George V is a peculiarly interesting subject for study. There were a number of major constitutional questions during his reign which required the Crown to take action. These were mostly the consequence of immense upheavals in society ... Both George and Mary have inspired great biographies in the past, including James Pope-Hennessy’s life of the queen. Ridley has written a magnificent new life — wonderfully funny, from its winning subtitle onwards, and full of human sympathy and understanding ... I wish conventions and proprieties had permitted her to interview perhaps the only living person with intimate recollections of George, HM the Queen. But failing that, she has produced an evocative and touching portrait of a surprisingly impressive man.
Apart from being a wonderful biography – indeed, the best royal biography to be published since James Pope-Hennessy’s Queen Mary (1959) – this book makes a revelatory distinction between two modes of being ... George V’s life, and that of his wife Queen Mary (Princess May of Teck) are, by contrast, rivetingly interesting when seen through Ridley’s lens. You yearn for every little detail ... Ridley does not try to whitewash George the Ordinary, nor to absolve him from cowardice, for example when, on the advice of his private secretary Lord Stamfordham, he declined to offer the Romanovs asylum in Britain after the Revolution ... Ridley does not disappoint those addicts who wish to reread their favourite king’s oft-quoted mots ... this book sheds an entirely new light on both George V and his consort ... Jane Ridley persuades us that their tactful handling of the many crises of the reign paved the way for the stable constitutional monarchy that persists to this day.
Ridley’s assertion, that George’s ordinary nature was not mere dullness, isn’t fully convincing, but she makes an effective argument that George’s moderate personality and skillful management were precisely what was needed to steer England through the early 20th century ... This detailed and weighty biography will most appeal to those with a grounded interest in British history and rulership.