George VI and Elizabeth: The Marriage That Saved the Monarchy
In her latest investigation of the royal family, former Vanity Fair contributing editor Smith, the bestselling author of Elizabeth the Queen and Prince Charles, leaves no jewel unturned as she recounts the lives of an improbable couple who would do so much to steer their country through the turbulent period of the abdication crisis and World War II.
The author, who was granted “the privilege of working in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle,” is mostly sympathetic to her flawed but lovable subjects: Bertie, the emotionally diffident second son of George V; and the winsome, exuberant young Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Though neither demonstrated a keen intellect, they rose to the occasion to become serious British monarchs, which was vital after the shameless irresponsibility of Edward VIII.
After their marriage in 1923—after Elizabeth, reluctant to leave her free-wheeling social life and in love with another man, refused Bertie twice—the author alternates nuanced accounts of their respective lives within the same aristocratic social set. Elizabeth was the youngest of a large, wealthy, well-connected family, while Bertie toiled in the shadow of his charming older brother and only came into his own after the 1936 abdication, supported by his loyal wife and the speech therapist who helped him gain confidence (as depicted in the 2010 film The King’s Speech).
As king and queen, they endeared themselves to their public by simply showing up, suffering through the Blitz together, and sharing their authentically warm family life with the British people. As one insider declared, “What a piece of luck that the Abdication happened. We have got precisely the monarchs who are needed at this moment in the Empire and the world.” Smith gracefully brings us into her subjects’ inner world, a journey aided by a generous selection of photos.
An exhaustive, sweetly reassuring narrative that will appeal to any royal watcher.
Kirkus Review (starred review)
Biographer Smith (Prince Charles) spotlights the partnership between Queen Elizabeth II’s parents in this exhaustive yet intimate chronicle. In addition to his “lifelong struggle” with a stutter, Prince Albert, called Bertie by his family, endured an abusive father, a sadistic governess, and his “pampered and careless” older brother, Edward. The romance between Bertie and Elizabeth Bowes Lyon began at the 1920 Royal Air Force ball, when the 24-year-old prince asked the 19-year-old Scottish debutante to dance. (Bertie was smitten; Elizabeth initially treated his interest “as a lark.”) The couple married in 1923 and had two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, before the family’s “cosseted life” came to an end in 1936 when Edward abdicated and Bertie became King George VI. Smith sheds light on how Elizabeth’s support and advice helped Bertie cope with his fear of public speaking and forge an “enduring partnership” with Winston Churchill, and she sprinkles the narrative with choice quotes: “I’m glad we’ve been bombed,” Elizabeth said after Buckingham Palace was hit during the Blitz. “It makes me feel I can look the East End in the Face.” It adds up to a stirring portrait of grace under pressure. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Apr.)
New York Times
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Town & Country
When the Royals Showed Their Human Side During the Blitz, George VI and Elizabeth abandoned protocol in favor of solidarity—and helped Britain get through Hitler’s onslaught. By Sally Bedell Smith