The Intimate Life Story of King George V

Continuing an account of His Majesty's career from his marriage to the death of Queen Victoria

RICHARD DENT March 15 1930

The Intimate Life Story of King George V

Continuing an account of His Majesty's career from his marriage to the death of Queen Victoria

RICHARD DENT March 15 1930

The Intimate Life Story of King George V


AFTER the birth of his son, the Duke of York began to busy himself with state duties and take his part as eventual heir to the throne. It was characteristic of him that he settled down to study the functions and responsibilities of his new career as earnestly as he had studied in the Navy. No one can pretend that state duties interested him as much as naval work. You cannot entirely wean a man from his chosen career. So much of his life had been spent in the Navy that it was not easy for him to settle down to the desk routine which his new life necessitated. But the Duke of York was nothing if not conscientious, and in time he grew to love the very work which he had hated.

His study at York Cottage was a cheerful room with big windows, wide open, except in the coldest weather.

This was not a characteristic of the age, and it told visitors at once that the Duke was used to winds and seafaring life. A large desk occupied a great part of the room, but there were comfortable armchairs for visitors. “A man can never talk naturally when he is sitting bolt upright on a chair which is much too small for him,” I once heard the Duke remark, and visitors were encouraged to sit back and be comfortable. On his desk, on the right hand side, therestood a large photograph of the Duchess, and on the left there was always a small bowl filled with fresh flowers.

The Duke could not bear these two things to be reversed, and woe betide anyone who did change their position. The walls were covered with naval prints, photographs of the Bacchante, and many portraits of friends and officers, as well as mementoes of various countries he had visited.

The Duke’s favorite portrait of his son occupied a prominent position on the wall, and showed the baby face just about to break into a smile.

On December 14th, 1895, his second son was. born at York Cottage, Sandringham, and was christened in Sandringham Church, Albert Frederick George. A charming note was given to the ceremony by the Duke who went to the church first, carrying little David in his arms. The Duchess came next, followed by the nurse with baby Albert or “Bertie,” as he was generally called.

Bertie was not so strong as his brother, and the Duchess spent many worrying hours with her small son. After the first year, however, he entirely outgrew any trace of his former delicacy. David was introduced to his baby brother by his father, but it was not at all a satisfactory meeting, for the baby, liking the look of a rather gaudy rattle that David was never parted from, tried to seize it, and there were many tears on both sides.

The Duke, as has beensaid, was extraordinarily anxious that his son and heir should early learn to appreciate the s'-*a. One day, David was not to be found, and the

Duchess, after searching the house, opened her husband’s study door quietly. There sat the Duke of York at his desk with two-year-old David perched on his knee. He was explaining various naval matters which would not have interested a child of seven, let alone two years of age, and on the desk were some maps and a large picture book. The Duchess often told this tale against her husband. “So like a man,” she always added.

At the birth of their second child, the Duke and Duchess of York decided that York Cottage must be enlarged again. It was rather a trial for the Duchess that her home was so small, and the business of enlarging it was constantly discussed. After “Bertie’s” birth a new wing was added, containing day and night nurseries. David refused for a long time to live in the new home, as he called it, but he became accustomed to it eventually.

Now that there were children at York Cottage, it

was even more of a home than before. The Duke and Duchess loved children, and about this time they began to make what is, I believe, a unique collection. It consisted of comic pictures of children of all ages, including posters advertising various foods. It was most attractive

and amusing, for the Duchess used to paste the pictures in a large album and the “Babies Book” was much in demand. The Duke of York was still young enough to retain vivid memories of his own childhood, and I have often been amused when I have seen him stop suddenly in front of a toyshop, and with wrinkled brow examine the working of some mechanical toys. “You see,” he would say, “my children expect me to be such an expert, especially in constructing mimic fortifications and manoeuvring toy soldiers, that I have to rub up my knowledge from time to time.”

