by Susan Flantzer
King George V was born on June 3, 1865, a month early, at Marlborough House in London, England, the second son and the second of the six children of King Edward VII and his wife Alexandra of Denmark. His parents, the Prince and Princess of Wales, wanted to name him George after Prince George, Duke of Cambridge. The baby’s grandmother, Queen Victoria, thought the name George was too modern: “George only came over with the Hanoverian family.” The Prince and Princess of Wales held their ground with the name George, but had to agree to add the name Albert, so the baby’s name was George Frederick Ernest Albert. He was called Georgie in the family. At the time of his birth, George was third in the line of succession after his father and his brother Prince Albert Victor (Eddy) and he was styled Prince George of Wales. In 1892, George was created Duke of York, and when his father became king in 1901, he automatically became the Duke of Cornwall. He was created Prince of Wales on November 9, 1901.
Prince George was christened at the Private Chapel in Windsor Castle on July 7, 1865. His godparents were:
- King George V of Hanover (Queen Victoria’s first cousin)
- Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark (his maternal uncle, later King Frederik VIII of Denmark)
- Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (his paternal great uncle)
- Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (Queen Victoria’s first cousin)
- Ernst, 4th Prince of Leiningen (his father’s friend and cousin)
- Queen Louise of Denmark (his maternal grandmother)
- Princess Alice (his paternal aunt)
- Duchess of Cambridge (his great-great aunt born Augusta of Hesse-Kassel)
George had five siblings:
- Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale (1864 – 1892), engaged 1891 to Princess Mary of Teck
- Princess Louise, Princess Royal (1867 – 1931), married 1889 Alexander Duff, 1st Duke of Fife; had issue
- Princess Victoria (1868 – 1935), unmarried
- Princess Maud (1869 – 1938), married 1896 King Haakon VII of Norway; had issue
- Prince Alexander John (April 6, 1871 – April 7, 1871)
George was only seventeen months younger than his brother Eddy. Because of the closeness in age, the two brothers were brought up and educated together. In 1877, Eddy and George joined the Royal Navy’s training ship, HMS Britannia. The brothers remained aboard the Britannia for nearly two years before embarking on a three-year cruise on the HMS Bacchante. Always accompanied by their tutor Mr. Dalton, the brothers visited the Mediterranean, the West Indies, South America, South Africa, Australia, China, and Japan.
In 1883, the brothers were separated. Eddy attended Trinity College, Cambridge University and George continued in the Royal Navy. While serving in the Royal Navy, George commanded Torpedo Boat 79 in the waters around the United Kingdom and HMS Thrush in the North America. His last active service was the command of HMS Melampus in 1891–92.
George wanted to marry his first cousin Princess Marie of Edinburgh, the daughter of his uncle Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. His grandmother Queen Victoria, his father and his uncle all approved the match, but the mothers did not, and Marie was instructed to refuse when George proposed to her. On December 3, 1891, George’s brother Prince Eddy proposed to Princess Mary of Teck whose mother was a first cousin of Queen Victoria, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, the youngest child of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (the seventh son and tenth child of King George III and Queen Charlotte). The wedding set for February 27, 1892, but on January 14, 1892, Eddy died of pneumonia.
After the death of Prince Eddy, Mary and George, now second in the line of succession, spent much time together. As time passed and their common grief eased, there was hope that a marriage might take place between them. George proposed to Mary beside a pond in the garden of his sister Louise’s home, East Sheen Lodge, on April 29, 1893. The engagement was announced on May 3, 1893 with the blessing of Queen Victoria. The couple married on July 6, 1893, and eventually became the beloved King George V and Queen Mary.
Unofficial Royalty: Wedding of George V and Princess Mary of Teck
George and Mary had six children:
- King Edward VIII (Duke of Windsor after his abdication): (1894-1972) married Wallis Simpson, no issue
- King George VI: (1895-1952) married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, had issue
- Mary, Princess Royal: (1897-1965) married Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood, had issue
- Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester: (1900-1974) married Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott, had issue
- Prince George, Duke of Kent: (1902-1942) married Princess Marina of Greece, had issue
- Prince John: (1905-1919)
In 1901, after the accession of King Edward VII, George and Mary toured the British Empire, visiting Malta, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. In 1906, they toured India and then traveled to Spain for the wedding of George’s first cousin Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg to King Alfonso XIII of Spain. Soon afterward, George and Mary traveled to Norway for the coronation of King Haakon VII, George’s first cousin, and Queen Maud, George’s sister.
On May 6, 1910, George’s father King Edward VII died and George became King. His coronation was held at Westminster Abbey on June 22, 1911. See Unofficial Royalty: Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary. In December of 1911, King George V and Queen Mary traveled to India for the Delhi Durbar where they were presented as Emperor and Empress of India.
Certainly, the most difficult period of George V’s reign were years of World War I when the United Kingdom and its allies were at war with the Central Powers, led by the German Empire. Not only did about 1 million people from the United Kingdom and its colonies die, but the war pitted royal family against royal family. George was the first cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. He was also first cousin to both Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who was overthrown in 1917, and his wife who was born Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine. At first, the British government offered asylum to Tsar Nicholas and his family, but the offer was later withdrawn. The tsar and his family remained in Russia and all were executed in 1918. In 1919, Tsar Nicholas’ mother Maria Feodorovna (George’s maternal aunt, born Dagmar of Denmark) and other members of the extended Russian Imperial Family were rescued from the Crimea by British ships.
During World War I, on July 17, 1917, King George V issued a proclamation changing the name of the British Royal Family from the German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the English Windsor, due to the anti-German sentiment. All George’s British relatives relinquished their German titles and styles and adopted British-sounding surnames. The king’s compensated his male relatives by creating them British peers. All this led George’s cousin Kaiser Wilhelm to remark that he would attend a performance of Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg” at the earliest opportunity.
George’s relationship with his eldest son and heir Edward, Prince of Wales (known as David in the family, the future King Edward VIII) was strained. The king was disappointed in his son’s failure to settle down and appalled by his affairs with married women. However, he was fond of his second son Prince Albert (known as Bertie in the family, the future King George VI). In 1935, King George V prophetically said of his eldest son, “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within 12 months”, and of Prince Albert and his elder daughter 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.”
In his final years, King George had a number of problems exacerbated by his habit of smoking including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pleurisy. On January 15, 1936, King George V went to bed at Sandringham House complaining of a cold, gradually became weaker, and drifting in and out of consciousness. On January 20, when the king was close to death, his doctors issued a bulletin with words that became famous: “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close.” As the king lay dying of bronchitis, Bertrand Dawson, 1st Viscount Dawson of Penn, Physician-in-Ordinary to King George V, gave him a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine, thereby hastening the king’s death to ensure that the announcement of the death would appear first in the morning edition of The Times and not in some lesser publication in the afternoon.
King George’s remains lay in state in Westminster Hall in London, England where an estimated 809,000 filed past his casket. As a mark of respect to their father, the king’s four surviving sons, King Edward VIII, Prince Albert, Duke of York, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and Prince George, Duke of Kent, took the positions of the guards around the catafalque. Known as the Vigil of the Princes, it was repeated in 2002 when the remains of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother lay in state in Westminster Hall. Her four grandsons Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and David, Viscount Linley took the place of the guards.
The funeral for King George V was held at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle where he was also interred.
You Tube: The Funeral Of His Majesty King George V (1936)
King Edward VIII abdicated less than a year later and his brother Prince Albert, Duke of York ascended the throne, taking the regnal name George VI. King George VI was followed on the throne by his daughter Queen Elizabeth II, the Lilibet her grandfather hoped would become queen.