Kings of England


George (Lewis) I.,

King of Great Britain, was the son of Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover, by Sophia, daughter of Frederick, Elector-Palatine, and granddaughter of James I. He was born in 1660; was trained to arms under his father; married his cousin, Sophia Dorothea, daughter of the Duke of Zell, in 1682; served in three campaigns with the Imperial army against the Turks in Hungary; and succeeded to the electorate in 1700. In 1706 he was created Duke of Cambridge, and succeeded to the throne of England on the death of Queen Anne, in 1714. The next year a rebellion broke out in Scotland, in favour of the Pretender, but this was soon entirely quelled, and several of the leaders lost their lives on the scaffold. The new family, however, was by no means popular; and the Whigs, with a view to support it, introduced septennial parliaments; while the king, who probably considered the British crown precarious, endeavoured to increase his continental power by the purchase of Bremen and Verden. This involved him in a quarrel with Charles XII. of Sweden, who, in conjunction with the Czar Peter, meditated an invasion of Scotland in favour of the Pretender; but the death of Charles XII., in 1717, put an end to this alarm.

The same project was afterwards supported by Spain, whose minister, Cardinal Alberoni, had formed the celebrated quadruple alliance to carry it into effect. This was met on the part of England by the sailing of a naval expedition under Sir George Byng, who nearly destroyed the Spanish fleet, and recovered Sicily and Sardinia, which the Spaniards had seized. In 1720 the famous 'South-Sea Bubble' was the source of great calamity to thousands of families, and produced such disturbances, that the king, who had gone to visit his German possessions, was suddenly recalled. In 1722 a new conspiracy against the government was discovered, but no serious result followed. In 1725 a treaty between Spain and the Emperor excited the jealousy of the king, who deemed it necessary to counteract it by another between Great Britain and most of the other European powers. The Spaniards then commenced the siege of Gibraltar; but the disputes being arranged by negotiation, the British monarch set out on a journey to the continent, where he was seized with a paralytic attack, and died at Osnaburg, June 11th, 1727, in the 68th year of his age, and the 11th of his reign. George I. was plain and simple in his tastes and appearance; though grave and sedate in public, he was gay and familiar with his intimates; combining a good share of sense with natural prudence, and showing much skill in the management of his hereditary dominions. His marriage was an unhappy one, and he had repudiated his wife many years before his death.

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George (Augustus) II.,

son of George I., was born in 1683; married, in 1705, the Princess Caroline, of Brandenburg-Anspach, who died in 1717; came to England with his father at the accession of the latter; was created Prince of Wales ; and in 1727 succeeded to the throne. The country was at this time in the most flourishing condition both at home and abroad, and had a powerful influence in all the courts of Europe, Spain excepted, with which country we were at war; but peace was restored in 1729. At length, owing to an infraction of the treaty of Seville by the Spaniards, and their repeated encroachments on our foreign trade and settlements, war was again declared against Spain in October, 1739; and Admiral Vernon was sent with a squadron to the West Indies, where he demolished Porto Bello, but failed in his attempt on Carthagena. In 1743 the king headed his army on the continent, and gained the battle of Dettingen against the French, Lord Stair commanding under him. No English sovereign has since led an army in person in the field.

In 1745 the Pretender's eldest son, Charles Edward Stuart, called the Young Pretender, landed in the Highlands, and was joined by several clans. After obtaining various successes, the rebels were finally defeated by the Duke of Cumberland, at Culloden, in 1746. During these events the king received numerous demonstrations of attachment to his person and family; and it was obvious that the majority of the nation were satisfied that, by supporting the House of Hanover, they, in fact, maintained the interests of civil liberty. In 1748, the war, which had produced no good to England, was concluded by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (now Aachen -1996). In 1751 died Frederick, Prince of Wales, between whom and his father there never was any cordiality. In 1755 war broke out between England and France, the course of which was at first very unpromising; but soon after Mr. Pitt (first Earl of Chatham) took the helm of state, affairs wore a different aspect.