Little Prince David’s first pocket money was sixpence a week, and even when quite tiny he made or bought birthday presents for his grandparents, parents and little brother. He was very fond of the matron of the Technical School at Sandringham, and once, when he was taken to see her by his nurse, said that he wanted to make a present “specially for Mamma’s birthday.” After a very long consultation it was decided that

“Mamma” would love a little card with a doggie on it, carefully pricked and sewn by David. This was finished and duly presented; and the donor was soon back at the school with the suggestion that he should prick little cards for everybody he knew. This ambitious resolve, however, he was persuaded to limit to three more cards—one for Grandma, one for Grandpa, and one für Father.

The children were taught to think of other people. Once David was being nursed through a childish ailment by a nurse who had been attending previously the the little daughter of a London physician. She told the little Prince about her former patient and contrasted his restlessness with her patience. “Nurse, I would like to send that little girl something,” he said, “because she has been so good.” “Very well,” said the nurse; “what will you send her?" After a considerable effort the little Prince said: “Take her my little statuette of Lord Roberts.” It was his greatest treasure, as the nurse well knew, and she consulted his mother. “Take it by all means, nurse,” she said. “I am so glad David thought of doing this.” When the little girl, who had been overjoyed with the Prince’s gift, passed away, her parents offered to return the statuette, but a wish was expressed that they should retain it.

The Prince had many pets. “Caesar,” King Edward’s dog, was a great favorite with him. Once he was asked what he would do if he were king. The reply was: “When I am king,” said the small boy, “I shall make three laws: no one shall cut the tails off the little dogs; there shall be no more fishing with hooks; and no one shall use bearing-reins to hurt the horses.” On this occasion his father picked up his small son and kissed him.

Continuing an account of His Majesty's career from his marriage to the death of Queen Victoria

The Duke of York was now able to turn again to his hobby of stamp collecting, which he had begun as a boy at sea. The Duke bought and exchanged stamps in the ordinary way, studying dealers’ catalogues and advertisements for rare specimens. Once a young man in a city office advertised that his stamp collection was for sale, and could be seen at his lodgings. A young man called at these lodgings on a foggy Saturday afternoon, chose some stamps, and made an offer which was accepted. It was not until the purchaser was going out of the house that he was recognized as the Duke of York. His present Majesty is still one of the most distinguished philatelists in the world, and purchases on his account are frequently made at the great stamp auctions, although he no longer appears in person.

State functions began to encroach more and more on his time. The Duke took a great deal of trouble with his speeches. On the first occasion of his presiding at a public dinner, he asked the old Duke of Cambridge for some hints as to speaking. “Nothing easier, my boy,” said the Duke. “Get your speech typewritten on small sheets of paper. Saves all worry.

When the time comes, all you have to do is to get up and read your speech.” This advice did not satisfy the young Duke and, to the elder man’s horror when the time came, he rose and trusted to his memory. “Conceited boy ! Absurd!

Why didn’t he do what I told him? He will break down as sure as fate!” But the Duke was wrong, and told the Duke of York’s father the same evening how well he had acquitted himself.

The present Prince of Wales began his speech-making at a very early age, much to his father’s secret joy and his mother’s fear— for the Duchess wanted to keep her children out of the limelight as long as she could. His very first speech was made at a children’s party when he was presented by his hostess with a sword. Solemnly the boy mounted a chair, and said in clear tones with much dignity: “Thank you for giving me such a beautiful sword. I shall always keep it, and remember this night.”

I was much amused to hear the Duke of York remark: “Little wretch.

He speaks better than I do!”

The greatest joy that the Duke of York and his elder son shared during these early days was their interest in the Zoological Gardens.

The Duke and David were often to be seen hand-in-hand walking round the cages.

When they reached something that interested them they would stop, and a long series of questions and answers would follow. That King George has such a profound knowledge of a variety of subjects, I cannot help putting down to the constant inquisitiveness of his elder son, who expected his father to know everything. The Duke of York seldom failed to answer his questions. David and his brother were taken to Madame Tussaud’s

Exhibition, and the elder boy was the last visitor who was permitted to sit in Napoleon Bonaparte’s carriage.

