Once Upon a Time…
There really was a prince of Great Britain affectionately called Bertie by family and friends.
His full name was Albert Frederick Arthur George (whew – that’s a lot of names!). He was born on December 14, 1895, to King George V and Queen Mary.
Bertie’s older brother, Edward (full name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David!), was handsome and popular. But in contrast, Bertie was shy–with knock knees and a terrible stutter, which caused him much stress.
Because of his crooked knees, he had to wear painful leg braces. He was also left-handed but was forced to write with his right hand.
Additionally, Bertie’s mean nanny frequently denied him dinner. This gave him terrible stomach problems which persisted throughout his life.
Poor Bertie had a lot to overcome in his life, but as you’ll see, he rose to leadership during a crucial moment in history and, with his brave soldiers and countrymen, saved the nation.
In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, for the second time in the lives of most of us we are at war. Over and over again we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies. But it has been in vain. The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead and war is no longer confined to the battlefield.
As Bertie grew and the braces came off, he became quite an accomplished tennis player. Maybe even Olympic caliber. He joined the Royal Navy and served for several years. He became a certified pilot.
Bertie had no aspirations for the throne: He was shy and introverted by nature and with his stutter, he certainly did not wish to make public speeches or radio broadcasts as a royal figurehead. He married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (after 3 proposals!) and had two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Margaret.
However, as we learn in the book, Edward was quite the “man about town.” He preferred to socialize, drink, smoke, and dance rather than perform royal duties.
He was dating a married American woman named Wallis Simpson when his father, King George V, became very ill. At that time, British kings could not marry a divorced woman, so Edward knew that if he took the throne upon his father’s death – and if Wallis divorced her current husband – he would ultimately have to give up Wallis.
This caused a major scandal in the family and the nation. King George V eventually died, and Edward was crowned King Edward VIII.
But the strain of the scandal and his desire to be with Wallis ruled his thoughts. Within a year, Edward abdicated the throne – he gave up the crown, the scepter, the ring – and ran off to France with Wallis, who was now divorced.
Bertie was then crowned King George VI. World War II was brewing, and the nation was in chaos. Soon, the Germans starting a relentless bombing campaign on England, with bombs dropping every night – even on Buckingham Palace! Bertie’s wife, Queen Consort Elizabeth, proclaimed amidst the palace ruins: “Now I can look the East End in the eye!” (meaning her house had been bombed, too, and she understood their troubles).
The U.K. won the war with Bertie as king, and Mr. Logue helped him tremendously with his stutter. Poor Bertie eventually passed away quietly at his Sandringham Palace on the night of February 6, 1952, at age 56 from lung disease.
His daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, attributes his early death to smoking and the ensuing stress from being king during the war. She blamed Edward for abandoning the throne and forcing Bertie to assume the crown during a traumatic time in their nation’s history. All Bertie wanted was a quiet family life, but he accepted his destiny, put his nation first, and ultimately became the best king of 20th Century England.
Bertie’s wife, Queen Consort Elizabeth (Bowes-Lyon)
The Houses of Parliament at night. Photo by Susan M. Webb
It is not the walls that make the city, but the people who live within them. The walls of London may be battered, but the spirit of the Londoner stands resolute and undismayed.
History Into Pictures
In the book’s pages, you meet Bertie and Edward, their parents, spouses, and children. (The dog is from the illustrator’s imagination; they actually had corgis.) You meet their nasty nanny.
The text offers dollops of history set to rhyme. Vivid illustrations capture Bertie’s castles in exacting detail, as well as the adult images of Bertie and Edward – two opposing brothers and rulers.
This book is, at heart, a history book for children. It is my hope that it captures the readers’ attention and provides many enjoyable hours of reading and discussion. (I wish I had history books like this when I was growing up!)
Monument to Bertie along The Mall, London. Photo by Susan M. Webb
The highest of distinctions is service to others.
The Short Reign of King Edward VIII
You may wonder: was there REALLY a wizard predicting Edward’s abdication, Bertie’s rise to the throne, and the oncoming war?
Well, not a “wizard” such as the mighty Merlin, but a man nicknamed Cheiro (William John Warner). a palmist, clairvoyant, and astrologer (among other dubious occupations). He read Edward’s birth chart and predicted his fate: his all-consuming passion for Wallis, his abdication of the throne, and the ensuing alteration of history.
King George V, the father of Bertie and Edward, predicted to British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that Edward would “ruin himself within 12 months” (of being crowned king)!
A similar prophecy was set forth about Edward upon birth by Scottish socialist leader Keir Hardie, who stated: “From his childhood onwards this boy will be surrounded by sycophants and flatterers by the score and will be taught to believe himself as a superior creation. A line will be drawn between him and the people he is to be called upon someday to reign over. In due course…the end of it all will be the country will be called upon to pay the bill.”
And even more fascinating is the history contained in the book, “The Final Curtsy: A Royal Memoir by the Queen’s Cousin.” Wrote Margaret Rhodes of Princess Elizabeth’s Commonwealth Tour to Africa and her stay in an observation hut: “Treetops [is] an observation point built in a giant fig tree and overlooking a water hole frequented by animals. It was there, in 1952, that Princess Elizabeth, at the start of a Commonwealth tour, became Queen. She was filming wildlife when her father, King George VI, died in his sleep at Sandringham, three thousand miles away. While she was there two water buck had a fight, and one was fatally wounded. There is a Kikuyu legend that when two water buck meet in combat and one dies, this signals the death of a great chief. How strange that that came true that night.”
And all of this history came to pass – simply fascinating!
King Edward VIII
Treetops, an observation deck in Aberdare National Park in Nyeri, Africa