In 1758 two treaties were entered into between England and Prussia, for granting subsidies to Frederick the Great, then engaged in the Seven Years' War. A similar treaty was concluded in 1759. The French power was nearly destroyed in the East Indies. In America Louisburg was taken; and the capture of Quebec was followed by the conquest of Canada. The island of Guadaloupe and the settlement of Senegal were taken by the English. Admiral Hawke defeated the French fleet under Conflans, and the British flag waved triumphant in every part of the world. Amid these successes George II. died suddenly, Oct. 25, 1760, in the 77th year of his age, and the 33rd of his reign. He was a plain, blunt man; of an ingenuous disposition, but hasty, obstinate, and parsimonious; and wholly regardless of science or literature. Still he was not unpopular; and dying in the midst of a successful war, the blaze of national glory would have been strong enough to eclipse his personal defects, had they even been more glaring. The history of this reign is included in Lord Mahon's (Earl Stanhope's) 'History of England from the Peace of Utrecht.' A portrait of George II., by Michael Dahl, is in the National Collection.

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George (William Frederick) III.,

King of Great Britain and Ireland, eldest son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and grandson of George II., was born June 4, 1738, being the first sovereign of the Hanoverian line that could boast of England as the place of his birth. On the death of his father, in 1751, his education was intrusted to the Earl of Harcourt and the Bishop of Norwich ; but he was wretchedly trained, was made unhappy by the violence of his grandfather, and the heartless selfishness of the Princess-dowager, his mother, and at 11 years of age could not read English. He ascended the throne on the death of his grandfather, in 1760; his reputation was unspotted, and the first speeches he delivered to his council and parliament were hailed as signs of a patriotic regard for the liberties of the people over whom he was destined to rule.

A prosperous war had made the existing administration popular, and no change was thought necessary; but when Mr. Pitt resigned, the Earl of Bute, who had long maintained confidential relations with the Princess-dowager, and possessed great influence with the king, was made Prime Minister. On the 8th of September, 1761, the king married the Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The new administration having entered into negotiations with France and Spain, preliminaries of peace were signed Nov. 3, 1762, at Fontainebleau. In 1763 the country was kept in continual agitation by political pamphlets and libels of various kinds, foremost among which was the memorable 'No. XLV. of the North Briton,' by Wilkes. In 1764 Lord Bute retired, and George Grenville, the new Premier, began those measures in relation to the American colonies, the consequences of which proved so momentous, and the American Stamp Act was passed the following year.

Early in this year the king was attacked by an illness of six weeks' duration, probably similar in its nature to the malady which obscured his latter days. Soon after his recovery he went down to the House of Peers, and proposed a legislative enactment, by which he might be enabled to appoint the queen, or some other member of the royal family, guardian to the heir apparent, and regent of the kingdom. The bill was passed, although it met with so much opposition in its progress, that another change in the administration ensued, and the Marquis of Rockingham was placed at the head of the Treasury. The Rockingham party repealed the obnoxious Stamp Act; yet, notwithstanding this and other popular measures, the new cabinet was dissolved in July, 1766.

The Duke of Grafton succeeded the Marquis of Rockingham as First Lord of the Treasury, and Mr. Pitt once more took office, being raised to the peerage by the title of Earl of Chatham; but in 1768, being disgusted with the conduct of his colleagues, he resigned the Privy Seal, and was succeeded by Lord Bristol. The same year was distinguished by the return of Wilkes for Middlesex, and the popular tumults attending upon his imprisonment and outlawry. The aspect of affairs in America grew more serious every day, and public discontent was at its height, when, at the close of the year 1769, Junius published his famous Letter to the King. At the beginning of 1770 Lord North succeeded the Duke of Grafton, and increased rather than alleviated the national calamities. Popular clamour kept pace with ministerial folly; blood had been already spilled in America; and the city of London delivered a bold and spirited address and remonstrance to the king, which the king replied to in terms expressive of his displeasure.

