George V: Relations with the Children

Figure 1.--The royal family is pictured here in 1906. Note that the three older boys wear identical looking kilts. Prince George, however, as the youngest of the three has a smaller all white sporan, a different tartan, and wears strap shoes rather than oxfards like his older brothers. The King took a great interest in the boy's clothing, however, I am unsure who made decisions on little details like this.

King George had had wonderful relationship with his father, but he and his wife Mary were incapable of giving the same love and affection to their children. King George was much more formal with his children than his father, Edward VII, had been with him. Edward VII had thought it a mistake to treat children to severely or strictly. George V on the other hand was very strict with the boys and their relationship was very formal. The correspondence between George and his son Edward VIII, at least as an older boy, often sounded like official correspondence. He reportedly severely criticised his sons when after being thrown into a rough military academy with little preparation, they performed poorly. Whle is undoubtedly true that the King maintaied a very formal relationship wih his children, especially he boys, thre in some difference of opinion s to just hw sewvere he was.

Formal Relationship

Some historians report that King George had had wonderful relationship with his father, but he and his wife Mary were incapable of giving the same love and affection to their children. King George was much more formal with his children than his father, Edward VII, had been with him. Edward VII had thought it a mistake to treat children to severely or strictly. Strangely, George V was reported to have said, "I was afraid of my father and I am going to be damed sure that my children ar afrai of me." As a result, he was very strict with the boys and their relationship was very formal. He was not a father that the children could go to for sympathy and understanding. In part this was part of his personality. He also wanted to teach his boys to stand on their own. He knew that adults, especially David, could easily surround themsselves with syncophants. He felt his sternss was important to building their characer.


As Prince of Wales and King, George V was also very strict with the servants concerning the children. David (Edward VIII) recalls:

Lala used to have a hard time with my father [George V], who had strict views as to the correct conduct of children. "Can't you stop that child crying?" he would bark at her irritably, especially when I was being taken to see my great-grandmother at Windsor. I was a nervous child, she maintains; sensing what was in store for me, I would start tocry the moment I was led from our rooms at the Castle, and I would seldom leave off until the audience was over. Understandably, this unaffectionate greeting displeased the Queen, who would vent her irritation on Lala. "You had to mind your step," she recalls, "with Queen Victoria."

Regarding servants, it should be remembered that the children were supervised more carefully than vurtually any other children. They were always under the watful eyes of nurses, nannies, givernesses, and tutors. Thus the kings instuctions could be rigorously enforced at all times.


Some authors believe the King was way to severe on his children, "Hell on wheels," one observer suggests. Some historians paint a picture of a cruel and illiterate ogre. Some even insist that he thrashed his children. Kirsty McLeod in her book charges that the childhood og George's children, especially the two oldes boys, David and Berie, was one of neglect and cruelty and that their dysfunctional childhood and a profound imapact on their adult lives. One historian charges that by the times the boys reached adulthood, David came to despise the idea of what he referred to as "princing" and Bertie had become a stamering invalid with chronic abdominal complaints and nursed a temper he found difficult to control. [McLeod]


This picture of a severe, if not cruel father, certainly that is the impression the Duke of Winsor gives. I'm not sure what the other children felt, but they did not pubically express their true opinons as the Duke did. Some historians paint a picture of a cruel and uncaring father. This is an off repeated assesment in the popula press. Although it was not something Bertie, the future George VI, wrote about , his father was known to mock him when he stammered. Undoubtedly, his father thought this the best way to cure th boy and was not intentionally being cruel. It was, howeve, terribly hard on the boy.

Caring Parent

Other historians disagree with this critisism of the King. Many believe that George V was only really overly severe with the children when dealing with his sons as ADULTS. As babies and toddlers, and admittedly less frequently as older children and pre-adolescents, he was a loving and doting father to them. There is evidence that he was far more ready to take an interest in his chidren than was true of most parents of the upper and upper middle classes--especially fathers. His letters take on an endearing quality, quite unlike those the Duke of Windsor describes in his books. The then Duke of York, for example, boasted to his former tutor, Canon Dalton, "Baby is very flourishing. He walks all over the house, he has fourteen teeth." Once he wrote to the three-year-old Duke of Windsor when coming to Sandringham on Saturday, and told him that he would be "so pleased to see our darling little chicks again." When the chicks had chickenpox, he wrote "I hope none of you have grown wings and become little chickens and tired to fly away, that would be dreadful and we should have to go up in a balloon to catch you."

Some of the best evidence that King George V was not nearly as severe a father as he has been pictured comes from one of his most authoriative critics, his son Edward VII. There is no evidence whatsoever that King George V beat his sons. Had he done so--as did many Victorian fathers--we can be sure that the Duke of Windsor would have made the most of it in his self-serving autobiography, A King's Story. But the Duke instead refers only to "admonition and reproof" and said Sandringham "possessed most of the ingredients of a boyhood idyll".

The difference between these warm family missives and the cold relationship described by the Duke of Winsor is not difficult to understand. The little endearments as a small child would not have been remembered. The constant criticism and belittlment as an adolscent and young man were remembered. This appears to have been more true of the Duke of Windsor than his brothers and sisters. Perhaps this was because the King was more severe with him. Perhaps the Duke of Windsor was more sensitive or more likely spoiled by those around him.

In one aspect of parental care, George V was indeed enlightened. He insisted that Prince Bertie, the future George VI, should endure painful remedial measures to correct the hereditary malformation of knock-knees of which the king himself was a victim. The tearful regime was successful, and saved George VI much anguish in later years. As a boy, however, it was also very difficult on Bertie.

HBC Assessment

There is no doubt that the king was a stern parent, but there is no real evidence that hev was any more severe than many of his contemporaries. There were strains in the relationship with his children imposed by a royal heritage. The Duke of Windsor wrote in his memoirs: "While affection was certainly not lacking, the circumstances of my father's position interposed an impalpable barrier that inhibited the intimacy of conventional family life." George V believed that only by imposing the discipline of the quarterdeck on his young sons could he deter them from getting into scrapes and tarnishing the image of the monarchy. All of them, as it turned out, did get into scrapes. The eldest of them lightly renounced his throne to marry Mrs. Simpson and cheated the new king out of a fortune by dishonestly pleading poverty. Was that, too, the fault of the father?

Christopher Wagner

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Created: February 26, 1999
Last updated: February 4, 2001