His Majesty George V (George Frederick Ernest Albert Windsor, né Wettin) (3 June 1865-20 January 1936) was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (from 1927, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) and Emperor of India from 6 May 1910 until his death. He was the first British monarch of the House of Windsor.
His Royal Highness Prince George Frederick Ernest Albert of Great Britain and Ireland was born at Marlborough House in London, the second son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. As a younger son of the Prince of Wales, there was no expectation that Prince George of Wales, as he was then styled, would take the throne. His elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, later Duke of Clarence and Avondale, known to the family as “Eddy,” was second in line to the throne.
As children, the two boys were very close and were sent away together to naval college as a way of finishing their education, but their characters were very different. Eddy was unstable — possibly even mentally retarded — whilst George had inherited the steady, dutiful disposition of his grandmother, Queen Victoria.
After becoming engaged to marry his second cousin, Her Serene Highness Princess Victoria Mary (“Princess May”) of Teck (26 May 1867-24 March 1953), the Duke of Clarence died suddenly leaving Prince George directly in line for the throne. On 24 May 1892, Queen Victoria created Prince George Duke of York, Earl of Inverness, and Baron Killarney. He married his late brother’s fiancée Princess May on 6 June 1893 in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace.
The Duke and Duchess of York lived mainly at York Cottage, Sandringham House, a relatively small house where their way of life was almost that of an ordinary family. However, they set very high standards for their children, of whom they had six, five boys and a girl.
In the Duke and Duchess of York there was a genuine love match. Indeed the couple were so devoted that they could not bear to spend a day apart; whenever they were separate, they wrote to each other several times daily.
Following his father’s accession to the throne on 22 January 1901, George, as the surviving son of the new British Sovereign, automatically became Duke of Cornwall in the peerage of England and Duke of Rothesay in the peerage of Scotland. For much of 1901, he was known as His Royal Highness The Duke of Cornwall and York. He was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 9 November 1901, titles which he held until his father’s death on 6 May 1910, when he succeeded to the throne.
King George V and Queen Mary were crowned at Westminster Abbey on 22 June 1911. They were subsequently enthroned as Emperor and Empress of India at New Delhi on 11 December 1911.
As king and queen, George and Mary saw Britain through World War I, a difficult time for the royal family as they had many German relatives. Although a female-line great granddaughter of King George III, Queen Mary was the daughter of the Duke of Teck, a morganatic scion of the Royal House of Württemberg. King George’s paternal grandfather was Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; the King and his children bore the titles Prince and Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Duke and Duchess of Saxony. The German Emperor Wilhelm II, who was widely despised by the British public, was the king’s first cousin, “Willy.”
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 By Rhine, and Prince and Princess of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenberg.
On 20 July 1917, George V issued an Order in Council that changed the name of the British Royal House from the German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the House of Windsor, to appease British nationalist feelings. He specifically adopted Windsor as the surname for all descendants of Queen Victoria then living in the United Kingdom, excluding females who married into other families and their descendants. (By doing so, he resolved the issue of whether the Royal Family had the personal surname, and if so, what it might be.)
Finally, he relinquished, on behalf of his various relatives who were British subjects, the use of all German titles and styles and adopt British-sounding surnames. George V compensated serveral of his male relatives by creating them British peers.
Thus, overnight his cousin, Prince Louis of Battenberg, become 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 of Schleswig-Holstein and Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, simply stopped using their territorial designations. In Letter’s Patent dated 30 November 1917, the King restricted the style 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.
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.” Finally, 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, 2nd Duke of Albany and the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (a male line grandson of Queen Victoria), were simply cut off; their British peerages suspended by a 1919 Order in Council under the provisions of the 1917 Title Deprivation Act.
Following the war, George’s health began to deteriorate. He had always had a weak chest, and this weakness was exacerbated by his heavy smoking. But he managed to see the silver jubilee of his reign, in 1935, by which time he had become a well-loved king. He died on 20 January 1936, at Sandringham House and is buried at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by his eldest son, who became King Edward VIII.
King George also reigned as king in many states, including the Irish Free State, becoming ‘King of Ireland’ under the Royal Titles Act. An astute judge of people, he once advised Ireland’s High Commissioner in London to send a personal message from him to Eamon de Valera: “Don’t make so many promises. They are so damned difficult to carry out.” “Too true”, de Valera is supposed to have remarked with a laugh. “I could do with someone like His Majesty in my cabinet!”
George was a well-known stamp collector, and played a large role in building the Royal Philatelic Collection into the most comprehensive assemblage of United Kingdom and Commonwealth stamps in the world, in some cases setting record purchase prices for items. His enthusiasm for stamps, though denigrated by the intelligentsia, did much to popularize the hobby.