Emperor of India, King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, King George V of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, King George VI of the United Kingdom, Lord Dawson of Penn, Prince Edward, Princess Elizabeth of York, Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Queen Mary, Sandringham, the prince of Wales
George V (George Frederick Ernest Albert; June 3, 1865 – January 20, 1936) was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from May 6, 1910 until his death in 1936.
King George V’s relationship with his eldest son and heir, Edward, deteriorated in the later years. George was disappointed in Edward’s failure to settle down in life and appalled by his many affairs with married women. In contrast, he was fond of his second son, Prince Albert (later George VI), and doted on his eldest granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth; he nicknamed her “Lilibet”, and she affectionately called him “Grandpa England”.
In 1935, George said of his son Edward: “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within 12 months”, and of Albert and Elizabeth: “I pray to God my eldest son will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne.”
The First World War took a toll on George’s health: he was seriously injured on October 28, 1915 when thrown by his horse at a troop review in France, and his heavy smoking exacerbated recurring breathing problems.
He suffered from chronic bronchitis. In 1925, on the instruction of his doctors, he was reluctantly sent on a recuperative private cruise in the Mediterranean; it was his third trip abroad since the war, and his last. In November 1928, he fell seriously ill with septicaemia, and for the next two years his son Edward took over many of his duties.
In 1929, the suggestion of a further rest abroad was rejected by the King “in rather strong language”. Instead, he retired for three months to Craigweil House, Aldwick, in the seaside resort of Bognor, Sussex. As a result of his stay, the town acquired the suffix Regis – Latin for “of the King”.
A myth later grew that his last words, upon being told that he would soon be well enough to revisit the town, were “Bugger Bognor!”
George never fully recovered. In his final year, he was occasionally administered oxygen. The death of his favourite sister, Victoria, in December 1935 depressed him deeply.
On the evening of January 15, 1936, the King took to his bedroom at Sandringham House complaining of a cold; he remained in the room until his death. He became gradually weaker, drifting in and out of consciousness. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin later said:
… each time he became conscious it was some kind inquiry or kind observation of someone, some words of gratitude for kindness shown. But he did say to his secretary when he sent for him: “How is the Empire?” An unusual phrase in that form, and the secretary said: “All is well, sir, with the Empire”, and the King gave him a smile and relapsed once more into unconsciousness.
By January 20, he was close to death. His physicians, led by Lord Dawson of Penn, issued a bulletin with the words “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close.” Dawson’s private diary, unearthed after his death and made public in 1986, reveals that the King’s last words, a mumbled “God damn you!”, were addressed to his nurse, Catherine Black, when she gave him a sedative that night. Dawson, who supported the “gentle growth of euthanasia”, admitted in the diary that he ended the King’s life:
At about 11 o’clock it was evident that the last stage might endure for many hours, unknown to the Patient but little comporting with that dignity and serenity which he so richly merited and which demanded a brief final scene.
Hours of waiting just for the mechanical end when all that is really life has departed only exhausts the onlookers & keeps them so strained that they cannot avail themselves of the solace of thought, communion or prayer. I therefore decided to determine the end and injected (myself) morphia gr.3/4 [grains] and shortly afterwards cocaine gr.1 [grains] into the distended jugular vein … In about 1/4 an hour – breathing quieter – appearance more placid – physical struggle gone.
Dawson wrote that he acted to preserve the King’s dignity, to prevent further strain on the family, and so that the King’s death at 11:55 pm could be announced in the morning edition of The Times newspaper rather than “less appropriate … evening journals”.
Neither Queen Mary, who was intensely religious and might not have sanctioned euthanasia, nor the Prince of Wales was consulted. The royal family did not want the King to endure pain and suffering and did not want his life prolonged artificially but neither did they approve Dawson’s actions. British Pathé announced the King’s death the following day, in which he was described as “for each one of us, more than a King, a father of a great family”.
On his death in January 1936, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII. Edward abdicated in December of that year and was succeeded by his younger brother Albert, who took the regnal name George VI.