Historical Notes: The lamentable legacy of royal parenting

"THE HOUSE of Hanover, like ducks, produces bad parents," Owen Morshead, a former Royal Librarian, once observed. How so? "They trample on their young."

Morshead was George V's librarian. The sailor king has been typecast over the years by forgiving biographers as a flawed but fundamentally decent man, bluff rather than brutal. Yet he was a lamentable parent, at his worst with his sons, whom he alternately scorned and neglected.

The heir to the throne, Edward, known to his family as David, hated the role of "princing" which was his destiny. His younger brother, Albert (later to become George VI), had been reduced by his childhood experiences to a stammering, knock-kneed invalid. He suffered chronic abdominal trouble and was plagued by an uncontrollable temper.

George V's inability to curb his own temper terrorised his offspring. The royal children lived on edge, in fear of their father's retribution. Serious misdemean-ours resulted in a summons to the library. The thrashings their father administered there can have done little to foster a love of literature in the young princes though here too George V was following established Hanoverian royal practice. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's beloved Consort, was even-handed in whipping his daughters as well as his sons.

The young Prince Albert, the future George VI, developed a stammer and became as physically incapable of expressing himself as his parents were emotionally uncommunicative. His father, who did not like to see what he considered weakness, was impatient with his affliction. "Get it out," he would bellow as the child struggled to speak. The result, in a highly-strung boy, was crippling insecurity. As late as his teens, Albert would sit by himself in a dark room, rather than draw attention to himself by asking one of the innumerable servants to light the gas.

An unimaginative, blinkered martinet as a parent, George V was nevertheless deferred to and wholeheartedly supported by his wife. Princess May had endured an uneasy childhood with chronically impoverished parents. Her engagement to Prince George rescued her from the shame. She never forgot to whom she owed her magnificent jewellery, her status, the clothes she adored. She obeyed George, revered him and colluded with him against their children. Had May married some minor German princeling, the natural warmth which some old friends occasionally glimpsed in her might have been allowed free rein. As it was she felt it incumbent on herself to be majestic.

The general opinion was that she was cold and stiff and unmaternal. "I have to remember," she rationalised the distant relationship she and George had with their children, "that their father is also their King". We shall never know what sort of parental legacy Edward VIII would have passed on. An adolescent case of mumps and his failure to produce children suggest possible sterility. In any case, his own lack of mothering led him to search for this from the women he bedded. At 25 he was addressing his mistress Freda Dudley Ward as his "very own beloved little Fredie mummie". In his forties, his latent masochism finally met its match in Wallis Simpson's need to control.

With all the circumstances of his brutal upbringing against him, George VI nevertheless managed to reverse the Hanoverian trend and to become a devoted and solicitous parent. In this he was helped by his wife, who brought with her the memory and experience of her untrammelled Scottish childhood, Together, they established a new, informal, almost domestic royal style - a world of horses and dogs and picnics and games of Snap and Happy Families. And while immensely proud of his eldest daughter, George VI was sensitive enough to remember his own upbringing and ensure that his younger child did not, like him, always feel second- best.

Kirsty McLeod is author of `Battle Royal' (Constable, pounds 20)

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before