-date British standards in communications and the processing industries. The implicit
goal was to advertise New Zealand’s attractiveness to tourists and potential immigrants, while
avoiding news of growing social tensions, by focusing the attention of the British press
on a land few knew about. 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.”
On 9 November 1901, George was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. 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. George in turn allowed his wife access to his papers,
as he valued her counsel and she often helped write her husband’s speeches. As Prince of
Wales, George supported the various naval reforms, including the enrollment of cadets
at the ages of twelve and thirteen, and cadets receiving the same education, whatever their
class and eventual assignments. The reforms were implemented by the then Second Sea Lord,
Jacky Fisher. 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. The tour was almost immediately
followed by a trip to Spain for the wedding of King Alfonso XIII to Victoria Eugenie of
Battenberg, a first cousin of George, at which the bride and groom narrowly avoided assassination.
A week after returning to Britain, George and May traveled to Norway for the coronation
of King Haakon VII, George’s cousin, and Queen Maud, George’s sister.
King and Emperor On 6 May 1910, King Edward VII died, and George
became king. He wrote in his diary, “I have lost my best friend and the best of fathers …
I never had a [cross] word with him in my life. I am heart-broken and overwhelmed with
grief but God will help me in my responsibilities and darling May will be my comfort as she
has always been. May God give me strength and guidance in the heavy task which has fallen
on me”. 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. They both thought she should not be called Queen Victoria, and so she became
Queen Mary. 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.
George objected to the anti-Catholic wording of the Accession Declaration that he would
be required to make at the opening of his first parliament. He made it known that he
would refuse to open parliament as long as he was obliged to make the declaration in
its current form. As a result the Accession Declaration Act 1910 shortened the declaration
and removed the most offensive phrases. George and Mary’s coronation took place at
Westminster Abbey on 22 June 1911, and was celebrated by the Festival of Empire in London.
In July, the King and Queen visited Ireland for five days; they received a warm welcome,
with thousands of people lining the route of their procession to cheer. 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 Indian capital from Calcutta to Delhi. 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. He
was a keen and expert 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. National politics George inherited the throne at a politically
turbulent time. Lloyd George’s People’s Budget had been rejected the previous year by the
Conservative and Unionist-dominated House of Lords, contrary to the normal convention
that the Lords did not veto money bills. Liberal Prime Minister H. H. Asquith had asked the
previous king to give an undertaking that he would create sufficient Liberal peers to
force the budget through the House. Edward reluctantly agreed if the Lords rejected the
budget after two successive general elections. After a general election in January 1910,
the Conservative peers allowed the budget, for which the government now had an electoral
mandate, to pass without a vote. Asquith attempted to curtail the power of
the Lords through constitutional reforms, which were again blocked by the Upper House.
A constitutional conference on the reforms broke down in November 1910 after 21 meetings.
Asquith and Lord Crewe, Liberal leader in the Lords, asked George to grant a dissolution,
leading to a second general election, and to promise to create sufficient Liberal peers
if the Lords blocked the legislation again. If George refused, the Liberal government
would otherwise resign, which would have given the appearance that the monarch was taking
sides – with “the peers against the people” – in party politics. The King’s two private
secretaries, Lords Knollys and Stamfordham, gave George conflicting advice. Knollys, who
was Liberal, advised George to accept the Cabinet’s demands, while Stamfordham, who
was Unionist, advised George to accept the resignation. Like his father, George reluctantly
agreed to the dissolution and creation of peers, although he felt his ministers had
taken advantage of his inexperience to browbeat him. After the December 1910 election, the
Lords let the bill pass on hearing of the threat to swamp the house with new peers.
The subsequent Parliament Act 1911 permanently removed – with a few exceptions – the
power of the Lords to veto bills. The King later came to feel that Knollys had withheld
information from him about the willingness of the opposition to form a government if
the Liberals had resigned. The 1910 general elections had left the Liberals
as a minority government dependent upon the support of Irish Nationalists. As desired
by the Nationalists, Asquith introduced legislation that would give Ireland Home Rule, but the
Conservatives and Unionists opposed it. As tempers rose over the Home Rule Bill, which
would never have been possible without the Parliament Act, relations between the elderly
Knollys and the Conservatives became poor, and he was pushed into retirement. 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 – having considered vetoing the legislation – gave his assent to the
Home Rule Bill after it had been passed by Westminster, but its implementation was postponed
by a Suspensory Act due to the outbreak of the First World War.
First World War From 1914 to 1918, Britain and its allies
were at war with the Central Powers, led by the German Empire. 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.”
