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George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

It was Christmas, 1939, and Great Britain was at war with Nazi Germany. Like his father before him, King George VI would continue the holiday tradition of addressing the British Empire in a live radio message. That year, he would broadcast from the royal country house at Sandringham, where he and his family would spend Christmas.

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

You will remember that King George VI was not a man comfortable with public speaking. His struggle to overcome a debilitating speech impediment – a stutter – was immortalized in the 2011 American Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture, “The King’s Speech.” A shy, nervous man, a heavy smoker and drinker (it would kill him at 56), King George VI would have preferred to have remained the Duke of York, living a quiet, out-of-the-public eye life with his sturdy wife and two rosy-cheeked daughters.

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. February 1939, 7 months before the outbreak of WWII

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. This photo was taken in February 1939, seven months before the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI – born Albert, called Bertie – never wanted to be king. He wasn’t supposed to be king. He was only king because his brother David had abdicated the throne in 1936 and he, Bertie, was next in line. Nevertheless, unwillingness aside, this unlikely monarch would rise to the occasion and be the very king the British people so sorely needed in a time of great trouble.

It was December 25, 1939, the day of the broadcast. Dressed in the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet, the tall and too thin sovereign approached the table where two radio microphones were set up, taking his seat.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

Taking a few deep breaths, he began to speak, slowly yet solidly. Measuring his words carefully, he spoke from the heart:

“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”

Toward the end of his nine-minute broadcast, he said:

“I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you:”

He then read from a poem given to him by his 13-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth,

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”*

He finished by saying,

“May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”

For a king not known for compelling speeches, this one would be a landmark. It united King and Country in common cause and inspired the people to hold fast. After all, at this point in history, no one knew that the Allies would triumph. Britain was to face five more years of war and brutal bombing by Hitler before the day of liberation would arrive. The end of 1939 was a shaky time and great leadership by King, Queen, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill would hold Britain steady against the Nazi aggressors.

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

Listen to the last four minutes of the King’s Christmas 1939 message here:

For more about the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.

Click here for the full text of the King’s 1939 Christmas Message plus The REAL austerity Christmas: How a nation gripped by fear kept calm and carried  on three months after outbreak of war in 1939

*“The Gate of the Year,” by Minnie Haskins (1908)

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TIME magazine's 1952 Woman of the Year: Queen Elizabeth II of England (Jan. 5, 1953 cover)

TIME magazine's 1952 Woman of the Year: Queen Elizabeth II of England (Jan. 5, 1953 cover)

In February 1952, Princess Elizabeth was touring Kenya with her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh when she received the bad news that her father, King George VI of Great Britain, had passed away. Thus, at the tender age of 25, Elizabeth ascended the throne to become Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon. She took the title Queen Elizabeth II although she was not a descendant of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), who was the last Tudor queen. Queen Elizabeth II belongs to the Royal House of Windsor, formerly known as Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

During the Queen’s reign, there have been 11 U.S. presidents. Queen Elizabeth II has met every one of them except Lyndon B. Johnson. She met Harry Truman before she became queen and Herbert Hoover when he was a former president.

Here is a photo gallery of Queen Elizabeth II and 12 U.S. Presidents:

The Queen with President Barack Obama in 2009

The Queen with President Barack Obama in 2009

The Queen with President George W. Bush in 2003

The Queen with President George W. Bush in 2003

The Queen with President Bill Clinton in 2000

The Queen with President Bill Clinton in 2000

The Queen with President George H. Bush in 1991

The Queen with President George H. Bush in 1991

The Queen with President Ronald Reagan in 1982

The Queen with President Ronald Reagan in 1982

The Queen with President Jimmy Carter in 1977

The Queen with President Jimmy Carter in 1977

The Queen with President Gerald Ford in 1976

The Queen with President Gerald Ford in 1976

The Queen with President Nixon 1970

The Queen with President Richard Nixon in 1970

The Queen and Prince Philip with President John and Jackie Kennedy (early 1960s)

The Queen with President John F. Kennedy in 1961

The Queen with former President Herbert Hoover in 1957

The Queen with former President Herbert Hoover in 1957

The Queen with Presidents Dwight Eisenhower (top) and Harry Truman (1950s)

