George VI (1895-1952) was king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and until June 22, 1948, emperor of India. A reluctant king who took the throne after his brother abdicated in 1936, he was a courageous, inspirational, and effective head of state and unifying figure during the hard years of World War II, refusing to leave London during the Blitz.
He was born on December 14, 1895 as Albert Frederick Arthur George, the second son of King George V and his consort, Queen Victoria Mary. He was not trained to be king and always stood in the shadow of his charismatic older brother Edward, the prince of Wales. George was educated at Osborne and at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth; in 1915 during World War I he became a midshipman on H. M. S. Collingwood, in which he served as a sublieutenant in charge of a gun crew during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. In March 1918 he was transferred to the naval branch of the Royal Air Force and served as a pilot on the western front, rising to the rank of wing commander. After the war he spent a year studying history and economics at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1920 he was created Duke of York, and on April 26, 1923, he married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, daughter of Claud George Bowes-Lyon, Earl of Strathmore; they had two children, Princess Elizabeth, (b. 1926), who became Queen Elizabeth II, and Princess Margaret Rose (1930-2002). In 1924-1925 the duke and duchess visited Uganda and the Sudan, and in 1927, Australia and New Zealand.
On the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, in December 1936, the Duke of York became King George VI; he was crowned on May 12, 1937. In May and June 1939 the king and queen traveled across Canada to Vancouver and visited the United States; they were warmy received. President Franklin D. Roosevelt manipulated the visit to symbolize Anglo-American unity without stirring up the isolationists, to strengthen ties with Canada, to toughen British foreign policy, and to help make the British monarchy seem more human and democratic in American eyes.
Second World War
After the failure of the Chamberlain government in 1940, the king preferred Lord Halifax as Prime Minister, rather than Winston Churchill, but appointed Churchill because he had more support. The two worked smoothly together throughout the war. Both the king and queen played major symbolic roles in the war; they were indefatigable in visiting troops, munition factories, dockyards, and hospitals all over the country. All social classes appreciated how the royals shared the hopes, fears and hardships of the people. In December 1939 the king visited the British army in France, and in June 1943 he flew to see the victorious Allied forces in North Africa, visiting Algiers, Tripoli, and Malta. In 1944 he met the soldiers on Normandy beaches ten days after the Allied landing; in July he visited the battlefields in southern Italy and, in October, the newly conquered Belgium and the Netherlands. His identification with the people was a major factor in public confidence and satisfaction with the monarchy.
On February 1, 1947, the king, queen, and the princesses made a state visit to South Africa. Other trips were postponed indefinitely because of a circulatory ailment suffered by the king. In the fall of 1951 he underwent a serious operation for the resection of one lung. From this he recovered sufficiently to resume most of his duties, but on February 6, 1952, he died in his sleep and was succeeded by Queen Elizabeth II.
- Bradford, Sarah. The Reluctant King: The Life and Reign of George VI, 1895-1952 (1990) 496pp
- Judd, Denis. King George VI, 1895-1952. (1983). 266 pp.
- Wheeler-Bennett, John. King George VI: His Life and Reign (1958), the official biography by a leading scholar
- David Reynolds, "FDR's Foreign Policy and the British Royal Visit to the U.S.A., 1939." Historian 1983 45(4): 461-472. Issn: 0018-2370; Benjamin D. Rhodes, "The British Royal Visit of 1939 and the 'Psychological Approach' to the United States." Diplomatic History 1978 2(2): 197-211. Issn: 0145-2096