At the beginning of the 20e Century, few in Britain would have guessed that the shy and quiet son of King George V would ascend the throne and lead the United Kingdom through a great war like his father had. Having developed a stutter in his youth, the young prince, also known as “Bertie”, had to find a way to overcome it after his brother Edward’s love life created a constitutional crisis. As king, George VI proved more than capable of rising to the challenge, becoming an example of strength through one of Britain’s most difficult times. If illness shortened his reign, his life still produced a large number of interesting facts.
Better have a spare
King George VI’s accession to the throne is well documented and depicted in films such as The King’s Speech. George never intended to be king, but his brother Edward’s insistence on marrying the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson created a constitutional crisis as Parliament objected to Edward as that head of the Church of England marries a divorcee with still-living husbands. Edward was convinced by the government that he should abdicate and was on the throne for less than a year before George ascended.
Save this date
As Edward never had a coronation, the date originally reserved for him was used for George instead.
A man of few words
Perhaps due to the stutter he struggled with for most of his life, Geroge could be a very taciturn conversationalist. In one reported instance, Clement Atlee came to Buckingham Palace for the new Prime Minister’s first meeting with the King. Not a big talker himself, after an awkward silence, Atlee simply told King George, “I won the election,” to which the King replied, “I know. I heard it on the six o’clock news.
An exaggeration in the film The King’s Speech occurs when Geroge and his family watch news footage of Adolf Hitler, and the King pretends not to know what Hitler is saying. In fact, George was fluent in four languages, including German, French, and Latin.
No retreat or capitulation
One of the actions that endeared King George VI to the public was staying at Buckingham Palace during World War II. The government had urged him and Queen Elizabeth Bowles-Lyon to withdraw from London for their own safety, but they refused. They even stayed at the palace after the palace was targeted no less than three times, with the third actually damaging a good portion of the building.
She sells shells by the sea
As a warm-up exercise before any speech, King George and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, did tongue twisters.
George’s reign saw the end of the British Empire and the start of the Commonwealth of Nations, an alliance between the United Kingdom and the now sovereign former colonies. King George VI became the first head of the Commonwealth when it was established in 1949. Previously the Commonwealth was called the British Commonwealth, but that term was dropped with the London Declaration and with all member nations truly on equal footing. ‘equality. foot for the first time.
leave school early
Unlike Edward, who dropped out of college because he wasn’t a very good student, George was an excellent student. However, King George V decided to pull his son out of college after just a year to start working in the family business and touring the country.
King George VI made history in 1939 when he became the first reigning monarch to visit the United States. Other royals had visited in the past, of course, including her brother Edward when Edward was just a prince. The visit was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s plans to strengthen ties with Britain at the start of World War II. The Roosevelts entertained King George and Queen Elizabeth at their Hyde Park home and introduced the royal couple to that great American delicacy: the hot dog. Apparently King George asked for seconds during the picnic which also included more royal dishes.
The BBC had wanted to broadcast George and Elizabeth’s wedding in 1923, but Westminster Abbey flatly refused what they considered a tasteless idea. My, how times have changed….