George VI of the United Kingdom

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History Post 1900; Monarchs of Great Britain

George VI
King of the United Kingdom and the British
dominions beyond the Seas; Emperor of India
Photographic portrait
Photographic portrait
Reign 11 December 1936 - 6 February 1952
India: 1936 - 1947
Ireland: 1936 - 1949
Coronation 12 May 1937
Predecessor Edward VIII
Successor Elizabeth II
Consort Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Elizabeth II
Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
Full name
Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor
HM The King
HRH The Duke of York
HRH The Prince Albert
HRH Prince Albert of Wales
HRH Prince Albert of Cornwall
HRH Prince Albert of York
HH Prince Albert of York
Royal House House of Windsor
Royal anthem God Save the King
Father George V
Mother Mary of Teck
Born 14 December 1895
Sandringham House, Norfolk
Baptised 17 February 1896
St. Mary Magdalene's Church, Sandringham
Died 6 February 1952
Sandringham House, Norfolk
Burial 15 February 1952
St George's Chapel, Windsor
Occupation Military

George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor) ( 14 December 1895 - 6 February 1952) became the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Emperor of India, upon the unexpected abdication of his brother, Edward VIII. He reigned from 11 December 1936 until his death. As well as being King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the British dominions beyond the seas, George VI was the last Emperor of India (until 1947) and the last King of Ireland (until 1949, succeeding to that title by the enactment of the External Relations Act, 1936, until its repeal in the Republic of Ireland Act, 1948 when Ireland also left the Commonwealth). He was the third British monarch to use the name Windsor, the name his father had given to his branch of the German royal House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was king during the Second World War.

Birth and family

George VI was born on 14 December 1895 at York Cottage, on the Sandringham Estate, Norfolk. His father was Prince George, Duke of York (later King George V), the second but eldest surviving son of The Prince (later Edward VII) and Princess of Wales ( Alexandra of Denmark). His mother was the Duchess of York (later Queen Mary), the eldest daughter of Prince Francis, Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. The day was the anniversary of the death of his great grandfather, Prince Albert, the Prince Consort. Uncertain of how Albert's widow Queen Victoria would take this news, the Prince of Wales wrote to his son, Prince George, Duke of York, that the Queen had been "rather distressed". Two days later, he wrote again: "I really think it would gratify her if you yourself proposed the name Albert to her". This mollified the baby's great-grandmother, who wrote to the baby's mother, the Duchess of York: "I am all impatience to see the new one, born on such a sad day but rather more dear to me, especially as he will be called by that dear name which is a byword for all that is great and good." However, his maternal grandmother Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge did not like the first name the baby had been given, and she wrote prophetically that she hoped the last name "may supplant the less favoured one".

He was baptised at St Mary Magdalene's Church near Sandringham three months later. His godparents were Queen Victoria, Empress Frederick, Grand Duke Friedrich Wilhelm of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, his wife the Grand Duchess (formerly Princess Augusta of Cambridge), the Crown Prince of Denmark, the Duke of Connaught, and Prince Adolphus of Teck, and the Duchess of Fife.

As the second son of his parents, he was thus fourth in line for the throne at birth. The Duchess of York had given birth to her eldest son Edward, who was third in line to the throne on 23 June 1894. Although George VI was the son and grandson of kings of the United Kingdom, his accession was the result of a play of circumstances. His father, the future George V, was the younger of the two sons of the then Prince of Wales, and was not expected ever to become king. However, his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, who had been expected to eventually ascend the throne, died unexpectedly at a young age on 14 January 1892 of pneumonia which had developed from influenza. It was this that resulted in the Duke of York later becoming King George V. George VI himself was the second son of his parents; and his own elder brother became king as Edward VIII, upon the death of their father George V. However, Edward VIII chose to abdicate his crown to marry a divorcée; it was by reason of this unforeseeable abdication, unique in British history, that George VI came to the throne.

