Skip to main content
Portrait of King George V

The life of King George V: Britain's WWI king

Image: Public Domain


Born: 3 June 1865

Died: 20 January 1936 (aged 70)

Reign: 6 May 1910 – 20 January 1936

Grandson to Queen Victoria, the old-fashioned but popular King George V, who reigned over an empire from which the sun never set, had a dark side to his personality that today would make him the most controversial of British monarchs.

Bluenose Puritan

Known as the ‘Sailor King’ due to his teenage life in the Navy, the blue-eyed, slight figure of George V has been described as a narrow-minded philistine and prig. His determination to avoid scandal, particularly that of a sexual nature, was influenced by his disapproval of his father, King Edward VII’s infamously lecherous behaviour and talent for collecting mistresses.

George’s elder brother Eddie, who was involved in a homosexual scandal connected to a male brothel, may have also contributed to the tweed-wearing king’s devotion to adhering to a moral God-fearing life. So puritanical was George V, that even during the roaring 20s he was appalled by his wife, Queen Mary’s decision to wear a skirt revealing her ankles.

Trigger Happy Royal

Such was his passion for shooting birds that he had the clocks in his household put forward by 30 minutes, to extract as much daylight as possible for hunting. Over a 17-year period, he and his guests slaughtered more than one million birds. One day saw a record of killing 3,937 pheasants.

King George was one of the first monarchs to visit India in 1911 under the rule of the Raj. During his stay, he continued hunting under the assistance of his Indian hosts with 14,000 people in the shooting team. It’s believed he slaughtered a total of twenty-one tigers, eight rhinoceros and one bear.

Stamp Obsession

A less bloodthirsty hobby of King George’s was stamp collecting. He started collecting when he was sixteen while in the Navy. Today the king’s stamp collection, which runs into thousands of volumes, is worth around £40m. His acquisition of the rare Mauritian Tuppeny Blue for a record price of £1450, was seen as so excessive that he kept his expensive trophy stamp a secret. Today the Mauritian Tuppeny Blue is worth around £2m.

Re-naming British Royal Family

After Britain declared war against Germany in 1914, the tide of negative public opinion of Germans, where even possessing a dachshund was seen as unpatriotic, precipitated the unprecedented move by King George to change the name of the royal family name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the more English sounding Windsor.

Murdered Cousins

The most exacting time for King George was his dilemma about what to do about his cousins, the Romanovs during the Russian revolution of 1917. Tsar Nicholas II, his wife and five children were held in captivity by the Bolsheviks. Although the British government offered to allow the Romanovs to become refugees in England, it was George himself who reneged on the agreement. George was fearful that the deposed, autocratic Tsar’s presence in England could threaten the British royal family with a similar anti-monarchy revolution. In July 1918 the Tsar and his family were murdered in a basement by Bolshevik guards.

Terrifying father to sons

The king’s relationship with his children was glacial. He had been terrified by his parents and saw fit to act the same way with his sons, Edward (David) and George (Bertie). The latter’s debilitating stammer was attributed to his fear of the disciplinarian king. But it was the elder son, Edward, later to become Edward VIII, who was the most exasperating son for priggish George.

Edward’s playboy lifestyle, even his modern dress, appalled the traditional George. His rebellious personality was forged in the fire of conflict with his father, particularly as he refused to marry a respectable noblewoman, preferring instead to enjoy the company of so-called ‘inappropriate women’, like divorcee Wallis Simpson.


Within a month after King George’s warmly received Jubilee celebrations, the heavy-smoking sovereign was gravely ill. On 20th January 1936, the royal doctor hastened the king’s end by administering a lethal dose of morphine and cocaine. Bizarrely, one of the reasons for bringing forward the king’s death was to make sure an announcement made the morning edition of The Times.