Windsor Series: George V

George V

King_George_V coronation portrait, kingsqueensandallthat.jpg
George V coronation portrait by Sir Luke Fildes, 1911

Full Name: George Frederick Ernest Albert
Born: 3rd June 1865
Son of Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark
Reigned: 1910 – 1936
Hobby: Stamp Collecting (he took this very seriously)

The Grandson of Queen Victoria, who was not meant to be king, grew up in the strict and proper society emerging in Britain in the late 19th century. His limited education did not prepare him for what would be in store when his elder brother, Albert Victor (known as Eddy) died suddenly of pneumonia. At 27, George was faced with the daunting prospect of being the next in line to the throne. 

Having only ever learnt about George V with relation to the First World War, I had an impression of him as a very brave and prepared King, who led Britain successfully through the war. I never thought how little provision had been made for George to take the throne, and even how little education his elder brother (whom I knew nothing about) had experienced. Schooling seemed to have little importance to the future monarch, and was the case, up until Prince Charles (current heir to the throne) attended Gordonstoun boarding school in the 1960s. The main focus of their education came from the Navy as they were both enrolled as sea cadets. For George, little was expected from him as the second son. He simply followed in his brothers footsteps, and even did so when Eddy died by being encouraged to marry his brother’s finance Mary of Teck.  

Becoming King was a burden for George. ‘I am heartbroken and overwhelmed by grief. May God give me strength and guidance in the heavy task that has fallen upon me.’ He was crowned in 1911, and shortly afterwards visited  India, the first British monarch to do so. His reign brought much change to politics in Britain, as he appointed (on behalf of the British public) the first labour government, saw women gain the vote, and the supremacy of the elected House of Commons over the House of Lords.

The First World War came only four years into George’s reign and was a horrifying shock to him, especially being at war against his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm. This led to the general distrust and anger to any German within Britain and caused George to rethink the family name which was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (his grandfather, Prince Albert’s name). The new name of Windsor was selected because of historic roots to William the Conqueror and therefore how British it seemed! This was an important move for the propaganda of the royal family, showing how loyal they were to their country. The war was an ultimate victory for Britain but a disaster in terms of loss. Nearly one million British men died during the First World War.

For George and the royal family, the war had been a turning point for the future of the monarchy in Britain. 27 crowned heads of state were disposed or abdicated by the end of of the war including George’s close cousin, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, whom was murdered. This was a major political concern for Britain, owing to the growing feelings of socialism. George’s approach to monarchy changed, with the help of his loyal wife Queen Mary, they made royalty approachable. This was shown by visiting the many wounded in hospitals, making trips to the more deprived parts of the country which were experiencing vast amounts of unemployment. George even attended a football game. He made monarchy what it is today, drastically different from the aloof and out dated system that it had been before. George introduced the Christmas broadcast which his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth still dutifully does each year.

King George V’s legacy is an notable one. He may not have been the most academic or confident monarch, but held his role in the highest importance. Duty came before all else. His preference for remaining at home, living the quiet life with his stamp collection was overturned by his duty to his country during the war. But for me, we really do have George to thank for the fact that we still do have a monarchy today, as it was his understanding that reinvented the role of the king and queen for future generations. 



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