King George succeeded his father in 1910. When Edward VII died, London experienced a splendid display of monarchs. The kings, queens, crown princes, archdukes, grand-dukes and others from all over the world came to pay their respect to the late King. Along with European sovereigns the crowds of people lining the streets could also witness Japanese, Chinese and Persian princes or the Prince of Siam. Never before has such an amount of royalty gathered in one place. “So Edward VII´s grandiose funeral served both as a domestic occasion and a public flourish…This famous “Parade of Kings” illustrated something else. It was tangible proof of the tenacity of the ideal monarchy.” (Aronson, 1986, p.2) On the day of the funeral nine reigning kings were photographed at Windsor Castle (see Fig.5). This photograph clearly shows the significance of the British crown that was then passed on to the new King, George V. King George V was born June 3, 1865, at Marlborough House in London. He was the second son of King Edward VII and his wife Queen Alexandra and therefore he was not in direct line of succession to the throne. As his education was focused on becoming a naval officer, George and his brother Albert went through the naval training academy on HMS Britannia and HMS Bacchante. When Albert started studying at Trinity College in Cambridge, George remained in the Royal Navy, intending to make it his career. In 1892 Albert suddenly died of influenza. George assumed the role of heir-apparent, left the Royal Navy and was given the title Duke of York and became a member of the House of Lords. In 1893 he married Princess Victoria Mary of Teck who was previously engaged to his brother Albert. George V and Queen Mary had five sons - Edward, who succeeded him on the throne on January 1836 but abdicated the same year in December, Albert, who became King George VI, Henry, George and John, who died at the age of thirteen and one daughter Mary. (George V., n.d.). The King resided in Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle in Scotland or Sandringham House in Norfolk, but his favourite place became York Cottage on the Sandringham estate.
Aronson (1986, p.39) describes the King as ill-educated, fluent in no foreign languages, incapable of philosophic or abstract thought, indifferent to art or science. On the other hand, he emphasizes his strong character, organized mind and sense of duty as a naval officer and adds:
Compared with Europe´s other leading sovereigns, the British King had very little personal control of national affairs. The ‘greatness’ of his position was of prestige rather than power... In Britain, real political power was vested in parliament… It was these two characteristics – a lack of personal power and an abundance of personal prestige – that were to keep the British monarch afloat in the turbulent waters that lay just ahead.
When George V became the king, his two cousins Wilhelm and Nicholas were already ruling in their countries of Germany and Russia. Among his other first cousins was also the King of Norway, the crown princesses of Greece, Romania and Sweden and the Queen of Spain. His uncles were the kings of Greece and Denmark. The Queen of Norway was his sister and the kings of Bulgaria, Portugal and Belgium were his distant cousins. There were also plenty of similar relationships connected to Queen Mary and her family of the Tecks. (Aronson, 1986, p.36). Comparing to his father the King did not like to show his weaknesses regarding to foreign languages and did not travel abroad as much as his predecessor, especially around Europe. He made his first European State visit in spring 1914 to France to preserve the Anglo-French entente.
1.3.1George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II
George V´s father Edward VII regarded his nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II, to be a bombastic and heavy-handed megalomaniac and his mother, Queen Alexandra, did not like him at all as she hated all Prussians. Although George V heard these comments from a young age, he did not hold any dislike towards his cousin at the beginning of his reign and it is claimed that their friendship was mutual. When George V hosted him at Buckingham Palace on May 19, 1910 after his father’s death, the Kaiser could not miss the opportunity to talk to Stephen-Jean-Marie Pichon, the French politician and proposed that if the conflict between Germany and England appears, France should side Germany. (Tuchman, p.15). At that time the relationship between the King and his royal cousin was believed to be friendly. In 1900, George asked his cousin to be the godfather of his son, Prince Henry.
