When Prince George Frederick Ernest Albert was born in 1865, he did not suppose that one day he would become King, until his brother Albert Victor, the heir to the throne, died from pneumonia in 1892.
Prince George served in the Royal Navy for fifteen years. In these years he served abroad: China, South Africa, West Indies, Australia, Japan and South America. In this period he enhanced his belief in the idea of the British Empire.
His marriage to Mary of Teck was a very successful marriage in the Royal circle.
Their first official duty was a trip to Australia to open the first Federal Parliament of the country. It was a success. When he came back from the tour of Australia, Canada and New Zealand he explained his impressions in a reported speech at the Guildhall: “the Old Country must wake up if she intends to maintain her old position of pre-eminence in her Colonial trade against foreign competitors.” Good sentence!
The pre Great World War era was a worrying and dangerous time; there was Irish republicanism, Indian nationalism, foreign protectionism, militant suffragettes and anarchist revolutionaries, plus in England the Labour Party became stronger and the power of the House of Lords became less powerful.
After his Coronation in London in 1911, he went to Delhi where the Great Coronation Durban was held and King George V was crowned Emperor of India. He became the first British Monarch to visit his Indian dominions in Imperial State.
When he came back to England, he found a dangerous situation in Ireland and he tried to solve it peacefully. In 1912 and 1913 the royal couple undertook a series of tours of the mining and industrial areas to examine the condition of the workers. A Labour politician remarked that the Queen Mary or May (as British called her) would have made an excellent factory inspector. When the First World War broke out he declared to the troops: “ I cannot share your hardships but my heart is with you every hour of the day”.
During the war the King made numerous visits to the Fleet and Army, factories and fields hospital and Queen Mary collected money for schemes of work for woman unemployed on account of the hostilities. Under her patronage the Work for Women Fund was launched. All the money collected was used to start business projects employing women. The King in those years distributed over 58,000 decorations and he supported Earl Haig against Lloyd George because he thought that a soldier could understand better the situation than a political man.
In July 1917, the King and the Privy Council proclaimed that the Royal Family would change surname and they would be the House of Windsor, as well as change “all other German degrees, styles, titles, dignatories, honours and appelation”. The King’s private Secretary Lord Stamfordham suggested Windsor as a surname. This anti-German gesture was made as a cricism to the behaviour of Germany in the First World War. The effect of this act was massively positive in Britain. All the aristocratic families with a German name changed, such as the Teck family became Cambridges and took the Earldom of Athlone, the Battenbergs became Mountbattens with the Marquis of Milford Haven.
At the end of the war on 11th November 1918, Buckingham Palace celebrated all night, and the Royal Family appeared from the balcony to greet people.
The end of Russian, Austrian, German and Ottoman Monarchies left King George V alone and in danger. He had a lot of problems with a strong Labour Party, trade union, India and Mahatma Gandhi, the Irish Republicans and also the continental fascist movements. He tried to conciliate and to mediate with Lloyd George’s coalition government to be more generous with Eamon de Valera during the foundation of the Irish Free State.
When Labour won the election, the King began to admire the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. When the economic crises struck Great Britain he surrendered a big part of his Civil List to the public finances and he called the leaders of the two main parties, MacDonald and Baldwin, for a formation of a national government. In 1932 the King made the first of his Christmas broadcasts to the Empire. This was the first example of the power of a media as the radio helped to connect the monarchy with people from the Empire.
In January 1936 George V died, Queen Mary wrote in her diary: “I am broken-hearted, at five to twelve, my Darling husband passed away. My children were angelic.”
The last worry of the King was his son the future Edward VIII, indeed he predicted: “ After I am dead the boy will ruin himself in twelve months”. It took only eleven.
Anecdote: the similarity between King George V and Tzar Nicholas II was so remarkable that they were often mistaken for each other. The most embarrassing case of mistaken identity took place at the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Mary of Teck, in 1893. During the wedding reception the Prince George was mistaken for Tzar Nicholas from one of the guests, who asked him if he came to London for state affairs or only for the marriage. The Prince George replied that as his wedding, he felt obliged to be present.