British Royalty: George V (1865-1936)


Figure 1.--This photograph shows a 2-year-old Albert (George V) in a dress and straw hat decorated with flowers. Victorian boys often wore broad-brimmed hats, but not usually ones so decorated.

George Frederick Ernest Albert (George V) was born in 1865, son of Edward VII and Alexandra and Victoria's grandson. He was known as Albert in the family. George was also born prematurely. He unlike his older brother was a normal, active boy. His mother was especially attached to him and George as a boy was devoted to his "Motherdear". He was made the Duke of York and pursued a naval career. He was very happy in the navy and as the second son never expected to become the king. He eventually, however, succeded to the throne as George V. George was to led Britian through the calamity of World War I--a cfritical period in British history. He changed the family name to the more English sounding Windsor as anything associated with Germany became very unpopilar during the War. He is often criticized for the way he raised his children. Strange that Prince George as a father would develop into such a stern disciplinarian and ran a royal household almost the opposite of theone in which bhe grew up. He was a strong believer in sailor suits and kilts for boys.

Family Life

Father

For all his faults as a husband, Edward VII does seem to have been a generous father, although he had difficulties with his eldest son, Prince Albert Victor (Eddy). Edward VII does not seem to have been overbearing as Prince Albert may have been, and was concerned with making sure that his children were not suppressed. His mother Queen Victoria, not suprising thought the children to be wild and undisciplined and did not hesitate to tell there parents that. Edward in fact seems to have had a wonderful relationship with his children. That said he certainly had more on his mind than fatherhood and relied heavily on nannies and governesses, but given his position perhaps less so than might be expected.

Mother

Easy going Alix was much more involved than her mother in law had been with her husband. She was especially attached to Prince George, perhaps because Prince Eddy was such a disappointment. George for his part as a boy was devoted to his charming, beautiful mother, avlling her "Motherdear". Their letters to each other sound rather "mushy" to us today, quite different than we would have expected from the rather austere George V, but apparently he was different as a boy. Perhaps the navy changed him.

Siblings

Edward and Alexandra had six children. The children grew in a very permissive royal household, with the exception of quiet backward Albert Victor (Eddy), grew father wild and unrully. Strange that Prince George as a father would develop into such a stern disciplinarian and ran a royal household almost the opposite of theone in which he grew up. The two boys were devoted to each other. As they were close in age they were raised and tutored together. They were had, however, very different personalities and characters. Prince George was a normal, lively little boy. The older boy, Prince Eddy, was decidely pathetic and backward. Albert Victor, would have been a disaster if he he had risen to the throne. As fate would have it, Albert Victor died while Bertie was still Prince of Wales and his younger brother became king as George V. It was George that would lead Britain through World War I and was much criticised for the way he raised his children. There were also three girls and an infant boy who died.

Personality and Character

Prince George was a typical lively little boy. Lady Geraldine described George as "a lively little pickle". He was high spirited, yet dutiful. He appears to have been bright, but by no means brilliant. [Battiscombe, p. 141.] His relationship with his mother was especially close and mutually affectionate. It is strange how a boy who was so tenderly traeted as a child could have been so severe and strict with his own children as a father. He was her favorite child and he was devoted to her. The letters between them make strange reading today, but were more common for the time. Princess Alexandra continued to treat him like a small child even when he was a young naval officer commanding a ship. We know less at this time about the relationship between him and it his father, although it is striking how the character of the fathers and sons varied in the royal family over time.

Sandringham

Sandringham House, the official residence of the Prince and Princess of Whales, seemed more like an upper middle-class home than that of the royal family. There were no ancestral portraits like those using decorating aristocratic homes nor were there many heirlooms. The relationship of the Waleses, as the royal couple were called before his assumption of the throne, with their offspring was extremely informal for their day. Time with the family were not restricted to the nursery. Prince George and his brother and sisters were given the run of home. He and his susters were described by many incuding Queen Victoria as wild and undisciplined. The Queen made an exception for his brother Eddy who as a child was much less lively. The home environment that Prince George as an adult chose for his children at York Cottage could not have been more different.

George's Clothes

Quite a bit is known about the way Albert and his brothers were dressed.

