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The King is Dead, Long Live the King! (1936)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 29, 2011

For all the pixels spilled in the Bloggernacle on American politics, we see very little about political events in other countries. I thought some readers might enjoy reading this trio of short articles written in 1936 by Latter-day Saints, concerning the death of King George V of England and the coronation of his son Edward VIII.

The Good King

By Dora Bargh, Sheffield Branch
District Genealogical Supervisor

When I was born the body of King Edward VII. was lying in state. I was a child in the early tremendous years of George V.’s reign, the war years. A few days ago it was my sad privilege to join the nation’s vigil for its dying king. It is a tale that I may tell to my children’s children, that I grew up in and lived through the reign of the best-beloved, one of the best, and one of the wisest of England’s kings.

As to why he was so loved the great journalists of the world have been concerned in telling us. The main reason given is his “Englishness.” That is a good reason, and it is true. It was a great thing to have for king a man whose character and behaviour more nearly approached the English ideal than that of any other public man of his day, who was what, in his heart, every Englishman in every walk of life would like to be. Simple, unpretending, yet not losing a particle of the dignity which was essential to his position; both kindly and kingly, yet with the true British abhorrence of “fuss”; hard-working, doing his job well; maintaining the great traditions of his house, observing faithfully the exacting ritual of his calling; happy in his family life.

Yet he was not merely a good Englishman; he was a good man. That is something greater. I think it is the root of the nation’s affection.

Queen Victoria related in her old age how she was taken as a small girl to see an enormously fat and rather frightening old man, her uncle, George IV. In his day he was the target of the London mob, and on account of his disreputable private life many gentlemen ceased to come to Court. It is incredible that he was living a little over a hundred years ago; incredible that the diarist Greville wrote barely a hundred years ago, that, if the “little girl” (Victoria) died, it would be an end of the monarchy, because the nation was tired of bad kings. She did not die, but with her husband Albert lived to build another dynasty. It may be that her mind went back to that childhood visit to the unhappy king, as, an incredibly small, incredibly dignified old lady, she drove through the echoing streets of London on the occasions of her triumphant Jubilees. She could not have foreseen, nor could anyone have foreseen, that those spectacles of the nation’s devotion to its ruler would ever be equalled, much less surpassed.

The little old lady was held in veneration amounting to awe. There was a different quality in the joyous Silver Jubilee of Ge3orge V. 34 years after her death. The crowds which surged around Buckingham Palace singing (for, “he won’t come out unless we sing”) were not revering; there was almost an affectionate note in their cheering.

The King, our friend! The masses have perhaps never had that feeling before in all our history. The King who, sitting on a gorgeous throne, had not much liking for the tinsel, but cared more for the simple things which the humblest man may have. Above all, a man with a kind heart, which is more than a coronet, who wrought golden deeds, which are more than a king’s crown.

His Jubilee was the triumph of a man’s simple virtue. “Albert the Good” came from Coburg to build a new throne. His grandson by goodness has made it perhaps the safest political institution in the world. Let it be hoped that the generation who lived under his rule, who cheered and loved him as he loved them, will emulate the life of “George the Good.”
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The Coronation of King George V.

By Ramona W. Cannon
British Mission Relief Society President

(An American, Sister Cannon had been visiting London 1911 at the time of the coronation of George V.)

My memory of the coronation of King George V. begins with the previous night. At the Haymarket theatre I attended a performance of Henry VIII., with Sir Beerbohm Tree as Cardinal Wolsey and Miss Van Brugh as Anne Boleyn. By special arrangement a feature extraordinary had been added to the programme for this one evening. The coronation scene which was to take place in Westminster Abbey the following morning was duplicated that evening in our presence, in the persons of Henry and Anne, with the truly magnificent Sir Beerbohm officiating as the still favoured cardinal. The long trailing ermine robes were actual Coronation vestments, loaned, like the other articles, for the occasion. Our programmes stated that even the spoon for the oil with which the heads of their Majesties would be anointed the following morning, was used in the ceremonial which we were privileged to see. It was perhaps a little like reading the end of a book at the beginning, but how much better so, than having no end to read! Since we were not even of England, much less of the chosen group who might be squeezed into the Abbey in the morning it was a matter of great interest to see just how the solemn occasion would progress. that evening’s performance was so lavish as a pageant and so superb in acting and production that it has remained one of the most vivid memories of my life.

After the theatre, we found people already lining up for the morning’s procession, some sitting on the curbings or bases of monuments, some standing. No wonder that by morning the First Aid units were busy with fainting human beings!

I heeded the warning to be up betimes in order to get through the crowds to my seat.

In the press of that throng, there were moments when I was robbed completely of my free agency. Arms pinned at my sides, I swayed, rocked and moved as the aggregate mass swayed, rocked and moved. Then a “bobby” rescued me and led me into one of the many narrow lanes kept open for those who had seats.

What a beautiful job they did, those bobbies! Never have I seen humanity jammed together in such incredible masses! And yet there was no sense of panic, no rudeness, no disorder! It was the outward expression of a nation in which respect for law and the sense of things being well ordered, are intrinsic.

The procession itself was probably the most magnificent pageant ever presented. The gay heralds – the height and scarlet uniforms of the famous Coldstream Guards – the gilded and brightly hued coaches! The wealth of empires – jewelled tiaras on lovely ladies – jewelled turbans of the rarest silks on dark skinned princes – jewelled bridles and saddles of horses – the memory of whose rhythmic grace and beauty has never left me. Miles of such splendour!

King George and Queen Mary the center of it all! How regal they looked int heir coach drawn by its high stepping horses! The people shouted with enthusiasm and loyalty as they passed, “Long live the King! Long live the King!” And in millions of loving hearts throughout the vast Empire, the cry reverberated, “Long live our beloved King, George V.!”

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“The King Is Dead, Long Live the King!”

Joseph F. Merrill
(Apostle, and British Mission President)

The brief radio message of the B.B.C. sent out at 9:30 p.m., Monday, January 20 [1936], that “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close,” produced a profound sensation throughout Great Britain and the world. This deeply saddening radio announcement was repeated every 15 minutes until after midnight when it was replaced by the expected but distressing news that the King had died, the end coming at 11:55 p.m.

The world was shocked, for the King was not thought to be so dangerously ill. Then every press was stopped, type removed and hasty writings inserted, loaded with information about the King and his passing. The fullness of this information in Tuesday morning papers is eloquent proof of the swiftness of modern journalism. Readers of the Millennial Star will also appreciate its service in printing last week and this the pictures of the old and the new King.

As per custom, the death of one king means the immediate accession of another, as was evidenced by the Privy Council on Tuesday, the 21st, proclaiming the Prince of Wales as King Edward VIII. The Proclamation was read on the 22nd with gorgeous pageantry in four historic places in London and broadcast to the Empire for the first time in history. These places were St. James’s Palace, Trafalgar Square, Temple Bar and the Royal Exchange.

The body of the dead king was brought on Thursday from Sandringham to London, where it lay in state in Westminster Hall during four days – Friday to Monday – and was then taken on Tuesday, January 28, by train to Windsor where funeral services were held in St. George’s Chapel. These were broadcast to the world through world-wide radio hook-ups. This event was unique, being the first in history of a world-wide funeral service.

George V. was a popular king, beloved by his people throughout the Empire and highly respected by all the world. Premier Stanley Baldwin said of him:

“King George inherited his position on the Throne, but he won his way to the hearts of his people … The doing of his duty to the utmost of his ability was the guiding principle of his life … He brought the dispositions that are lovely in private life into the service and the conduct of the commonwealth, and not only in virtue of his office but in virtue of his person was he the first gentleman in the land.”

President Roosevelt cabled:

“I had the privilege of knowing his Majesty during the war days and his passing brings to me personally a special sorrow … I send my profound sympathy and that of the people of the United States in whose respect and affection he occupied a high and unique place.”

Former President Doumerque of France wrote:

“We admired and respected in King George V. that which all Englishmen admired and loved – his wisdom, his loyalty, his goodness and the high conscience with which he accomplished all his duties. England is in mourning; France also.”:

A Student of Affairs in Three Reigns wrote:

“King George V. strove with heart and brain to fulfil his high calling, regardless of any reward; but form end to end of a quarter of century of rule his reward was found in the sure knowledge that he had throughout enjoyed the utter confidence and the genuine love of his subjects.” Two more tributes must suffice. At a special meeting in historic Guildhall of the Court of Common Council of the City of London the Chief Commoner said of the dead King: “His great influence for good was felt in every sphere of life, whether among the high or the lowly, the rich or the poor. It was contagious and uplifting, prompting all men to seek higher ideals. He dedicated his life to his subjects and to the interests of the Empire.”

