Who was George V? Why did he change the Royal Family’s name? 

George V
George V was seen as a popular and unifying monarch. Credit: Hilary Morgan / Alamy Stock Photo

King George V promoted the reach of the British Empire and encouraged the idea of a coalition between the three major political parties. He ruled from 1910-1936

As a descendant of Prince Albert and the Germanic house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, King George V found himself in an awkward position following the outbreak of the First World War. George V maintained a high profile during the early war efforts. However, he bowed to anti-German sentiment and changed the family’s name to Windsor.

Aside from the war, George V did much to promote and extend the reach of the British Empire. As Duke of Cornwall and York in the decade prior to his coronation, he visited its many far-flung corners, including Canada, Singapore, South Africa and Australia, even opening the first Parliament of the latter on 9 May 1901. Meanwhile, a 1911 visit to India saw him become the first monarch to make that journey.

British Empire

Following the 1919 Treaty of Versailles in the aftermath of the First World War, the Empire gained control of several countries, including Iraq and Palestine. The result was that the Empire accounted for 13.7 million square miles or just less than a quarter of the total land area on earth.

Back in Britain, George would oversee the first Labour government in 1924, while the political crisis that followed a worldwide economic slump in 1931 saw the king promote the idea of a coalition government between the three major parties: Conservatives, Labour and Liberals.

He died on 20 January 1936, leaving a legacy as a popular and unifying monarch.

Key dates

  • 1912 – The RMS Titanic sinks four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton
  • 1914 – War is declared on 28 July
  • 1925 – Scottish engineer John Logie Baird transmits the world’s first television pictures
  • 1930 – The first British Empire Games, now known as the Commonwealth Games, is held in Canada

Read more

World War I: the war that changed Britain forever

Everything you need to know about 20th-century Britain