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George VI

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George VI
King of Great Britain, Ireland and the British
dominions beyond the Seas; Emperor of India
Formal portrait, circa 1940–46.
Reign 11 December 1936 6 February 1952
Emperor of India: 1936–47
King of Ireland: 1936–49
Coronation 12 May 1937
Predecessor Edward VIII
Successor Elizabeth II
Spouse Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Elizabeth II
Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
Full name
Albert Frederick Arthur George
Father George V
Mother Mary of Teck
Burial 15 February 1952
St George's Chapel, Windsor, England

George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India (until 1947) and the last King of Ireland (until 1949).

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. He served in the Royal Navy during World War I, and after the war took on the usual round of public engagements. He married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923, and they had two daughters, Elizabeth (who succeeded him as Queen Elizabeth II) and Margaret.

At the death of his father in 1936, the future George VI's brother ascended the throne as Edward VIII. However, less than a year later Edward expressed his desire to marry the twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. For political and religious reasons, the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, advised Edward that he could not marry Mrs. Simpson and remain king. So, Edward abdicated in order to marry. By reason of this abdication, unique in the history of the British Isles (previous abdications were forced by military or political pressures), George VI ascended the throne as the third monarch of the House of Windsor.

Within 24 hours of his accession the Irish parliament (the Oireachtas) passed the External Relations Act, which essentially removed the power of the monarch in Ireland. Further events greatly altered the position of the monarchy during his reign: three years after his accession, his realms, except Ireland, were at war with Nazi Germany. In the next two years, war with Italy and the Empire of Japan followed. A major consequence of World War II was the decline of the British Empire, with the United States and the Soviet Union rising as pre-eminent world powers. With the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, and the foundation of the Republic of Ireland in 1949, King George's reign saw the acceleration of the break-up of the British Empire and its transition into the Commonwealth of Nations.

Birth and family

The future George VI was formally known as Prince Albert, and informally as "Bertie" to his family. He was born at York Cottage, on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, during the reign of his great-grandmother Queen Victoria. His father was Prince George, Duke of York (later King George V), the second and eldest-surviving son of the Prince (later Edward VII) and Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra). 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.

Albert's birthday ( 14 December 1895) was the anniversary of the death of his great-grandfather, Prince Albert, the Prince Consort. Uncertain of how the Prince Consort's widow Queen Victoria would take the news of the birth, 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". He was baptised Albert Frederick Arthur George at St Mary Magdalene's Church near Sandringham three months later. 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". As the second son, Albert was fourth in line for the throne at birth. The third in line to the throne, his older brother Edward, was born more than a year earlier, on 23 June 1894.

Early life

Four kings: King Edward VII (far right), his son George, Prince of Wales (far left), and grandsons Princes Albert (foreground) and Edward (rear), c. 1908.

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 that granted the children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales the style Royal Highness, and at age two, Albert became His Royal Highness Prince Albert of York.

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 day-to-day upbringing, as was the norm in aristocratic families of that era. Albert developed a stammer that lasted for many years, as well as chronic stomach problems. He suffered from knock knees, and to correct this he was forced to wear splints, which were extremely painful. He was also forced to write with his right hand although he was naturally left-handed.

Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, and 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 to the throne, and Prince Albert was third.

Military career and education

From 1909, Albert attended the Royal Naval College, Osborne as a naval cadet. He came bottom of the class in the final examination, but despite this he 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 and one year later began service in World War I. His fellow officers gave their royal peer the ordinary nickname "Mr. Johnson". He saw action aboard HMS Collingwood in the Battle of Jutland ( 31 May – 1 June 1916), which ended as a tactical victory for Germany but a strategic victory for the United Kingdom. Albert did not see further action in the War largely because of ill health caused by a duodenal ulcer. In February 1918 Prince Albert was appointed Officer in Charge of Boys at the Royal Naval Air Service's training establishment at Cranwell. With the establishment of the Royal Air Force later that year and the transfer of Cranwell from Navy to Air Force control, Albert transferred from the Royal Navy to the Royal Air Force. He was later appointed Officer Commanding Number 4 Squadron of the Boys' Wing at Cranwell and he remained there until August 1918. During the closing weeks of the War, Albert served on the staff of the Independent Air Force at its headquarters in Nancy.

After the war, Prince Albert studied history, economics and civics for a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, from October 1919. On 3 June 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, the King, touring coal mines, factories, and railyards, acquiring the nickname of the "Industrial Prince".

