August’s Royal of the Month is King George VI. He was an adored King of England with a surprisingly interesting story of how he became King, despite being the second son of King George V. King George VI is most noticeably recognised as our Queen’s father.
George VI was born on the 14 December 1895 as Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George at York Cottage at the Sandringham Estate. He was born in the House of Windsor and was the second son of King George V and Mary of Teck (Duchess of York), and had an older brother, Prince Edward VIII, with younger siblings Prince George Duke of Kent, Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester, Prince John of the United Kingdom and Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood.
His birth came on a very sad day – his great-grandfather, Prince Albert, had died. It was uncertain how Prince Albert’s wife, Queen Victoria, would take the news of a new addition to the family, especially after losing her husband. George VI’s father, George V, wrote to his son following the tragic news of his own father’s passing, proposing that the new born baby should be called Albert in remembrance. When Queen Victoria heard that the new baby was called Albert, she wrote to Mary, 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.”
Approving the baby’s name as Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, he was baptised three months later. He was known formally as His Royal Highness Princess Albert of York and informally as ‘Bertie’. His maternal grandmother, The Duchess of Teck (Mary of Teck’s mother), disapproved of the name Albert and wrote that she hoped that Albert’s last name “may supplant the less favoured one” – i.e. that it should be replaced with George.
George VI suffered from a speech impediment (most recently portrayed by Colin Firth in the film, The King’s Speech). Lionel League, a self-taught Australian speech therapist, cured him of his stammer, giving him the confidence to stand and speak in public.
During the WW1, George VI served in the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy before he married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (The Queen Mother) in 1923 at Westminster Abbey. He was the first member of the Royal Family to learn to fly. After WW1, he married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and they welcomed to daughters, Princess Elizabeth in 1926 and Princess Margaret Rose in 1930.
As the second heir to the throne, George never expected to rule so quickly. His father, George V, had been suffering from ill-health for years, becoming weaker and weaker. It emerged in 1986 that King George V was given a lethal sedative of morphine and cocaine on the night of 20 January 1936. George V sadly died that night.
Next in line to the throne was George VI’s brother, Prince Edward VIII, who ruled for less than one year. He abdicated the throne on 11 December 1936 to marry his lover, Wallis Simpson, leaving George VI King.
King George VI reigned for 15 years and restored confidence in the British monarchy. His coronation took place on 12 May 1937. WW2 broke out in 1939 and on 3 September 1939 King George VI delivered his famous speech, declaring that war had broken out. King George VI and Lady Elizabeth made the bold decision to stay in Buckingham Palace throughout the war, despite the German bombing. On 13 September 1940, two German bombs exploded onto Buckingham Palace’s courtyard – fortunately, King George VI and his family were not injured. Throughout the war, the King and Lady Elizabeth provided morale-boosting visits throughout the UK by visiting munitions factories, troops and bomb sites.
The stress of WW2 had taken its toll on King George VI’s health. Already suffering from lung cancer and arteriosclerosis, the King had to postpone his tour of Australia and New Zealand after suffering an arterial blockage in his right leg. In the King’s absence due to ill health, Princess Elizabeth took on more royal responsibilities. In September 1951, a malignant tumour was found on his left lung and subsequently, his left lung was removed.
On 31 January 1952, the King waved goodbye to Princess Elizabeth who was touring Australia via Kenya. On the morning of 6 February, sadly King George VI was found dead in his bed at Sandringham House. The King had died from coronary thrombosis in his sleep. He died at the young age of 56 – Prince Elizabeth flew back from Kenya as the new Queen, Elizabeth II.
His coffin rested in St Mary Magdalene Church, the same church he was baptised at, before lying in state at Westminster Hall from 11 February. The King’s funeral took place at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on 15 February. In 2002, his wife The Queen Mother, and his younger daughter, Princess Margaret passed away. Their final resting place is with King George VII at Windsor Castle.