In 1772 the Royal Marriage Act was passed, whereby all members of the royal family are prevented from marrying before the age of 25, without the king's approbation; as also subsequently, if disapproved by both houses of parliament. After a long war, during which France, Spain, and Holland interfered in behalf of America, the independence of the United States was acknowledged. In 1782 Lord North resigned, and the Rockingham party came into office; but the new administration soon afterwards broke up, on account of the sudden death of the premier, and Lord Shelburne was placed at the head of the government, with Mr. Pitt, son of the Earl of Chatham, as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

In 1783 the memorable Coalition ministry between Mr. Fox and Lord North was formed. To this the king was decidedly hostile; and as soon as Mr. Fox's India bill had been rejected by the Lords, he sent a message to him and Lord North, commanding them immediately to return him their seals of office, by a messenger, as a personal interview with them would be disagreeable to him. On the following day Mr. Pitt became Prime Minister; and the firmness which the king had displayed in the affair, and the intrepidity with which he opposed the Coalition, gained him considerable popularity. On the 2nd of August, 1786, a woman, named Margaret Nicholson, attempted to assassinate his Majesty at the garden entrance of St. James's Palace. She was mad, and was at once consigned to Bedlam. Similar attempts on the king's life were made in October, 1795, and in May, 1798: on the last occasion, in Drury Lane Theatre. The king displayed great self-possession, and the audience, roused to enthusiasm, sang three times the National Anthem, with the following stanza, supplied impromptu by Sheridan:-

            'From every latent foe,
            From the assassin's blow,
            God save the king!
            O'er him thine arm extend,
            For Britain's sake defend
            Our father, prince, and friend;
            God save the king!'

In 1800 the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland was passed; and in order to bring those over who opposed the measure, the ministers allowed a tacit understanding to prevail, that it would be followed by certain political concessions. George III., however, could never be persuaded that he could admit the Catholics to political power without violating the spirit of his coronation oath; the consequence of which was, the retirement from office of Mr. Pitt and his colleagues in 1801, and the formation of a new ministry, headed by Mr. Addington. Negotiations were now speedily entered into, which led to the treaty of Amiens. The king consented to it with great reluctance. It was, in fact, very unpopular; and when the resumption of hostilities took place in 1803, there was an evident demonstration of public satisfaction. The Addington administration proved incompetent to their task, and Mr. Pitt, in 1804, again took the helm of state; but he died in 1806, and the Grenville party, which Fox had joined, went into office.

In 1807 Lord Grenville and his colleagues attempted to change the king's opinions with regard to Catholic emancipation; but his Majesty was inflexible, and declared, that 'although he had firmness sufficient to quit his throne and retire to a cottage, or place his neck on a block, if his people required it, yet he had not resolution to break the oath which he had taken in the most solemn manner at his coronation!' This led to the ejection of the Fox and Grenville party, and the Perceval administration succeeded them. On the 25th of October, 1809, the king commenced the 50th year of his reign, and a jubilee took place on the occasion. The rapid decay of the king's sight at this period was very apparent, and considerably affected his spirits; and the death of his youngest and darling child, the Princess Amelia, which happened towards the close of 1810, gave him a shock from which he never recovered. His insanity returned, and, early in December, it assumed so violent a character, that but slight hopes were entertained of his recovery. A regency bill was therefore passed, similar to that proposed by Mr. Pitt in 1788.

The remaining years of the king's life are little more than a blank in biography, for his lucid moments were 'short, and far between;' but it is said that in 1814, when the allied sovereigns visited England, he evinced indications of returning reason, and even expressed a wish to see the royal visitors -a wish which it was not deemed proper to indulge. At length deafness was added to his other calamities, and his manner and appearance are described as pitiable in the extreme. On the 17th of November, 1818, the queen died; but the king never became acquainted with her death, or with the subsequent appointment of the Duke of York to the office of Custos of his person. At the latter end of 1819 his appetite began to fail, his weakness rapidly increased, and on the 29th of January, 1820, he breathed his last, in the 82nd year of his age, and the 60th of his reign. George III. was religious, temperate, and sincere; and, in all his tastes and amusements, plain and practical. He was particularly fond of music, and afforded encouragement to its professors. He granted a charter to the Royal Academy, knighted its first President, Reynolds, and patronized his successor. West, who, in the course of thirty years, painted sixty-four pictures for the king, and received for them £34,187. He also aided the cause of science by the encouragement he gave to Cook, Byron, and Wallis, the circumnavigators ; Herschel, and other eminent men.

George III was succeded by his son George IV, and was the grandfather of Queen Victoria.

