Professor Bryant has not adequately explored the nuances of the death of King George V (Letters, 20 March). It is misleading to say that the royal family at the time were unaware of the nature of his death. What in fact happened was that Queen Mary and her son, soon to be Edward VIII, explicitly told the king’s physician, Lord Dawson, that they did not want King George’s life needlessly prolonged if his condition was fatal. There was no explicit command to commit a killing, but the way was left clear for Dawson to “do the right thing”, and he clearly understood this. He actually telephoned his wife an hour before killing George to get her to tell the Times to hold back its front page for the desired formal announcement. It was premeditated.
This set of circumstances is difficult for modern readers to appreciate. Perhaps an analogous situation to that which faced Lord Dawson is that classic aristocratic cliche of being left alone in the library with a shot of whiskey and a pearl-handled revolver. It is very hard to believe anyone would murder a reigning monarch without the consent of that monarch’s successor. That successor, Edward VIII, hated his father – and the feeling was mutual. This was an era when treason was still punishable by execution. Means, motive, opportunity – the prerequisites were there. Dawson’s notes are the signed confession that puts the seal on the entire deal. There is no such concept as euthanasia in law to this very day, and what Dawson did was unquestionably murder.
The haze of fiction around George V’s death extended to his purported last words on being told that he would soon be well enough to recuperate at Bognor Regis: “Bugger Bognor!” This jovial and somewhat endearing exchange did not take place. In fact George’s conscious last words – delivered to a nurse who was administering an injection – were “God damn you!” Perhaps George – who was never consulted about the manner of his own passing – had some suspicion about how his treatment would conclude.
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