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The Last Imperial Reign, Episode 80 - 02/06/06


1911: King George V at the Coronation Durbar in Delhi. (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

1911: King George V at the Coronation Durbar in Delhi.
(Getty Images)
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Edward VII died in 1910. He was succeeded by his second son who became George V.

George was the first monarch to have regularly been to his empire. For example, he was in India twice. He combined his practical understanding of what was going on in the colonies with the constitutional theory and change that marked more than a quarter of a century of his reign.

George was witness and in many cases signatory to more than two decades of imperial as well as domestic drama, starting with the Union of South Africa. By the time he died (1936) he had attended the last of the great Indian durbars; had seen colonial troops fighting alongside the British in the Great War; he'd followed the unfolding and violence of the rebellion in the first colony, Ireland, then the establishment of the Irish Free State and partition of the island. He had approved the 1921 Cairo Conference that meant Britain creating what we now call Iraq. In 1931 he had opened the Westminster Conference that signalled the ending, if not quite the end, of empire. He had signed the two India Acts that gave the subcontinent much self-government and that would lead to independence and, he had watched the opening of the road to the Second World War.

The empire he inherited represented a quarter of the globe and the durbar had not quite had its day. Hymnals were still stuffed with imperial verses. But the greater truth was that by George's coronation (1911) Britain already knew that in the coming war she would survive only with help from the empire.

In a slightly different context, Kipling got it right:

With the even tramp of the army,
Where no man breaks from the line,
Ye shall march to peace and plenty
In the bond of brotherhood - sign!
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Historical Figure

Rudyard Kipling (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

Rudyard Kipling
(Getty Images)
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Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936

Rudyard was born in Bombay. His father was principal at the School of Art in Lahore and after education in England, Rudyard Kipling returned to Lahore as a journalist on the Civil and Military Gazette. His satirical verse written in India attracted attention in England and this was one reason for his return to London. He was not immediately successful; nor was his time in Vermont with the family of his American wife, Caroline. Barrack Room Ballads (1892) had his reputation established even before the two Jungle Books (1894 and 1895) appeared. Kipling has an image as a product of imperialism. It is a reputation worth examination, because his work that is read as jingoism (especially Recessional) could equally be seen as satire. In 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Did You Know...

That George V was the first naval officer to be king since Victoria's predecessor, William IV. Also, the next British monarch to be crowned was also a naval officer, George VI who was educated at Dartmouth and Cambridge and served at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

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Events of this episode took place in Europe & M. East region. We're interested to hear your comments on the influence of Empire on this region:

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Contemporary Sources

A new monarch hearalded a new era to many observers, Kipling's vision was spelled out in An Imperial Rescript

Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser decreed,
To ease the strong of their burden, to help the weak in their need,
He sent a word to the peoples, who struggle, and pant, and sweat,
That the straw might be counted fairly and the tally of bricks be set.

The Lords of Their Hands assembled; from the East and the West they drew --
Baltimore, Lille, and Essen, Brummagem, Clyde, and Crewe.
And some were black from the furnace, and some were brown from the soil,
And some were blue from the dye-vat; but all were wearied of toil.

And the young King said: -- "I have found it, the road to the rest ye seek:
The strong shall wait for the weary, the hale shall halt for the weak;
With the even tramp of an army where no man breaks from the line,
Ye shall march to peace and plenty in the bond of brotherhood -- sign!"

The paper lay on the table, the strong heads bowed thereby,
And a wail went up from the peoples: -- "Ay, sign -- give rest, for we die!"
A hand was stretched to the goose-quill, a fist was cramped to scrawl,
When -- the laugh of a blue-eyed maiden ran clear through the council-hall.

And each one heard Her laughing as each one saw Her plain --
Saidie, Mimi, or Olga, Gretchen, or Mary Jane.
And the Spirit of Man that is in Him to the light of the vision woke;
And the men drew back from the paper, as a Yankee delegate spoke: --

"There's a girl in Jersey City who works on the telephone;
We're going to hitch our horses and dig for a house of our own,
With gas and water connections, and steam-heat through to the top;
And, W. Hohenzollern, I guess I shall work till I drop."

And an English delegate thundered: -- "The weak an' the lame be blowed!
I've a berth in the Sou'-West workshops, a home in the Wandsworth Road;
And till the 'sociation has footed my buryin' bill,
I work for the kids an' the missus. Pull up? I be damned if I will!"

And over the German benches the bearded whisper ran: --
"Lager, der girls und der dollars, dey makes or dey breaks a man.
If Schmitt haf collared der dollars, he collars der girl deremit;
But if Schmitt bust in der pizness, we collars der girl from Schmitt."

They passed one resolution: -- "Your sub-committee believe
You can lighten the curse of Adam when you've lightened the curse of Eve.
But till we are built like angels, with hammer and chisel and pen,
We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, amen."

Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser held --
The day that they razored the Grindstone, the day that the Cat was belled,
The day of the Figs from Thistles, the day of the Twisted Sands,
The day that the laugh of a maiden made light of the Lords of Their Hands.

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