Dresses

George and his older brother as younger boys were outfitted in dresses just like his sisters and as had his father and uncles. He even wore hats with flowers like his sisters. He was dressed in dresses and kilt skirts that would be thought of as sissy by modern children. Pictures show his older brother, Prince Albert Victor known to the family as Eddy, in little girl dresses and lacy panteletts and long girlish hair at about 6 years of age. Presumably George was dressed the same.

Breeching

I do not know how breecing was handled for George or his brother. I don't know if it was done on a birthday or if some ceremony was involoved. I'd be interested if HBC visitors have any information on this.

Curls

George and his brother continued to wear curls even after breeching. I am not sure when their hair was finally cut, but it kooks like about 6 or 7 years of age.

Sailor suits and kilts

George by about 7 or 8 was wearing sailor suits or kilts. Albert very commonly wore either of these two styles. It is interesting to note, however, that his boyhood wardrobe was not limited to these styles. As a father, however, sailor auits and kilts are the two styles he wanted for the young princes.
Sailor suits: The sailor suits were worn with below the knee pants, and a straw boater rather then a proper sailor hat.
Kilts: Albert and his brothers often wore kilts, especially while at Balmoral. They were worn both on dressy occasions as well as for everyday wear around the estate.


Figure 3.-George did not attend prep school or public school, but he is pictured here in about 1875 at 10 years of age in an Eton suit and looking very princely.

Eton suits

George like his older brother, did not attend prep school or public school, but by 10 years of age he appears to have graduated from sailor suits and begun wearing Eton suits--looking rather like a public school boy.

Education

We have only limited information on how the children were taught at Sandringham. They were tutored there rather than attending a school. We know that Prince Eddy was tutored with his youger brother Prince George. Their tutor was John Neale Dalton who was subsequently appointed to be Cannon Dalton. As a tutor he was not a conscpicuous success, but this may have been more the boy's fault than his. The differences between the two were all too apparent at an eraly age. Prince George was a lively boy of average intelligence. His brther was beyond education. We do not know if the girls were tutored separately or if there was one classroom at Sandringham. Both boys were trained as naval cadets which Prince George did well at. After their Midshipman cruise together, Prince Eddy was sent to Cambridge where he demonstrated no interest or ability in his studies. Prince George enthusiastically pursued his naval career.


Figure 4--George is pictured here in a 1879 portrait wearing his Royal Navy Cadet uniform. He is about 14 years old. He in turn sent most of his sons to the Royal Navy Cadet School.

Naval Career

From the early age of 12, he was trained for a career in the Royal Navy, eventually rising to the rank of Commander. He was sent with his older brother Prince Eddy to the Royal Navy Cadet School as Dartmouth, serving on the HMS Britania. While his brother was also sent, but as no one expected George to be king, much more was expected of him. George and Eddy were the first English royals to attend the Royal Navy Cadet School. George never aspired to be King and the time in the Navy was probably the hapiest of his life. The two brothers were also sent on a midshipman cruise together. Prince Eddy and Prince George were finally parted in June 1883. Prince Eddy was sent to Cambridge. Prince George received a posting on HMS Canada which was assigned to the British West Indies and North American Squadron. The parting between Princess Alexandra and Prince George was very tearful. The Princess as was their paractice heard his prayers before bed and kissed him goodnight. [Battiscombe, p. 164.] At the age of 26, Prince George had already acquired personal knowledge of outlying British lands, more than any other Beitish soverign. It was a this time that his naval career was interupted by the death of his older brother and Prince George suddenly became the heir to the British throne. As a result of a navy career, George had many tattoos and was known as the Sailor Prince. He did much to revive large yacht racing as King after the First World War in the cutter Britannia, which his father, Edward VII, had also owned and raced. She was one of the most successful yachts of all time. On the death of George V she was scuttled (deliberately sunk) in the Solent, as his request.

Death of His Older Brother

George was the eldest surviving son of his predecessor, but never prepared for his role as monarch, as his elder brother (Albert Victor) was slated to be the heir. His brother, however, died when George was 27. George was in the Navy and thoroughly enjoyed it. He fully expected to make the navy his carrerHe had to give up this role to begin training for the kingship. Prince George in May 1892 was created Duke of York. While Prince George left the navy, the navy never left him. For the rest of his life he ran his homes as if they were a ship of the line and his children's lives as if they were the crew. The contast to the way he had been raised could not have been more stark.

