Death of George VI - When Elizabeth Became Queen

On the last day of his life, King George VI was at Sandringham, his favorite home.  He was in good spirits. 

Just days before, he'd bid his daughter, Elizabeth, goodbye as she departed on a Commonwealth tour.  Her two young children - Charles and Anne - were at home, with their grandparents.

The Queen Mother's biographer, William Shawcross, describes some of the King's last hours:

The King was in good spirits; he wrote cheerful letters to Sir John Weir to thank him for all the excellent medical care he had given him since 1934, and to Lord Halifax, Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, to whom he described a new form of Garter dress he had devised.  On 5 February he went out shooting rabbits.  It was Keepers' Day, a relaxed informal shoot of the sort he enjoyed.

James Macdonald, his servant for twenty years, said later that the King shot "superbly" and was "as gay and happy" as he had ever seen him.  At the end of the afternoon the King thanked the keepers and that evening he said, "Well Macdonald, we'll go after the hares again tomorrow."   (The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, by William Shawcross, page 652 of the hardcover edition.)

"Tomorrow," for the King, would find him leaving Sandringham in a coffin.  The news of his death stunned everyone, not just his immediate family.

The official announcement of his death, as heard in this historic footage, was simple:

The King, who retired to rest last night in his usual health, passed peacefully away in his sleep early this morning.

King George had been a strong leader of his people during the war, and they deeply loved him.  They showed their respect and appreciation as they lined-up - by the thousands - when his remains passed by, or laid in state.

Queen Elizabeth, completely stunned by her loss, thought of her mother-in-law, Queen Mary, and wrote her this letter:

My darling Mama,

What can I say to you - I know that you loved Bertie dearly, and he was my whole life, and one can only be deeply thankful for the utterly happy years we had together.  He was so wonderfully thoughtful and loving, & I don't believe he ever thought of himself at all.  He was so devoted to you, & admired & loved you.  It is impossible for me to grasp what has happened, last night he was in wonderful form & looking so well ... It is hard to grasp, he was such an angel to the children & me, and I cannot bear to think of Lilibet [the family's name for the new Queen, Elizabeth II], so young to bear such a burden - I do feel for you so darling Mama - to lose two dear sons [the other was John, Queen Mary's youngest child, who died at 13], and Bertie so young still, & so precious - It is almost more than one can bear - Your very loving Elizabeth.  (The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, by William Shawcross, pages 654-55 of the hardcover edition.)

The Queen Mother, Elizabeth survived her husband by fifty years.  She never remarried.

Media Credits

Historic footage regarding the death of King George VI, online courtesy the U.K. National Archives.


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"Death of George VI - When Elizabeth Became Queen" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jan 17, 2020.
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