King George V & His Monarchy: Get a reproduction of the “Death of King George V Historic Newspaper“. Email me your name and email address to win a copy in the drawing!
Watching Downton Abbey one day, I noticed that portraits of King George V and his consort, Queen Mary, adorned the wall of the servants’ dining hall.
The show revolves around the daily lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their staff, but what about the King who reigned during this time? Who was George V?
George was never originally in line to be the next king. His elder brother, Albert Victor, was the heir to their father, the Prince of Wales. Queen Victoria was on the throne, reigning over the powerful British empire.
All was as it should be, until tragedy struck the royal family. Sadly, Albert Victor died from pneumonia brought on by influenza. Prince George, a sailor in the Royal Navy who preferred a simple life, was now the future king. He had to leave the Navy to pursue studies in constitutional history and represent the queen at various events.
When Matthew Crawley was pulled from his simple life as a commoner lawyer in Manchester, Prince George would have been able to relate to such an upheaval. It was a change that no one expected, and it came on the heels of death. As it would turn out, the changes would not crumble the foundations of their respective institutions, but make them stronger.
Queen Victoria granted George the Dukedom of York, signifying his rise in the royal ranks. Despite this status change, George and his new bride, Princess Mary (of Teck), lived quietly in the modest York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate. It was a stark contrast to his bon vivant parents.
Nine years later, Queen Victoria died and Prince Edward became King Edward VII. He bestowed the title Prince of Wales on George, and in turn Mary became Princess of Wales. The throne beckoned to George louder than ever.
To ensure that George would be prepared for his eventual role as king, Edward granted him access to state papers. He included George in ways that Queen Victoria never allowed. She had always felt that Edward was far too irresponsible and left him out of affairs of state. Happily, Edward made a good and personable king regardless. He was known as the “uncle” of Europe and as a skilled peacemaker.
The new Prince of Wales would become just as appreciated and feted, despite his strict sensibilities. He may not have been as outgoing as Edward, but George provided what the monarchy needed – a solid family image.
George had done his dynastic duty well: he had an heir and a spare to whom the crown could easily pass. In all, George and Mary had 6 children – Edward, known as David; Albert, known as Bertie; Princess Mary; Prince Henry; Prince George, and Prince John (tragically, John would pass away in his early teens after suffering from severe epileptic seizures).
As was the custom of their social class, George expected his children to marry other royals or those of sufficiently noble status. They would do so, with the exception of David, the eldest. He seemed to take after his grandfather, who was the life of every party and never seemed to want to settle down.
After years of smoking and suffering from chronic bronchitis, King Edward VII died in 1910. Once more the family shifted and the simple ‘Sailor Prince’ officially became king. The new King George V now had no choice but to move from his cozy home to the immense grandeur of Buckingham Palace.
In keeping with tradition, King George styled his eldest son Prince of Wales the following year. The investiture ceremony was held at Caernarvon Castle in Wales, said to be at the request of Welsh politician David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was Lloyd George who was the brainchild of the ceremony and taught David some Welsh for his investiture.
David was unimpressed and complained of the pageantry. It was a major sign for George that his heir was not cut from the same cloth as he. Whereas the King was strict about duty, David seemed lackadaisical. The young prince was a charming persona for the royal family’s image, but he was alarmingly disinterested in his role.
For the time being, David was the last thing George had to worry about. As he ascended the throne, George had not only inherited the crown, but also the looming crisis over Wilhelm II, the German Kaiser. King Edward had been increasingly concerned that his nephew Wilhelm would cause irreparable tensions between their two countries. Wilhelm’s diplomacy left a lot to be desired and was happily building his navy to swelling proportions, which was seen as an act of aggression.
From the outset, George was caught between the Kaiser and their other cousin, the Russian Tsar Nicholas II. Russia and Britain were on good terms with one another, as well as with France. Wilhelm hurled accusations of collaboration against him. Just four years later, World War I broke out. The limits of the King’s patience and family loyalty would be sorely tested by the Kaiser.
George would soon face wartime accusations that proved more precarious than Wilhelm’s jealous rantings. The public was complaining that he was an ‘alien’ king whose family had deep German roots. Would their king side with the enemy?
To allay their fears, the king decided to make an enormous change to his dynasty, and to his family. They would become known as the House of Windsor, synonymous with Britain’s ancient town and castle. The king also changed the titles of several Germanic noblemen now living in England to more acceptably English titles.
To help their countrymen, the Royal Family assisted in the war effort. George visited hospitals and journeyed to the front to meet with the men serving for king and country. His only daughter, Princess Mary, visited many hospitals and welfare organizations with the Queen. The princess devoted much of her efforts to projects that helped British soldiers and their families. Edward, the Prince of Wales, and Albert, the Duke of York both served in the British Armed Forces. Edward also represented the king during several foreign tours. Their brother Henry served in the British Army and Prince George, at age 12, was too young to serve but eager to attend naval college, first at Osborne and then at Dartmouth.
By war’s end, the face of monarchy had changed forever. Royal houses across Europe had fallen, but George’s British Royal Family remained. His steadfast nature in times of crisis and his obvious love of his nation had gained the confidence of his people. During his Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1935, the king gave an address to the nation in which he gave thanks to his “dear people” on behalf of himself and Queen Mary.
The reign of King George V had given the monarchy gravitas as well as a family aura. As he celebrated his Jubilee, however, he knew that his time was growing short. The strain of the war had been enormous, and George’s health began to decline. The king’s heavy smoking, the vice that had also contributed to his father’s death, caused breathing problems. He also suffered from pulmonary disease and pleurisy. His health issues were compounded by his injury in 1915, when he was thrown by his horse during a troop review in France.
The king had a bad feeling about David, as the Prince of Wales careened from one married woman to another. George feared that everything he had worked for would be decimated by the prince.
The king took a downward turn in the autumn of 1928 when he fell seriously ill with septicemia. For the next two years of convalescence, the Prince of Wales took over many of the king’s duties. Though David was a great public speaker and totally at ease with people, he realized that the workload and the traditions of monarchy were not really his style. David was also pushing for his parents to accept his American mistress, the divorcee Wallis Simpson. King George and Queen Mary were horrified.
George’s second son, Albert, was painfully shy and afraid to speak because of his stammer. Despite this, George was hopeful that somehow, some way, Albert might one day become king rather than David, who was proving to be even more reckless than his grandfather had been. George admitted his fears about David outright: “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within 12 months”. He had even stopped hoping that David would find a suitable bride and settle down: “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.”
George’s health sharply declined in the winter of 1935, and on January 20th, 1936, he died. The king’s doctor, Lord Dawson of Penn, administered the shot that brought the king’s life “peacefully towards its close” – a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine. Dawson stated that he acted to preserve the King’s dignity so that his death would be announced in the morning newspapers rather than the “less dignified” evening papers.
His Majesty King George V was interred eight days later at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
David proved his father correct. The new King Edward VIII proclaimed his abdication a mere 11 months later. Albert did become king, and in honor of his father’s reign, he took the name of George VI. The old king’s monarchy lived on in a family image of dignity, just as he had hoped.
Get a reproduction of the “Death of King George V Historic Newspaper“.