On this very day in 1952, King George VI of the United Kingdom had died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 56 after a long battle with lung cancer. The then Princess Elizabeth, Duchess Of Edinburgh was in Kenya at the time. She receives news of her father’s death and her accession to the most famous throne in the world!
We start our story on 31st January 1952. King George VI sees off his eldest daughter and heiress presumptive and her husband on a tour that would be destined for Australia and New Zealand, a tour the King himself was supposed to have taken, yet being unable to do so due to his illness. King George waves off his daughter as she embarks on the plane. This was the last time they ever saw each other.
On the 5th February 1952, King George retired to bed at Sandringham House in what was later described as ‘his usual health’.
The following morning, when the footman came to wake up the King at 7:30am, they discovered that King George was dead! The King had died in his sleep after suffering with lung cancer.
News was broken to London at 10:45am in a special news bulletin. Below is a recording of the announcement of King George’s death.
Princess Elizabeth and The Duke Of Edinburgh had stopped in Kenya and were staying at a place called Sagana Lodge in the Treetops. Since October the previous year, The Queen’s private secretary began carrying draft accession papers, should the worst happen and the Princess accede when outside of the UK.
On the morning of The King’s death, Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister had been informed almost immediately as news broke as Sandringham. The message, however got to Nairobi in Kenya 4 hours after as the telegram sent could not be decoded until the safe containing the code book was unlocked.
Eventually, the codebook was obtained and the message was discovered. The message was received at Government House in Nairobi and Martin Charteris was immediately telephoned, once the shock had a moment to settle in and Charteris had composed himself, he immediately phoned Sagana Lodge where The Duke Of Edinburgh answered the telephone. When news broke to the Duke, it is said he reacted ‘as if he had been hit by a lightning bolt’.
The Duke Of Edinburgh had swiftly taken his wife out for a walk to a secluded spot in the garden, where at 2:45pm, he told her: The King had died and as a result, she was Sovereign. Then, mustering all the energy she could, she did the thing that the Royals have always done so well. She kept calm, and carried on – immediately springing into action, writing apology letters for not being able to visit places.
The first thing Martin Charteris had to ask the new Queen, after offering his condolences, was what would she like to be called now that she was on the throne. In immediate response to the question, she retorted: ‘why my own name of course, what else?’ Monarchs can choose any of their names to reign under. For example, Princess Elizabeth’s full name was Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, so she could have been Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Alexandra I or Queen Mary III.
Later that evening, once Charteris had sent off the details of the new Queen’s wishes, the Queen and the Royal party left swiftly and without and pomp to fly back to England, with Elizabeth as Queen.
As London mourned, on the 8th February 1952, heralds assembled across the country to proclaim the new Queen’s accession to the throne. The primary ones in London were at St James’s Palace (Friary Court) and at the Royal Exchange.
The video below is of the proclamation of accession read at the Royal Exchange, London.
5th February 1952 – 10:30pm | King George VI retired to bed for the last time. He died in his sleep. His daughter became Elizabeth II.
6th February 1952 – 7:30am | King George VI is discovered dead by a servant at wake-up call.
6th February 1952 – 10:45am | An announcement on BBC Radio declares that King George VI died peacefully in his sleep and that Princess Elizabeth was Queen.
6th February 1952 – 2:45pm | Prince Philip takes Elizabeth for a walk whilst in Kenya to tell her her father has died and consequently, she is Queen.
7th February 1952 – 4:30pm | Queen Elizabeth II returns to the UK as Queen for the first time. She is greeted by Winston Churchill and other dignitaries.
7th February 1952 – 9:00pm | Winston Churchill makes a speech on BBC Radio declaring the sad loss of the King and his allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.
8th February 1952 – 11:00am | The accession council for Queen Elizabeth II assembles and she is proclaimed Queen across Great Britain. Primarily at St James’s Palace the Royal Exchange and also at many places across the UK.