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George V

Background Information

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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
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
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 of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. 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 the 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 feeling. His reign saw the rise of socialism, communism, fascism, Irish republicanism and the first Labour ministry, all of which radically changed the political landscape. 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 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 of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. 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 the private chapel of Windsor Castle on 7 July 1865, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley.

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. 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 twelve years old, both brothers joined the cadet training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth, Devon.

For three years from 1879, the royal brothers served as midshipmen on HMS Bacchante, accompanied by Dalton. They toured the colonies of the British Empire in the Caribbean, South Africa and Australia, and visited Norfolk, Virginia, as well as South America, the Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Far East. In Japan, George had a local artist tattoo a blue and red dragon on his arm. Dalton wrote an account of their journey entitled The Cruise of HMS Bacchante. Between Melbourne and Sydney, Dalton records a sighting of the Flying Dutchman, a mythical ghost ship. When they returned to Britain, the brothers were separated; Albert Victor attended Trinity College, 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. From then on his naval rank was largely honorary.


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.

In November 1891, George's elder brother Albert Victor became engaged to his second cousin once removed, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, known as "May" within the family, after the month of her birth. 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. 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

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. George gave up his naval career, and was created Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney by Queen Victoria on 24 May 1892. 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 a well-known stamp collector, which Nicolson denigrated, 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.

Prince of Wales

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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. In Australia the Duke opened the first session of the Australian Parliament upon the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia. According to Bassett (1987) the visit made for New Zealand's first nationwide extravaganza. It allowed the people and the colony a chance to show off their progress, to be honoured by the Duke for what he praised as their military values, bravery, loyalty, and obedience to duty. The New Zealanders took the opportunity to demonstrate their adoption of up-to-date British standards in technical efficiency, especially in communications and in the processing industries. The implicit goal was to advertise the colony's attractiveness to tourists and potential immigrants, while avoiding news of the growing social tensions in New Zealand. The tour succeeded in focusing the attention of the British press on New Zealand, giving the people of the Empire detailed descriptions of a land few knew about.

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 May often helped write her husband's speeches.

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, at which the bride and groom narrowly avoided assassination. 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.

King and Emperor

Gold coin with left-facing profile portrait of George V
A half-sovereign minted during George's reign ( Sir Edgar 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. Neither thought she should 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.

The new King and Queen's coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 22 June 1911, 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. They travelled throughout the sub-continent, and George took the opportunity to indulge in hunting tigers, shooting 21. 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.

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 sought to introduce 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. Before an agreement was reached, political developments in Britain and Ireland were overtaken by events in Europe, and the issue of Irish Home Rule was shelved.

First World War

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. Queen Mary, although British like her mother, was the daughter of the Duke of Teck, a descendant of the German Dukes of Württemberg.

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

The King's paternal grandfather was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; the King and his children bore the titles Prince and Princess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke and Duchess of Saxony. The King had brothers-in-law and cousins who were British subjects but who bore German titles such as Duke and Duchess of Teck, Prince and Princess of Battenberg, Prince and Princess of Hesse, and 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 an Order-in-Council that changed the name of the British Royal House from the German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor. He specifically adopted Windsor as the surname for all descendants of Queen Victoria then living in the United Kingdom, excluding women who married into other families and their descendants.

Finally, he and his various relatives who were British subjects relinquished the use of all German titles and styles, and adopted British-sounding surnames. George compensated several of his male relatives by creating them British peers. Thus, overnight his cousin, Prince Louis of Battenberg, 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 his brother-in-law, the Duke of Teck, became Adolphus Cambridge, 1st Marquess of Cambridge. Others, such as Princess Marie Louise and Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, simply dropped their territorial designations. In Letters Patent gazetted on 11 December 1917, the King restricted the style "His (or Her) Royal Highness" and the titular dignity of "Prince (or Princess) of Great Britain and Ireland" to the children of the Sovereign, the children of the sons of the Sovereign and the eldest living son of the eldest living son of a Prince of Wales.

Two bearded men of identical height wear military dress uniforms emblazoned with medals and stand side-by-side
King George V (right) with his first cousin Tsar Nicholas II, Berlin, 1913. Note the close physical resemblance between the two monarchs.

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. George also removed the Garter flags of his German relations from St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, under pressure from his mother, Queen Alexandra.

When Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, George's first cousin (their mothers were sisters), was overthrown in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the British Government offered asylum to the Tsar and his family, but worsening conditions for the British people, and fears that revolution might come to the British Isles, led George to think that the presence of the Russian royals might seem inappropriate under the circumstances. Despite the later claims of Lord Mountbatten of Burma that David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, was opposed to the rescue of the 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. 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 and 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."

