Last December we announced as ‘Sex, Religion and Royalty’, the acquisition of a small group of papers of physician Bertrand Edward Dawson, Viscount Dawson of Penn, PRCP (1864-1945), suggesting that these factors are supposed to be a ‘perfect storm’ for a bestseller.
This month the Library has acquired some further Dawson papers, which not only add more about his relations with royalty, but also an account of meeting Hitler in 1936 during a visit to Germany with Lloyd George and a number of others (PP/BED/E.1/1).
He is best remembered for his presence (with morphine) at the death-bed of George V, but this was not his first royal death-bed. The collection now includes a letter acknowledging his appointment as one of the Royal Physicians to Edward VII along with some material about the final illness, death and funeral rites of ‘Edward the Caresser’ (PP/BED/D.1/1-3) at which he was present (though to his chagrin not mentioned in the official report). There are also drafts of his letters to the Duke of Windsor and the Princess Royal in December 1936 after a year of turmoil for the Royal Family. He commends the ‘dignity’ of the Duke’s abdication, a word he also invokes in the letter to the Princess Royal, which contains assurances about the peaceful end of her father.
Apart from these titillating titbits, the new material also adds to the understanding of Dawson’s views on Physical Fitness and national well-being, including his observations on the ‘Lingiad’ in Stockholm in 1939 (pdf), a non-competitive international sporting event in honour of the founder of the Ling system of gymnastics. A number of notebooks, essentially ‘commonplace books’ and probably part of a larger series, contain very diverse jottings, diary notes, personal memoranda, travel itineraries, and notes for and drafts of talks for a range of audiences and his speeches in the House of Lords. They include the working out of his views on birth control and euthanasia for public presentation. A group of notebooks from (on internal evidence) c. 1939-1945 are predominately concerned with medical services during World War II and the implications of post-war reconstruction.
Author: Dr. Lesley Hall, senior archivist at the Wellcome Library