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George V - he may have looked stuffy, but quite a few of his views were ahead of his time


George as a young boy. He was born in 1865.


As a young man in 1893. George V grew greyer as he grew older, but he looked much like this for the rest of his life. He died in 1936.

The public's affection surprised him. He was worried no one would turn out for his Silver Jubilee, and when they did, and roared their approval, he said, "I cannot understand it, after all I am only a very ordinary sort of fellow".

A biography of the Queen Mother by William Shawcross describes the king's politics in the early 1930s and shows him to be far ahead of most of his kingdom's people and politicians:

George V had always distrusted and disliked both Mussolini and the Nazis. He talked of 'those horrid fellows, Goering and Goebbels'. He detested the Nazis' Jew-baiting and the brutality with which the fascists achieved power. In April 1934 he warned the German Ambassador that his country's massive rearmament was threatening Europe with war and 'ridiculed' the Ambassador's explanation.

At the same time, he hated the prospect of war. Appalled by the Great War, he made a pilgrimage to the cemeteries and memorials established in Europe after the war ended.

In May 1935 he told Lloyd George, 'I will not have another war. I will not.

George V detested racial discrimination. During the Troubles he expressed his outrage at government-sanctioned reprisals, and during the General Strike of 1926, he took exception to suggestions that the strikers were "revolutionaries" saying, "Try living on their wages before you judge them."

As his Dominions evolved into self-governing nations, the king became "the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth". George V had no patriarchal interest in perpetuating male sovereignty - how could he with Queen Victoria as his grandmother? - and he died hoping that his granddaughter 'Lilibet' would inherit the throne.

He insisted that his sons study the British Constitution. This is the British Constitution which is famously said to be unwritten. No doubt ancient bards familiar with the oral tradition passed on what they remembered about it to the young princes.

Quite unlike many today, the king preferred to live simply, but formally. He dressed impeccably every day, but ate plain meals. He and his wife avoided their palaces, living whenever they could in York Cottage (imagine a small manor house) on the Sandringham estate.

The king was stuffy, but didn't know it. On one occasion he asked the Labour minister JH Thomas, a former railwayman whose company he enjoyed, why his sons did not spend more time at Balmoral. Thomas was frank: 'It's a dull 'ouse, Sir, a bloody dull 'ouse.'

He could be rather a dragon to his sons, but never to his daughter-in-law, the Duchess of York. When someone complained to him about her tendency to tardiness, the king replied, 'Ah, but if she weren't late, she would be perfect, and how horrible that would be'.

William Shawcross writes that in 1929, "the first general election with full female franchise took place". The king had almost died six months earlier, and he was ill again, but he struggled into a frock coat to meet his new government at Windsor Castle and swear them in. "The new Minister of Labour, Margaret Bondfield was the first ever female member of the Cabinet. She recalled, 'When my turn came, he broke the customary silence to say "I am pleased to be the one to whom has come the opportunity to receive the first woman Privy Councillor." His smile as he spoke was cordial and sincere.'"

And on that note, before, or perhaps after, we've overstayed our welcome, we take our leave of George V.

Comments (1)

A pleasure to be reminded of this admirable monarch. Thank you.

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