Friday, 10 December 2010

The (Hastened) Death of George V

In the wake of the recently announced William-Kate nuptials, I blogged about the intriguing details surrounding the wedding of the future George V to Mary of Teck in 1893 -- namely that she had first been engaged to his elder brother, heir to the throne, who had died before the date of the marriage.

Reading The Thirties: An Intimate History by Juliet Gardiner I was reminded of a shocking, but verified, fact regarding George V's death on 20 January 1936. Knowing that the King was nearing the end the royal physician, Lord Dawson, hastened his death just hours after issuing the brief medical bulletin: "The King's life is drawing peacefully to its close." The monarch's death was accomplished with a strong dose of morphine and cocaine in order that the news would first be announced in the august paper of record, The Times, and similar "broadsheets," rather than the downmarket evening tabloids. Regal duty to the end.

[George V's death reported in Canada]

(I should point out that this is hardly breaking news; it has been known since the 1980s -- see this NY Times article -- though that hardly makes it less startling.) Gardiner also points out (p. 374, The Thirties) that Lord Dawson was later to vote against the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill in the House of Lords in 1936, "though of course, then as now, such acts did take place." Indeed.

The death of George V, interestingly enough, coincided with the date of the funeral of the great bard of Empire, Rudyard Kipling. These men represented two icons of a Britain-that-was and a world that was about to change quite dramatically in the coming decade -- leaving a post-war Britain much diminished in stature.

Postscript: fleming77 has advised me via twitter that the mixture that hastened the end of George V's life was known as a "Brompton cocktail," originating at the Brompton Hospital and having been well-known and available to wealthy patients at the time, long before more modern debates on assisted suicide.

Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils 


James said...

I had not read this before,as you say stiff upper lip to the end. On a related topic I just read that Mr Kipling was a friend of my favorite President, Theodore Roosevelt.

IdleHistorian said...

Yes, Kipling spent a fair number of years living in the US and was very prolific there.

I must also admit, that even though I am not American myself, I certainly have a soft spot for Teddy R. as well. He was one of those truly larger-than-life men of his time!

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