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"The Reluctant King: The Life and Reign of George VI" (1895-1952) by Sarah Bradford, 1st publication 1989.
The great and awesome Prince Albert, Duke of York, later King George VI - father of Queen Elizabeth II - has always been an inspiration to me and my family. My father greatly admired this man, who was himself a great father. The king was not only a doting father to his two beautiful daughters - he truly acquitted himself bravely and well as the father of England. This point is often missed by everyone.
Sarah Bradford, royal biographer extraordinaire, with this 1989 biography gives us a hefty glimpse into the life of the great prince, Albert "Bertie" Windsor, who started off as the Duke of York and married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon; the same chap who ended up being king of England (when his brother Edward David, King Edward VIII, abdicated).
Bradford uses her great respect and British restraint to show us the sufferings and travails of King George, who stood and faced the war bravely and tried to pull England into a more modern age. Yet she pulls no punches, and has become a sparkling, oft-consulted expert of that historical era.
On a bit of a down side: one cannot blame Bradford for her unbridled enthusiasm. There had been only one official biography of the king, and it was heavily sanitized because the king took some part in it. Bradford is the first and only full-fledged biographer of King George VI. That in itself strikes me as tragic, but then there was much that was unknown about this great old king who died too young.
Bradford dives in too hard, and the result is a bit amateurish. It is like the writing of a student giddy with too much new and exciting information. I.e.Read more ›
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Excellent, detailed biography17 April 2008
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I stumbled on this at the library and was soon engrossed. It is extremely interesting to see behind the stiffness of royalty, and to get another angle on the Abdication scandal, as well as World War II, the King's relationship with Roosevelt (and the delightful details about the King's visit to Roosevelt's country home), and about Queen Elizabeth (his wife)'s context and personality. Very enlightening if you are interested in Britain or in British royalty in the early 20th century.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating character study23 May 2009
Nina M. Osier
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The second son of the prince who would become King George V was born while his grandfather was still Prince of Wales, and his great-grandmother Victoria ("Gan-Gan" to her descendants) was still Queen/Empress of the British Empire. That he would ever be called upon to ascend the throne seemed unlikely during his boyhood, but that possibility began casting a shadow over his young manhood as his elder brother lived an international playboy's life and showed none of the qualities required of a future king. To Prince Albert, whom his family called Bertie, the throne was indeed a shadow. Something he dreaded, as he lived happily with his wife and two young daughters. Then his father died, and his brother succeeded. But Edward (or "David," within the royal family) came to the throne determined to marry an American woman who had a husband already, plus two living ex-husbands. Instead of planning for his coronation, King Edward struggled with his ministers and with his love, Wallis Warfield Simpson, until he realized that he could not have both the throne and the woman of his choice. So Edward abdicated, and Prince Albert became George VI - the Reluctant King.
This meticulously researched biography takes the reader through the entire course of George VI's life, and it makes a fascinating character study. The uncertain yet determined, sickly young man with the stammer wins a woman who makes him happy, and does his duty when his brother's choice requires it of him. George VI hates being king. Yet by the time of his early death, he has taken a throne that his brother made precarious and left it his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, as the most secure monarchy in the much altered Europe of the post-war years. He has also guided his country through the horrors of World War II, and dealt realistically with the changes afterward that transform his empire into a commonwealth.
The politics of world history not only form the background for this book; they often take center stage, making it read like a textbook much of the time. The author's style makes it a highly readable textbook, though; and the tale of Prince Albert who became King George is a compelling one of old-fashioned moral heroism. I enjoyed it thoroughly. My one (somewhat) negative comment must be that had I not been fortified by a lifelong passion for this period in history, bringing much prior knowledge to the read, I might have found its density of detail overwhelming instead of enlightening.
--Reviewed by Nina M. Osier, author of "Love, Jimmy: A Maine Veteran's Longest Battle"
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
A Must Read for Any History Buff30 Sept. 2010
Emily D. Nelson
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Last spring, I had a tickling curiosity to learn about George VI, and was excited to get my hands on the book from the local library.
My entire summer was spent reading this book, and in many ways, it was the best part of that summer - not because my summer was so drab, but because this book is so good!
Bradford's work is extensive, but it is also not a slobbering account of loyalty to the royal family. The Windsor's are portrayed very much as people, and Bradford provides all the necessary context to understand every nuanced action that is taken. I was constantly excitedly spouting off about some new tidbit from my book, and it is definitely on my Christmas list. Heck, if it's all I got for Christmas, I would be happy as a clam.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
An engrosing read about a misunderstood monarch16 Feb. 2011
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England's King George VI is known by many roles -- Queen Elizabeth II's father and the guy who took over the throne when his older brother, Edward VIII abdicated the British throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The irony here, of course, is that George's grandson Charles is a divorcee himself, who married another divorcee in Camilla Parker-Bowles, but I digress.