Early life

As a child, the future George VI was known as Prince Albert (or 'Bertie' to his family). He often suffered from ill health and was described as "easily frightened and somewhat prone to tears". His parents, the Duke and Duchess of York, were generally removed from their children's upbringing, as was the norm in royal families of that era. Unfortunately this allowed the Royal nanny to have a dominating role in their young lives. The nanny doted over Albert's brother, Prince Edward, while neglecting Albert. Albert developed a severe stammer that lasted for many years as well as chronic stomach problems. He also suffered from knock knees, and to correct this he had to wear splints, which were extremely painful. He was also forced to write with his right hand although he was a natural left-hander.

Growing up, he was completely outshone by his elder brother, whose dominance was one of the most important influences on his early life. Prince Edward had, according to almost everyone who ever knew him, an extraordinary and magnetic charm. No one felt his charms more strongly than the younger members of his family. In the isolation of their lives, he was the most attractive person they ever knew. In childhood they followed his leadership, while as young men they ardently admired him.

As a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, Albert was styled His Highness Prince Albert of York from birth. In 1898, Queen Victoria issued Letters Patent which granted the children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales the style Royal Highness. Thus Albert was then styled His Royal Highness Prince Albert of York.

British Royalty
House of Windsor
George VI
   Elizabeth II
    Margaret, Countess of Snowdon

Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901. The Prince of Wales succeeded her as King Edward VII. The Duke of York became the new Prince of Wales. Prince Edward was then second in line for the throne, and Prince Albert was now third.

Military career and education

From 1909 Albert attended the Royal Naval College, Osborne as a naval cadet. Despite coming bottom of the class in the final examination, Albert progressed to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth in 1911. When Edward VII died on 6 May 1910 Albert's father became King George V. Prince Edward was created Prince of Wales on 2 June 1910 and Albert was now second in line to the throne.

Albert was commissioned as a midshipman on 15 September 1913, one year later he was serving in World War I ( 1914 – 1918). He saw action aboard HMS Collingwood in the Battle of Jutland ( 31 May – 1 June 1916). The battle was a tactical victory for the German Empire but a strategic victory for the United Kingdom. In 1918 Albert transferred to the newly-created Royal Air Force but did not see any further action in the war, largely through ill health caused by a duodenal ulcer. After the war, Albert studied history, economics and civics for a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, from October 1919.

In 1920 Prince Albert was created Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney. He then began to take on royal duties, representing his father, King George V. Upon taking the throne, he became an Admiral of the Fleet in the Royal Navy.


It was unusual, in a time when royals were expected to marry fellow royals, that Albert had a great deal of freedom in choosing a prospective wife. In 1920 he met Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the youngest daughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and set his sights on marrying her. Although Lady Elizabeth was a direct descendent of King Robert I of Scotland and King Henry VII of England, she was in British law a commoner. She rejected his proposal twice and hesitated for nearly two years reportedly because she was reluctant to make the sacrifices necessary to become a member of the royal family. However, it has been alleged that she had intended to marry Edward, an engagement between them was even gossiped about in the papers, but historians assume that this is simply a case of misreporting. In the words of the Countess of Strathmore, Albert would be "made or marred" by his choice of wife and after a protracted courtship Elizabeth agreed to marry him. However, in an interview just before her marriage Lady Elizabeth denied having turned down Albert: "Do you think I am the sort of person Bertie would have to ask twice?" They were married on 26 April 1923 in Westminster Abbey. The newly-formed BBC wished to record and broadcast the event on radio, but the Chapter vetoed the idea (although the Dean, Herbert Edward Ryle was in favour). Lady Elizabeth was styled Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York after their marriage. At that time, Albert's marriage to a British commoner was considered a modernising gesture.

The Duke and Duchess of York had two children:

  • Elizabeth II (born 21 April 1926)
  • Princess Margaret ( 21 August 1930 — 9 February 2002).

