George VI
King-Emperor
George VI
George VI was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth. As the second son of King George V, he was not expected to inherit the throne and spent his early life in the shadow of his elder brother, Edward.
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    FIFTIES
  • 1952
    Age 55
    On 31 January 1952, despite advice from those close to him, the King went to London Airport to see off Princess Elizabeth, who was going on her tour of Australia via Kenya.
    More Details Hide Details On the morning of 6 February, George VI was found dead in bed at Sandringham House in Norfolk. He had died from a coronary thrombosis in his sleep at the age of 56. His daughter Elizabeth flew back to Britain from Kenya as Queen Elizabeth II. From 9 February for two days his coffin rested in St. Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham, before lying in state at Westminster Hall from 11 February. His funeral took place at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on the 15th. He was interred initially in the Royal Vault until he was transferred to the King George VI Memorial Chapel inside St. George's on 26 March 1969. In 2002, fifty years after his death, the remains of his widow, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and the ashes of his younger daughter Princess Margaret, who both died that year, were interred in the chapel alongside him.
  • 1951
    Age 54
    His Christmas broadcast of 1951 was recorded in sections, and then edited together.
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    The King was well enough to open the Festival of Britain in May 1951, but on 23 September 1951, his left lung was removed by Clement Price Thomas after a malignant tumour was found.
    More Details Hide Details In October 1951, Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh went on a month-long tour of Canada; the trip had been delayed for a week due to the King's illness. At the State Opening of Parliament in November, the King's speech from the throne was read for him by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Simonds.
  • 1949
    Age 52
    The stress of the war had taken its toll on the King's health, exacerbated by his heavy smoking and subsequent development of lung cancer among other ailments, including arteriosclerosis and thromboangiitis obliterans. A planned tour of Australia and New Zealand was postponed after the King suffered an arterial blockage in his right leg, which threatened the loss of the leg and was treated with a right lumbar sympathectomy in March 1949.
    More Details Hide Details His elder daughter Elizabeth, the heir presumptive, took on more royal duties as her father's health deteriorated. The delayed tour was re-organised, with Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, taking the place of the King and Queen.
  • 1947
    Age 50
    In 1947, the King and his family toured Southern Africa.
    More Details Hide Details The Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, Jan Smuts, was facing an election and hoped to make political capital out of the visit. George was appalled, however, when instructed by the South African government to shake hands only with whites, and referred to his South African bodyguards as "the Gestapo". Despite the tour, Smuts lost the election the following year, and the new government instituted a strict policy of racial segregation.
  • FORTIES
  • 1945
    Age 48
    In 1945, crowds shouted "We want the King!" in front of Buckingham Palace during the Victory in Europe Day celebrations.
    More Details Hide Details In an echo of Chamberlain's appearance, the King invited Churchill to appear with the royal family on the balcony to public acclaim. In January 1946, George addressed the United Nations at their first assembly, which was held in London, and reaffirmed "our faith in the equal rights of men and women and of nations great and small". George VI's reign saw the acceleration of the dissolution of the British Empire. The Statute of Westminster 1931 had already acknowledged the evolution of the Dominions into separate sovereign states. The process of transformation from an empire to a voluntary association of independent states, known as the Commonwealth, gathered pace after the Second World War. During the ministry of Clement Attlee, British India became the two independent dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947. George relinquished the title of Emperor of India, and became King of India and King of Pakistan instead. In 1950 he ceased to be King of India when it became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, but he remained King of Pakistan until his death and India recognised his new title of Head of the Commonwealth. Other countries left the Commonwealth, such as Burma in January 1948, Palestine (divided between Israel and the Arab states) in May 1948 and the Republic of Ireland in 1949.
  • 1944
    Age 47
    At a social function in 1944, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir Alan Brooke, revealed that every time he met Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery he thought he was after his job.
    More Details Hide Details The King replied: "You should worry, when I meet him, I always think he's after mine!"
  • 1942
    Age 45
    In August 1942, the King's brother, Prince George, Duke of Kent, was killed on active service.
