Wikijunior:Kings and Queens of England/The House of Windsor
George V (1910-1936)
The first monarch of the House of Windsor was George V. However, he started out as being of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and so he can be read about in the previous chapter.
Edward VIII (1936)
Edward VIII was born at White Lodge, Richmond upon Thames on 23 June 1894. Edward was the eldest son of George V and Queen Mary. He was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, and Emperor of India from 20 January 1936 until his abdication on 11 December 1936, after which he was Prince Edward and then Duke of Windsor until his death on 28 May 1972. During World War II he was the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Bahamas after spending a great deal of time in Bermuda. He was known to his family and close friends, by his last Christian name, David.
Prince of Wales
In 1910, George V made Edward Prince of Wales. When the First World War broke out in 1914 Edward joined the army, serving with the Grenadier Guards. Although Edward was willing to serve on the front lines, the British government refused to allow it, because of the harm that the capture of the heir to the throne would cause. However, Edward did witness at first hand the horror of trench warfare, and visited the front line as often as he could. His role in the war, although limited, led to his great popularity among veterans of the conflict.
Throughout the 1920s the Prince of Wales represented his father, King George V, at home and abroad on many occasions. He took a special interest in visiting the poorest areas of the country. Abroad the Prince of Wales toured the British Empire, undertaking 13 tours between 1919 and 1935.
In 1928, King George V gave Edward a home, Fort Belvedere, near Sunningdale in Berkshire. There Edward had relationships with a series of married women, including the American Wallis Simpson. Simpson had divorced her first husband in 1927 and later married Ernest Simpson. Edward's relationship with Wallis Simpson further weakened his poor relationship with his father, King George V. The King and Queen refused to receive Mrs Simpson at court, and his brother, Prince Albert, urged Edward to seek a more suitable wife. Edward, however, had now fallen in love with Wallis and the couple grew ever closer.
King George V died on 20 January 1936, and Edward became King Edward VIII. The next day he broke royal protocol by watching the proclamation of his own accession to the throne from a window of St James's Palace in the company of the still-married Mrs Simpson. It was also at this time that Edward VIII became the first British monarch to fly in an aeroplane, when he flew from Sandringham to London for his Accession Council.
It was now becoming clear that the new King wished to marry Mrs Simpson, especially when divorce proceedings between Mr and Mrs Simpson were brought at Ipswich Crown Court. Powerful figures in the British government deemed marriage to Mrs Simpson impossible for Edward, even if Wallis obtained her second divorce, because he had become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England which prohibited remarriage after divorce.
On 16 July 1936, an attempt was made on the King's life. Jerome Bannigan produced a loaded revolver as the King rode on horseback at Constitution Hill, near Buckingham Palace. Police spotted the gun and pounced on him, and he was quickly arrested. At Bannigan's trial, he alleged that "a foreign power" had paid him £150 to kill Edward, a claim the court rejected.
On 16 November 1936, Edward met with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin at Fort Belvedere and expressed his desire to marry Wallis Simpson when she became free to do so. The Prime Minister responded by presenting the King with three choices: he could give up the idea of marriage; marry Wallis against his ministers' wishes; or abdicate. It was clear that Edward was not prepared to give up Wallis. By marrying against the advice of his ministers, it was likely that he would cause the government to resign, prompting a constitutional crisis. The Prime Ministers of the British dominions had also made clear their opposition to the King marrying a divorcée; only the Irish Free State was not opposed to the idea of marriage. Faced with this opposition, Edward chose to abdicate. Edward duly signed an instrument of abdication at Fort Belvedere on 10 December 1936. The next day, he performed his last act as King when he gave Royal Assent to His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 which applied to the United Kingdom and all the dominions except the Irish Free State. The Free State passed the equivalent External Relations Act, which included the abdication in its schedule, the next day.
On the night of 11 December 1936, Edward, now reverted to the title of The Prince Edward, made a broadcast to the nation and the Empire, explaining his decision to abdicate. He famously said, "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."
