This Week in History: British King George V was born in 1865

King George V Portrait. Credit: Library of Congress

King George V Portrait. Credit: Library of Congress

King George V ruled the United Kingdom from 1910 to 1936, a difficult time in British history. World War I (1914-1918) dominated the early years of his reign, as did the often-violent question of Irish home rule. Monarchies and empires around the world—including those of his cousins in Germany and Russia—fell to revolutions and reforms as George balanced his own royal position against the liberal movements of the day. Labor strife and the Great Depression darkened his later period on the throne, as did years of personal serious illness. Through it all, however, George maintained a steady image of devotion and duty. He strived to represent the British people, and worked to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. George was fair-minded and devoted much time to strengthening the United Kingdom’s links with its vast empire. George Frederick Ernest Albert Saxe-Coburg Gotha was born in London on June 3, 1865. He was of German descent, and his family name was sometimes referred to as Brunswick or Hanover, the family’s areas of origin in Germany. George was the second son of King Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark. He became heir to the throne when his older brother, the Duke of Clarence, died of pneumonia in 1892. He married his late brother’s fiancé, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck—also of royal German blood—in 1893. The couple had six children: Edward, Albert, Mary, Henry, George, and John. Edward VII died in May 1910, and George became king at age 44. He and his queen gained lasting popularity by their courage and devotion during World War I. George made many trips to visit troops at the front, and many more to visit wounded soldiers in hospitals. He also pushed for better treatment for German prisoners of war as well as for British conscientious objectors (people whose beliefs prevent them from fighting in a war). In 1917, anti-German sentiment led George to change his family name to Windsor, and he dropped his German titles and family connections. He was first cousin to both Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II. Wilhelm was deposed (removed from the throne) at the end of World War I, and Nicholas was murdered. Ireland—part of the United Kingdom since 1801—revolted against British rule in 1918. British troops suppressed the revolt, but its violence shocked many British leaders, including King George V, who appealed for peace. A truce ended the fighting in 1921, and the 26 counties of southern Ireland became a dominion (self-governing country) of the British Commonwealth. Soon after, Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa also gained independence within the Commonwealth. George became seriously ill in 1928, and he never fully recovered. His last years were spent largely out of the public eye, and his oldest son, Edward, performed many of the king’s official duties. George died on Jan. 20, 1936, and Edward became King Edward VIII. He ruled for less than one year, however, abdicating (giving up the throne) to marry an American divorcee. His brother Albert then became King George VI.

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