There is a 'History of England during the Reign of George III.,' by W. Massey, in 4 vols. 8vo., and a work entitled 'The Court and Cabinets of George III.,' edited by the Duke of Buckingham. The Constitutional History of England, since the Accession of George III.,' by T. E. May, C.B., is in course of publication; 'Memoirs of the Life and Reign of King George III.,' by J. H. Jesse, appeared in 1866 ; and the 'Correspondence of George III. with Lord North'(l769-82), from the Royal Library at Windsor, edited, with Notes and Introduction, by W. B. Donne, appeared early in 1867.

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George (Augustus Frederic) IV.,

King of Great Britain, &c., the eldest son of George III. by Queen Charlotte, was born Aug. 12,1762. His education, together with that of his brother Frederic, was intrusted to Dr. Markham, subsequently Archbishop of York, with the assistance of Dr. Cyril Jackson as sub-preceptor; and after 1776, to Dr. Hurd, Bishop of Worcester, and Mr. Arnold, of St. John's College, Cambridge. The prince was by no means deficient in natural abilities; and under his tutors be acquired a competent knowledge of literature and science. Up to his eighteenth year, the prince had been restricted as much as possible to the society of his relatives and tutors; but he then began to associate with the Whig nobility, and formed political connections with Lord Moira, Fox, Sheridan, &c., while he figured in the annals of intrigue as the protector of the beautiful and accomplished Mrs. Robinson. This lady, three years older than the prince, had first attracted his notice when performing Perdita, in the Winter's Tale. Other illicit loves succeeded, and were followed by a more permanent connection with Mrs. Fitzherbert, a widow lady of good family, and a professed Catholic. A private marriage took place, which not only seriously displeased the king, but also became the subject of public animadversion; such a contract being a violation of the Act of Settlement, and of the more recent Royal Marriage Act.

His dissipated mode of life, and the building of Carlton House, had loaded the prince with a debt of more than £250,000 sterling, his annual income being at this time £50,000. The king refused to afford him any aid. He therefore sold off his stud of racing horses, discharged many of his servants, and resolved to live in retirement, that he might be enabled to liquidate his debts. In 1787 his case was brought before parliament; and the king having announced his intention of adding £10,000 per annum to his son's income unit of the civil list, the house voted £161,000 to satisfy the prince's creditors, and £20,000 for the completion of Carlton House. This for a time patched up his credit; but his habits of expense frustrated all hopes of his living within his income A sumptuous residence had been prepared for Mrs Fitzherbert at Brighton, which he had previously raised into fashionable importance by making it his usual place of abode during the summer. Many demireps of fashion fluttered round him and shared his attentions, the most notorious of whom was the Countess of Jersey.

At length being encumbered with debts the prince was induced by the conditional promise of their liquidation, together with an increase of his income, to consent to a match with his cousin, the Princess Caroline Amelia Elizabeth daughter of the Duke of Brunswick She arrived in this country April 5, 1795; their marriage was celebrated on the 8th, and on the following day they proceeded to Windsor, whither they were accompanied by Lady Jersey, for whose establishment in his household the prince had peremptorily provided. The Princess of Wales, who discovered by degrees the whole of the mortifying circumstances, gave birth to a daughter (the Princess Charlotte) in January 1796; and the prince, shortly after, sent her proposals for a separation, to which she promptly acceded. Little else occurred to disclose to the public their mutual aversion till the year 1804, when the right to the guardianship and charge of their daughter was maintained on both sides with much acrimony. The result was that George the Third undertook the care of the young princess, and her mother retired to a private residence at Blackheath, where she remained subject to many indignities and suspicions, till she quitted the country in 1814.

