Monday, 20 January 2014

The opening act of a right royal drama

On this day in 1936, in the late hours of the evening, King George V died.  He had ruled England since 1910 and made not a bad job of it at all.  If his bearing was severe and his reputation as a softie non existent, he was widely admired for his dedication to duty, his interest in the political matters of the day and his hard work and scandal free private life.  He had steered his royal house through the dark days of World War One and introduced the concept of 20th century PR to the regal machine - no more so than the moment he decided he must change the name of his dynasty in the face of anti-German sentiment in the war.  He had also introduced events that would become the pillar of modern British royalty - a speech on Christmas Day, more widespread travel around his realm and a determination to be seen.

George V, King of England, who died on January 20th 1936

But his greatest achievement lay in inspiration that would flower into triumph decades later.  He was devoted to his granddaughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, little thinking that the eldest would grow up to wear his crown.  But his influence on this princess of York in his lifetime sowed the seeds of a reign that has weathered many storms and now sees its head as one of the most popular monarchs her country has ever known.  But on this day, in 1936, that triumph was a long way away while a royal tragedy lurked just around the corner.

An old king and his two successors - George V with his eldest son, Edward VIII, and the man who never wanted to be monarch, George VI

For as the old king passed away, a new one was created.  The death of George V saw his crown pass to his eldest son, Edward VIII, the dashingly handsome and hugely popular prince who wanted to modernise the monarchy.  George V is said to have remarked that his son and heir would 'ruin himself within the year' when asked about Edward's future kingship and he was right.  On the night of January 20th 1936, Great Britain passed to the rule of a man who came close to tumbling its throne for the first time in centuries, and all for love.

By the end of 1936, George V would have given Great Britain two more kings as his second son succeeded his first with a swiftness that took the whole country by surprise

The sad ending to the kingship of a man who was expected by many to become one of his country's greatest monarchs in a flight from his former realm through fog and mist on a cold December night was still months away as those gathered round the deathbed of the old king bowed to pay their homage to their new ruler.  But the beginnings of it were already there, in the new king's devotion to Wallis Simpson, and in his determination that the old ways be swept away in favour of a modern monarchy.  On January 20th 1936, Great Britain swapped a king set in his ways for a monarch determined to do things his way.  But seventy eight years later, it is the former whose influence still rules with its different approach to modernity.

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