Born during the reign of his grandmother Queen Victoria, George was third in the line of succession behind his father, the Prince of Wales, and his own elder brother, Prince Albert Victor. From 1877 to 1891, George served in the Royal Navy, until the unexpected death of his elder brother in early 1892 put him directly in line for the throne. On the death of his grandmother in 1901, George's father became King-Emperor of the British Empire as Edward VII, and George was created Prince of Wales. He became king-emperor on his father's death in 1910.
George V's reign saw the rise of socialism, communism, fascism, Irish republicanism, and the Indian independence movement, all of which radically changed the political landscape. The Parliament Act 1911 established the supremacy of the elected British House of Commons over the unelected House of Lords. As a result of the First World War (1914–1918), the empires of his first cousins Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany fell, while the British Empire expanded to its greatest effective extent. In 1917, George became the first monarch of the House of Windsor, which he renamed from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha as a result of anti-German public sentiment. In 1924 he appointed the first Labour ministry and in 1931 the Statute of Westminster recognised the dominions of the Empire as separate, independent states within the Commonwealth of Nations. He had smoking-related health problems throughout much of his later reign and at his death was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII.
George was born on 3 June 1865, in Marlborough House, London. He was the second son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and Alexandra, Princess of Wales. His father was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and his mother was the eldest daughter of King Christian IX and Queen Louise of Denmark. He was baptised at Windsor Castle on 7 July 1865 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley.
As a younger son of the Prince of Wales, there was little expectation that George would become king. He was third in line to the throne, after his father and elder brother, Prince Albert Victor. George was only 17 months younger than Albert Victor, and the two princes were educated together. John Neale Dalton was appointed as their tutor in 1871. Neither Albert Victor nor George excelled intellectually. As their father thought that the navy was "the very best possible training for any boy", in September 1877, when George was 12 years old, both brothers joined the cadet training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth, Devon.
For three years from 1879, the royal brothers served on HMS Bacchante, accompanied by Dalton. They toured the colonies of the British Empire in the Caribbean, South Africa and Australia, and visited Norfolk, Virginia, as well as South America, the Mediterranean, Egypt, and East Asia. In 1881 on a visit to Japan, George had a local artist tattoo a blue and red dragon on his arm, and was received in an audience by the Emperor Meiji; George and his brother presented Empress Haruko with two wallabies from Australia. Dalton wrote an account of their journey entitled The Cruise of HMS Bacchante. Between Melbourne and Sydney, Dalton recorded a sighting of the Flying Dutchman, a mythical ghost ship. When they returned to Britain, Queen Victoria complained that her grandsons could not speak French or German, and so they spent six months in Lausanne in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to learn another language. After Lausanne, the brothers were separated; Albert Victor attended Trinity College, Cambridge, while George continued in the Royal Navy. He travelled the world, visiting many areas of the British Empire. During his naval career he commanded Torpedo Boat 79 in home waters then HMS Thrush on the North America station, before his last active service in command of HMS Melampus in 1891–92. From then on, his naval rank was largely honorary.