George V (1910 – 1936)
George was the second son of Edward when his father was Prince of Wales and was not expected to take the throne. Instead a career at sea was planned out for him and George spend fifteen years in the Navy, which instilled in him a love of order and an affection for nautical ways, which he retained throughout his life. When his elder brother Albert Victor died prematurely, however, George ascended to the throne.
In 1917, during the First World War, George replaced his German-sounding family name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha with that of Windsor. Interestingly, George’s first cousins included Tsar Nicholas II of Russia - who was executed with his family by Bolsheviks - and Kaiser Wilhelm II, his country’s main foe during World War One. After the war George’s health rapidly deteriorated, as did his relationship with his son and heir Edward. George eventually died of a lung infection and was buried at Windsor.
Edward VIII (1936)
Even before becoming King, Edward was noted for his unorthodox behaviour, particularly his famous love affair with the American divorcee Wallace Simpson, whose dubious past made her highly unsuitable as partner of the future King of England. Indeed, when he became King in 1936 and announced his desire to marry Wallace, the Prime Minister insisted he could either forget her, marry without the consent of Parliament or abdicate. Less than a year after taking the throne, Edward chose the third path, becoming the only British monarch to have voluntarily given up the throne, signing notice of abdication on 10 December.
The British Parliament passed His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 the next day and he legally ceased to be King. After his abdication he married Wallace and the pair became Duke and Duchess of Windsor and during World War Two he became Governor of The Bahamas. Prior to WWII, the pair were personal guests of Adolf Hitler and some historians say that they were Nazi sympathisers.
George VI (1936 – 1952)
Following the dramatic abdication of his elder brother, George suddenly found himself on the throne, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Like his father he spent considerable time in the Navy but did not feel prepared for leading his country, especially into war. However, he was nobly supported by his wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and together they met the challenge head on. The King became a figurehead of British patriotism during the conflict and the pair frequently made morale-boosting visits around the UK.
Throughout his life, however, George was plagued by ill-health. It certainly didn’t help that he was a smoker and a constant worrier. After the War his health went seriously downhill and by 1951 he had contracted lung cancer. Increasingly his daughter Princess Elizabeth, the heiress to the throne, took on more royal duties as her father's health deteriorated. The following year, George died in his sleep, aged 56.
Elizabeth II (1952 – Present)
The monarchy today will be regarded as ‘the media monarchy’. When Elizabeth took the throne aged 27, she insisted that the Coronation ceremony was broadcast on television, setting a precedent for her life. The increasingly important role of mass media communication during the Twentieth Century has ensured that as Queen, the life of Elizabeth and that of her family would be scrutinised in the public eye more than any other British Royal Family.
To this day the Queen is the second-longest-serving head of state in the world, after King Bhumibol of Thailand and the second-longest serving British monarch - after Queen Victoria. Her reign of over half a century has seen over ten different Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and numerous Prime Ministers in the other Commonwealth Realms of which she is or was Head of State.
Despite the many family scandals during her reign, Elizabeth herself has remained free from any such incidences and now, having just celebrated her 80th birthday, the Queen is arguably more popular with the British public than ever.