In consequence of George III's mental derangement, the prince was appointed regent, in February, 1811. The state of public affairs had long been critical but our repeated victories in the Peninsula had rendered the prospect more cheering; and, at length, its final abandonment by the French and the failure of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, made way for the restoration of Louis XVIII., who declared himself indebted for his crown, under God, to the Prince Regent of England. Soon after (in 1814), the prince received a visit from the Emperor of Russia, the king of Prussia, and other foreign princes, heroes, and statesmen, whom he entertained with dignified hospitality. In May, 1816, his daughter, the Princess Charlotte, was united to Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg, (Late King of Belgium); and when, in the following year, she died, it threw her father into such a paroxysm of grief as to bring on a serious illness. Although the war had been splendidly terminated, peace did not bring with it its usual attendant, plenty; a spirit of discontent, for several years, pervaded a large mass of the people; and an unsuccessful attempt was made on the life of the Prince Regent, as he was going to Westminster, January 28, 1817, to open the session of parliament.

In 1819 and 1820 very serious riots occurred in the large manufacturing towns; and in the metropolis a few desperate men, known afterwards as the Cato Street conspirators, were tried and executed for plotting to assassinate the prince and the leading members of the administration. On the 29th of January, 1820, George IV. succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, and was crowned in Westminster Abbey, with great pomp, July 19, 1821. Previous to this, a process was instituted in the House of Lords against the queen, for the purpose of depriving her of her rights and privileges as Queen of England. [See Caroline.] In the August of 1821 the king visited Ireland; in September he went to Hanover; and in 1822 he paid a similar visit to Scotland. On his return he sent the Duke of Wellington to the Congress of Verona ; and, at the earnest solicitation of Lord Liverpool, he appointed Mr. Canning to succeed Lord Londonderry as secretary of foreign affairs, although Canning's opposition to the proceedings against the queen had greatly offended him. Lord Liverpool still continued premier, but the new secretary introduced more liberal measures, and effected the secession of England from the Holy Alliance.

In April, 1827, the Earl of Liverpool became incapacitated for office, and Mr. Canning was appointed premier: but in less than four months this en-lightened and popular minister died Lord Goderich succeeded him; but he retained office only till the following January when most of the leading Tories, with the Duke of Wellington at their head, returned to power The most remarkable event in the latter part of the reign of George IV. was the Bill for abolishing the political disabilities of the Roman Catholics, passed in April, 1829. During the latter period of his life the king suffered much from the gout and other infirmities of age: he was seldom seen out of his own circle till at last he held his courts entirely at Windsor and passed nearly the whole of his time in comparative seclusion at the royal cottage. He lingered for a long time, and suffered greatly at length, on the 26th of June, 1830, a blood vessel burst in his stomach, and he almost instantly expired, faintly exclaiming, 'This is death'. As regent and sovereign, George IV held the sceptre of Great Britain twenty years. Notwithstanding the dissipated and extravagant habits of the king's early manhood, he had many redeeming qualities: he was naturally kind and generous, and did many acts of private benevolence; he encouraged the literature of his country; and was the munificent patron of our public institutions, whether for charitable objects or for the advancement of science. There is a 'History of the Reign of George III.', by the Duke of Buckingham.

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King George V (Monarch 1910 - 1935)

George V was the second son of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. He married Mary of Teck and two of their five sons succeeded to the throne (as Edward VIII and George VI). Remembered as a kindly and duty-infused monarch he presided over the traumas of The Great War and its aftermath, continued economic and social disarray, the rise of European fascism, challenges to Empire and the new possibilities of television and the motor car.

Guided to 1916 by Herbert Asquith, George's government oversaw the Parliament Act in 1911 which redefined the House of Lords as a revising and delaying chamber and removed its powers of veto over money bills (budgets); never would governments be quite the same again. It was a triumph for Asquith and his Chancellor Lloyd George. In the wake of this legislation the supportive Irish MPs were rewarded with a promised Home Rule Bill (delayed until 1914); and Lloyd George's National Insurance Act could proceed, providing a degree of Unemployment and Health care which, though minimal, was the foundation for later schemes of National Health and National Insurance. Despite these achievements, politically hard won, the pre-war years were socially difficult with campaigns for Womens' votes and male suffrage expansion, and strikes in many areas of economic life.