The Queen with Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower (top) in 1957 and Harry Truman (bottom) in 1951

Readers, for more on the Queen, scroll down the right sidebar to “Categories” – “People” – “Queen Elizabeth II”

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Wallis Warfield marries the former King Edward VIII of Britain on June 3, 1937, in France. The day before the wedding, the Prince's brother, the new British king, George VI, sent him a letter granting him and Wallis new titles: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The titles were hollow; there was no dominion of Windsor to rule. Even worse: the King's letter contained a bomb - the Prince, despite his abdication of the throne, could continue to "hold and enjoy...the title, style or attribute of Royal Highness," but his bride, the Duchess, could not, nor could any of their offspring. She, though a duchess, was denied what her sister-in-laws would enjoy - that her name would be preceded by the magic initials 'H.R.H.' "What a damnable wedding present!" Windsor shouted. (J.Bryan III and Charles J.V. Murphy,

Wallis Warfield (Simpson) marries the former King Edward VIII of Britain on June 3, 1937, in France, after he gave up the British throne to be with her. Wallis Warfield Simpson was an American divorcee. For the King to have married her and tried to install her as his Queen would have precipitated a constitutional crisis in Great Britain....The wedding day dawned bright and sunny. It was Wallis' third wedding; her dress was not white but blue. Blue was also the mood. The day before the wedding, the former king's brother, the new British king, George VI, sent Edward a letter granting him and Wallis new titles: the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The titles were hollow; there was no dominion of Windsor to rule. Even worse: the King's letter contained a bomb - the former king, now titled the Duke, despite his abdication of the throne, could continue to "hold and enjoy...the title, style or attribute of Royal Highness," but his bride, the Duchess, could not, nor could any of their offspring. She, though a duchess, was denied what her sister-in-laws would enjoy - that her name would be preceded by the magic initials 'H.R.H.' At her entrance, no women had to curtsey, no men to bow. She would not be referred to as "Her Highness" but with the lower form of "Her Grace." "What a damnable wedding present!" Windsor shouted upon reading the King's letter. (Bryan III, J. and Murphy, Charles J.V., The Windsor Story. New York: Dell, 1979.)

In 1937, after King Edward VIII had given up the British throne to marry his American divorcee, Wallis Warfield Simpson, the two tiny, trim party animals were exiled to France, where they were doomed to live a life of idle nothingness. They were given the new but hollow titles of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Accustomed to a lifetime of adulation and privilege yet denied a kingdom, the Duke (and the Duchess), set about creating an imaginary realm of their own that would given them the validation they craved as royals. This new kingdom:

“…was a region whose borders were outlined in society pages, peopled mostly by glamorous nobodies lucky enough to have been born into wealth. It was an ornamental place, whose citizens, according to Andrew Bolton, the curator of ”Blithe Spirit” [a past costume exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum], were unsurpassed ”in the beauty, elegance and craftsmanship” of their dress. For self-indulgence, they were also hard to beat.”

The people who congregated around the Duke and Duchess were dubbed the “Windsor set.” They were all-consumed with the photographic image.

“They arranged those lives to suit the lens. Voluntarily estranged from the real aristocracy, the Duke of Windsor, with the aid of his wife, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, set up a parallel court composed of people like Elsie de Wolfe, the interior decorator and social arbiter; Mona Bismarck, a gorgeous adventuress who was the daughter of a stableman on a Kentucky horse farm; and Daisy Fellowes, whose fortune derived from sewing machines and who had the distinction of being one of the first people on record to alter her nose surgically.”

the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at home with their precious pug dogs. The Duchess, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, often appeared in her stylish best in public with a pug tucked under one arm. It became a fashion trend - to carry a dog around with you when away from home.

the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at home with their precious pug dogs. The Duchess, the former Wallis Warfield Simpson, often appeared in her stylish best in public with a pug tucked under one arm. It became a fashion trend - to carry a dog around with you when away from home.

