The King is Dead. After nearly 16 years on the throne, King George VI died peacefully in his sleep on this day in 1952. His reign took place in a particularly volatile point of British history as he would see the Irish remove him as their head of state after just 1 year in his role, and within 3 would witness Britain at war with Germany for the second time in his lifetime. He would go on to witness the break up of the British Empire and see Great Britain lose it’s role as a great power, replaced by the United States and the Soviet Union.
Albert Fredrick Arthur George was born on December 14th 1895, the ‘reluctant king’ was the great-Grandson of Queen Victoria, whose reign his born during. As King George V’s second son, he was not expected to ascend to the throne. However, when his brother Edward abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry the twice-divorsed American socialite Wallis Simpson, Albert succeeded him. He was the third monarch in the House of Windsor.
Though the monarch’s influence by this point had been deteriorated to mere formalities – a position made clear by George’s inability to appoint his preferred Lord Halifax to the role of Prime Minister following Neville Chamberlain’s resignation in 1940 – the King and Queen would provide significant morale boosts to the British public, especially during the Blitz. They officially remained in Buckingham Palace throughout the war.
Though there were many regrettable aspects of his reign, his steadiness in the face of the 1936 abdication crisis cemented his legacy following a period of unprecedented confusion. The Labour MP George Hardie, claimed that the abdication crisis of 1936 did “more for republicanism than fifty years of propaganda”, yet the Monarchy stood. And in the words of the King himself, when he wrote to his brother Edward, he had reluctantly assumed “a rocking throne”, and tried “to make it steady again”