'German' George V makes Charles seem a titan of diplomacy
German in all but name, tin-eared George V makes great-grandson King Charles look like a titan of diplomacy, writes CHRISTOPHER WILSON
- Lloyd George disparaged George V as ‘my little German friend’
- Great-grandfather of Charles refused to go abroad after the age of 60
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King Charles returned from his groundbreaking state visit to France with a new spring in his step.
The trip with Queen Camilla showed just how much the royal couple can achieve for Britain on the world stage, as they look forward to flying the flag across the globe in the months to come.
Charles has always relished conquering new territories, with more than 100 working trips abroad since he left university in 1970 – unlike his great-grandfather King George V, who hated ‘abroad’ so much he refused to set foot on foreign soil after he turned 60.
If international affairs were of little interest, George’s problems were compounded by a major diplomatic problem rather closer to home.
‘I wonder what my little German friend has to say to me,’ snapped the prime minister after receiving a summons to Buckingham Palace in 1916. He was talking about his sovereign.
Charles shakes the hand of French President Emmanuel Macron during his much-praised visit to France this month
Cousins: George V (right) in his German military uniform with his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin in 1913, just one year before the outbreak of the catastrophic Great War with Germany and its allies
A portrait of George V with his wife, the former Mary of Teck in their Coronation robes. They were the grandparents of Queen Elizabeth. While George had 60 first cousins, not one was British and Mary spoke English with a German accent
The crusty old king, who terrorised politicians, courtiers and his children alike, was stuck in his ways and refused to listen to advice – no matter how important the advisor was.
It was the year Britain’s fortunes against the enemy in France reached their lowest ebb. And David Lloyd George’s increasing disdain for the continuing ‘German-ness’ of the royal family was echoed through the aristocracy and the governing classes as the horrors of trench warfare gradually became known back home.
READ MORE: Why are the royals STILL hiding their German past?: Queen urged to display German uniform worn by her grandfather as Britain headed for war with his cousin The Kaiser
The death toll was colossal, and understandably anti-German sentiment let to rioting, assaults on suspected Germans, and looting of stores with German names.
People no longer played Bach and Beethoven on their pianos and gramophones, and it became the fashion among the owners of Dachshunds to have the dogs put down as a sign of patriotism.
The writer HG Wells was the first to break ranks in public by criticising the monarch’s ‘alien and uninspiring court’ – stuffed, as he saw it, with freeloading German relatives.
In fact, George himself was a German in all but name. Among his astonishing array of 60 first cousins, not a single one was British. His wife, the former Princess Mary of Teck, was of German blood but at least she spoke English – albeit with a pronounced accent.
So as the casualties continued to mount in the third year of the ‘war to end all wars’, more and more bereaved families, angry and bereft and in search of a scapegoat, turned against the royal family – who continued blithely to welcome through their doors the Tecks, the Battenburgs and other relatives, all still using their foreign princely titles.
Despite the complaints George resolutely stuck his to guns, telling the Foreign Secretary Asquith that his cousin Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein was ‘not really fighting on the side of the Germans’ – even though the prince was in charge of a Berlin prisoner-of-war camp holding British prisoners.
David Lloyd George’s increasing disdain for the ‘German-ness’ of the royal family was echoed through the aristocracy. He described George V as ‘my little German friend’. Lloyd George is pictured here in 1909
Increasingly hidebound, George V refused to go abroad beyond the age of 60 – or see the problem with his German family name
And it didn’t help that one of George’s first acts had been to secure the release of Gottlieb’s German Band, a popular society act who’d been interned at the outbreak of hostilities.
There was an outcry, but King George did not hear it – now aged 50, he’d become short-sighted, hidebound, and deaf to criticism. Admiral of the Fleet Lord ‘Jacky’ Fisher sardonically dubbed the king and queen ‘Futile and Fertile’ [Mary having borne the king six children].
Questions were asked in Parliament about his German relatives.
And now the enemy was edging ever closer, launching airstrikes on the British mainland. On 13 June 1917, a fleet of 23 German biplanes made their first-ever daylight raid on London, killing 162 and injuring 432. Among the dead were 16 children in a Poplar primary school.
The nation was stunned. And then it emerged that the death-delivering planes went by the name of Gotha IV.
The king’s surname? Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
Just one month later, Buckingham Palace issued a hasty proclamation stating that, henceforth, the British royal family would be known as the House of Windsor.
Kaiser Wilhelm II and cousin King George V in Berlin for the wedding of the Kaiser’s daughter in 1913
King Charles III greets fans as he arrives at the Hotel de Ville in Bordeaux
All royal relatives bearing foreign titles would ditch them in return for receiving British peerages and other honours.
The First World War was by then three years old. King George had acted slowly and obtusely, rejecting public opinion, but now finally he wiped the slate clean, and Britain was able to tell itself that it truly had a home-made royal family.
Many felt the king could have done it sooner, and done it better – but despite all, King George left behind a legacy which, means that, more than a century later, he House of Windsor under King Charles III now goes from strength to strength.
As the saying goes, lessons were learned.
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