Birth of Princess Mary

AN EVENTFUL year for the residents at York Cottage was 1897, for on April 25 a daughter was born to the Duke and Duchess. Like her mother, she has been the only daughter, and she was, as her mother had been, a most beautiful baby. Prince David was an early arrival at the side of the cot. “That’s your little sister, dear,” said the nurse. The Prince remained staring at the newcomer for a long time in silence, and then he remarked reflectively: “I like sisters.”

She was known as the “Jubilee Baby,” for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign was celebrated

by the Empire on June 22 amid universal rejoicings.

Sunday, June 20, 1897, was a day of general thanksgiving throughout the country. The Duke and Duchess of York attended service in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, to give thanks on the sixtieth anniversary of the

Queen’s accession to the throne. On the following day London was putting out its flags and arranging its decorations.

I shall never forget the sight of London streets during those days. It seemed as if all nationalities of the world had congregated to pay homage to the Queen. The Duke of York drove out on the day before to look at some of the decorations, and he was very deeply touched by the arrangements prepared in honor of his grandmother.

The Duke and Duchess of York had their elder son with them as they drove in the procession to St. Paul's Cathedral on the memorable day. The little Prince was thrilled by the splendor of the scene, but even more thrilled by the fact that it was his first appearance in boy’s clothes. He kept on repeating the fact to his father as they drove through the cheering crowds. Seeing a small boy in the crowd, who had managed to get in front of a tall policeman, he tried hard to clamber over the back of the carriage to get a final glimpse of the boy “with a suit like mine.”

The Naval Review

ALTHOUGH Tuesday had shown something of military power and Imperial greatness, it was the following Saturday that appealed most to the heart of the Duke of York. On this day was held the Naval Review. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, on behalf of the Queen, passed down lines of battleships, moored a length of twenty-five miles. The Duke of York, who stood at the salute, saw them all—the ironclads, torpedo vessels, cruisers, gunboats, and torpedo-boat destroyers, each decorated with brilliant bunting. Ships bearing foreign Princes and Dominion Premiers proceeded in the wake of the Royal Yacht, the Victoria and Albert, which was greeted, as it appeared, by the thunder of the Royal Salute. As the yacht passed each vessel, it was cheered by the officers and men lined up on the deck. The Duke said that he had never felt so homesick for the Navy as during that tour of inspection, especially, he added, “when I saw a little torpedo-boat looking for all the world as if it were expecting me to step on board and take over the command.”

In August, the Duke and Duchess of York paid a visit to Ireland. Neither of them liked leaving their children, and Prince David had to be shown the map by his father

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and assured that the bit of sea “was really very tiny,” before he would be comforted.

Only one thing marred the visit, and that was the bad news they had received regarding the Duchess of Teck, the Duchess of York’s mother. She had been in failing health for some time, and an operation had been performed in the previous April. She had, however, not been well enough to attend the Jubilee, and became very much worse in October. On October 25, another operation was

performed, and the Duchess died on October 27.

There is one word which it is impossible to leave out in any account of the life of the Duchess of Teck—it is the word “friendship.” The friendship between her and Queen Alexandra was a very real and beautiful thing, dating from the time when, as Princess Mary of Cambridge, she used to meet and play with Princess Alexandra of Denmark at family gatherings in the Palace of Rumpenheim. When the Princess became engaged,

she said in a letter that “dear Mary Cambridge was a kind and useful friend.” When Princess Mary married the Duke of Teck, three years after Princess Alexandra’s marriage to the Prince of Wales, the friendship deepened and the two women already hoped in their heart of hearts that their children would marry one another.

'■'PHE year 1898 was happy and interestL ing for the Duke of York, for it was during the summer of that year that

he had the joy of going to sea again.

The last few years had been difficult ones for the Duke, because on the death of his brother he had thrust upon him responsibilities of state, of which he knew nothing at the time. Very few people realize the hard work which he put into his rôle of Duke of York. One has to be educated to state functions and state etiquette, and it was no easy thing for a young naval officer, who had no thought of kingship, to make himself conversant in so short a time with intricate matters

of this kind. That he was an able speaker by 1898, and had a very considerable knowledge of home and foreign affairs, was due to his own iron determination and the sympathy and counsel of his wife.

When he heard that he was to command H. M. S. Crescent during the summer naval manoeuvres, he was boyishly excited. He and the Duchess went down to Portsmouth before he took command, to arrange the furnishing of their cabins in the Crescent, and they had a great deal of fun in making their plans.

The Duchess already showed her gift for putting people at their ease, her knowledge when anything was wrong, and her tact in righting it. An incident on board the Crescent which I remember plainly, illustrates this characteristic of the Queen when she was quite a young woman. A concert was being given by a ship’s company, to which the Duchess and several other ladies had been invited. I noticed the Duchess was wrinkling her brows, and concluded she realized that something was not quite right; neither I nor anyone else, however, could think what it was. Suddenly, the Duchess smiled and, leaning over to the Duke, whispered to him that none of the men were smoking. The Duke announced immediately, “All hands may smoke,” and the Duchess then prepared to enjoy herself. As she said afterward: “I knew something was wrong immediately I entered, but it took me some time to find out what it was.”

The Boer War

TN OCTOBER, 1899, the Boer War

broke out. It was particularly sad that the war should have come during the last months of Queen Victoria’s life. It was difficult to keep her from getting depressed.

The Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York threw themselves actively into war work. The “Princess of Wales Hospital Ship” was the first of the kind that ever sailed under the sign of the Red Cross. At Baffingly, near Sandringham, the Princess turned the little private hospital into a convalescent home for officers, and this was visited constantly by the Duchess of York.

On March 31, 1900, Prince Henry, the fourth child of the Duke and Duchess, was born at York Cottage. He was christened in the private chapel of Windsor Castle, being given the name Henry William Frederick Albert.

A prominent figure was the baby’s eldest brother, David. On being informed that he had another baby brother, the six-year-old boy ejaculated: “What, another?” and this was the only remark he volunteered on the new baby’s arrival.

Queen Victoria attended the christening and, with the exception of the christening of Prince David and his cousin, Lady Alexandra Duff, Prince Henry’s was the only christening of her great grandchildren which she attended.

Attempted Murder

A FEW days after Prince Henry’s birth, the news spread all over England of the attempted assassination of the Prince of Wales, when travelling with the Princess of Wales from Calais to Copenhagen. I was in London at the time, and I could hardly believe that Londoners could work themselves into such a frenzy. It appears that when the train was leaving the Gare du Nord, Brussels, a youth about sixteen named Sipido, a Belgian, sprang on to the footboard of the Prince’s saloon and fired two shots which embedded themselves in the woodwork. He was seized by officials before he could fire again, and, struggling wildly, was dragged away, while the Prince, leaning out of the window, called out: “Don’t hurt the poor fool.”

At the trial, the boy said that he wished to avenge thousands of men whom

the Prince had caused to be slaughtered in South Africa. Sipido was tried under Belgian law, acquitted on the grounds of being “irresponsible” and handed over to the care of his father. King Leopold sent a letter of deep regret, and thus the affair ended, but it caused a great stir throughout England, and the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York were both besought to take more care of themselves. Neither had the slightest sense of fear and no extra precautions were taken.

