To Count A King: The Royal Family’s 1911 Census Return

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Until I went looking, I wasn’t sure whether British kings and queens and their families had to participate in censuses or not. It turns out that they do. Just like everyone else, the law obliges them to reveal their location, age and marital status to the state – along with a number of other pieces of information – once every ten years.

The census return completed at Buckingham Palace in April 1911 is a fascinating document, which shines light on a number of previously-unknown aspects of early-twentieth-century royal life, including the identities of most of the Royal Family’s then very large retinue of staff.

King George V and Queen Mary had been on the throne for less than a year on census day, Sunday 2 April 1911.

King George V and Queen Mary had been on the throne for less than a year on census day, Sunday 2 April 1911.

The return runs to five pages and is reproduced in full below. You may browse it at your leisure, but the things that particularly struck me were:

- the fact that the King and Queen (George V and Mary) are not recorded as having any occupation, even though, of all the Royals, they were the ones who could most legitimately claim to ‘have a job';

- the fact that the number of lords- and ladies-in-waiting, pages, valets, chefs, cooks, housemaids and other helpers runs to about 120 (or 24 each for the five Royals present in the palace that day);

-  the range of servants’ ages, from the youngest (Ernest Davis, a waiter from Guildford in Surrey) who was 19, to the oldest (John Foster Farquharson, from Strathdon in Aberdeenshire – the King’s Messenger) who was 65;

- the number of servants who came from the vicinity of other royal palaces (15 from Berkshire, where Windsor Castle is situated; 8 from Aberdeenshire, where Balmoral is; and 4 from near Sandringham in Norfolk);

- the two French chefs (de rigueur in all the royal palaces of Europe at the time); and

- the presence of the young princes’ much-criticised tutor, Henry Peter Hansell, who was later blamed for Edward VIII and George VI’s supposedly extremely limited intellectual abilities. (The Dictionary of National Biography describes Hansell as having been selected mainly for his sporting abilities and claims that he “taught poorly” so that his Royal pupils “lacked basic arithmetical skills” and even “had difficulty writing their names”.

King George - Census Return King George Census Return 2 King George Census Return 3 King George Census Return 4 King George Census Return 5

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