We went to see The King’s Speech on Monday, a BAFTA Award winning film based on the true story of how King George VI overcame his stutter. This had me reaching for an old book that I used to look at as a child – The Coronation Book of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. It’s full of sepia photos and gives details of the coronation on May 12 1937 together with a short history of the ceremony and accounts of the lives of George VI (Prince Albert) and Queen Elizabeth (Lady Elizabeth Lyon) up to the coronation.
The only mention I can find in the book about George VI’s stutter is below this photo of him taken when he was 25, then the Duke of York, stating that ‘he fought, with remarkable courage, his only handicap – a slight hesitancy in speech. Though five years were to pass before complete mastery was achieved the task was well begun.‘
I love this photo taken in 1898 of the Royal family showing Queen Victoria in the centre of a family group on the lawn at Osborne in the Isle of Wight. (Click on the photos to enlarge) George VI who was at that time Prince Albert is to the right of Queen Victoria standing in front of his father, then the Duke of York.
What is not shown in the film, because it focuses on George VI’s speech problems leading up to his brother’s abdication and his ascension to the throne, is that he was had entered the Royal Navy in 1909. His destiny as the second son of the Prince of Wales was to remain in the Navy for his whole career. He served in HMS Collingwood which was a battleship that took part in the battle of Jutland in 1916. The Collingwood escaped damages and Prince Albert was mentioned in dispatches for his coolness under fire.
After the war he went to Trinity College Cambridge University. As the son of George V he didn’t take a full-time degree course but took courses in special subjects, in his case Prince Albert took history, economics and civics. He was also a keen sportsman and played tennis, golf and polo. He won the Royal Airforce Lawn Tennis Doubles Championship at Queen’s Club in 1920
As a child I spent hours looking at the photos in this book but I don’t think I actually read much of except for the captions. It begins with these words:
Destiny has had a strange errand for Albert Frederick Arthur George, Prince of the Royal House of Windsor. Within eleven months he served two kings and became himself a king.
All this was history to me, not history I learnt at school, but at home. I don’t know whether the book originally belonged to one of my grandparents, but I have a feeling it could have been my mother’s mother as she was a staunch Royalist. It was the photos of George VI’s children that interested me most as a child – Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, now I’d like to know more about George himself.
The only colour illustrations are the end papers – a painting of the coronation carriage: