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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate