The King's Speech: Uncovering King George VI across museums, galleries and archives online

By Richard Moss | 17 January 2011
a film poster for the Kings Speech fearturing two men before a Royal balcony with a crowd beyond
With The King’s Speech lining up to be one of the biggest films of the year, we take a look at some online resources from UK museums, galleries and archives that delve a little deeper into the life of King George VI...

The King's Speeches

An obvious place to start, the King’s speeches offer poignant and sometimes painful insights into the struggles of George VI as he fought to master his stammer. A visit to the British Pathe Archive online reveals two such moments as the King carefully picks his way through his Coronation Speech then stutters and stammers very badly during the opening of the Empire Exhibition at Ibrox Park.

The BBC also has one of the clearest examples of this personal battle in the recording of George VI’s address to the nation after the declaration of war in 1939, which contrasts to HM Queen Elizabeth’s relatively fluid address to the women of Europe in November 1939.

Early life and health

The official site of the British Monarchy, as you would expect, gives the official version of the reign of George VI. The page includes some nice Pathé footage of the fledgling King presenting new colours to the Grenadier Guards in 1938.

But to delve a little deeper into the life and the struggles of the King the Science Museum’s Brought to Life website offers a surprising and succinct overview of the poor health George VI had to overcome. The same site also makes the point that his wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons was the oldest person to have a hip replacement!

Mugs and medals

George VI was, of course, reluctantly thrust into the limelight following the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, in 1936.

The coronation was a grand affair and the Wedgwood Coronation mug was fittingly designed for the occasion by none other than Eric Ravilious. See it on the Wedgwood Museum website.

In those days they also struck a commemorative medal. Take a closer look at it courtesy of the Tank Museum and find out about the medal that bears his name but not his image, The George Medal, on the Imperial War Museum website.

Stamps and portraits

After his accession George VI’s image became ubiquitous – thanks in the main to British and Empire stamps. The British Postal Museum and Archive has dozens of different philatelic representations, ranging from the accepted 1½d design by Edmund Dulac for the King George VI Coronation issue to Eric Gill’s effort for the same. 

More portraits – both formal and informal – can be found at the National Portrait Gallery’s Search the Collection facility which turns up King George VI as a sitter in 394 portraits. By way of contrast a single quintessentially wartime sketch of George VI in Royal Navy uniform can be seen on the National Archives Art of War website.

Royal visits and engagements

Thanks in great part to his therapist and with the support of his family, George VI eventually took to public life. There are some lovely candid moments snapped during one such Royal engagement - the opening of the National Maritime Museum in 1937 - courtesy of the National Maritime Museum website.

Also worth a look are the rather splendid Royal shots of George and Elizabeth on their visits to the North East on the Newcastle Chronicle website 

The man behind the King's speeches

Finally, take a look at the man who helped him to make the speeches, Lionel George Logue, courtesy of his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography  and his portrait taken by the great Alexander Bassano – once again courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery