The King's Speech: taking the helm
Files from The National Archives shed light on the early naval career of King George VI, portrayed by actor Colin Firth in the Oscar-nominated film The King's Speech.
George VI took the nation's helm on 11 December 1936 to restore faith in the monarchy, following the controversial abdication of his brother Edward VIII, and went on to lead Britain and the Commonwealth to war against Nazi Germany. But before he was King, he was Prince Albert, Duke of York, and served in the Royal Navy.
Records available at The National Archives chart his service in the Royal Navy prior to becoming King. The records show his promotion through the ranks, and include notes on his strength of character and physical condition, including the speech impediment made famous by 'The King's Speech', nominated for Best Picture at the 83rd Academy Awards.
In service to his country
The files held by The National Archives shine a light on the achievements of the then Duke of York. Royal Navy Service Records (Catalogue references: ADM 196/146 and ADM/196/118 folio 129) include entries for the Duke of York's service in the Navy, which he joined in January 1909 as a naval cadet shortly after his 13th birthday. The Duke of York was made acting sub-lieutenant at the age of 20 and, over the course of his naval career, was granted numerous awards and distinctions and promoted through the ranks to reach Admiral on 21 January 1936, the year he became King.
The Duke of York's Royal Navy Service Record notes that he 'takes charge well and assumes responsibility', has an 'upright character' but also that he was 'nervous of speech', revealing his speech impediment.
On 10 December 1936, his brother Edward VIII abdicated the throne. Records at The National Archives (Catalogue reference: HO 144/21070/1) contain a copy of the Official Report of Parliamentary Debates in the House of Commons for that day, and reveal comments from MPs including Winston Churchill's rallying call to 'give to His Majesty's successor [King George VI] that strength which can only come from the love of a united nation and Empire.'
A message from the King
King George VI's first message to the House of Commons on his ascension to the throne was read in the House on 14 December 1936 (Catalogue reference: PREM 1/456):
'I have succeeded to the throne in circumstances which are without precedent and at a moment of great personal distress. But I am resolved to do my duty and I am sustained by the knowledge that I am supported by the widespread goodwill and sympathy of all my subjects here and throughout the world.
It will be my constant endeavour, with God's help, supported as I shall be by my dear wife, to uphold the honour of the realm and to promote the happiness of my peoples.'
Buy the book that inspired the film: The King's Speech - How one man saved the British Monarchy, by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi.