Friday, December 14, 2012

Prince Albert Dies (1861) & King George VI is Born (1895)

On this date in 1861, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria dies.

Albert, the younger son of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born at Schloss Rosenau in 1819. He was educated in Brussels and Bonn and in 1839 visited his cousin, Queen Victoria in London. Victoria immediately fell in love with Albert and although he initially had doubts about the relationship, the couple eventually married in February 1840. During the next eighteen years Queen Victoria gave birth to nine children. Throughout their marriage Prince Albert acted as Victoria's private secretary. After the death of her favorite politician, Lord Melbourne in 1848, Albert's political influence increased. Albert took a keen interest in the arts and sciences and planned and managed the Great Exhibition in 1851. The profits of this successful venture enabled the building of the Royal Albert Hall and the museums in South Kensington. In 1857 Albert was given the title of Prince Consort. He died on December 14, 1861 from typhoid fever and was interred within the royal mausoleum at Frogmore, Windsor. The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, designed by Sir George Scott, was erected in his memory in 1871. 

On this date in 1895, King George VI was born at York Cottage, on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.
He was the second son of King George V and Mary of Teck. He was an unassuming, shy boy who greatly admired his brother Edward, Prince of Wales. From childhood to the age of thirty, George suffered with a bad stammer in his speech, which exacerbated his shyness; Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist, was instrumental in helping George overcome the speech defect. George married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923, and together they would have two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.  

Due to the controversy surrounding the abdication of his brother Edward VIII, popular opinion of the throne was at its lowest point since the latter half of Victoria's reign. The abdication, however, was soon overshadowed by continental developments, as Europe inched closer to yet another World War. After several years of pursuing "appeasement" policies with Germany, Great Britain (and France) declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. George, following in his father's footsteps, visited troops, munitions factories, supply docks and bomb-damaged areas to support the war effort. As the Nazi's bombed London, the royal family remained at Buckingham Palace; George went so far as to practice firing his revolver, vowing that he would defend Buckingham to the death. The actions of the King and Queen during the war years greatly added to the prestige of the monarchy.
George predicted the hardships following the end of the war as early as 1941. From 1945-50, Great Britain underwent marked transitions. The birth pangs of the Welfare State and the change from Empire to multiracial Commonwealth troubled the high-strung king. The political turmoil and economic hardships of the post-war years left the king physically and emotionally drained by the time of his death on February 6, 1952. In the context of royal history, George VI was one of only five monarchs who succeeded the throne in the lifetime of his predecessor; Henry IV, Edward IV, Richard III, and William III were the other four. George VI was interred within St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.  

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Great Britain’s Royal Tombs: A Guide to the Lives and Burial Places of British Monarchs. It can be purchased from Amazon or Barnes and Noble through the following links: 

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