The announcement of King George VI’s death brought deep sadness to the British nation. King George VI passed away peacefully in his sleep on the night of February 6, 1952, when a blood clot caused his heart to stop. 

While devastated by the news, the public were also shocked by the announcement, as the King had kept the true extent of his ill health private. He suffered from lung cancer, exhaustion and anxiety throughout his reign; problems which eventually took their toll on George VI.

Out of respect for King George VI, the nation came to a halt when news of his death was made public. Certain television programmes were not broadcasted, and public places such as cinemas closed. The King’s down-to-earth character helped him capture the hearts of the public, especially since he was never expected to be King, stepping up only on account of his brother Edward’s abdication. 

VE day King George

King George VI, his family and Winston Churchill on VE Day, May 8, 1945
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In this post, we examine the newspaper articles that reported on the death of the King, to see how the public would have first read about his passing. Newspapers didn’t simply report on the event of his death, but took the opportunity to remember the King and provide a tribute to his life. They looked back on his achievements, his approach to ruling, and how he saved the popularity of the Royal Family after Edward abdicated the throne. 

Turn the page to:


The Day of His Death 

The Evening Standard printed a front page announcement of the King’s death on the same day he passed away. The headline and subheadline on the front page read: 

“The King is Dead” and “Peaceful end in his sleep”

Publishing on the same day, the newspaper was one of the first to report on the event, making the public aware of the events that took place. The reporting in this article is quite succinct, since the King had only passed away that morning and the press would only have limited information. It was also most likely a matter of urgency to make the public aware of what they know so far. 

The newspaper stated “It was announced from Sandringham at 10.45 that the King, who retired to rest last night in his usual health, passed peacefully away in his sleep early this morning.” The reference to “usual health” makes it clear that King George VI had kept his health problems quiet, with the rest of the world, including his family, assuming he was in good health the night before his death. The newspaper continued to write that “To everybody he appeared to be in the very best of health.”

The Evening Standard also wanted to report on Princess Elizabeth, who at that time was in Nyeri, Africa, as part of the Commonwealth tour she was embarking on in place of her father. The report reads“As yet, her plans are not known.” 

king george vi death newspaper

Evening Standard front page, Wednesday, 6 February, 1952
To order this rare edition priced at £59.99, please contact research@historic-newspapers.co.uk


Princess Elizabeth Hears the News 

The papers were particularly anxious on reporting on the Queen’s whereabouts and whether she had yet been informed of the news. Of course, this was long before the communicative technology we have today, so informing her of the news while away in Africa on her Commonwealth Tour was difficult. 

The Daily Mirror reported the news the following day, February 7, 1952, by writing about how the King was found dead, mentioning his valet and the lack of response. The newspaper printed a front page feature with the headline and subheadline: 

“His Valet Found The King Dead” and “He called softly to his master – but there was no answer”

The newspaper begin talking about Elizabeth with the heading:

“Elizabeth the Second – Girl of 25 comes to the Throne”

The Daily Mirror gave detail about how the new Queen was given the news in their King George newspaper issue, stating that “Prince Philip was given the news first. He walked over to the white-faced and apprehensive Princess and tenderly told her: “The King has passed away peacefully in his sleep.” Princess Elizabeth burst into tears.” It’s particularly interesting that Prince Philip used the term “King” instead of “father” when giving her the news, almost upholding a sense of duty over family matters and making the news slightly less personal. 

The newspaper also wrote about how he was found, following with “It was as sudden as that.” While to the public it appeared sudden, the King suffering with health problems leading up to his death meant his passing perhaps wasn’t as sudden as reporters originally thought. The Daily Herald reported that “As she boarded the aircraft she smiled at the sympathetic onlookers.”

death of king george vi

The Daily Mirror, Thursday, February 7, 1952


The King’s Final Day

Readers of the Daily Mirror discovered how the King spent his last day, with the newspaper claiming“For all Tuesday the King was out with his neighbour, Lord Fermoy, shooting on the estate.” The reporter also wrote“It was only a few hours that changed the atmosphere of Sandringham House from happiness to tragedy.”

The King’s last day seemed very ordinary with the King out shooting on the estate, taking time away from duties. The Daily Mirror also reported that“The King went out after breakfast at 9.40, lunched at the Flitcham village hall, and did not return to Sandringham until dusk. It was a dry day, but chilly, and the King bagged nine hares.”


Rare King George VI Death Newspapers

Historic Newspapers have rare newspapers reporting on the death of King George VI for sale for £59.99, meaning you can read genuine coverage from the time. To order these incredibly rare papers, please contact research@historic-newspapers.co.uk. All titles feature front page coverage of the death as well as in depth reporting throughout:

  • Evening Standard (6th February 1952)
  • Daily Mirror (7th February 1952)
  • Daily Herald (7th February 1952)
  • Daily Graphic (7th February 1952

Abdication of Edward VIII

The abdication of Edward VIII caused a constitutional crisis in Britain. Edward VIII was the first British monarch to voluntarily abdicate the throne, when his relationship with American divorcee Wallis Simpson was looked upon very unfavourably by the Royal Family and the rest of the public. 

Edward VIII became King when his father, George V, passed away in 1936. While Edward VIII was initially a popular King among the public and was going to be crowned King officially in 1937, he decided that he could not take the throne without the help and support of the woman he loved by his side. 

It was at this moment, when the radio broadcast was given, that George VI knew he had to step up and become King. Respect for the British monarchy had decreased around the world at this point, putting the new King in a very difficult position. 

The Daily Mirror claimed that the abdication “was a grave crisis for the whole system of Royal rule.”


Saving the Monarchy 

Since the abdication of Edward VIII had impacted the credibility of the British monarchy, George VI took to the throne at a very troubling time. The Daily Mirror wrote “Other nations had begun to sneer. Britain’s monarchy was doomed, its prestige lost and the people’s loyalty to the Crown was over, they said.” This shows how other countries began to view the British monarchy, which had once been so admirable.

The Daily Mirror, on Thursday, February 7, 1952, printed the headline: 

‘I’m not palace-minded,” he said….but duty intervened.”

As the newspaper claims, George VI had no ambition to become King. Since King George VI did not have a passion for leadership, the Daily Mirror wrote that “It was, perhaps, because kingship was wished upon him that, in later years, he was to be especially sympathetic to the tasks that were to befall a daughter, Elizabeth; and to ease wherever he might the irksome burdens for which he knew she must be trained.” While King George VI became King following his brother’s tarnishing of the Royal Family’s reputation, he would have been seen by the public as a kind of “heroic” figure, stepping up and living up to his duty. Edward VIII became the Duke of Windsor, and George VI became the King of England.

king george vi newspaper

The Daily Mirror, Thursday, February 7, 1952

The Daily Mirror was very positive about the King’s ability to rule, most likely reflecting the views of the general public and writing about how he had saved the monarchy. The newspaper claimed that George VI “had achieved what was almost a miracle. Without thought for themselves they had done a stupendous job. The monarchy was saved.” George VI was able to change opinions of the monarchy and restore its credibility following Edward’s abdication. 

As the Daily Mirror wrote “He won back the devotion of his people to the Crown and he silenced the scoffers all over the world.” He was also Not at all palace-minded, but with the right dignity of Kings and an upholder of the decencies this was by any standards, anywhere, a good man.”

the daily mirror headline

Daily Mirror tribute to the late King, Thursday, February 7, 1952


Tributes to the King 

As well as reporting the facts of the King’s death to the public, the press took the opportunity to write tributes to the King. The Daily Mirror mentioned his role in the RAF, claiming he had “won his wings as a pilot” back in the day. 

The newspaper praised his role as King, even reporting that his wonderful dedication to kingship meant he had died for his country: “He and his family, whom he loved, had done a wonderful job for Britain, working as servants of their people and giving back glory to the Throne. You do not have to be on a battlefield to die for your country. You can do it quite quietly in service if you are a good man.” The Daily Mirror looked back on his character and concluded their opinion of the late King, painting him in a very positive light and making awareness of what a kind-hearted King he was. The newspaper also wrote “Many people noted how he could relax, how engagingly he smiled and chatted.”

The newspaper also included some photographs of his ordinary life behind the public eye, such as the Queen playing the piano for the King, and the couple taking a stroll together when they were the Duke and Duchess of York. 

The Daily Herald, on the same day, printed a feature with the headline: 

“World mourns with Britain a great gentleman, a modest King”

The newspaper wrote that British warships and Army establishments around the globe were going to be paying tribute to the King by firing at minute intervals 56 rounds with saluting guns, which is one for each year of the King’s life. 

king george vi death newspaper

Image from the Daily Mirror, Thursday, February 7, 1952. The caption reads:
“The Honeymoon Strollers: The first days of a love match and a happy partnership
that were to be a shining example of British family life for nearly thirty years –
the King and Queen, then Duke and Duchess of York, during their honeymoon in 1923.”

 

king george vi newspaper

Image from the Daily Mirror, Thursday, February 7, 1952, reading:
“A quiet evening with no visitors: The Queen plays the piano to the King during one of their few
quiet evenings at home together. This picture was taken at Buckingham Palace just before Their Majesties’
Silver Wedding in April, 1948. It was about this time that the King first complained of feeling ‘fagged out’ in the evenings.
Royal duties were heavy but the Queen made it her business to see that he had some evenings undisturbed.”


The Queen’s Role

The press did not fail to report on the influence of the Queen on the remarkable reign of King George VI. The King’s wife was a huge support for him during his time on the throne, helping him to become the leader he did not intentionally sign up to be. The Daily Mirror wrote about “how brilliantly and charmingly his wife helped him,” become a confident, engaging ruler, and even featured a quote from the King himself, which stated: 

I have done my best to discharge my duty as a constitutional Sovereign of a free people and in this task I have been unceasingly helped by the Queen.”

This section of the report clearly shows the strength of marriage between the King and Queen, a bond that would have been immensely popular among the public at the time. Their relationship was presented as particularly idyllic and what was expected of the monarchs of England. 


Funeral Arrangements

The Daily Mirror reported on the next plans for the funeral.. The public learnt how they could pay their respects to the King, with the newspaper writing “His body will be brought to London before the end of this week and the Royal bier erected on the same spot in the historic hall adjoining Parliament where his father also lay in State.” 

It was reported by the Daily Herald that the decision on the King’s funeral was now up to the new Queen, Elizabeth II. Her first royal duty as sovereign was to make the final arrangements for the funeral and decide on the date. The newspaper also wrote that “The King will be carried today to the small chapel inside the gates at Sandringham, where his dead father lay 16 years ago.”

the daily herald newspaper

The Daily Herald claimed that this image of Princess Elizabeth’s was the King’s favourite picture of her.
It was taken at the Trooping the Colour ceremony in June 1951, in which Elizabeth deputised for her father.
The newspaper claimed Elizabeth stepping in showed the seriousness of the King’s ill health. 


Elizabeth II Becomes Queen 

Immediately following the death of King George VI, Princess Elizabeth would be known from that moment on as Queen Elizabeth II. With the new Queen on her travels back from Africa, the Daily Herald reported that “Queen Elizabeth the Second will be formally proclaimed Queen at St. James’ Palace at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning.” Along with immediate despair and heartbreak upon hearing of her father’s passing, Elizabeth was also greeted by the fact she would now become the next Queen of England. The press also made awareness of the change in monarch, using their reports to introduce the new Queen. 

The Daily Mirror reported that “The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II is not expected to take place before the middle of next year.” So while Elizabeth was at that moment known as Queen, she would be waiting until the following year to officially become ruler. 

Unknown at the time, there was a significant moment between the Princess and her father when he bid her farewell as she began her travels in Africa. This was the last ever meeting of father and daughter, and the last time the new Queen would be in England as a Princess. The newspaper painted a rather idyllic picture of their last moment together, claiming that “It is, too, a picture the new Queen will carry in her heart. For this is how she last saw her father. He kissed her, then, bare-headed, he stood and waved as her plane took off. He insisted on staying in the open and watching until the aircraft was a tiny silver dot, far away in the sky.”

the death of king george vi

A photograph of the late King George VI in the Daily Mirror, Wednesday, February 7, 1952.
This was a photo of him as he last saw his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as she flew to Africa.