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. 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. In Letters Patent gazetted on 11 December
1917 the King restricted the style “His Royal Highness” and the titular dignity of “Prince
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 and
Prince Carl Eduard, Duke of Albany and reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, 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. When Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, George’s
first cousin, was overthrown in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the British government
offered political 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 V to think
that the presence of the Russian royals might seem inappropriate in the circumstances. Despite
the later claims of Lord Mountbatten of Burma that Prime Minister Lloyd George was opposed
to the rescue of the Russian imperial family, the letters of Lord Stamfordham suggest that
it was George V who opposed the rescue against the advice of the government. Advanced planning
for a rescue was undertaken by MI1, a branch of the British secret service, 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. The Tsar and his immediate
family remained in Russia, where they were killed by Bolsheviks in 1918. The following
year, Nicholas’s mother 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 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.” In May 1922, the King toured Belgium and northern
France, 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. 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.
Later life 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.
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. 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 weeks 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 leading 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 major parties. George’s tactful and understanding reception of the first Labour
government allayed the suspicions of the party’s sympathisers. During the General Strike of
1926 the King advised the government of Conservative Stanley Baldwin against taking inflammatory
action, and took exception to suggestions that the strikers were “revolutionaries” saying,
“Try living on their wages before you judge them.” 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,
and volunteered to reduce the civil list to help balance the budget.
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 to power in Germany in 1933 of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
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 the British ambassador in Berlin Eric
Phipps to be suspicious of the Nazis. 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 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. 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 affectionately called
him “Grandpa England”. In 1935, George said of his son Edward: “After I am dead, the boy
will ruin himself within 12 months”, and of Albert and Elizabeth: “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.” 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. In November 1928, he fell seriously ill with septicaemia, and for the next two
years his son Edward took over many of his duties. In 1929, the suggestion of a further
rest abroad was rejected by the King “in rather strong language”. Instead, he retired for
three months to Craigweil House, Aldwick, in the seaside resort of Bognor, Sussex. As
a result of his stay, the town acquired the suffix “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!” 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 House complaining of a cold; he never again left the room alive.
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. 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.” 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!”, 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 death by giving him a lethal injection
of cocaine and morphine. Dawson noted that he acted to preserve the King’s dignity, to
prevent further strain on the family, and so that the King’s death at 11:55 p.m. could
be announced in the morning edition of The Times newspaper rather than “less appropriate …
evening journals”. The German composer Paul Hindemith went to
a BBC studio on the morning after the King’s death and in six hours wrote Trauermusik.
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.
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. Edward abdicated before the year was out, leaving his brother
Albert, Duke of York, to ascend 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 before the funeral. The vigil was
not repeated until the death of George’s daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, in 2002.
George V was interred at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 28 January 1936.
Legacy George preferred to stay at home pursuing
his hobbies of stamp collecting and game shooting, and lived a life that later biographers would
consider dull because of its conventionality. He was unintellectual and lacked the sophistication
of his two royal predecessors: on returning from one evening at the opera he wrote, “Went
to Covent Garden and saw Fidelio and damned dull it was.” Nonetheless, he was earnestly
devoted to Britain and its Commonwealth. He explained, “it has always been my dream to
identify myself with the great idea of Empire.” He appeared hard-working and became widely
admired by the people of Britain and the Empire, as well as “The Establishment”. In the words
of historian David Cannadine, George V and Queen Mary were an “inseparably devoted couple”
who upheld “character” and “family values”. 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. He was by temperament a traditionalist who never
fully appreciated or approved the revolutionary changes under way 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. Numerous statues of King George V include
one by William Reid Dick outside Westminster Abbey, London. Other memorials include the
King George V Playing Fields in the United Kingdom. The many places named after him include
King George V Park in St. John’s, Newfoundland; Stade George V in Curepipe, Mauritius; major
thoroughfares in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; an avenue, a hotel and an underground station
in Paris; King George V School, Seremban, Malaysia; and a school and two parks in Hong
Kong. Two Royal Navy battleships were named HMS King George V in his honour, one in 1911
and her successor in 1939. George V gave both his name and donations to many charities,
including King George’s Fund for Sailors. On-screen portrayals
On screen, George has been portrayed by: Henry Warwick in the 1918 silent film Why
America Will Win William Gaffney in the 1919 silent film The
Great Victory, Wilson or the Kaiser? The Fall of the Hohenzollerns
Derek Erskine in the 1925 silent film The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama
Carleton Hobbs in the 1965 film A King’s Story Michael Osborne in the 1975 ATV drama series
Edward the Seventh Marius Goring in the 1978 Thames Television
series Edward & Mrs. Simpson Keith Varnier in the 1978 LWT drama series
Lillie Rene Aranda in the 1980 film The Fiendish
Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu Andrew Gilmour in the 1985 Australian miniseries
A Thousand Skies David Ravenswood in the 1990 Australian TV
miniseries The Great Air Race John Warner in the 1991 RTE TV drama The Treaty
David Troughton in the 1999 BBC TV drama All the King’s Men
Rupert Frazer in the 2002 TV miniseries Shackleton Alan Bates in the 2002 Carlton Television
drama Bertie and Elizabeth Tom Hollander in the 2003 BBC miniseries The
Lost Prince Clifford Rose in the 2005 TV drama Wallis
& Edward Andrew Pritchard in the 2005 British TV drama
documentary The First Black Britons Julian Wadham in the 2007 TV drama My Boy
Jack Michael Gambon in the 2010 film The King’s
Speech James Fox in the 2011 film W.E.