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. 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

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 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.

As the war ended the king and his top advisers were deeply concerned about the republican threat to the British monarchy. They associated republicanism with the rise of socialism and the growing labour movement. 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. Therefore in 1924 the king was willing, in the absence of a clear majority for any one of the three parties, to replace Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin with Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Party prime minister. King George's tactful and understanding reception of the first Labour government (which was short-lived) allayed the suspicions of the party's sympathizers throughout the nation.

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 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 years between 1922 and 1929 saw frequent changes in government, and in 1924, George appointed the first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. MacDonald's minority government lasted less than a year. During the General Strike of 1926 the King advised the Government of 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."

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, 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 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. By the silver jubilee of his reign in 1935, he had become a well-loved king, saying in response to the crowd's adulation, "I cannot understand it, after all I am only a very ordinary sort of fellow."

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

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 emphysema, bronchitis, 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 a brief period to Craigweil House, Aldwick, in the seaside resort of Bognor, Sussex. 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!"

White stone statue of George V in Garter robes on a plinth of the same stone standing in a street
Statue of George by William Reid Dick, outside Westminster Abbey, London

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 would never again leave 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, reveals that the King's last words, a mumbled "God damn you!", were addressed to his nurse when she gave him a sedative on the night of 20 January. Dawson wrote that he hastened the King's end by giving him a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine, both to prevent further strain on the family and so that the King's death at 11:55 p.m. could be announced in the morning edition of The Times newspaper.

At the procession to George's Lying in State in Westminster Hall, as the cortège turned into New Palace Yard, part of the Imperial State Crown fell from on top of the coffin and landed in the gutter. The new king, Edward VIII, saw it fall and wondered whether this was a bad omen for his new reign. 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 (though in truth, it was actually a vigil of three princes and a king), at the catafalque on the night of 28 January, the day before the funeral. The vigil was not repeated until the death of George's daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth, in 2002. He is buried at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.


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

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.

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. George appeared hard working and became widely admired by the people of Britain and the Empire, as well as " The Establishment". 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." He used his exceptional memory for details and faces to good effect in small talk with commoners and officials. Historian David Cannadine portrays George V and Queen Mary as an "inseparably devoted couple" who did so much to uphold "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 invariably wielded his influence as a force of neutrality and moderation, seeing his role as mediator rather than final decision maker. King George V was by temperament a cautious and conservative man who never fully appreciated or approved the revolutionary changes underway in British society. Nevertheless, he was earnestly devoted to Britain and the British Commonwealth.

Statues of King George V include those in 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. Today, they are each registered charities and are under the guidance of the National Playing Fields Association. The national stadium of Newfoundland in St. John's was named King George V Park in 1925. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv both have major thoroughfares named for King George V during the British Mandate for Palestine. In Paris, a large avenue from the top of the Champs-Elysées down to the Seine river 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).

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"


George's Royal Cypher, GvR in an ornate script surmounted by the crown.
  • 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 1894
    • Privy Counsellor (Ireland), 20 August 1897
  • FRS: Royal Fellow of the Royal Society, 8 June 1893


  • Cdt, September 1877: Cadet, HMS Britannia
  • Mid, 8 January 1880: Midshipman, HMS Bacchante and the corvette Canada
  • SLt, 3 June 1884: Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy
  • Lt, 8 October 1885: Lieutenant, HMS Thunderer; HMS Dreadnought; HMS Alexandra; HMS Northumberland
  • I/C Torpedo Boat 79; the gunboat HMS Thrush
  • Cdr, 24 August 1891: Commander, I/C the Melampus
  • Capt, 2 January 1893: Captain, Royal Navy
  • RAdm, 1 January 1901: Rear-Admiral, Royal Navy
  • VAdm, 26 June 1903: Vice-Admiral, Royal Navy
  • Adm, 1 March 1907: Admiral, Royal Navy
  • 1910: Admiral of the Fleet, Royal Navy
  • Chief of the Royal Air Force (title not rank)
  • 1918: Field Marshal, IJA


As Duke of York, George's arms were the royal arms, with an inescutcheon for Saxony, all differenced with a label argent of three points, the centre bearing an anchor azure. As Prince of Wales the centre label lost its anchor. As King, George V's arms were those of the Kingdom. In 1917, he removed, by warrant, the Saxony inescutcheon from the arms of all descendants of the Prince Consort (although the royal arms themselves had never borne the shield).

In popular culture

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 (2003)
  • 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.



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
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