The Commonwealth of Australia

rT'HE Boer war continued its dreary course, although a ray of brightness pierced the gloom in 1900 when the inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth was celebrated. It was an important step toward Queen Victoria’s dream of Imperial federation. A strong, virile, united nation had sprung into existence, with a high sense of its rights and its privileges, yet bound to the mother country by ties of blood, loyalty and affection. The aged Queen realized this, and saw that the opening of the new Federal Parliament at Melbourne was an occasion which called for some mark of Royal favor. Her Majesty was therefore greatly pleased when it was suggested that the Duke and Duchess of York should make a tour of the Commonwealth and open the new Federal Parliament. The visit was not only to be a compliment to the new Commonwealth, but a recognition of what all the Dominions were doing in the South African War. So great was the enthusiasm shown in the tour that eventually the programme was extended to Natal, the Cape and Canada. It was estimated that the Duke and Duchess would be away from England for nearly eight months, and the date was fixed vaguely as the “spring of next year.” An itinerary was drawn up, by which the Royal pair were to call at Gibraltar on March 20, reaching Melbourne via Port Said and Singapore, and thereafter visiting New Zealand, Tasmania, Cape Town and Canada, arriving home in October. The tour . would comprise a sea voyage of some 35,000 miles, and it was decided that H. M. S. Ophir should make the important trip.

Death of Queen Victoria

T-IO WEVER, before “the spring of

-*■ next year,” an event occurred which put all ideas of the trip into the background. Queen Victoria died. She had had moments of depression during her last visit to Balmoral, and she had felt unwell after her return to Windsor, where the burden of having to talk to visitors was becoming too much for her. Very slowly she began to lose her grip of affairs. Ther* was increasing uncertainty as to whether the Queen would appear at lunch or dinner. For the first time, she did not herself write the good wishes for Christmas and the New Year which she always sent to each member of her family.

But her unfaltering courage never deserted her. She refused to go to bed earlier and she continued to see her Ministers of State. She spent Christmas at Osborne, and saw Lord Roberts twice, making many enquiries as to the war. Although she was deeply affected by the interviews, nothing in her manner or conversation gave any extra anxiety. The Duchess of Edinburgh was one of her last visitors. At last she was unable to take her daily drive, and, after the briefest of illnesses, the end came peacefully on January 22, 1901. Her children and grandchildren were grouped around her and she recognized each one.

The Duke of York did his utmost to help his father through a very sad and difficult time. Early in the morning after the Queen’s death, it was necessary for King Edward VII, as the Prince of Wales had become, to leave for London

to meet the Privy Council. The Duke of York attended him.

The Australian Tour

'T'HE final tributes to Queen Victoria | were unfortunately not witnessed by her grandson, the Duke of York, as he was suffering at the time from a severe attack of German measles. It was thought unlikely by the general public that, now he had attained to the position of heir to the throne, he would be able to make the tour that had been planned for him. King Edward thought differently, however, and, although naturally reluctant to part with his only son, he cabled to Lord Hopetoun, Governor-General of Australia, that he had decided that the visit should take place as arranged.

It was generally expected that before sailing the Duke would receive the title of “Prince of Wales,” but the King decided otherwise. King Edward had been so long known as “The Prince,” that it was almost impossible for the public to think of him as the “King.” If the Duke of York had been created immediately Prince of Wales, there might have been considerable confusion. It was thought advisable therefore to postpone changing the title until the return of His Royal Highness from Australia.

The royal yacht was due to sail on March 16, and the previous day the Duke and Duchess drove from York House to Victoria Station, the Duke wearing the uniform of a Rear-Admiral, and the Duchess being in deep mourning. I who was near them could see that the tears were pouring almost unhindered down the young Duchess’s face. She had just said good-by to “David,” “Mary,” “Bertie,” and “Harry,” and she would not see them again for nearly eight months.

King Edward and Queen Alexandra travelled down to Portsmouth to say good-by, accompanied by members of the Royal Family. The King gave a luncheon on board his own yacht, the Victoria and Albert, and proposed the toast of the day: “Success to the trip!”

At four o’clock the signal was given, and H. M. S. Ophir glided away from the jetty, with the Duke and Duchess standing on the fore bridge. The last words they heard from the shore came from King Edward, who called out after them: “We will take care of the children for you.”

A further installment of Mr. Dent's narrative will appear in the April 1st issue of MacLean’s.