The Duke and Duchess lived a relatively sheltered life at their London residence, 145 Piccadilly; one of the few stirs was when the Canadian Prime Minister, R. B. Bennett considered the Duke for Governor General of Canada in 1931 — a proposal which the King rejected on the advice of his ministers.

Reluctant king

Monarchical Styles of
King George VI of the United Kingdom
Reference style: His Majesty
Spoken style: Your Majesty
Alternative style: Sir

On January 20, 1936, King George V died and Prince Edward ascended the throne as Edward VIII. As he had no children, Albert was now the heir presumptive to the throne until the unmarried Edward VIII had any legitimate children, or died. George V had had severe reservations about Edward, saying, "I pray God that my eldest son will never marry and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne." Less than a year later on December 11, 1936, Edward VIII abdicated the throne in order to marry his love, Wallis Warfield Simpson. Thus Prince Albert, Duke of York, was now 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."

It is alleged that there was brief speculation as to the desirability of bypassing him and his brother, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, in favour of the younger brother Prince George, Duke of Kent. This seems to have been suggested on the grounds that Prince George was the only brother with, at that time, a son.

Albert assumed the style and title King George VI to emphasise continuity with his father and restore confidence in the monarchy. His first act was to confer upon his brother the title HRH The Duke of Windsor. Three days after his accession, on his forty-first birthday, he invested the Queen with the Order of the Garter.


The beginning of George VI's reign was taken up by questions surrounding his predecessor and brother, whose titles, style and position were uncertain. He had been introduced as "His Royal Highness Prince Edward" for the Abdication broadcast but George VI felt that by abdicating and renouncing the succession Edward had lost the right to bear Royal titles, including "Royal Highness". In settling the issue, George VI created Edward the Duke of Windsor, and the Letters Patent creating the dukedom entitled Edward to be styled His Royal Highness, but prevented any wife and children from being similarly styled. George VI was also forced to buy the royal houses of Balmoral Castle and Sandringham House from Prince Edward, as these were private properties and did not pass to George VI on his accession.

George VI's coronation took place on 12 May 1937—the intended date of Edward's coronation. In a break with tradition, Queen Mary attended the coronation as a show of support for her son. There was no durbar held in Delhi for George VI, as had occurred for his father, as the cost would have been a burden to the government of India in the depths of the Depression. Rising Indian nationalism made the welcome which the royal couple would have received likely to be muted at best, and a prolonged absence from Britain would have been undesirable in the tense period before World War II without the strategic advantages of the North American tour which in the event was undertaken in 1939.

The growing likelihood of war erupting in Europe would dominate the reign of King George VI. Initially the King and Queen took an appeasement stance against Adolf Hitler, supporting the policy of Neville Chamberlain. The King and Queen greeted Chamberlain on his return from negotiating the Munich Agreement in 1938, and invited him to appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with them, sparking anger among anti-appeasement MPs including Winston Churchill.

In 1939, the King and Queen undertook an extensive tour of Canada ,from which they made a shorter visit to the United States of America. George was the first reigning monarch to visit either of these countries. The royal couple were accompanied throughout the trip to the United States by Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, and not a British minister, meaning they were present as King and Queen of Canada, a measure intended to placate the strong isolationist tendencies among the North American public vis-à-vis the developing tensions in Europe. Although the aim of the tour was nevertheless mainly political, to shore up Atlantic support for Britain in any upcoming war, the King and Queen were extremely enthusiastically received by the Canadian public and the spectre of Edward VIII's charisma was comprehensively dispelled. They were also warmly received by the American people, visiting the 1939 New York World's Fair and staying at the White House with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and at his private estate at Hyde Park, New York.

When war broke out in 1939, George VI and his wife resolved to stay in London and not flee to Canada, as had been suggested. The King and Queen officially stayed in Buckingham Palace throughout the war, although they often escaped to Windsor Castle to avoid bombing raids. George VI and Queen Elizabeth narrowly avoided death when two German bombs exploded in a courtyard at Buckingham Palace.

