How George and Mary saved the royal family

The monarchy's survival into the 21st century owes an enormous debt to the reign of George V and his wife, Mary, argues Denys Blakeway....

King George V and his wife, Queen Mary, pictured during a visit to Dublin in 1911. The royal couple were deeply conservative but common sense taught them they had to adapt to the modern world. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

“In a weird way it cheers everyone up,” Boris Johnson remarked about the latest royal wedding. Few could doubt, as Kate Middleton and Prince William made their marriage vows in Westminster Abbey last spring, that their wedding was both a tonic to the nation and a boost to the royal family. Polling at the time confirmed what was clear from the thousands cheering on the wedding route to the street parties across the country – that the monarchy, despite the setbacks of recent years, was as strong as ever. For this the institution owed much to the Queen’s grandfather King George V, a man who gave the appearance of steely inflexibility but in reality was a modernising reformer.

William and Kate’s marriage ceremony echoed that of George V’s second son, Prince Albert, Duke of York, to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923. The future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were, like William and Kate, married at the end of April at a time of economic gloom. Then, as now, the public nuptials were hugely popular: a million people lined the streets to watch the royal wedding procession. In an impulsive gesture, Elizabeth placed her bridal posy of white spring flowers on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. The Duchess of Cambridge did the same. What was seen as a spontaneous tribute 88 years ago had become a royal tradition.

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