Born: 14th December 1895, York Cottage, Norfolk
Son of George V and Mary of Teck
Married: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, 1923
Died: 6th February 1952, Sandringham House Norfolk
George VI (born Albert Frederick Arthur George, known to the family as Bertie) was born during his great-grandmother Queen Victoria’s reign. At this time Britain held a vast Empire covering a third of the world. Upon his birth, Bertie was 4th in line to the throne, and as the second son, unlikely to ultimately be king. His brothers abdication in 1936 drastically altered the course of history for the British Monarchy, and pushed Bertie into a role he was untrained and unprepared for. His reign was marred by the Second World War, which had an impact on his health and was attributed to his premature death at the age of 56. Despite this, his reign was considered positive and a stabilising after the difficulty of the abdication crisis and the war.
As a boy, Bertie grew up alongside his elder brother David who was only 18-months older. He was a sickly child, of a nervous disposition and had a stammer which he did eventually overcome in later life. He had a difficult relationship with his father whom he was intimidated by. As was common for royal men, he was enrolled in the Royal Navy and studied for two years at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. Once trained he served on HMS ‘Cumberland’ in the West Indies and Canada, and then on HMS ‘Collingwood’, which he severed on board during the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. After the war, he qualified as an pilot in the newly established Royal Air Force and was promptly promoted to Squadron leader. He also studied at Cambridge for a year, before taking on Royal duties full time.
The second son of the King, Bertie was not in the limelight like his brother, the Prince of Wales, however he was regarded as hard working and compassionate. He championed the poor and was named President of the Industrial Welfare Society for improving working conditions. This drew parallels to his great-grandfather and namesake Prince Albert 50 years earlier. In 1920 Bertie was introduced to his future wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and was immediately infatuated with her. He proposed to her twice, both times rejected owing to her reluctance to be part of the royal family however on the third time she accepted. The couple were married in April 1923 in Westminster Abbey. Two daughters were to follow, Elizabeth (known by family as Lilibet) and Margaret. The family lived a fairly sheltered life at their residence in Piccadilly, and Bertie maintained a loving a close relationship with his daughters and wife, very different to his upbringing.
In January 1936 his father, George V died leaving the throne to David (known as Edward VIII), however David had not married and so had no heirs. He had enjoyed a fun life as the popular Prince of Wales, socialising and womanising. George V had not been impressed by his eldest son’s attitude and famously said ‘the boy will ruin himself within 12-months’. This comment turned out to be true and on the 11th December 1936 David abdicated due his inability to rule without he woman he loved. This was referring to the twice divorced Wallis Simpson who was deemed by government as most unsuitable as a Queen Consort. David refused for her to remain as his mistress and take a more appropriate wife, which was urged by advisors. This left Bertie the great burden of becoming king.
On Bertie’s accession to the throne, he assumed the name George to add continuity to his father in a hope to stabilise the country after the crisis of the past year. To some, 1936 became know as the ‘year of three kings’, and made an impact on the publics perception of monarchy. His early reign was overshadowed by the war which rocked Britain with the extensive destruction to the country. The King and Queen were reluctant to leave London, and therefore endured the same fate as Londoners during the Blitz, and gain respect from many. Buckingham palace was hit, showing that war does effect everyone. They visited bombed-out homes and munitions factors to help raise moral. At the end of the war, the royal family along with Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared on the balcony of the Palace to the joy of many people below.
The end of the war brought the end to the British Empire. George VI was the last Emperor of India and saw the establishment of Pakistan in 1947. The formation of the Commonwealth of Nation was founded of many former British Territories and Bertie was active in encouraging the development as Independent countries. By 1950 Bertie’s health was in decline. He had experienced many health problems throughout his life and as a heavy smoker, he developed lung cancer. He died 5 months after lung surgery in February 1952, leaving his 25 year old daughter Elizabeth, to the throne.