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King George V

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George V (June 3, 1865 - January 20, 1936) was born at Marlborough House in London, the second son of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, who at that time held the title of Prince of Wales. As a younger son, there was no expectation of George's ever taking the throne, the heir being his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, known to the family as "Eddy". As children, the two boys were very close and were sent away together to naval college as a way of finishing their education, but their characters were very different. Eddy was unstable -- possibly even mentally retarded -- whilst George had inherited the steady, dutiful disposition of his grandmother, Queen Victoria. 

King George the Fifth
King George V
King of the United Kingdom
of Great Britain and Ireland
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  • After becoming engaged to marry Princess Mary of Teck, Eddy died suddenly, leaving George directly in line for the throne. George married Mary himself, in 1893, and they lived mainly at York Cottage, Sandringham House, a relatively small house where their way of life was almost that of an ordinary family -- except that both parents set very high standards for their children, of whom they had six, five boys and a girl. In George and Mary there was a genuine love match. Indeed the couple were so devoted that they could not bear to spend a day apart; whenever they were separate, they wrote to each other several times daily. On his father's accession to the throne in 1901, George took the title of Prince of Wales, which he held until his father's death in 1910. 

    As king and queen, George and Mary saw Britain through World War I, a difficult time for the royal family as they had many German relatives. Queen Mary was born in Germany, as had been George's grandfather, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In 1917, the decision was made to change the name of the Royal House from the German-sounding Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, courtesy of Queen Victoria's marriage, to Windsor. (The Royal Family's personal surname was also changed, from Wettin to Windsor; in 1960 the personal surname of the descendants of Queen Elizabeth II was further changed to Mountbatten-Windsor.) 

    Following the war, George's health began to deteriorate. He had always had a weak chest, and this weakness was exacerbated by his heavy smoking. But he managed to see the silver jubilee of his reign, in 1935, by which time he had become a well-loved king. He died on January 20, 1936, at Sandringham House and is buried at Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII. 

    King George also reigned as King in many states, including the Irish Free State, becoming 'King of Ireland' under the Royal Titles Act. An astute judge of people, he once advised Ireland's High Commissioner in London to send a personal message from him to Eamon de Valera: "Don't make so many promises. They are so damned difficult to carry out." "Too true", de Valera is supposed to have remarked with a laugh. "I could do with someone like His Majesty in my cabinet!" 

    George was a well-known stamp collector, and played a large role in building the Royal Philatelic Collection into the most comprehensive assemblage of United Kingdom and Commonwealth stamps in the world, in some cases setting record purchase prices for items. His enthusiasm for stamps, though denigrated by the intelligentsia, did much to popularize the hobby. 

    Preceded by:
    Edward VII
    List of British Monarchs Succeeded by:
    Edward VIII


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