by Scott Mehl
King George VI of the United Kingdom
King George VI, the late father of Queen Elizabeth II, was the second son of King George V and Queen Mary (at the time of his birth, they were the Duke and Duchess of York). He was born His Highness Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George of York on December 14, 1895, at York Cottage, his parents’ home on the grounds of Sandringham. Born on the anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, and also her daughter, Princess Alice, his birth brought some joy and happiness to what was otherwise a very sad day in the British Royal Family. In order to help ease the pain of the day, it was decided to name him Albert, in honor of his great-grandfather. Informally, he became known as Bertie. Three years later, Queen Victoria issued Letters Patent granting the style of Royal Highness to all the children of The Duke and Duchess of York.
Bertie had five siblings:
- King Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor (1894-1972)
- Mary, Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood (1897-1965)
- Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1900-1974)
- Prince George, Duke of Kent (1902-1942)
- Prince John (1905-1919)
He was christened at St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Sandringham, on February 17, 1896, by the Bishop of Norwich. His godparents were:
- The Crown Prince of Denmark, later King Frederik VIII (his paternal great-uncle)
- The Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (his maternal great-uncle, by marriage)
- Prince Arthur, The Duke of Connaught (his paternal great-uncle)
- Prince Adolphus of Teck, later The Marquess of Cambridge (his maternal uncle)
- Queen Victoria (his great-grandmother)
- Empress Friedrich of Germany – Victoria, Princess Royal (his paternal great-aunt)
- The Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (his maternal great-aunt)
- Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife (his paternal aunt)
Along with his siblings, he was raised at York Cottage and York House, St James’ Palace. In 1901, Queen Victoria died, and his grandfather became King Edward VII. His parents became the Prince and Princess of Wales, and soon after the family moved to Marlborough House, just next to St James’ Palace. A delicate child, he was educated privately for several years, before enrolling at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, in 1909. The following year, his grandfather died, and his father became King George V. Bertie was now 2nd in line to the throne, behind his elder brother.
He continued his military training at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. He trained and served on HMS Cumberland and HMS Collingwood, and in 1914 began service in World War I. Aboard the Collingswood, he saw combat in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The following year he underwent surgery for an ulcer and did not return to a combat position. By 1918, he had transferred to the Royal Air Force, eventually becoming qualified as a pilot – the first British royal to do so. He served with the Independent Air Force, stationed in France until the end of the war, finally returning to Britain in early 1919.
He enrolled for a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, studying history, economics, and history, and then in 1920 began taking on more royal duties, having been created him Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killarney by his father. He traveled extensively representing his father, however, he was always overshadowed by his elder brother, The Prince of Wales. Bertie was painfully shy and suffered from a stammer which made him very uncomfortable speaking publicly, while his brother was immensely confident and outgoing.
As the second son of the Sovereign, Bertie was never expected to inherit the throne. His role, as traditionally held, would be to support his father, and then later his brother. This allowed him a bit more freedom when it came to choosing a bride. He fell in love with a daughter of the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. After several proposals, she finally accepted, and the couple married in Westminster Abbey on April 26, 1923.
The Duke and new Duchess took up residence at 145 Piccadilly in London and threw themselves into royal duty. And in 1926, the Duke of York, an avid tennis fan, actually played doubles in the Wimbledon Championship, partnering with his friend and equerry, Sir Louis Greig.
By 1930, two daughters had been born – Elizabeth in 1926, and Margaret Rose in 1930. The family enjoyed a rather quiet life, aside from the Duke and Duchess’ royal duties. However, things were soon to change for the York family. January 1936, Bertie’s father, King George V, passed away at Sandringham. His elder brother became King Edward VIII and Bertie became heir-presumptive to the throne. The new King was unmarried and involved with Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American. This relationship would soon bring about unheard of events in the British monarchy. Failing to reach an agreement with the Government by which he and Mrs. Simpson could marry, King Edward VIII abdicated on December 11, 1936, giving his famous “without the woman I love” speech on the radio. Upon Parliament’s passing of the Abdication Act, Bertie became the new King of the United Kingdom, taking the regnal name George VI, in honor of his father, and to stress the continuity of the British monarchy.
King George VI continued to work with Lionel Logue, a speech therapist he began seeing in the mid-1920s, to help with his stammer, as depicted in the film, The King’s Speech. The two would remain friends for the rest of the King’s life. His coronation was held in May 1937, the date originally planned for King Edward VIII. At the time, he was also Emperor of India and would remain so until India’s independence in 1947.
The King and Queen traveled extensively, including a famous visit to Canada and the United States in mid-1939. Although he’d been there several times before, he became the first Canadian sovereign to visit the country. Following a successful tour of Canada, they visited the United States as guests of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, staying with the Roosevelts at the White House as well as their Hyde Park estate in NY. Soon after their trip, Britain declared war on Germany, and the country was drawn into World War II.
During the war, the King traveled abroad to visit troops, and along with his wife, traveled around Britain to help rally support and boost morale. Their daughters were sent off to Windsor Castle for the duration of the war, fearing bomb attacks on Buckingham Palace, while the King and Queen often spent their days at Buckingham Palace usually returning to Windsor in the evenings.
Finally, in 1945, peace was declared. The war was over, and now the country began to focus on healing and rebuilding. Again, the King and Queen were leading the drive to return Britain to its former glory. The next few years saw the end of the British Empire and the establishment of the Commonwealth. They saw the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten and the birth of grandchildren…and succession of the monarchy.
By 1949, the King’s health was failing. He was suffering from lung cancer and several other ailments. Elizabeth and Philip began to take on more royal duties, often filling in for the King when he was unable to attend events. A tour of Australia had been postponed and in January 1952, Elizabeth and Philip set off in the King’s place. He came to the airport to see them off, looking drawn and frail. It would be the last time he would see his daughter. On February 6, 1952, King George VI passed away in his sleep at Sandringham. He was 56 years old. Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II, was notified and returned immediately to London.
His body was taken to St Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham, for two days before laying-in-state at Westminster Hall in London. His funeral was held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, on February 15. His remains were initially interred in the Royal Vault and were later moved to the George VI Memorial Chapel in 1969.