The War brought a new focus, arguably the first 'total war'. The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro- Hungarian Empire, on 28 June 1914 brought the two great alliances (Triple Alliance of Italy, Germany and Austria/Hungary) and Triple Entente (France, Great Britain and Russia) into conflict in a war which lasted to 1918 and cost millions of lives. Britain entered in August 1914 once Belgian neutrality had been violated. 'The lamps went out all over Europe', it was said, accurately. It was a static war of trench lines dominated by machine guns, which took their toll on the Western Front at The Somme, Ypres, Passchendaele; and naval and imperial engagements festered at Jutland and on the Eastern Front in Palestine and Turkey. Empire troops were sucked in, notably at Gallipoli, and armies confronted each other from Belgium to East Africa to the Middle East. An Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918 and a new world order was initiated after the Paris Peace Treaties - driven by Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George (Prime Minister from 1916). The latter was the hero of the day for Britons, 'the man who won the war'. A League of Nations was established with fine ideals but no possibility of enforcement, and with sharp penalties, including a 'war-guilt' clause, imposed on Germany (from which Hitler would very soon gain political momentum in Germany). It was not a peace that would last.

At home the war-end saw women gain the vote (1918 and 1928) and male suffrage extended further. And the pace of change did not relent. After the Easter Rebellion the southern Irish provinces gained Free State status and Independence with the troubled founding of Eire. The Labour Party benefited from the post-war political pressures to produce its first Labour Government in 1924 (J.Ramsay MacDonald) and again from 1929. But troubles there were, evidenced by The General Strike in 1926, the mass unemployment of the 1920s and 1930s, the world financial crisis in the wake of the Wall Street Crash and the rise of a European fascism partly born of economic stress. In their different ways Stanley Baldwin, Conservative, and Ramsay MacDonald, Labour, had to struggle with these events, the latter heading a National Government from 1931.

George V died in 1935, by when Hitler and Mussolini were already well placed and resolved to challenge the 1918/19 settlement, and he was succeeded by his son Edward, Prince of Wales. Upon Edward's abdication, his second son, Prince Albert acceded to the throne as King George VI. ['George V' was written by Richard Miller, © 2009]

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King George VI (Monarch 1936-1952)

King George VI was Edward VIII's brother and the son of George V and Mary of Teck. His ascendancy was unexpected and unwanted, the outcome of Edward's abdication. His nervous disposition and speech impediment brought him anguish on the throne; but his courage in facing up to his duty won the admiration of his people, reinforced subsequently by his wartime residence in Britain and presence in bombed London.

His reign was dominated by the manoeuvrings of Germany, Italy and Japan, culminating in the Second World War and its aftermath. His Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, early tried to come to terms with Hitler's annexation of Austria, his rearmament and the occupation of the Sudeten Territories of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain's attempted 'appeasement' of Hitler, in the cause of peace, was discredited when he returned from Munich claiming 'Peace with Honour': in March 1939 Hitler seized all of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain then declared his support for Poland in the event of a German attack, which came in September 1939; Britain declared war on the 3rd of that month.

For six years Britain and her allies were at war, the second 'Total War'. Her population (and Monarch) were blitzed, France, Norway, Finland, Belgium and Holland fell, and Britain 'stood alone' in the wake of defeat at Dunkirk and the nazification of Europe. The war widened with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the entry of the USA, the unwise German attack on Russia, the Desert Campaign in North Africa, the naval war in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the fall of Singapore. It ended only after the atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the German use of rocketry against London, the Holocaust of European Jews and the allied fight through occupied Europe after D Day. From 1940 Winston Churchill spoke for his nation; and throughout King George identified with his bombed people by remaining resident in London.

The European war ended in May 1945. By then the country had experienced unprecedented state organisation, even control, from which it would never be released. The Labour Government of Clement Attlee, from 1946, expanded this state planning to introduce, with national approval, The National Health Service, nationalisation of much of industry and transport and membership of The United Nations and NATO; and Britain's 'special relationship' with the USA was seen as essential for sustained peace, a focus of interest which replaced India and Pakistan, granted their independence in 1947. Churchill returned in 1951, distressed by his predecessor's policies and by the independence of the Sub Continent. But it was a new world of reconstruction, which King George did not live to see: he died in 1952 to be succeeded by his daughter Elizabeth. ['George VI' was written by Richard Miller, © 2009]

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The above information except for George V & VI was gleaned from various sources and then put together by Colin Hinson © 1996.

The George V & VI information was written by Richard Miller © 2009.

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