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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried