In his own words

From the diary of King George V.

June 22nd, 1911
It was overcast and cloudy with some showers and a strongish cool breeze, but better for the people than great heat. Today was indeed a great and memorable day in our lives and one we can never forget, but it brought back to me many sad memories of 9 years ago, when the beloved Parents were crowned.

CoronationMay and I left B.P. [Buckingham Palace] in the Coronation coach at 10.30 with 8 cream-coloured horses. There were over 50,000 troops lining the streets under the command of Lord Kitchener. There were hundreds of thousands of people who gave us a magnificent reception. The Service in the Abbey was most beautiful, but it was a terrible ordeal. It was grand, yet simple and most dignified and went without a hitch. I nearly broke down when dear David* came to do homage to me, as it reminded me so much when I did the same thing to beloved Papa, he did it so well. Darling May looked lovely and it was indeed a comfort to me to have her by my side, as she has been ever to me during these last eighteen years.

We left Westminster Abbey at 2.15 (having arrived there before 11.0) with our crowns on and sceptres in our hands. This time we drove by the Mall, St. James’ Street and Piccadilly, crowds enormous and decorations very pretty. On reaching B.P. just before 3.0 May and I went out on the balcony to show ourselves to the people. Downey photographed us in our robes with Crowns on.

Image from the National Portrait Gallery.

Had some lunch with our guests here. Worked all the afternoon with Bigge and others answering telegrams and letters of which I have had hundreds. Such a large crowd collected in front of the Palace that I went out on the balcony again. Our guests dined with us at 8.30. May and I showed ourselves again to the people. Wrote and read. Rather tired. Bed at 11.45. Beautiful illuminations everywhere.
‘King George the Fifth, His Life and Reign’, Harold Nicolson. Constable, 1952.
Quoted in ‘They Saw it Happen 1897 – 1940’, compiled by Asa Briggs. Basil Blackwell, 1960.

* David was one of a list of names for eldest son Edward, later to abdicate in 1936 as Edward VIII, and was the one used by his family.

Downey’s photograph “with Crowns on” from the National Portrait Gallery.


Kaiser Bill

This cartoon from 1902 shows that German Emperor Wilhelm II was seen as a subject for ridicule in Britain well before the Great War, when ridicule turned to hatred.

Kaiser cartoon

With his love of military uniforms – he was rumoured to own 600, some of which he designed himself – his arrogant attitude, and that absurd upturned moustache which he sometimes waxed into spikes, perhaps he was an easy target. The image comes from a little-known collection of twenty satirical cartoons called ‘The Coronation Nonsense Book’ by “Caroline Lewis” and illustrated by “S. R.” 1902 was the coronation year of Edward VII who was Kaiser Wilhelm’s uncle. The two detested each other.

The top caption alleges the Kaiser “has never been crowned” and suggests “For months past the fullest details as to arrangements and procedure have been telegraphed to his Majesty.” The main caption (for those with small screens) says – There was a Teutonic Tom-Tit, who said “I must certainly fit To myself all this Pomp.” But they cried “It will swamp Your Exchequer!” He said “Not a bit!”

If your wildlife knowledge is a little rusty, a Tom-tit is an old 17th century name for the Bluetit, a small but colourful bird found all over Europe. In a few lines the writer has skewered the man’s vanity and suggested that, although the British Empire can afford a lavish ceremony, Germany could not.

“Caroline Lewis” was Harold Begbie (1871-1929) and “S.R.” was fellow journalist J. Stafford Ransome (1860-1931). They are better remembered for their satirical novel ‘Clara in Blunderland’ published earlier in the same year.

If you believe that history repeats, you might be interested in this comparison of Kaiser Bill with a modern head of state.