After the broadcast, Edward left the United Kingdom for France, though he was unable to join Wallis until her divorce became absolute, several months later. His brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York succeeded to the throne as King George VI. George VI made Edward the Duke of Windsor. The Duke of Windsor married Mrs Simpson, who had changed her name by deed poll to Wallis Warfield, in a private ceremony on 3 June 1937 at Chateau de Candé, Monts, France. None of the British royal family attended.
World War II
In 1937, the Duke and Duchess visited Germany as personal guests of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, a visit much publicised by the German media. The couple then settled in France. When the Germans invaded the north of France in May 1940, the Windsors fled south, first to Biarritz, then in June to Spain. In July the pair moved to Lisbon. In August a British warship took them to the Bahamas, where the Duke of Windsor was made Governor. He held the post until the end of World War II in 1945.
After the war, the couple returned once again to France in Neuilly near Paris, where they spent much of the remainder of their lives in retirement. The Royal Family never accepted the Duchess and would not receive her formally, although the former King sometimes met his mother and a brother after his abdication. The Duke died of throat cancer in 1972 in Paris, and his body was returned to Britain for burial at Frogmore near Windsor Castle. The Duchess travelled to England to attend his funeral, staying at Buckingham Palace during her visit. The Duchess, on her death a decade and a half later, was buried alongside her husband in Frogmore simply as "Wallis, his wife". The Duke and Duchess had no children.
George VI (1936-1952)
George VI was born at York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk on 14 December 1895. He was the second son of George V and Queen Mary. He was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the British dominions beyond the seas from 11 December 1936 until his death on 6 February 1952. George VI was also the Emperor of India (until 1947) and King of Ireland (until 1949). George VI came the throne after the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII. He was king during the Second World War. He was known as Bertie, after his first name, Albert, to his family.
As a child, George often suffered from ill health and he was described as "easily frightened and somewhat prone to tears". Albert developed a severe stammer that lasted for many years as well as chronic stomach problems. He also suffered from knock knees, and to correct this he had to wear splints, which were extremely painful. He was also forced to write with his right hand although he was a natural left-hander.
In 1909, Bertie joined the Royal Navy and served as a naval cadet. Despite coming in at the bottom of the class, Albert moved to Dartmouth and served as a midshipman. He was still in the Navy when Edward VII died on 6 May 1910. Albert was now second in line for the throne. Albert served during World War I. He saw action aboard HMS Collingwood in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. In 1917 Albert joined the Royal Air Force but did not see any further action in the war. After the war, Albert studied history, economics and civics for a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, from October 1919. In 1920, he began to take on royal duties, representing his father, King George V.
Marriage and children
Albert had a great deal of freedom in choosing his wife. In 1920 he met Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the youngest daughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and set his sights on marrying her. She rejected his proposal twice before she said yes. They were married on 26 April 1923. They had two children: Elizabeth, born in 1926, and Margaret, born in 1930.
The Duke and Duchess lived a relatively sheltered life at their London residence, 145 Piccadilly. When Edward VIII he abdicated on 11 December 1936, however, Albert became King George VI.
The growing likelihood of war in Europe would dominate the reign of King George VI. Initially the King and Queen took an appeasement stance against the German dictator Adolf Hitler, and supported the policy of Neville Chamberlain. In 1939, the King and Queen visited Canada from where they made a shorter visit to the United States of America. George was the first reigning British monarch to visit either of these countries. The aim of the tour was mainly political, to shore up Atlantic support for Britain in any upcoming war. The King and Queen were extremely enthusiastically received by the Canadian public. They were also warmly received by the American people, visiting the 1939 New York World's Fair and staying at the White House with President Roosevelt. When war broke out in 1939, George VI with his wife chose to stay in London and not flee to Canada, as had been suggested. The King and Queen officially stayed in Buckingham Palace throughout the war, although they often escaped to Windsor Castle to avoid bombing raids. George VI and Queen Elizabeth narrowly avoided death when a lone German bomber despatched to bomb Buckingham Palace attacked. The bomb exploded in the courtyard, shattering windows in the palace.
Throughout the war, the King and Queen provided morale-boosting visits throughout the UK, visiting bomb sites and munition factories. On Victory in Europe (VE) Day, the Royal Family appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to celebrate the end of the war in Europe. After the war, George VI's reign saw the start of the break up of the British Empire, in particular when India became an independent dominion, with George VI giving up the title of Emperor of India.
The war had taken its toll on the King's health. This was made worse by his heavy smoking and he got lung cancer. Increasingly his daughter Princess Elizabeth, the heir to the throne, would take on more of the royal duties as her father's health got worse. On 6 February 1952, George VI died aged 56 in his sleep at Sandringham House in Norfolk. He was buried in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. In 2002, the body of his wife Elizabeth and the ashes of his daughter Princess Margaret were interred in a tomb alongside him.
Elizabeth II (1952 onwards)
Elizabeth II was born at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, London on 21 April 1926. She is the eldest daughter of George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth II is the current Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of many other independent nations too. She became Queen on 6 February 1952. She is currently the second-longest-serving head of state in the world, after King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.
Elizabeth was thirteen years old when World War II broke out. She and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, were evacuated to Windsor Castle, Berkshire. There was some suggestion that the princesses be sent to Canada, but their mother refused to consider this, famously saying, "The children could not possibly go without me, I wouldn't leave without the King, and the King will never leave". In 1940 Princess Elizabeth made her first broadcast, addressing other children who had been evacuated.
In 1945 Princess Elizabeth joined the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service. She was the first and so far only female member of the royal family actually to serve in the military. Elizabeth made her first official visit overseas in 1947, when she went with her parents to South Africa. On her 21st birthday she made a broadcast to the British Commonwealth and Empire pledging to devote her life to the service of the people of the Commonwealth and Empire.
Marriage and motherhood
Elizabeth married The Duke of Edinburgh on 20 November 1947. The Duke is Queen Elizabeth's second cousin once removed, they are both descended from Christian IX of Denmark. The couple are also third cousins. After their wedding Philip and Elizabeth took up residence at Clarence House, London. But at various times between 1946 and 1953, the Duke of Edinburgh was stationed in Malta as a serving Royal Navy officer. Philip and Elizabeth lived in Malta for a period between 1949 and 1951. On 14 November 1948 Elizabeth gave birth to her first child, Charles. They later had three other children: Anne, Andrew and Edward.
King George's health declined during 1951 and Elizabeth frequently stood in for him at public events. She visited Greece, Italy and Malta (where Philip was then stationed) during the year. In October she toured Canada and visited President Truman in Washington, DC. In January 1952 Elizabeth and Philip set out for a tour of Australia and New Zealand. They had reached Kenya when word arrived of the death of her father on 6 February 1952. At the moment she became aware she was now queen, she was in the Treetops Hotel.
After the Coronation, Elizabeth and Philip moved to Buckingham Palace in central London. It is believed, however, that like many of her predecessors she dislikes the Palace as a residence and considers Windsor Castle, west of London, to be her home. She also spends time at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and at Sandringham House in Norfolk.
At the time of Elizabeth's accession there was much talk of a "new Elizabethan age". As nations have developed economically and in literacy, Queen Elizabeth has witnessed over the past 50 years a gradual transformation of the British Empire into its modern successor, the Commonwealth. She has worked hard to maintain links with former British possessions, and in some cases, such as South Africa, she has played an important role in retaining or restoring good relations. Queen Elizabeth has become the most widely travelled head of state in history and has visited many Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries.
In 2002 she celebrated her Golden Jubilee, marking the 50th anniversary of her accession to the Throne. The year saw a large tour of the Commonwealth Realms, including numerous parades and official concerts. Then in 2012 she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, marking the 60th anniversary of her accession to the Throne.