Mylius alleged in a Paris-based Republican paper The Liberator in 1910 that George V had been already married to Mary, the daughter of Admiral Sir Michael Culme-Seymour, while serving in Malta as a young man. This would have been not only scandalous but also illegal, contravening the Royal Marriages Act 1772.
Normally royalty avoid suing over lies told about them, but in a break with precedent, the King decided that in this case, he had no choice. The rumours accused him of the crime of bigamy, and questioned the legal status of the Queen and the legitimacy of all their children. The King, with the advice of home secretary Winston Churchill, issued proceedings against Mylius for criminal libel and said he was prepared to go into the box to disprove the allegations. Sir Rufus Isaacs, the attorney-general, advised the king that it would be unconstitutional for him to give evidence in his own court.
Mylius was arrested for criminal libel and tried before the Lord Chief Justice of England and a jury. Sir Richard David Muir, prosecuting, showed that the claims about the King were a complete fiction. It was shown
- that he had not even been in Malta in 1890 when the supposed marriage took place;
- that the admiral whose daughter he had supposedly married had two daughters, of whom:
- one had never met the King;
- and the other had met him only twice: once when she was eight years old and once when both he and she were already married.
Mylius was convicted and jailed for 12 months.
The King recorded his feelings on the affair in his diary.
- The whole story is a damnable lie and has been in existence now for over twenty years. I trust that this will settle it once and for all.
His mother, Queen Alexandra, wrote to him
- Thank God that vile trial is over and those infamous lies and foul accusations at an end for ever and cleared up before the whole world. To us it was a ridiculous story your having been married before ...! Too silly for words ... My poor Georgie - really it was too bad and must have worried you all the same.
After Mylius was released from prison, he went to live in the US. There, beyond the reach of British libel law, he published another version of the claim, bolstered by finding a Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle report of Mary Culme-Seymour dancing with the prince at a ball at Portsmouth Town Hall on 21 August 1891. (This was on the occasion of Queen Victoria reviewing the French fleet, which had come on a friendly visit to Portsmouth.) She had testified at the trial that she had not seen him between 1879 and 1898.
The king's biographer, Kenneth Rose, acknowledged in his 1983 book that Mary had had "a slip of memory" but judged it "utterly irrelevant to the accusation of bigamy". This odd inconsistency is taken up by more recent writers investigating the allegations.
Ella Higginson's version
Ella Higginson, poet laureate of Washington State, applied some poetic licence to the story of royal scandal. As Higgison tells it, when the young prince had to renounce this marriage, his beloved was given the royallest of exiles: near the City of Vancouver "in the western solitude, lived for several years -- the veriest remittance woman -- the girl who should now, by the right of love and honor, be the Princess of Wales, and whose infant daughter should have been the heir to the throne." (Cf remittance man.)
The International Socialist newspaper of Sydney, Australia, offered a new twist on this. Higginson's book Alaska: The Great Country, in which this story of pathos appears, had been acquired by the city's library in 1910. The newspaper mischievously opined that Lord Mayor Allen Taylor, as head of the City Council and thus responsible for its library, was as guilty as Mylius in publishing " the same statement with a cheerful disregard for the possibility of things", informing its readers that "the issuing of [a library book] constitutes publication under the law".
"Mylius's libel wasn't any stronger, and this paper declares that what is sauce for the Mylius goose should also be sauce for the Lord Mayor gander, and it is hereby demanded that the Lord Mayor and the City Librarian and various other persons be prosecuted for 'libelling the king,' and that they each be given one year's hard labor, and taken to Goulburn Jail in leg-irons.
It is needless to say that ' Alaska' will be withdrawn from the Free Library immediately after this article appears; therefore, those who wish to get the book and verify the libel for themselves will have to call early to avoid the crush."
- BBC News website.
- Harold Nicolson, King George V (Pan, 1967) p.200.
- Nicolson, p.201.
- "Dockyard Timeline A history in words and pictures of the Royal Dockyard Portsmouth". Portsmough Dockyard. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
- Rose, Kenneth (1983). King George V. p. 86.
- Thomas, Donald (2007). Freedom's frontier: censorship in modern Britain. John Murray. p. 400.
- Ashdown-Hill, John (2013). Royal Marriage Secrets: Consorts & Concubines, Bigamists & Bastards. The History Press. p. 224.
- Higginson, Ella (1909). Alaska: The Great Country.
- "The King Again Libelled". Sydney, NSW, Australia: The International Socialist. 18 Mar 1911.
- The King's Honour: A criminal libel on the sovereign; verdict and sentence. The Times, 2 February 1911