The general view of George VI, born as Albert, is that this was a timid man with a terrible stutter who was forced into the limelight because of his more popular, more charismatic older brother's actions. Author Sarah Bradford gives us a different view of the man, however. Though not charismatic, George VI, along with his wife, Elizabeth, captivated and charmed the nation, and the world, during the very difficult period following Edward VIII's abdication. Was George VI charismatic? Not at all. But unlike his older brother, he was one of the people, and was much loved and respected for that. Bradford follows George VI from his birth (as one of Queen Victoria's many great-grandchildren) to his death in 1952, shortly after his daughter Elizabeth had married Prince Albert.
Bradford takes a compelling and sympathetic view of the King -- this book, in fact, is timely, especially because of the recent release of the movie "The King's Speech," which stars Colin Firth as the King. However, Hollywood, as it usually does, gussied up the situation; focusing on the stutter rather than the other things that made George VI so beloved -- namely, his wife, his love for England, his desire to do what was right for his country (which is what led him to stay away from war with Germany until the very last moment -- he didn't want to embroil the British empire in war any more than he could help it) and his general virtue and goodness. Too much emphasis is placed on George VI's stutter and how he overcame it in depictions about him. Bradford blessedly doesn't beat the fact he's a stutterer to death. Rather, she points out that his ability to overcome his stuttering is just one great facet of his entire character.
The only thing with which I had a real problem was her obvious disdain for Edward VIII. Granted, Edward showed a huge lack of responsibility in his actions. But as a biographer, it's not Bradford's position to judge or to automatically take the negative viewpoint. She paints Edward as spoiled and petulant -- it would have been interesting to obtain the other side of the coin.
However, this isn't a biography about Edward VIII, though the Abdication was a turning point for his younger brother. Anyone wishing an honest viewpoint of a "reluctant king" -- his attributes and his flaws -- need look no further than Bradford's book.
Amy Wolff Sorter Author, Servant Of The Gods and Soul Obsession
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The King as Symbol of a Nation28 July 2012
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The ancestors of George VI gave up real political and military power to Parliament. So what role do monarchs play? As Sarah Bradford points out, this was a serious question in Britain, especially after the World Wars and in the year of the Abdication. But the English have had kings for over 1000 years and, while the monarch today cannot wield the sword and lead the troops, the institution has come to mean as much psychologically as it ever did. George VI symbolized the modern role of the monarch beautifully. Winston Churchill's sonorous voice may have been the dominant British voice in World War II but it was the quiet, steady, family-oriented, thoroughly royal presence of King George that symbolized Britain before, during and after the War. He strengthened the monarchy at a critical juncture simply by being himself.
I just watched George's now 86 year old daughter open the London Olympics. She, like her father, does not like publicity but, like her father, did a terrific job when asked to represent her country to the world. (Her father would have probably at first been deeply shocked and soon after thoroughly enjoyed watching Elizabeth leave Buckingham Palace with "James Bond" and then watching Elizabeth's sky-jump look-alike parachute out of a helicopter.) Bradford is clearly on George's side in this book. Though she does not overestimate his speech problem, she does a fine job of putting it into context and showing how he dealt with it at crucial times. George dutifully performed his role. He did not always enjoy it but he did it because above all he understood his critical symbolic role to the British people.
This awareness of the symbolic importance of the monarch was not true of his brother Edward. As another reviewer notes, Bradford comes down very hard on Edward VIII and especially on the love of his life, Wallis Simpson. Prior to reading Bradford's book, I read Frances Donaldson's biography of Edward. Donaldson also comes down hard on Edward but her portrayal is considerably more balanced than Bradford's. Before judging either Edward or Wallis Simpson, I would suggest at least perusing the middle section of Donaldson's book. Both Edward and Mrs. Simpson are more complex than Bradford at times describes them. However, even if one puts the divorce issue to the side, one thing is certain and Bradford clearly documents it. Edward, unlike his brother, was not willing to take on the burdens required by the modern monarchy. Edward was for Edward, not his people.
Aside from the somewhat unbalanced view of George's brother, Bradford has written a terrific book. It is densely detailed but I never failed to follow the flow of Bradford's thought. Her use of original sources is first-rate. Her writing style is clear and the chapter, "The Year of Three Kings," is in itself an excellent synopsis of a year in which the British monarchy was on the cusp of a catastrophe. George VI, by being who he was, both steadied the throne and steadied the nation through very difficult times. This is a worthy biography of a man who overcame his own personal demons to become an outstanding monarch and a symbol of British strength.