Bernard Shaw remarked that ‘King George has left the Monarchy in England at a higher standard of respectability and popularity than it had ever attained before.”

Relative to the new King, it appears that no more popular prince has ever come to the British Throne. His own words are significant. In the Declaration on his accession he said: “When my Father stood here 26 years ago he declared that one of the objects of his life would be to uphold constitutional government. In this I am determined to follow in my Father’s footsteps and to work as He did throughout his life for the happiness and welfare of all classes of My subjects.”

Representative of the feelings of all the people toward Edward VIII. we quote this statement:

“The National Council of Labour, appreciating to the full your Majesty’s deep interest in all matters affecting the well-being of the people, assure your Majesty of their loyalty, and express their earnest hope that the ideals and example of your late father will ever inspire and sustain your Majesty through a long reign of peace and prosperity.”

The press of Great Britain and the world teemed with heart-felt expressions of sympathy and sorrow on the passing of King George and of goodwill and best wishes for King Edward VIII. There is one on whom deepest sympathy is especially centered – Queen Mary. It develops that she and the late King were particularly devoted to each other. She will keenly miss him. May the Lord give her comfort and strength according to her needs!

The Empire has lost a great and wise King. It is fortunate indeed that, according to popular belief and the confidence of all those who know him best, the new King will fully measure up to the high standards of his departed father. May this confidence always be justified!

The public has come to know that the position of Great Britain’s king is no sinecure. It carries with it great and heavy responsibilities. And these will not lessen, but the perplexities of the times may add to them. Britain must continue in its leadership of the concert of nations in the efforts to bring peace to the peoples of earth. No other nation is qualified to take her place in leadership. But her task is extremely difficult. She needs a wise, safe and able king – the symbol that unites the Empire and holds it together as a strong family of nations.

May the Lord bless this nation and her new King and give them wisdom and courage according to their needs and guide them safely in their efforts to banish war from this troubled world.



3 Comments »

  1. How ironic to read of the goodness of George V, the great heights to which the institution of the monarchy had risen under him, and of the hopes that the new king would “fully measure up to the high standards of his departed father” when we all know now that a mere 11 months later Edward VIII would abdicate, unable to continue without the help and support of “the woman I love.”

    Sic transit gloria mundi!

    And the same goes for poets. I couldn’t read Sister Bargh’s line about George V, “a man with a kind heart, which is more than a coronet” without thinking of Alec Guinness playing the part of Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne (and seven other of her male relatives) in “Kind Hearts and Coronets.” How can Tennyson compete with that?

    Comment by Mark B. — November 29, 2011 @ 7:51 am

  2. As Mark indicated, the respect for Edward VIII was premature, at best. Part of the veneration of good monarchs in Great Britain has to be that they are, to some extent, “above politics”, leaving that to the prime minister, his cabinet, and the parliament. Certainly, nothing in our Congress can match the shouting, catcalls, and chaos of when the prime minister goes to parliament. Our state of the union addresses seem rather staid and staged by comparison.

    Comment by kevinf — November 29, 2011 @ 10:08 am

  3. Amongst the pile of newspapers my grandmother left me I think I have those reporting the Jubilee, the death of George V and the abdication of Edward- the never- officially- VIII.

    History has not been kind to George V. Changing the family name to Windsor during WW1, abandoning his Russian cousin the Tsar by refusing to send a ship to rescue the Tsar and his family in case it led to revolution at home, the fairly recent discovery that the family tried to eradicate Prince John (their epileptic child, sent away from the family to live with a Nanny) from the family history. Bullied his children so badly that the boys all had some sort of long-lasting behavioural problems.

    Edward of course courted the working-class and then let them down with a massive bump. His brother turned out to be a much better King than Edward would ever have been, and for that we must be grateful.

    As for PMQ’s, as touched upon by kevinf, it’s not actually chaos. Everyone knows what is going on, when to stand, when to sit, when to defer to the Speaker. Conventions are followed at all times. Not particularly edifying, but I do enjoy the discomfort endured by those whose policies I abhor.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — November 29, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

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