    More Details Hide Details In 1940, Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister, though personally George would have preferred to appoint Lord Halifax. After the King's initial dismay over Churchill's appointment of Lord Beaverbrook to the Cabinet, he and Churchill developed "the closest personal relationship in modern British history between a monarch and a Prime Minister". Every Tuesday for four and a half years from September 1940, the two men met privately for lunch to discuss the war in secret and with frankness.
  • 1940
    Age 43
    The first German raid on London, on 7 September 1940, killed about one thousand civilians, mostly in the East End.
    More Details Hide Details On 13 September, the King and Queen narrowly avoided death when two German bombs exploded in a courtyard at Buckingham Palace while they were there. In defiance, the Queen famously declared: "I am glad we have been bombed. It makes me feel we can look the East End in the face." The royal family were portrayed as sharing the same dangers and deprivations as the rest of the country. They were subject to rationing restrictions, and U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt remarked on the rationed food served and the limited bathwater that was permitted during a stay at the unheated and boarded-up Palace.
  • 1939
    Age 42
    Throughout the war, the King and Queen provided morale-boosting visits throughout the United Kingdom, visiting bomb sites, munitions factories, and troops. The King visited military forces abroad in France in December 1939, North Africa and Malta in June 1943, Normandy in June 1944, southern Italy in July 1944, and the Low Countries in October 1944.
    More Details Hide Details Their high public profile and apparently indefatigable determination secured their place as symbols of national resistance.
    They visited the 1939 New York World's Fair and stayed with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House and at his private estate at Hyde Park, New York.
    More Details Hide Details A strong bond of friendship was forged between the King and Queen and the President during the tour, which had major significance in the relations between the United States and the United Kingdom through the ensuing war years. In September 1939, Britain and the self-governing Dominions, but not Ireland, declared war on Nazi Germany. George VI and his wife resolved to stay in London, despite German bombing raids. They officially stayed in Buckingham Palace throughout the war, although they usually spent nights at Windsor Castle.
    In May and June 1939, the King and Queen toured Canada and the United States.
    More Details Hide Details From Ottawa, they were accompanied throughout by Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, to present themselves in North America as King and Queen of Canada. George was the first reigning monarch of Canada to visit North America, although he had been to Canada previously as Prince Albert and as Duke of York. Both Governor General of Canada Lord Tweedsmuir and Mackenzie King hoped that the King's presence in Canada would demonstrate the principles of the Statute of Westminster 1931, which gave full sovereignty to the British Dominions. On 19 May, George VI personally accepted and approved the Letter of Credence of the new U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Daniel Calhoun Roper; gave Royal Assent to nine parliamentary bills; and ratified two international treaties with the Great Seal of Canada. The official royal tour historian, Gustave Lanctot, wrote "the Statute of Westminster had assumed full reality" and George gave a speech emphasising "the free and equal association of the nations of the Commonwealth".
  • 1938
    Age 41
    The growing likelihood of war in Europe dominated the early reign of George VI. The King was constitutionally bound to support Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. However, when the King and Queen greeted Chamberlain on his return from negotiating the Munich Agreement in 1938, they invited him to appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with them.
    More Details Hide Details This public association of the monarchy with a politician was exceptional, as balcony appearances were traditionally restricted to the royal family. While broadly popular among the general public, Chamberlain's policy towards Hitler was the subject of some opposition in the House of Commons, which led historian John Grigg to describe the King's behaviour in associating himself so prominently with a politician as "the most unconstitutional act by a British sovereign in the present century".
  • THIRTIES
  • 1936
    Age 39
    In the words of Labour Member of Parliament George Hardie, the abdication crisis of 1936 did "more for republicanism than fifty years of propaganda".
    More Details Hide Details George VI wrote to his brother Edward that in the aftermath of the abdication he had reluctantly assumed "a rocking throne", and tried "to make it steady again". He became king at a point when public faith in the monarchy was at a low ebb. During his reign his people endured the hardships of war, and imperial power was eroded. However, as a dutiful family man and by showing personal courage, he succeeded in restoring the popularity of the monarchy. The George Cross and the George Medal were founded at the King's suggestion during the Second World War to recognise acts of exceptional civilian bravery. He bestowed the George Cross on the entire "island fortress of Malta" in 1943. He was posthumously awarded the Ordre de la Libération by the French government in 1960, one of only two people (the other being Churchill) to be awarded the medal after 1946.
