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Book description
Harold Nicholson’s biography / constitutional law / history of the reign of King George V, Emperor of India, turned out to be an even more interesting read than I had anticipated. I somewhat presumptively felt I knew the period 1910-1936 reasonably well. This book showed me up - I now realise how superficial my previous knowledge was. How strange that we should talk about the ‘Edwardian Age’ (Edw. VII) (or more recently to some; ‘the Age of Downton Abbey’), WW1, WW2, and the ‘Second Elizabethan Age,’ without necessarily properly valuing the remarkable reign of King George V, who, faced with (amongst many other events ) very successfully shaped and defined the value and nature of constitutional monarchy in the twentieth century.. From reform of the House of Lords, industrial dissatisfaction and a coal strike, the seizure of Tripoli by Italy, the Irish controversy, Women’s suffrage, the first Balkan war, WW1, financial crisis, the beginning of the transformation of the British Empire to the Commonwealth of Nations, Coalition government, the first Labour government, the question of Court dress, his Silver Jubilee, and the rise of Hitler to power; George V could barely have had a quiet and peaceful week.Nicholson, with great tact and insight describes the life of George from his birth as the second son of the Prince and Princess of Wales through his beloved naval career, the unexpected ‘promotion’ to heir after the untimely death of his elder brother, the Duke of Clarence, to his much mourned death at Sandringham one January night.Where this book really comes into its own lies in the method and skills employed by the author to describe how, ably served by Lord Stamfordham, King George V faced and cleverly navigated his constitutional path through so very many tough questions which tested the strength of, and exemplified the sizable benefits of a system of governance based on a fully functioning constitutional monarchy. It is clear that much of the tremendous success of his granddaughter’s present very long reign is likewise due to those lessons she will have learned from her paternal grandfather. This book is of gripping interest because to read it now, in 2012, the repeats of history are painfully obvious, and cannot be overlooked. We need to learn from our forebears. How and why what is left unsaid and unwritten can, over that longer term, prove to be of inestimable greater a value than that bound by inflexible written rules. Yet in twenty-first century Britain (or am I thinking of that less than democratic Europe), the ever growing obsession of governments seems to be to rule through ever increasing and more complicated written definition.Nicholson exercised a real gift in making such a long book so interesting that I didn’t skip so much as a single sentence. He gives us the human side of the King every bit as much as the sportsman, the dutiful prince, the family man (related to most of Europe’s royalty), and the tenacious constitutional monarch. This book was published sixteen years after the King’s death. There is absolutely no hint, nor evidence presented or refuted, to support the later theories and claims that King George V and Queen Mary were anything but happily married, or that that he was responsible in a large part for psychologically impairing his children. Indeed, from reading this book, I received quite the reverse impression: that he was a sensitive and loyal man, politically astute, and a very able thinker.21 b/w photographic plates,Fold-out family tree of Edward VII (up to January 1936),Fold-out family tree of Queen Alexandra (up to January 1936),Reference Notes.Index.
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