Guy Williams in 2013 in the series four of Downton Abbey
and in BBC documentary King George and Queen Mary.
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 the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act
1927, when it 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”. British honours
KG: Knight of the Garter, 4 August 1884 KT: Knight of the Thistle, 5 July 1893
KP: Knight of St Patrick, 20 August 1897 GCSI: Knight Grand Commander of the Star of
India, 28 September 1905 GCMG: Knight Grand Cross of St Michael and
St George, 9 March 1901 GCIE: Knight Grand Commander of the Indian
Empire, 28 September 1905 GCVO: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian
Order, 30 June 1897 ISO: Imperial Service Order, 31 March 1903
Royal Victorian Chain, 1902 PC: Privy Counsellor, 18 July 1894Privy Counsellor,
20 August 1897 Queen Victoria Golden Jubilee Medal, with
1897 bar King Edward VII Coronation Medal
Military appointments September 1877: Cadet, HMS Britannia
8 January 1880: Midshipman, HMS Bacchante and the corvette HMS Canada
3 June 1884: Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy 8 October 1885: Lieutenant, HMS Thunderer;
HMS Dreadnought; HMS Alexandra; HMS Northumberland 21 June 1887: Personal Aide-de-Camp to the
Queen July 1889 I/C HMS Torpedo Boat 79
By May 1890 I/C the gunboat HMS Thrush 24 August 1891: Commander, I/C HMS Melampus
2 January 1893: Captain, Royal Navy 1 January 1901: Rear-Admiral, Royal Navy
25 February 1901: Personal Naval Aide-de-Camp to the King
26 June 1903: Vice-Admiral, Royal Navy 1 March 1907: Admiral, Royal Navy
1910: Admiral of the Fleet, Royal Navy 1910: Field Marshal, British Army
1919: Chief of the Royal Air Force 1 January 1901: Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal
Marine Forces 29 November 1901: Honorary Colonel of the
4th County of London Yeomanry Regiment 21 December 1901: Colonel-in-Chief of the
Royal Welsh Fusiliers Foreign honours
Knight of the Order of the Elephant, 11 October 1885
Badge of the Order of the Dannebrog Knight of the Order of the Seraphim, 14 June
1905 Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Order of Saint Hubert Knight of the Order of the Most Holy Annunciation
House Order of Hohenzollern Order of the Wendish Crown
Order of Osmanieh Order of St. Andrew
Knight of the Order of the Black Eagle Saxe-Ernestine House Order
Knight of the Order of the Rue Crown Order of the Red Eagle
Order of the White Falcon Badge of the Order of the Redeemer
King Christian IX Jubilee Medal King Christian IX and Queen Louise of Denmark
Golden Wedding Commemorative Medal Cross of Liberty, 1st class, 17 June 1925
Grand Cross of the Order of the Colonial Empire, 19 February 1934
Honorary foreign military appointments 1 February 1901: À la suite of the German
Navy 26 January 1902: Colonel-in-Chief of the Rhenish
Cuirassier Regiment “Count Geßler” No. 8 Honorary degrees and offices
8 June 1893: Royal Fellow of the Royal Society, installed 6 February 1902
1901: Doctor of Laws, University of Sydney 1901: Chancellor of the University of Cape
Town 1901: Doctor of Laws, University of Toronto
1901: Doctor of Civil Law, Queen’s University, Ontario
1902–1910: Chancellor of the University of Wales
Arms 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 male-line descendants of the Prince Consort
domiciled in the United Kingdom. Issue Ancestry
Notes and sources References
Clay, Catrine, 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. “George V”, Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography, Oxford University Press, doi:10.109333369, retrieved 1 May 2010
Nicolson, Sir Harold, King George the Fifth: His Life and Reign, London: Constable and
Co  Pope-Hennessy, James, Queen Mary, London:
George Allen and Unwin, Ltd  Rose, Kenneth, King George V, London: Weidenfeld
and Nicolson, ISBN 0-297-78245-2  Sinclair, David, Two Georges: The Making of
the Modern Monarchy, London: Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-33240-9 
Windsor, HRH The Duke of, A King’s Story, London: Cassell and Co 
External links Special issue of the Illustrated London News
covering King George V’s death Newsreel footage of King George V’s coronation
Sound recording of King George V’s Silver Jubilee speech
Archival material relating to George V listed at the UK National Archives
Portraits of King George V at the National Portrait Gallery, London

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