Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

King George V

Today is the eightieth anniversary of the death in 1936 of King George V.

When he came to the throne in 1910 he began to emerge out of the shadow of his much more cosmopolitan father King Edward VII, and after the Great War became very much a national symbol held in genuine affection by his people - something which appears to have surprised him at the time of his Silver Jubilee in 1935. In the post-1918 world he was a reassuring figure embodying stability in a changed and changing world. He also discharged his responsibilities as King-Emperor with fidelity and conscientiousness. Whether his last words were "How is the Empire?" or were, at the suggestion he could recuperate at Bogor Regis, "Bugger Bognor" they appear both to be in character.

Some accounts stress his relative lack of early preparation as a younger son for the position he inherited, his naval officer formation, bluff and unintellectual manner and his stay-at-home approach summed up in his reported comment "Abroad's awful - I know I've been." that was very different from his father or even his grandmother.

However, as I argued in my post King George V and state ceremonial last June, in the years before the Great War he continued and expanded his father's enhancement of the public ceremonial of the monarchy, and that continued later in the reign with the revival by the King of the monarch being the central participant at the Royal Maundy service from 1931, as well as innovations such as the Christmas Broadcasts by the King to the nation. He was a more subtle exponent of the art of monarchy than some accounts would suggest.

Similarly although he is often presented as a stern and remote father to his children there is also good evidence of his real love and concern for them.

It was Kenneth Rose in his biography King George V who published the evidence that the King's death was hastened by a fatal injection by the royal physician Lord Dawson of Penn so that news of the monarch's decease would be in the morning rather than the evening newspapers.

It was also Rose who showed that despite what the King is said to have claimed afterwards, it was in fact his decision to withdraw the offer of exile at Balmoral to the Russian Imperial family in 1917-18. Perhaps in the light of this - and the subsequent fate of the Romanovs- the King sent a liaison officer to help safeguard the Emperor and Empress of Austria and their family in 1918-19.

It had been in 1917 that the King and his extended family in Britain renounced their German titles and took the name of Windsor. In the circumstances of the continuing First World War this was doubtless inevitable, but in many ways regrettable. This, and an attendant trimming of princely status, and a policy of allowing his children to marry members of the British aristocracy was part of a significant re-presentation of the royal family as being very much identified with Britain and her Empire. As a result maintaining something of a distance from not only German relatives but from continental relatives became more the norm than it had been for centuries, and that has continued over succeeding decades to a greater or lesser extent. Today that seems rather outdated and I think the monarchy should emphasise to a greater extent its common traditions with the other European royal houses.

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