KING GEORGE VI
Born December 14, 1895
Died February 6, 1952
Married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon April 26, 1923
Two Children: Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret
Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George was
born into one of the world’s most prominent families.
Bertie, as he was known, was the great-grandson of Queen
Victoria, who reigned over an empire that included one-quarter
of the world’s population and territory, and was the
world’s premier power. As a boy, Bertie was extremely
shy, slow at school, homely, knock-kneed, and developed
a stammer at age seven. As a result, he grew up believing
he was an inadequate outsider. He had difficulty keeping
up with his confident, older brother David, later King Edward
VIII. His father, the future George V, was a remote and
controlling figure, less an encouraging parent than a sharp-tongued
naval commander, committed to maintaining the dignity of
the Crown and ensuring that his children adhere to its protocols
and traditions. Bertie inherited his father’s devotion
to duty and, more than his brothers, was all too prone to
subjugate himself to his sovereign father’s will,
despite the cost to his health and his psyche. Fortunately,
from his mother, Queen Mary, he also inherited a disposition
toward broad-mindedness that would ultimately serve him
At thirteen, Bertie was sent to Osborne, the naval college,
and was unprepared for its harsh demands. However, he found
a father figure there, Surgeon-Lieutenant Louis Greig, who
supported and encouraged him as his own father could not.
Following his brother David’s path to the Royal Naval
College at Dartmouth, and still haunted by a miserably inadequate
early education, Bertie placed near the bottom of his class,
compounding his feelings of estrangement and inadequacy.
It was a relief in September 1913 to begin training as an
ordinary midshipman on the battleship HMS Collingwood. Britain
declared war on Germany in August 1914, and World War I
began. Before the prince could even contemplate going into
battle, he was incapacitated with a recurrence of the severe
stomach problems that had plagued him ever since early childhood.
He spent periods of the war in the hospital.
While his brother David, now Prince of Wales, was winning
accolades during his celebrated tours of the Commonwealth,
Bertie was struggling to overcome his frailties and find
a role for himself at home. He admired his brother’s
phenomenal charm and international successes, but felt diminished
by them. His father bucked him up by bestowing on him the
oldest dukedom in England, the ancient title of Duke of
York. King George V thought his younger son, the Duke of
York, who shared his sense of responsibility and a sturdy
integrity, would make a superb king.
In June, 1920, twenty-four-year-old Prince Albert noticed
Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon at a dinner dance in London. Prince
Albert was good-looking and athletic, but he was also shy,
vulnerable, and intimidated by his own stammer. He would
later acknowledge he had fallen in love with Elizabeth that
evening, although it had taken him time to realize it. She
turned down several marriage proposals from him before he
succeeded in convincing her to marry him, join the royal
family, and endure the scrutiny of the press. Once the duke
had the consistent love, understanding, and support that
he had craved all his life, he blossomed. A natural underlying
gaiety emerged and his awkwardness and self-consciousness
softened into greater spontaneity. Over time as he felt
more secure, his natural common sense ripened into wisdom
and sound judgment.
As the first royal family member to focus on industrial
relations, he became known as the "Industrial Prince."
He helped the monarchy begin to shift from charitable and
social activities to an emphasis on social and economic
development. After Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist,
helped him overcome his speech defect, he was able to undertake
several highly successful Commonwealth tours including a
trip to Australia and New Zealand in 1927.
In the mid 1930s he led a deeply satisfying home life with
his wife and two daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, but he
was troubled by his older brother’s affair with a
married American divorcee named Wallis Warfield Simpson.
When his father King George VI died in January 1936, he
watched with increasing dread as his brother, the new King
Edward VIII, flouted convention and came into collision
with the political and religious hierarchy over his desire
to marry Wallis. He felt woefully unprepared to reign, but
after his brother abdicated in December 1936, he summoned
his remarkable courage and will power, and took over as
king. He was crowned King George VI in May 1937 at a time
when European dictators were beginning to rattle their swords.
In 1938 and 1939 he made extremely successful state visits
to France, Canada and the United States and shored up alliances
with those countries.
When Britain declared war on Germany, after the Nazi invasion
of Poland in September 1939, he committed himself fully
to encouraging the nation and its troops. In an effort to
bolster morale, he crisscrossed the country visiting troops,
munitions factories, supply docks and bomb-damaged neighborhoods.
During the Blitz he refused to leave London; he was proud
when Buckingham Palace was bombed and he was nearly killed.
Expanding his wartime role as monarch, he forged a remarkable
partnership with Winston Churchill and another with Franklin
Roosevelt. They came to value his wise counsel. By nature
a sensitive man, he was worn out by the stress of the war.
After peace was declared in April 1945, he faced a new set
of post-war problems as the country shifted to a Welfare
State and the Empire became a Commonwealth of disparate
nations. In the last seven years of his life, he reigned
over a country that faced continuing economic hardships
stemming from the inordinate costs of the war. In 1947 he
was too worried about Britain’s hardships to rest
during a long winter cruise to South Africa, where he made
a state visit with his wife and children.
In his last years he developed arteriosclerosis which made
it difficult at times for him to engage in his beloved pastime
of shooting at his Sandringham estate in Norfolk. His physicians
diagnosed cancer in 1951. He died in his sleep on February
6, 1952 at the young age of fifty-six. During his reign
he had restored the popularity and respectability of the
monarchy and had played a big role in renewed British-American
relations. He came to be seen as a symbol of the courage
and continuity of Britain.