His speech impediment, and his embarrassment over it, together with his tendency to shyness, caused him to appear much less impressive than his older brother the Prince of Wales. However, he was physically active and enjoyed playing tennis.


British Royalty
House of Windsor
Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (1837-1952).svg
George VI
Elizabeth II
Margaret, Countess of Snowdon

In a time when royals were expected to marry fellow royals, it was unusual 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 Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck. He became determined to marry her.

Although Lady Elizabeth was a descendant of King Robert I of Scotland and King Henry VII of England, she was, according to 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. In the words of Lady Elizabeth's mother, Albert would be "made or marred" by his choice of wife, and after a protracted courtship Elizabeth agreed to marry him.

They were married on 26 April 1923 in Westminster Abbey. The newly-formed British Broadcasting Company 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. Albert's marriage to a British commoner was considered a modernising gesture.

The Duke and Duchess of York had two children, Elizabeth (called "Lilibet" by the family), born 21 April 1926, who succeeded her father as Elizabeth II, and Margaret, born 21 August 1930. The Duke and Duchess and their two daughters lived a relatively sheltered life at their London residence, 145 Piccadilly. 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 the King rejected on the advice of his ministers.

The Duchess helped him overcome his dread (due to stammering) of public speaking. He was introduced by her to Lionel Logue, an Australian-born expert on speech. The Duke and Logue practiced breathing exercises, and the Duchess rehearsed with him patiently. As a result of the training, the Duke's opening address at Australia's Federal Parliament at Canberra in 1927 went successfully, and he was able to speak thereafter with only a slight hesitation.

Reluctant king

On 20 January 1936, King George V died and Prince Edward ascended the throne as Edward VIII. As Edward had no children, Albert was the heir presumptive to the throne until his unmarried brother 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 11 December 1936, Edward VIII abdicated the throne in order to marry his mistress, the twice-divorced Wallis Warfield Simpson. Edward had been advised by 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 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."

Courtier and journalist Dermot Morroh alleged that there was brief speculation as to the desirability of bypassing Albert 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 at that time the only brother with a son.


Albert assumed the style and title King George VI to emphasise continuity with his father and restore confidence in the monarchy. 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's first act as King was to confer upon his brother the title HRH The Duke of Windsor. But the Letters Patent creating the dukedom prevented any wife and children from bearing royal styles. George VI was also forced to buy the royal residences of Balmoral Castle and Sandringham House from Prince Edward, as these were private properties and did not pass to George VI on his accession. Three days after his accession, on his 41st birthday, he invested his wife, the new Queen, with the Order of the Garter.

George VI's coronation took place on 12 May 1937, the previously 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. Rising Indian nationalism made the welcome that 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. Two overseas tours were undertaken, to France and North America, both of which promised greater strategic advantages in the event of war.

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 stance towards Adolf 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. This public association of the monarchy with a politician was exceptional, as balcony appearances were traditionally restricted to the royal family.

George VI, as King of Canada, grants Royal Assent to laws in the Canadian Senate, 19 May 1939. His consort, Queen Elizabeth, is to the right.

In 1939, the King and Queen undertook an extensive tour of Canada, during which they made a brief visit to the United States. From Ottawa, the royal couple were accompanied throughout the trip by the Prime Minister of Canada, and not a British minister, meaning they were present in both Canada and the US as King and Queen of Canada. George was the first reigning Monarch of Canada to visit North America, though he had been to his Canadian realm previously as Prince Albert and as Duke of York. The Canadian Prime Minister at the time, William Lyon Mackenzie King, hoped that the King's presence in Canada would allow him to demonstrate in reality the principles of the Statute of Westminster 1931, which gave full self-government to the Dominions and recognised each Dominion as having a separate crown. Thus, at his Canadian residence, Rideau Hall, George VI personally accepted and approved the Letter of Credence of the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Daniel Calhoun Roper. The official Royal Tour historian, Gustave Lanctot, stated: "When Their Majesties walked into their Canadian residence, the Statute of Westminster had assumed full reality: the King of Canada had come home."

The entire trip was a measure intended to soften the strong isolationist tendencies among the North American public vis-à-vis the developing tensions in Europe. Although the aim of the tour was mainly political, to shore up Atlantic support for Britain in any upcoming war, the King and Queen were enthusiastically received by the Canadian public. The fear that George would be unfavourably compared to his predecessor, Edward VIII, was dispelled. They were also warmly received by the American people, visiting the 1939 New York World's Fair and staying with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House 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 usually spent nights at 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 while they were there.

Eleanor Roosevelt (centre), King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London, 23 October 1942.

