Episode 6: George V - Mercy or Murder?

At five minutes before midnight on the 20th January 1936 King George V of England was pronounced dead. The official cause of death – bronchitis - was confirmed by Lord Bertrand Dawson, the King’s personal physician.

George V - Mercy or Murder?

In recognition of his care for the King during the last days of his life, Lord Dawson was made a Viscount. Dawson continued his illustrious medical career right up until his death in 1945, aged 80. He was widely mourned by the Royal family, the political class and the media.

So far so normal. But Dawson went to his grave with a dark secret. King George V had not died of bronchitis. Dawson had killed him. This startling admission was made in his personal diary, which was released to the public in 1986.

"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 merited 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."

So Dawson had in fact administered a lethal dose of morphine and heroine and effectively murdered a reigning British monarch. But why?

Quite apart from wanting to ease the suffering of both the King and his family, it seems Dawson had more prosaic professional considerations. One was to fulfil his own prognosis that the King would die that day - a very hand career move and not at all bad for his lucrative Harley Street practise. The other was so that the King's death at 11:55 pm could be announced in the morning edition of The Times newspaper rather than "less appropriate ... evening journals". Dawson even got his wife to telephone the Times to forewarn them of the announcement.

The way in which the King died was kept secret for 50 years. And there is another twist to an extraordinary Royal murder story.

Just two years after the King's death, his sister Queen Maud of Norway visited England. She was completely well when she arrived, but within a month became suddenly unwell. She underwent abdominal surgery on the 16th November 1938, which she survived, but died of heart failure four days later.

None of this would seem particularly unusual at a time period when surgery was far more dangerous.

Except that Maud's doctor was Bertrand Dawson. In a letter to Maud's Norwegian physicians he wrote:

"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 both you and I know only too well."

Did Dawson commit double murder on a King AND a queen? Royal Murder Mysteries is going to find out.