George VI

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George VI (1895–1952), king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1936–52), and emperor of India. George was born at Sandringham on 14 December, the second son of the future George V and Queen Mary. It was the same day as the death of Prince Albert in 1861 and consequently he was christened Albert Frederick Arthur George, known as Bertie to the family. As a child Prince Albert lacked close emotional contact with his parents and was often overshadowed by his elder brother Edward. His subsequent insecurity meant he was intensely shy and developed a stammer.

In 1909–13 he studied at the Naval College at Osborne and then Dartmouth. He was not renowned for intellectual capability but worked hard. Prince Albert then spent time at sea on the battleship Collingwood but his active career was not a success. He suffered from chronic seasickness and spent long periods on sick leave for gastric troubles, culminating in an operation on a duodenal ulcer on 29 November 1917. However he was always eager to return to duty, both for his own sake and his father's, and served in the battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916.

In 1919 he spent a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied history, economics, and civics, and in 1920 he was granted the title of duke of York. In 1919 he became president of the Industrial Welfare Socie7ty touring industrial areas, showing genuine concern for problems and developing the ‘human touch’. He also founded the Duke of York's camp in 1921 to promote better relations between boys of different class backgrounds.

At this time he fell in love with Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, young, spirited, and attractive. She finally agreed to marry him in 1923 and the wedding took place on 26 April at Westminster abbey. She was to be the stabilizing influence in his life and provide him with the love and support he had often been without. They had two daughters: Elizabeth Alexandra Mary born on 21 April 1926 and Margaret Rose born on 21 August 1930. They were devoted parents and formed a close family unit.

The duke and duchess toured the empire, visiting Ireland and East Africa in 1924, and New Zealand and Australia in 1925, opening the new parliament building in Canberra on 9 May. His stammer was still evident and made it difficult to make public speeches. In 1925 he was put in touch with Lionel Rogue, a speech therapist, who over the years helped him become a more assured speaker.

On 20 January 1936 George V died and by the end of the year Edward VIII had abdicated. The duke dreaded the prospect of becoming king, but resigned himself to the task. At the coronation on 12 May 1937 he was crowned George VI in an effort to restore a sense of continuity and stability.

George VI supported Chamberlain in his policy of appeasement before 1939 but with the outbreak of war was determined to retain the integrity of both nation and empire. Although initially sceptical of Churchill, they soon developed a close working partnership and the king remained well informed on most matters, including D-Day and the atomic bomb.

The king and queen refused to leave London during the Blitz, although Buckingham palace was bombed nine times. The royal family shared a sense of common danger with the nation, toured devastated areas, met civilian workers, and the king devised the George Cross medal for civilian gallantry. He also shared the grief of loss when his youngest brother George, duke of Kent, was killed in action. He visited troops abroad: in North Africa (1943), in Italy (1944), and on the Normandy beaches just ten days after D-Day. The actions of the king and queen during wartime were a great boost to national morale.

The post-war period was stressful for the king who fretted constantly. With Labour victory in 1945, he was worried at the scope and speed of the new legislative programme. Yet despite being a traditionalist, the king was not averse to social reform when necessary. He watched with great regret the dissolution of the Indian empire. In 1947 he toured South Africa in an attempt to strengthen ties to the Commonwealth, the future of which he was anxious to secure.

The strains of war and the post-war period took their toll on his health. On 12 March 1949 he had an operation to remove a thrombosis on his right leg and on 23 September 1951 he had the whole of his left lung removed. Both operations were a success but he fought a losing battle to regain his health, and died in his sleep at Sandringham on 6 February 1952.

He enjoyed hunting and gardening, was an accomplished sportsman, and a devoted family man. Like his father, he was scrupulous in his attention to detail and formality. George VI was a man of simple tastes and understanding, but displayed a passionate devotion to duty that earned him both the respect and affection of his people.

Richard A. Smith


Judd, D. , George VI (1982);
Wheeler-Bennett, J. , King George VI: His Life and Reign (1958).

George VI

views updated May 09 2018

George VI

George VI (1895-1952) was king of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 1936 to 1952. He guided his country through World War II and the years of rapid transformation that followed.

Prince Albert, as George VI was generally known during his early years, was the second son of the Duke of York (later George V); he was born at York Cottage, Sandringham, on Dec. 15, 1895. Although a sensitive, shy, and at times nervous child, he was happy and possessed a determined spirit. In 1909 he entered the Royal Naval College at Osborne and 2 years later went on to Dartmouth. At both institutions he won the respect of his teachers and his classmates. Afterward he entered the navy professionally.

During the first years of World War I the prince served on the battleship Collingwood and later on the Malaya and while on the former participated in the Battle of Jutland (May 1916). Periods of illness, however, interrupted his service. Later in the war he was appointed to the Royal Naval Air Service, and in 1919 he became the first member of the royal family to receive a pilot's certificate.

After the war Prince Albert spent a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he proved to be a keen and diligent student. In 1920 George V created him Duke of York, and in this capacity he developed a special interest in industrial problems. His famous youth camps, where schoolboys and boys from industrial areas could spend weekends, were inaugurated in 1921. In 1923 he married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and the two became a model royal couple. They had two children: Princess Elizabeth (April 21, 1926) and Princess Margaret (Aug. 21, 1930).

Throughout the years between 1919 and his accession the Duke of York traveled widely. He gained a new confidence in himself and won the esteem of others. When his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936, the duke ascended to the throne as George VI. The new king brought to the monarchy a dignity, a compassion, and a broad understanding of human problems which served him well and compensated for his limited knowledge of political matters.

As king, George VI continued to display the qualities that characterized his earlier life. He proved to be a valuable source of advice for his ministers. In 1939 the King and Queen went to Canada in a precedent-breaking trip which was successful beyond expectations. As a result of this visit all talk of Canadian neutrality in the event of war ceased. That June the royal family proceeded to the United States, and the King became the first reigning British sovereign to enter that country. Throughout World War II he furthered Anglo-American unity. During the war he painstakingly carried out his many responsibilities and, together with the Queen, became a frequent visitor to the devastated areas of England. He identified with his people in their common suffering and gained their admiration. In postwar years he presided over far-reaching changes in the domestic and colonial realms. He died on Feb. 6, 1952.

Further Reading

Sir John W. Wheeler-Bennet, King George VI: His Life and Reign (1958), is a superb official biography that includes numerous samplings of the King's letters and diary comments. A King's Story: The Memoirs of the Duke of Windsor (1951) is useful for intimate reflections, and Harold G. Nicolson, King George V: His Life and Reign (1953), is an excellent companion volume. □

George VI

views updated May 21 2018

George VI (1895–1952) King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (1936–52) and Emperor of India (1936–47), son of George V. He became king when his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated. In 1923, he married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. In an inspirational display of solidarity, he refused to move his family away from London during the Blitz. In 1949, he became head of the newly formed Commonwealth.

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