In 1940 Neville Chamberlain was replaced as Prime Minister by Winston Churchill. Throughout the war, the King and Queen provided morale-boosting visits throughout the UK, visiting bomb sites and munitions factories. The Royal Family adhered to rationing restrictions in the country at the time; indeed, U.S. First Lady 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.

Author Will Swift has suggested that a strong bond of friendship was forged between the King and Queen and President and First Lady during the 1939 Royal Tour, which had major significance in the relations between the United States and the United Kingdom through the war years. However, 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 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).

In 1945, in an echo of Chamberlain's appearance, the King invited Churchill to appear with him on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for the VE Day celebrations.

Empire to Commonwealth

Statue of George VI at Carlton House Terrace, London.

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—a declaration which was formalised in the Statute of Westminster 1931.

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. George relinquished the title of Emperor of India, and became King of India and King of Pakistan instead. He remained King of Pakistan until his death, but in 1950 George ceased to be King of India when that country became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, recognising George's new title as Head of the Commonwealth.

Illness and death

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. Increasingly his daughter Princess Elizabeth, the heiress presumptive, took on more royal duties as her father's health deteriorated. In September 1951, George VI underwent a pneumonectomy where his left lung was removed following the discovery of a malignant tumour.

In January 1952, despite advice from those close to him, he went to the airport to see off Princess Elizabeth, who was going on a tour of Australia via Kenya. Before takeoff he reportedly said to Bobo Macdonald, Elizabeth's nanny in childhood who was accompanying her on the trip, "Take care of Lilibet for me", and she promised she would. It was the last time he was to see her.

On 6 February 1952, George VI died from a coronary thrombosis in his sleep at Sandringham House in Norfolk, at the age of 56. After lying in state at Westminster Hall, his funeral took place on 15 February, and he was interred in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. In 2002, the remains of his wife Queen Elizabeth and the ashes of his daughter, Princess Margaret, were interred in the King George VI Memorial Chapel in St George's Chapel alongside him.

He was succeeded by the next in line to the throne, his daughter Elizabeth, who became Queen Elizabeth II.


There are a number of geographical features, roads, and institutions named after George VI. These include King George Hospital in London; King George VI Highway and King George Station in the Metro Vancouver district of British Columbia; George VI Sound in Antarctica; and the King George VI Chase, a horse race in the United Kingdom.

A statue of the king is also found in the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens.

In popular culture

George has been portrayed on screen by:

  • Lyndon Brook in the BBC TV drama Churchill and the Generals (1979)
  • Owen Holder in the TV drama series Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy (1986)
  • James Wilby in the Carlton Television drama Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)
  • Anthony Andrews in the BBC TV series Cambridge Spies (2003)
  • Mike Rose in the TV drama Ike: Countdown to D-Day (2004)
  • Harry Enfield in the spoof Churchill: The Hollywood Years (2004)

Titles, styles and honours

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

Titles and styles

 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

  • 14 December 1895 28 May 1898: His Highness Prince Albert of York
  • 28 May 1898 22 January 1901: His Royal Highness Prince Albert of York
  • 22 January 1901 9 November 1901: His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Cornwall and York
  • 9 November 1901 6 May 1910: His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Wales
  • 6 May 1910 3 June 1920: His Royal Highness The Prince Albert
  • 3 June 1920 11 December 1936: His Royal Highness The Duke of York
    • in Scotland: May 1929: His Grace The Lord High Commissioner
  • 11 December 1936 6 February 1952: His Majesty The King

and, occasionally, outside of the United Kingdom, and with regard to India (until the King ceased to use the imperial title upon India's independence)

  • 1936–1947: His Imperial Majesty The King–Emperor
Flag of the Isle of Man.svg

Isle of Man:

  • 1936–1952: Lord of Mann
Flag of Guernsey.svg

Flag of Jersey.svg Islands of Guernsey & Jersey:

  • 1936–1952: Duke of Normandy
Royal styles of
George VI
Arms of the United Kingdom.svg
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sir

From his brother's ascension to the throne, on 20 January 1936, until his own accession, on 11 December 1936, Prince Albert held the style His Royal Highness, The Prince Albert, Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney.

Albert's arms as Duke of York.

His full style as king was, from 11 December 1936, George the Sixth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India. Following 1948 the style Emperor of India was dropped, and the King was styled George the Sixth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith.



The Duke of York bore the royal arms, differenced with a label argent of three points, the centre bearing an anchor azure—a difference later awarded to his grandson, Prince Andrew, Duke of York. As king, he bore the royal arms undifferenced.


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