George V became king of the United Kingdom, the British Dominions and Emperor of India in 1910 on the death of his father, Edward VII. George offered the country stability after the long reign of his grandmother was followed by the much shorter reign of his father. That said, his reign wasn’t without complication and during it George witnessed the Great War, political change with the emergence of the Labour Party, the General Strike of 1926 and the depression of the 1930s.
In King Emperor’s Jubilee: 1910 – 1935, a hagiographical work published in 1935 to coincide with the public celebrations of his twenty-five year reign, it is noted that the silver jubilee of George V ‘emphasises the extraordinary affection and respect in which he is held by all his Peoples.’
George, who suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – a result of being a heavy smoker, became unwell on 15 January 1936. During the next few days he was in and out of consciousness, after receiving an injection of morphine and cocaine by the royal physician, he died on the night of 20 January 1936. Years later it was revealed that his death was hastened to make the ‘right’ newspaper, The Times, some liken this to regicide.
Let’s look at some of the events of his lifetime.
- George was the second son and was not destined to be king, but when his elder brother, the Duke of Clarence, died he gave up his role in the Royal Navy and stepped into the void (he also married his brother’s fiancée).
- He was a faithful husband to Queen Mary and quite boring and steady, unlike his father, King Edward VII, Queen Victoria regarded him as ‘sensible’.
- He visited the Front in France several times to show his support to the troops during the Great War and back home visited military hospitals, munitions factories and war-damaged sites to raise the morale of the country.
- He changed the royal family’s name from the German Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor in 1917 after the anti-German feeling in Britain during World War One.
- He saw the loss of southern Ireland after the Easter Uprising and the fight for independence.
- He oversaw the changing status of self-governing British Dominions, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
- He saw partial and then full enfranchisement of British women, first in 1918 and then in 1928. This was after suffragettes chained themselves to Buckingham Palace and one died whilst attempting to pin a Votes for Women flag on his horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913.
- George and his Queen celebrated their Silver Jubilee in 1935.
And his less attractive side:
- George V was deemed not particularly intelligent but instead worked hard at understanding the contents of his dispatch boxes.
- George V refused to let his cousin Nicholas II (Russian Tsar) take refuge in Great Britain during the Bolshevik Revolution, resulting in the house-arrest and death of the Russian royal family by firing squad.
- Son, Prince John, had severe epilepsy and died aged 13 having been hidden away from the public gaze at Sandringham.
- He was a strict and some say cold and unaffectionate father and continued (like the earlier royal Georges), to have a troublesome relationship with his eldest son and heir right up to his death. He declared, ‘after I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within twelve months’. He was correct, King Edward VIII abdicated in December 1936, meaning that 1936 can be remembered as the year of three kings.
If you’d like to read more about George V’s great-great-grandfather click here.
King Emperor’s Jubilee: 1910 – 1935, Daily Express Publications , (1935)