Marriage

As Prince George was now in line to inherit the crown, his marriage plans now assumed considerable importance. Queen Victoria and the Prince of Whales had personally selected Princess Mary of Teck for Albert Victor to marry. The Princess and Princess of Wales at first hesitated over the chioce of Princess Mary for Prince George which theuy at first saw as an affornt to the memory of their beloved Rince Eddy. After condsiderable thought and impecable behavior on the part of the Princess, they finally decided that Mary would marry the younger brother instead. Prince George apparently had little say in the matter. While this was going on, he was at Heildelburg attempting to learn German, or as hios mother put it, "that old sauerkraut the German language". [Battiscombe, pp. 194-195.] Eventually the two had a chance to get to know each other. Prince George liked her well enough. Certainly the Princess, a bright girl, must have seen that Prince George was a far more suitable partner than Prince Victor Albert ever would have been. The Prince proposed to her in the same place (the estate of his aunt the Duchess of Fife) that Prince Eddy had proposed. Princess Marry accepted. [Battiscombe, p. 195-196.] Prince George dutifully married Princess Mary of Teck in 1893. It was no love match, but the two grew to care for each other deeply. The future Queen Mary lived until 1953, outliving her husband by nearly 3 decades and some of her sons as well.

Queen Mary

After Queen Mary's death, Sir Winston Churchill paid Queen Mary the compliment: "She looked like a Queen and she acted like a Queen". Queen Mary, like King George, were both caring and loving when their children were young but appeared unable to express their feelings once these children grew up. As a mother, Queen Mary has been described as indifferent and undemonstrative. She was unquestionably undemonstrative and not openly affectionate. She was not, however, as indifferent to her children's feelings and needs as some biographers have suggested. Queen Mary's origins from the Teck family, a lesser European aristocratic house, no doubted contributed to a feeling of insecurity. Her sister-in-law never tired of reminding her about her family origins. As a result, she always dutifly acceded to her husband's opinions and decisions.

York Cottage

York Colltage is besy known as the home of the Prince George (Duke of York), the future George V. It was there that the Yorks spent their honeymoon, a not very romantice choice. We suspect that this was the Prince George's idea. Prince George, and his growing family while his father and mother lived at Sandringham, lived nearby in York Cottage on the Sandingham grounds. Almost all of their children were born at York Cottage. It was, however, a very strange choice for a royal residence. It was small and poorly planned. Many families at the time would have rejected it even they had not been royals. As a residence for the heir to the throne it was almost ludicrous. One might have thought that this was the work of the Princess of Wales who was delighted with the choice as it meant in effect that she would not be separated from Prince George. The choice was in fact that of the Prince himself.

The Children and Their Upbrining

George V and Queen Mary had 6 children, 5 boys and a girl. They were presented as the model British family. Certainly they did not have the problems the modern English press likes to report with the current royals. They did, of course, have their problems with Edward--eventually resulting in the greatest modern crisis in the monarch. Edward became famous for renouncing the throne to mary a divorced American. His brother Albert who had never been raised to be king, not only inherited the crown, but the great task of leading Britain through the trials of World War II. The boys generally got along extremely well among themselves and with their sister. The four surviving children grew very close and supportive of each oher. As older boys they looked out for each other and sympathised with Edward, recognizing the burdens he would face as king and recognizung that so much rested on him. The two groups of older and younger siblings that were close enough in age to play together. They also went to school togrther. One reason for the close relationship was that the children were so isolated. They did not go to school and thus did not have friends their own age. This lack of regular contact with other children of their age, beyond the occaisonal visits of their royal cousins meant that their brothers and sisters were their only real playmates.


Figure 6.--This photograph taken about 1908 shows Queen Mary and all of the children. Princess Mary and David (Edward VIII) are at the back. Prince George and Prince John are in the baby buggy. Prince enry and Prince Albert (George VI) are at the front. Notice that the older brother wear identical kilt outfits. There are some differences in Prince Henry's clothes. His sporan has no black fur, he has solid colored kneesocks, and buckle shoes.