“… the Kaiser was vastly relieved that his bete noire, his worldly Uncle Bertie, had been replaced by what he imagined to be his more pliable Cousin Georgie. “He is a thorough Englishman and hates all foreigners”, explained the Kaiser good-naturedly to Theodor Roosevelt, “but I do not mind that, as long as he does not hate Germans more than other foreigners”. The Kaiser was the first monarch to be invited to London after George´s coronation. In May 1911 they both witnessed the unveiling of the Queen Victoria memorial on the Mall. The Kaiser recorded his enjoyment of the visit but before his departure, he decided to discuss the question of Morocco with the King by claiming that Germany did not intend to go to war over this area but might claim a different area in Africa as compensation. Although the Kaiser expressed no intention of the Germans to interfere in that area, he sent a cruiser Panther to the Moroccan harbour of Agadir (the Second Moroccan Crisis). It was perceived as a threat to France and also to Britain. This move caused great tension and for several weeks war seemed to be unavoidable but at the end the diplomatic solution was reached. The Kaiser later claimed that he had warned the King while at Buckingham Palace. The King denied it. “The episode illustrates not only Wilhelm II´s unreliability, but how little he appreciated the limits of George V´s constitutional powers. (Aronson, 1986, p.37-38).
In May 1913 the Kaiser invited George to Berlin to the wedding of his only daughter, whose future husband, the Duke of Brunswick, was related to both of them. The Kaiser was determined to make a deep impression on his royal relatives, but the King was more interested in talking to his Russian cousin, the Tsar. This was the very last occasion on which the King and the Kaiser ever met. (MacMillan, 2013, p.312)
On August 1, 1914 the Kaiser, when he heard about Russian mobilization, claimed:
The world will be engulfed in the most terrible of wars, the ultimate aim of which is the ruin of Germany. England, France and Russia have conspired for our annihilation…that is the naked truth of the situation which was slowly but surely created by Edward VII….The encirclement of Germany is at last an accomplished fact. We have run our heads into the noose….The dead Edward is stronger than the living I! (Tuchman, 1962, p.90).
As much as the relationship between Wilhelm II and George V was originally amiable, it was frequently influenced by the uneasy character of the German Kaiser and especially by his constant suspicion of Britain´s foreign policy. Furthermore their position as the sovereigns differed too; as the Kaiser determined his country´s policy, the King´s powers were significantly limited.
1.3.2George V and Tsar Nicholas II
Tsar Nicholas II was the oldest son of Tsar Alexander III and Princess Dagmar of Denmark, who later became Tsarina Maria Feodorovna (known as Minny). He succeeded his father in 1894 at the age of 26. In 1894 he married Alix of Hesse, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. His mother and the mother of George V, Queen Alexandra, were sisters and did not miss any opportunity to visit each other. They also shared envy towards Germany as they could not forget the loss of Schleswig and Holstein in 1863. “Hatred of all things German, anyhow, had become a trademark of the Glucksburgs.” (Beeche , n.d.).
At the time of King Edward VII´s funeral and George V´s coronation, Tsar Nicholas II´s participation was prevented by his son´s health, but it did not influence their hearty relationship. Georgie and Nicky (see Fig.6), as there were called by their families, knew each other from their early childhood, often spending their holidays together. But their roles as the monarchs of their countries could not have been more different. The Tsar was an autocratic ruler of the Russian Empire unwilling to accept any compromises. Through his position he was influencing the course of events significantly. On the other hand King George V, as a constitutional ruler, had a minimum role in decision-making (Clayová, 2006, p. 312). George V was in the field of foreign affairs disposed to be guided by his Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey (see Fig.7) and according to Clark (2012,p.219), prior to WWI, Edward Grey was the most powerful Foreign Secretary in the whole of Europe. The Tsar was notoriously known as quite ignorant towards to his country´s affairs preferring spending his time with his family. He is often portrayed as naive, incompetent, awkward in military matters and ignorant towards to his subjects´ needs. “At a time of enormous social and political change in his country, Nicholas [II] held fast to outdated, autocratic policies and opposed reform of any kind.” (Daniels, P., n.d.). He was avoiding his subjects and he considered anybody who opposed him to be a conspirator and even dissolved the Duma11. (Nicholas II, 2014) All these aspects contributed to a very unfavorable end of the Tsarist system in 1917.