Kirkus Reviews QR Code
GEORGE VI AND ELIZABETH by Sally Bedell Smith Kirkus Star


The Marriage That Saved the Monarchy

by Sally Bedell Smith

Pub Date: April 4th, 2023
ISBN: 9780525511632
Publisher: Random House

The touching love story of the parents of Elizabeth II.

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.