The Children's Clothes

Queen Mary outfitted the boys in dresses until about 5 years of age. Quite a few images exist of the younger boys wearing dresses. The dresses were usually long, worn well below the knees. This shows that the practice of dressing little boys in dresses was quite common right up to World War I. The boys while still in the nursery were dressed in tussore smocks before being breeched. I do not know yet how breeching the boys was handled, but I assume that it was done on a birthday to accord a sense of special importance to the gesture, to give them a special feeling of being older. Judging from the pictures I have seen, the breeching of the boys seems to have occured around their 4th or 5th birthdays. It looks like John, however, may have been breeched later than the other boys. After breeching their mother almost always dressed the boys in sailor suits. They also wore kilts, especially on trips to Scotland, but sailor suits were the normal everyday wear for the boys and sometimes even for Princess Mary. This was primarily because their father was convinced that sailor suits and kilts were the only suitable attire for boys. One British fashion expert believes that the Scottish kilt outfit with silver buttoned doublet and gleaming Eton collar was one of the smartest outfits that the British royals wore, indicatinf, "The royals in those days had good taste in clothes."

George V Crowned

Albert, who had a brother George, was crowned George V in 1911, only 3 years before the First World War began--thus becoming king at a critical point in Britain's history. He had little preparation for this crucial role. King George in 1911 traveled to India for a ceremony to cement ties with that colony.


Figure 7.--This photograph taken about 1912 at Balmoral shows the four surviving sons of George V, only a year after their father had become king. Can you notice the subtle differences in dress. The younger boys (Henry and George) wear large Eton collars with military style jackets (note the buttons on the jacket and sleaves). Albert (future George VI) wears a jacket like his older brother David (Edward VIII), but a different style tie and collar. The older boys also are allowed walking canes.

World War I

Britain was transformed by World War I, as was most of Europe. It difficult for Americans to understand this. Every American visiting Britain should stop a moment at virtually any village church they chance upon. Inside they will find a large opened book. The bools is a list of the fallen of World War I. When one stops to think of similar bools throughout Britain, one begins to comprehaend the enormity of World War I losses. Only a few years after becoming king, King George and the British people were thrown into the crisis of World War I. The British monarchy survived the crisis unlike many the other European monarchies, especailly the German monarchies. The crown in fact became a symbol to rally the British people. King George in 1917, during World War I, gave up all of the German titles and styles belonging to the royal family--a substantial number--and personally ordered that the royal family's name and personally changed the name of the royal house from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor.

Post-World War I Period

After the war, George started the tradition of Christmas addresses to the nation on the radio, and was always held with sincere affection by the populace, if not by his eldest son. His silver jubilee (25 years) of his reign was celebrated in May 1935.

Grandfather

Interestingly the gruf old king who had denied warmth and affection to his sons became an indulgent grandfather. He was reportedly very affectioate and caring with Bertie's children, Elizabeth an Margaret Rose. He had no way of knowing, of course, that Bertie and Elizabeth would succeed him. We have no information about his relationship with his other grandchildren.

Assessment

Some historians picture George V as a near illiterate that never read books. One author, for example, assets that George V "opened only two sorts of book with any enthusiasm": his game books and his stamp collection. [McLeod] More careful, scholars point that he was in fact an avid reader. From 1890, when he was 25, until his death in 1936, he kept a reading list which shows that he read on average one book a week, mostly novels, memoirs and biographies. As he also spent part of each day reading official documents and The Times, that is a remarkable feat.

Death

The King became ill during December 1935. His condition slowly worsened. He is reported to hav said, referring to his eldest son David, "When I go, the boy won't last 6 months." King George died in 1936 at Sandringham, Norfolk of pneumonia. He was 71 years old and is buried at St Georges Chapel, Windsor, Berkshire. Not announced at the time, he was euthenized by his doctors. David, who was abroad at the time (I think Kenya), shocked his companions by his lack of concern iver his father's death.

Sources

Battiscombe, Georgina. Queen Alexandra (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1969).






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Created: February 26, 1999
Last updated: 11:05 PM 7/24/2008