Happy Birthday

King George VI, George VI
Matson Photo Service/Library of Congress

Happy Birthday, King George VI

December 14, 2010
by findingDulcinea Staff
King George VI was a reluctant king who inherited the throne only after his older brother abdicated. George ably led his country during World War II and is now best remembered for a wartime speech dramatized in the 2010 Academy Award-winning film “The King’s Speech.”

The Life of George VI

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George VI was born Albert Frederick Arthur George in December 1895, the second son of Prince George (later King George V). As a child, he was sickly and nervous, and struggled with a pronounced stutter. He went on to attend a naval college before serving during World War I in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Prince Albert, as he was known, was not expected to inherit the throne. That honor was to fall to his older brother, Edward, who became King Edward VIII following their father’s death in January 1936. However, Edward wished to marry a divorced American woman, which violated the laws of the Church of England. On Dec. 11, 1936, Edward abdicated in order to marry and Albert became king, taking the name George VI.

George was unprepared for his role and is often described as a reluctant king. The early years of his reign were marked by the start of World War II. On Sept. 3, 1939, the day Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, he was called upon to deliver a speech broadcast nationally on radio. Having worked for 13 years with speech therapist Lionel Logue, George managed to overcome his stammer to give the speech.

George was initially an unpopular king, but his actions during the war changed this. He and his wife Elizabeth maintained high profiles, choosing to remain in London during the Nazi bombing raids rather than escape to a safer location. George also made frequent trips to British troops fighting in Europe and by the end of the war had become a popular king. The New York Times said the royal couple “endeared themselves to their people by their bravery and devotion to their predestined roles.”

The strain of the war brought George to exhaustion and his health suffered in the post-war years. He had a chain-smoking habit that led to him developing lung cancer in 1951, requiring an operation in September. Four months later, on Feb. 6, 1952, George VI died in his sleep of coronary thrombosis at age 56.

George was succeeded by his eldest daughter Elizabeth, who became Queen Elizabeth II.
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