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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Two less than mysterious royal deaths

The events surrounding the death of King George V have been well documented, but those surrounding the death of his sister, Queen Maud of Norway, less so. One name connects the two deaths, that of their physician, Lord Dawson of Penn.

George V

The King was a heavy smoker who suffered from chronic bronchitis. In late 1928 he became ill with septicaemia, and was never fully fit again. The following year he came to Bognor to recuperate, having rejected a further convalescence abroad. He spent three months in Bognor, and didn't much care for it. When the town asked if his stay could be recognised by the addition of Regis to its name, it is probably at this point (if at all) that George uttered the words, which anyone who has spent a wet day on Bognor beach would echo, 'Bugger Bognor'. But Bognor did get its new suffix - Bognor Regis.

From this moment on George was administered oxygen on a number of occasions. Yet the end did not come until January 1936, when on the 15th he took to his bed, never to leave it again. He died five days later. The King's doctor, Lord Dawson, issued the now famous bulletin, 'The King's life is moving peacefully towards the close'. At the direct intervention, one must add, of Dawson himself, a believer in euthanasia. The King's last recorded words were 'God damn you', said to the nurse who administered a sedative by injection on the evening of the 20th. Dawson himself wrote, 'At about 11 o'clock it was evident that the last stage might endure for many hours, unknown to the patient but little comporting with the dignity and serenity which he so richly deserved and which demanded a brief final scene. Hours of waiting just for the mechanical end when all that is really life has departed only exhausts the onlookers and keeps them so strained that they cannot avail themselves of the solace of thought, communion or prayer. I therefore decided to determine the end and injected (myself) morphia gr. 3/4 and shortly afterwards cocaine gr. 1 into the distended jugular vein...'

The death was recorded as happening at 11.55pm and was thus able to be printed in the following morning's Times, rather than the less salubrious evening newspapers, as Dawson viewed them. Dawson had consulted neither Queen Mary nor Edward, Prince of Wales; although it is unlikely that either would have demurred.

George's sister, Queen Maud of Norway

Maud also died in London, attended by Dawson. She had come to England apparently in good health for one of her regular visits home. Whilst here she became ill and was taken to a nursing home where she underwent an operation on her stomach. The Queen survived the surgery, but unexpectedly died some four days later. Ten years or so ago, a Norwegian author, Tot Bomann-Larsen, claimed that Queen Maud was sent on her way by Dawson in much the same manner as her brother had been. A letter from Dawson to a Norwegian colleague states, ' When reading this account, you will agree that the Queen's sudden death was a relief and which saved her from these last painful stages of the disease [cancer] both you and I know only too well'. Dawson had discovered the cause of her sudden illness when she had had her operation. The cause of death was given as heart failure, and this might indeed have been the case, and perhaps it did not require intervention by Dawson at all. The question is likely to remain unsolved.

As a postscript, Maud's body had a long journey of its own to undertake, before the eventual burial in the Royal Mausoleum in Oslo in 1949. First, the body was returned to Norway on HMS Ark Royal. The funeral was held in Oslo's cathedral and then the coffin laid aside awaiting a decision on its final resting place. Events intervened before a decision could be made. The Germans invaded the country in April 1940. The Royal Family and Government fled north, before finally coming to Britain. Meanwhile in Oslo, a royal servant and a bishop took the Queen's coffin and laid it in a small church's crypt; the crypt was then sealed off and remained so for the duration of the Nazi occupation.


A rhyme circulating before George V's death is an amusing sidelight on Dawson,

'Lord Dawson of Penn,

Killed many men

That's why we sing

God save the King'

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