The six King Georges of Great Britain
- Credit: PA
There have been six Kings of Great Britain called George.
The first, George I (1714-27) was not an inspiring figure. He arrived in London from Hanover in Germany. He had imprisoned his wife for thirty years for having an affair with a courtier. The courtier had been brutally murdered. With his wife absent, George arrived in London accompanied by two mistresses, one fat, one thin, nicknamed the Elephant and the Maypole. He had only visited England once before when he concluded “he didn’t like it.” He spoke little English and spent little time in the country. The power of the monarchy grew weaker and that of the Cabinet and parliament grew stronger as a result. In 1727, he was buried in Germany.
For the next century until 1820, Britain was solely ruled over by kings called George, all from the House of Hanover. George II (1727-60) was a slight improvement on his grumpy father, but not by much. He spoke English with a German accent and to his credit was the last ever English Monarch to lead his forces into battle, which he did at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743. But he had quarrelled endlessly with his father and now quarrelled endlessly with his own son, Prince Frederick.
Frederick, in fact, died before his father did, possibly as a result of an injury inflicted by a cricket ball. George II was thus succeeded by his grandson, George III (1760-1820). He would rule for sixty years longer than any other English King, his long reign surviving the American War of Independence, the Napoleonic Wars and the French and Industrial Revolutions. Sadly, his later years were increasingly blighted by occasional bouts of madness. When his madness finally became permanent around 1811, his eldest son became Prince Regent, ultimately becoming King George IV (1820-1830) on his father’s death.
Already close to sixty by the time he came to the throne, George IV wasn’t an inspiring figure either and had spent most of his life eating, drinking and womanising. He became embroiled in a messy divorce case with his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, who he had been forced to marry. It would be eighty years until another King George came to the throne.
Neither of the two Kings called George in the 20th century had expected to end up as King. George V (1910-36) grew up in the shadow of his older brother, the handsome but wayward, Prince Eddy. But Eddy died unexpectedly in 1892 and eighteen years later it was his brother who ascended to the throne. George V is often seen as a rather stiff and serious figure, but he could certainly move with the times, tactfully changing the family name from the German-sounding Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor at the height of the First World War.
He also delivered the first Royal Christmas broadcast to the people via radio in 1932. In later life he worried about his son - the future Edward VIII. “That boy will ruin himself in twelve months,” George V once predicted. So it proved. George V died in January 1936. Before the end of December, Edward VIII had abdicated.
George VI (1936-52) was the reluctant king. Shy and afflicted by a terrible stammer, he was shocked and disappointed by his brother’s decision to abdicate and ruled Britain through a tough fifteen-year period which included the Second World War and the post-war austerity period, before dying at the age of 56.
One way or another, it seems likely there will be another King George on the throne before the end of this century. Some have suggested Prince Charles might prefer to be known as King George VII than Charles III although this has never been stated officially. Failing that, Prince George of Cambridge, who is currently aged seven, is third in line to the throne after his father, Prince William, 38, and his grandfather, Prince Charles, 72.