On his last day, the King went shooting among the oak trees and bramble thickets of the royal estate at Sandringham in Norfolk. Bareheaded and cheerful in the wintry sunshine, the King shot 50 hares, brought down a pigeon with a fine 100-ft. wing shot. That afternoon, pulling off his boots, George VI said contentedly to his shooting companions: "It's been a very good day's sport, gentlemen. I will expect you here at 9 o'clock on Thursday." Footman Daniel Long, who took a cup of cocoa to the King at 11 p.m. and found him in bed reading a sportsman's magazine, was the last person to see the King alive.
Early next day, a servant brought the King's morning cup of tea. The tea was never drunk: a blood clot had stilled George VI's valiant heart as he slept (see MEDICINE).
In the Shadow. He called himself a "very ordinary person"; it was not easy for him to be a King. His health was poor, he was shy and awkward, he stammered. His youth was spent in the shadow of his comparatively dashing elder brother. Of all King George V's sons, Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, known to his family as "Bertie," was the most unassuming. To his formidable great-grandmother, even the date of his birthDec. 14, 1895seemed inauspicious: as 76-year-old Queen Victoria noted in her journal, it was the 34th anniversary of the death of her beloved Consort, Prince Albert.
His childhood was strictly governed. His father, then Duke of York, kept his sons at arms' length except when he felt it was his duty to reprimand them. "Bertie and I," wrote elder brother Edward, "came in for a good deal of scolding." Years later, watching his spirited daughters splashing through a swimming lesson, George remarked in wonder: "I don't know how they do it. We were always so terribly shy and self-conscious as children."
At 13, Bertie enrolled in the Royal Naval College at Osborne. He liked the navy, and the navy's simple life; he ate with relish the traditional bread, cheese and onionswashed down with beerbefore turning in at night. He once got himself punished for letting off fireworks in the head. A pale, slim sublieutenant, sometimes doubled up with pains diagnosed much later as an ulcer, he saw action in the Battle of Jutland, where, as "Mr. Johnston," he was second-in-command of "A" turret aboard H.M.S. Collingwood. "The King," remembered Turret Commander W.E.C. Tait years later, "made cocoa as usual for me and the gun crew during the battle."
The Industrial Prince. After the war, he proposed three times to a Scottish lady named Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon before she accepted him. She was a commoner (the first to become a Queen since Henry VIII's day), and dreaded the bleak rigidity of royalty's life: "I said to him I was afraid . . . as royalty, never, never again to be free to think or speak or act as I really feel . . ." On the eve of their wedding in 1923, the London Times looked right past the royal couple and remarked, with more meaning than good manners, that the public awaited, "with still deeper interest," the marriage of the Duke's "brilliant elder brother."