    As Edward was unmarried and had no children, Albert was the heir presumptive to the throne. Less than a year later, on 11 December 1936, Edward abdicated in order to marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson, who was divorced from her first husband and divorcing her second.
    More Details Hide Details Edward had been advised by British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that he could not remain king and marry a divorced woman with two living ex-husbands. Edward chose abdication in preference to abandoning his marriage plans. Thus Albert became king, a position he was reluctant to accept. The day before the abdication, he went to London to see his mother, Queen Mary. He wrote in his diary, "When I told her what had happened, I broke down and sobbed like a child." On the day of the abdication, the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Irish Free State, removed all direct mention of the monarch from the Irish constitution. The next day, it passed the External Relations Act, which gave the monarch limited authority (strictly on the advice of the government) to appoint diplomatic representatives for Ireland and to be involved in the making of foreign treaties. The two acts made the Irish Free State a republic in essence without removing its links to the Commonwealth.
    King George V had severe reservations about Prince Edward, saying, "I pray God that my eldest son will never marry and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne." On 20 January 1936, George V died and Edward ascended the throne as King Edward VIII.
    More Details Hide Details In the Vigil of the Princes, Prince Albert and his three brothers took a shift standing guard over their father's body as it lay in state, in a closed casket, in Westminster Hall.
  • 1927
    Age 30
    With his delivery improved, the Duke opened the new Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, during a tour of the empire in 1927.
    More Details Hide Details His journey by sea to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji took him via Jamaica, where Albert played doubles tennis partnered with a black man, which was unusual at the time and taken locally as a display of equality between races. The Duke and Duchess of York had two children: Elizabeth (called "Lilibet" by the family), and Margaret. The Duke and Duchess and their two daughters lived a relatively sheltered life at their London residence, 145 Piccadilly. They were a close and loving family. One of the few stirs arose when the Canadian Prime Minister, R. B. Bennett, considered the Duke for Governor General of Canada in 1931—a proposal that King George V rejected on the advice of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, J. H. Thomas.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1925
    Age 28
    Because of his stammer, Albert dreaded public speaking. After his closing speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley on 31 October 1925, one which was an ordeal for both him and his listeners, he began to see Lionel Logue, an Australian-born speech therapist.
    More Details Hide Details The Duke and Logue practised breathing exercises, and the Duchess rehearsed with him patiently. Subsequently, he was able to speak with less hesitation.
  • 1923
    Age 26
    He married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923 and they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.
    More Details Hide Details In the mid-1920s, he had speech therapy for a stammer, which he never fully overcame. George's elder brother ascended the throne as Edward VIII upon the death of their father in 1936. However, later that year Edward revealed his desire to marry the divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin advised Edward that for political and religious reasons he could not marry a divorced woman and remain king. Edward abdicated in order to marry, and George ascended the throne as the third monarch of the House of Windsor. During George's reign the break-up of the British Empire and its transition into the Commonwealth of Nations accelerated. The parliament of the Irish Free State removed direct mention of the monarch from the country's constitution on the day of his accession. The following year, a new Irish constitution changed the name of the state to Ireland and established the office of President. From 1939, the Empire and Commonwealth – except Ireland – was at war with Nazi Germany. War with Italy and Japan followed in 1940 and 1941, respectively. Though Britain and its allies were ultimately victorious in 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union rose as pre-eminent world powers and the British Empire declined. After the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, George remained king of both countries, but the title Emperor of India was abandoned in June 1948. Ireland formally declared itself a republic and left the Commonwealth in 1949, and India became a republic within the Commonwealth the following year.
  • 1921
    Age 24
    She rejected his proposal twice, in 1921 and 1922, reportedly because she was reluctant to make the sacrifices necessary to become a member of the royal family. In the words of Lady Elizabeth's mother, Albert would be "made or marred" by his choice of wife. After a protracted courtship, Elizabeth agreed to marry him. They were married on 26 April 1923 in Westminster Abbey.
