George V has been as fortunate in his biographers as any monarch could be. Not for him the lachrymose sentimentality which, at the Queen's behest and with her all-too-active co-operation, Theodore Martin lavished on the Prince Consort; still less the 'feline skill' of Sidney Lee who, disregarding the advice of Edward VII, 'Stick to Shakespeare, Mr Lee, there's money in Shakespeare,' produced a double-decker biography of his late majesty; least of all the flippant irreverences of Lytton Strachey's Queen Victoria, which caused George V to erupt with rage. On the contrary, the monarch whom the present Queen delighted to call 'Grandpapa England' received the very epitome of grave, tasteful and well-regarded biography. John Gore chronicled the inner man, his tastes, hobbies and friendships; and Harold Nicolson described his public life and times. Nicolson's book in particular did as much to confirm George's reputation as a good king as it did to confirm his own reputation as a good writer, and established a model for royal biography successfully followed by Lady Longford on Queen Victoria, Sir Philip Magnus on Edward VII, Lady Donaldson on Edward VIII, James Pope-Hennessy on Queen Mary and Sir John Wheeler-Bennett on George VI.
LRB 15 September 1983 | PDF Download