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The Death of King George V

It’s eighty years ago that King George V died, on 20 Janaury 1936. 

He died before the start of WWII, although the signs of war were troubling, just as they had been when he became King in May 1910. Although a first cousin of both German Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the Kings family connections could not prevent the catastrophe to come.

In 1936, at age 70, the King had been in failing health for some time with a chronic bronchial complaint, made worse because of his “weary heart” due to an earlier infection or abscess in his lungs in 1928 (brought on no doubt by his heavy smoking).  His final illness was brief, however. It was only four days before his death that the Queen sent for Lord Dawson, the royal physician. Dawson’s records, released in November 1986 showed that he administered two injections of morphine and cocaine at about 11 o’clock on the night of 20 January 1936, just after he had written a brief medical bulletin that declared, “The King’s life is moving peacefully toward its close.”

“A Peaceful Ending at Midnight,”said the headline the next morning in the newspaper.

Many believe the King was euthanised, probably so that his death would make the morning rather than the afternoon paper, and therefore be more dignified.  Sounds bizarre to me.

Here is an account of his death from”The Australian Womans Weekly” at the time.

 portrait of king george V  
the beloved passing of king george v in 1936  official story of the death of king george v 1936 We will probably never really know what sort of a man he was – grumpy and domineering like Michael Gambon’s version in “The Kings Speech”, or did he lack(ed) intellectual curiosity and sophistication – but the King seemed to be well loved by the people of Great Britain and Australia.
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About thewartimewoman

I love history, fashion, art and design, especially of the 1930s to the 1960s. I am also a mother, wife, interior decorator & a treasure hunter who wishes she could drive a 1933 Delage. I studied Architecture at Melbourne university, briefly, and completed a Diploma of Art in Interior Design at the Melbourne College of Decoration in 1991. I have worked on an off as a decorator ever since, in between stints as a florist, balloon artist, having my five children and helping my husband in his law firm. in my spare time I love researching history, blogging and gardening.

3 responses »

  1. I imagine the physician was simply trying to make sure he went painlessly into death and caused the queen as little distress as possible. Royalty are always fair game for conspiracy theorists.
    I’ve just remembered, and looked up, a passage in my father’s memoirs. He was one of fifty cadets who lined the steps at the Chapel Royal at Windsor for the funeral. He spends two pages describing the very tricky and rare manoeuvres (Reverse Arms and Rest on your Arms Reversed) specific to Royal Funerals that they had to learn.

  2. I think George V was probably very much the way he was portrayed in the movie. His grandmother, Queen Victoria was a dreadful mother, the attitude at that time was “do your duty”, “Children should be seen and not heard”, and all that jazz. Also Bertie was left handed, and it wasn’t understood how much damage could be done to children by forcing them to write with “the wrong hand”. He was a product of his age, and should be considered as such.


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