Granted, the Windsors were despicable people, dining with Adolf Hitler in 1937 and hobnobbing with fellow Nazi sympathizers and British ex-pats Oswald Mosley and wife Diana Mitford. Nevertheless, the Duke and Duchess – and their fancy friends – obsessed with clothing,  had tremendous style.

Adolf Hitler kisses the hand of the Duchess of Windsor as her husband the Duke looks on, admiringly. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Germany in 1937 before WWII broke out across Europe. They were outspoken supporters of Nazi fascism and suspected of spying for Germany. At the beginning of the war, the Windsors were whisked out of France to safe haven in the Bahamas, where the Duke served out the war years as governor. There he could do Britain little harm - and he was less likely of being kidnapped by the Germans who were reportedly interested in installing him as a puppet king in a conquered Great Britain under German rule.

Adolf Hitler kisses the hand of the Duchess of Windsor as her husband the Duke looks on, admiringly. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Germany in 1937 before WWII broke out across Europe. They were outspoken supporters of Nazi fascism and suspected of spying for Germany. At the beginning of the war, the Windsors were whisked out of France to safe haven in the Bahamas, where the Duke served out the war years as governor. There he could do Britain little harm - and he was less likely of being kidnapped by the Germans who were reportedly interested in installing him as a puppet king in a conquered Great Britain under German rule.

Fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (French, 1883-1971) at Lido Beach in 1936

Fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (French, 1883-1971) at Lido Beach in 1936

"Evening Dress," 1938. Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel. Black Silk Net with Polychrome Sequins. The Metropolitan Museum of ARt, New York. Special Exhibit: "Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set" The decoration of sequined fireworks on this evening dress, which was worn by the Countess Madeleine de Montgomery to Lady Mendl's seventy-fifth birthday party in 1939, is a fitting climax to le beau monde of the 1930s. It was the end of an era when, on Sept. 1, 1939, Parisians heard an early-morning radio announcemen from Herr Hitler in German, at once translated into French, that "as of this moment, we are at war with Poland." The thirties were over; the Second World War had begun.

"Evening Dress," 1938. Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel. Black Silk Net with Polychrome Sequins. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Special Exhibit: "Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set" The decoration of sequined fireworks on this evening dress, which was worn by the Countess Madeleine de Montgomery to Lady Mendl's seventy-fifth birthday party in 1939, is a fitting climax to le beau monde of the 1930s. It was the end of an era when, on Sept. 1, 1939, Parisians heard an early-morning radio announcement from Herr Hitler in German, at once translated into French, that "as of this moment, we are at war with Poland." The thirties were over; the Second World War had begun.

The Windsors were famous for their elegant Paris dinner parties, creating a demand for expensive clothes and jewels for them and their guests. Thus, the prewar years in France from 1935-1940 were rich in the decorative arts, putting trendy fashion designers front and center. It was a time when Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was “rethinking the suit” to allow for the way women really move and Elsa Schiaparelli* was designing lobster dresses with surrealist Salvador Dali.*

Then Hitler invaded Poland and World War II shattered the fantasy world of endless cocktail parties and silk and organza gowns made to order. The Germans invaded and occupied France.

Shockingly, Coco Chanel spent the war years living at the Ritz in Paris with a Nazi officer. After the war was over, Chanel was arrested by the free French for suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis. She purportedly offered this explanation for sleeping with the enemy:

 “Really, sir, a woman of my age cannot be expected to look at his passport if she has a chance of a lover.”

It is generally believed that Winston Churchill  intervened with the French government, convincing them to let his old friend Coco Chanel escape to Switzerland rather than be paraded through the streets of Paris with her head shaved like other female Nazi collaborators.

Women accused of being Nazi collaborators are humiliated after the liberation of France, 1944. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Women accused of being Nazi collaborators are humiliated after the liberation of France, 1944. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Jackie Kennedy in her pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat, riding through Dallas in a motorcade just minutes before a sniper kills her husband, President John F. Kennedy

Fast forward 19 years. It's November 22, 1963. Jackie Kennedy,* in her pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat, is riding through Dallas in a motorcade just minutes before a sniper kills her husband, President John F. Kennedy

*For more on the Kennedys on this blog, please see right sidebar – Categories – People  – the Kennedys.
See “Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor,” which follows this blog post.

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