Throughout the war, the King and Queen provided morale-boosting visits throughout the UK, visiting bomb sites and munition factories. The Royal Family adhered to rationing restrictions in the country at the time, indeed, Eleanor Roosevelt during her stay at Buckingham Palace during the war reported expressly on the rationed food served in the Palace and the limited bathwater that was permitted.

It has been suggested that a strong bond of friendship was forged between the King and Queen and President and Mrs Roosevelt during the 1939 Royal Tour, which had major significance in the relations between the United States and Great Britain through the war years. But there have never been credible suggestions that the King took any strategic role in the War; his frequent letters to the President were mostly unanswered and it was, of course Roosevelt's relationship with Churchill that was critical. Eleanor Roosevelt took a wry view of the utility of kings and queens and the substance of George and Elizabeth ("a little self-consciously regal," was her verdict on Elizabeth).

Illness and death

A plaque on the Manchester Town Hall records George VI's titles before giving up the title Emperor of India.
A plaque on the Manchester Town Hall records George VI's titles before giving up the title Emperor of India.

The war had taken its toll on the King's health. This was exacerbated by his heavy smoking and subsequent development of lung cancer. Increasingly his daughter Princess Elizabeth, the heiress presumptive to the throne, would take on more of the royal duties as her father's health deteriorated. In the autumn of 1951 a cancerous lung was removed.

On 6 February 1952, George VI died in his sleep at Sandringham House in Norfolk, at the age of 56. He was the only British monarch of modern times whose death was not observed and whose precise moment of death was not recorded. His funeral took place on February 15, and he was buried in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. In 2002, the body of his wife Elizabeth and the ashes of his daughter Princess Margaret were interred in a tomb alongside him.

Empire to Commonwealth

George VI's reign saw the acceleration of the dissolution of the British Empire, which had begun with the Balfour Declaration at the Imperial Conference of 1926, when the Commonwealth came into being and the Dominions were acknowledged to have evolved into sovereign states over a period of years previous — the declaration was formalised in the Statute of Westminster, 1931 (Imp.). Britain's brief League of Nations Mandate over Iraq ended in 1932 with Iraqi independence without membership in the as-yet ill-defined Commonwealth even being considered. This process gathered pace after World War II. Transjordan became independent as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1946, Burma in January 1948 and Palestine (although divided between Israel and the Arab states) that May; all three opted out of the Commonwealth. After declaring itself a Republic, southern Ireland left the Commonwealth the following year. India became the two independent dominions of India and Pakistan, with George VI relinquishing the title of Emperor of India and

(a) briefly remaining as King of India until that country enacted a Constitution which declared it to be a republic in 1950 (though India did elect to remain in the Commonwealth as a republic and to recognise George VI as Head of the Commonwealth, a title now incorporated into the regal style, although it is not clear whether the title is hereditary) and
(b) as King of Pakistan, succeeded by his daughter Elizabeth II as Queen of Pakistan, until 1956 when Pakistan similarly enacted a Constitution declaring it to be a republic.
Statue of George VI at Carlton House Terrace, London
Statue of George VI at Carlton House Terrace, London


George VI was played by Andrew Ray in the 1976 Thames Television drama about his brother, Edward and Mrs Simpson. A biographical television series, Bertie and Elizabeth, was broadcast on BBC in 2003. The series was also broadcast on PBS as a part of the Masterpiece Theatre series in March 2005.

Titles from birth to death

1895-1898: His Highness Prince Albert of York
1898-1901: His Royal Highness Prince Albert of York
1901: His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Cornwall and York
1901-1910: His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Wales
1910-1920: His Royal Highness The Prince Albert
1920-1936: His Royal Highness The Duke of York
1936-1952: His Majesty The King (also Emperor of India until 1947: the title was formally dissolved by Order-in-Council in 1948 but the King ceased to use it immediately upon Indian and Pakistani Independence 14/15 August 1947)

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