The Peculiar Death of King George V – As First Reported in the Times

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| By Sydney Fairman |

When King George V died on January 20, 1936, the world was led to believe that he had died entirely of natural causes. In actuality, his death had been hastened by his physician to ensure that the news was reported first in The Times rather than the afternoon newspapers. With the help of Gale Primary Sources, this matter can be explored to delve deeper into what was first considered King George V’s “Peaceful Passing at Midnight,” according to The Telegraph.

“Our Loss.” The Listener, Jan. 22, 1936

The notes made by the King’s physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, were released from the Royal Archives in November 1986. As reported in The Daily Telegraph on November 27, 1986, the notes disclose that as the King’s condition deteriorated throughout the day, Dawson consulted Queen Mary and the King’s son, Edward, who instructed him not to prolong the King’s life unnecessarily. As it would be discovered, Dawson took the instruction “not to prolong” the King’s life as one authorizing him to shorten it.

The Front Page of The Daily Telegraph for Nov. 27, 1986
Editorial column in The Times for Nov. 28, 1986.

Dawson wrote in his notes that he telephoned his wife, asking her to call The Times to tell them to hold back publication. Then, Dawson administered the lethal dose and according to the notes, peace had descended upon the King within 15 minutes and 25 minutes later, he was dead. With the whole business transacted before midnight, The Times was able to break the news in its morning edition.

Dawson’s notes reiterate his choice below:

“The determination of the time of death of the King’s body had another object in view, viz the importance of the death receiving its first announcement in the morning papers rather than the less appropriate field of the evening journals.”

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