    More Details Hide Details Albert's marriage to someone not of royal birth was considered a modernising gesture. The newly formed British Broadcasting Company wished to record and broadcast the event on radio, but the Abbey Chapter vetoed the idea (although the Dean, Herbert Edward Ryle, was in favour). From December 1924 to April 1925, the Duke and Duchess toured Kenya, Uganda, and the Sudan, travelling via the Suez Canal and Aden. During the trip, they both went big game hunting.
  • 1920
    Age 23
    On 4 June 1920, he was created Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney.
    More Details Hide Details He began to take on more royal duties. He represented his father, and toured coal mines, factories, and railyards. Through such visits he acquired the nickname of the "Industrial Prince". His stammer, and his embarrassment over it, together with his tendency to shyness, caused him to appear much less impressive than his older brother, Edward. However, he was physically active and enjoyed playing tennis. He played at Wimbledon in the Men's Doubles with Louis Greig in 1926, losing in the first round. He developed an interest in working conditions, and was President of the Industrial Welfare Society. His series of annual summer camps for boys between 1921 and 1939 brought together boys from different social backgrounds.
    In a time when royalty were expected to marry fellow royalty, it was unusual that Albert had a great deal of freedom in choosing a prospective wife. An infatuation with the already-married Australian socialite Sheila, Lady Loughborough, came to an end in April 1920 when the King, with the promise of the dukedom of York, persuaded Albert to stop seeing her.
    More Details Hide Details That year, he met for the first time since childhood Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the youngest daughter of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. He became determined to marry her.
  • 1918
    Age 21
    Following the disbanding of the Independent Air Force in November 1918, he remained on the Continent for two months as a staff officer with the Royal Air Force until posted back to Britain.
    More Details Hide Details He accompanied the Belgian monarch King Albert on his triumphal reentry into Brussels on 22 November. Prince Albert qualified as an RAF pilot on 31 July 1919 and gained a promotion to squadron leader on the following day. In October 1919, Albert went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied history, economics and civics for a year, with the historian R. V. Laurence as his "official mentor".
    He was appointed Officer Commanding Number 4 Squadron of the Boys' Wing at Cranwell until August 1918, before reporting to the RAF's Cadet School at St Leonards-on-Sea where he completed a fortnight's training and took command of a squadron on the Cadet Wing.
    More Details Hide Details He was the first member of the royal family to be certified as a fully qualified pilot. Albert was greatly desirous of serving on the Continent while the war was still in progress and was very pleased to be posted to General Trenchard's staff. On 23 October he flew across the Channel to Autigny. For the closing weeks of the war, he served on the staff of the RAF's Independent Air Force at its headquarters in Nancy, France.
    In February 1918, he was appointed Officer in Charge of Boys at the Royal Naval Air Service's training establishment at Cranwell.
    More Details Hide Details With the establishment of the Royal Air Force two months later and the reassignment of Cranwell from Admiralty to Air Ministry responsibility, Albert transferred from the Royal Navy to the Royal Air Force.
  • 1917
    Age 20
    He did not see further combat, largely because of ill health caused by a duodenal ulcer, for which he had an operation in November 1917.
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  • TEENAGE
  • 1913
    Age 16
    He was rated as a midshipman aboard on 15 September 1913, and spent three months in the Mediterranean.
    More Details Hide Details His fellow officers gave him the nickname "Mr. Johnson". One year after his commission, he began service in the First World War. He was mentioned in despatches for his action as a turret officer aboard Collingwood in the Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916), an indecisive engagement with the German navy that was the largest naval action of the war.
  • 1910
    Age 13
    When his grandfather, Edward VII, died in 1910, Albert's father became King George V. Prince Edward was created Prince of Wales, and Albert was second in line to the throne.
    More Details Hide Details Albert spent the first six months of 1913 on the training ship in the West Indies and on the east coast of Canada.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1901
    Age 4
    Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, and the Prince of Wales succeeded her as King Edward VII.
    More Details Hide Details Prince Albert moved up to third in line to the throne, after his father and elder brother. From 1909, Albert attended the Royal Naval College, Osborne, as a naval cadet. In 1911, he came bottom of the class in the final examination, but despite this he progressed to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.
  • OTHER
  • 1895
    Age -2
    Born on December 14, 1895.
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