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A stock photograph of a retro wireless radio and broadcast microphone

Significant royal broadcasts from modern history


Following her passing at the age of 96, Queen Elizabeth II’s son and successor, King Charles III, addressed the nation on Friday 9th September 2022. It was his inaugural public speech as King, marking the first change in the monarchy that most Britons will have ever witnessed.

To mark this momentous broadcast, we look back at some of the most significant royal speeches throughout modern history.

King George V – British Empire Exhibition (1924)

King George V became the first British monarch to make a radio broadcast to his subjects. Before this, major announcements were mainly made by chaining statements to the gates of Buckingham Palace, a tradition that continues to this day.

In that speech, made on 23 April 1924, King George didn’t appear to make any reference to the radio broadcast but instead focused on the opening of the British Empire Exhibition. It was an opportunity to showcase goods and historical artefacts from across several of Britain’s colonies. He seemingly joked about the "exceptionally unfavourable weather" and made a stronger statement about the British Empire's capabilities, saying: "Those who doubt the Empire’s potentialities, and those who simply do not consider them, will be confronted with a clear sight of what this great community of free nations can produce."

The radio broadcast was further evidence of the monarchy being prepared to embrace modern technology to get closer to its people. This is something that we continue to see today, with the filming of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation and other messages being streamed over social media.

King Edward VIII – Abdication Speech (1936)

King Edward VIII inherited the throne from George V in January 1936. While still Prince of Wales, he had begun a relationship with the American socialite, Wallis Simpson. The British establishment was wholly opposed to the idea of the King, who was also the Head of the Church of England, marrying a woman who was already twice divorced.

However, he was determined to marry her and make her his queen, despite the vehement opposition from both the British government and the church. In the end, love prevailed over duty, and he decided to relinquish the crown. On 11 December 1936, Edward VIII delivered the news to the British public by way of a radio broadcast.

In his speech, he told the nation: “You must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”

King George VI – The King’s Speech (1939)

Four years later, King George VI made his first radio announcement, this time to announce the beginning of the Second World War. On 3 September 1939, immediately after Britain declared war on Germany, he broadcast the news to the people across the country and throughout the Empire.

This significant speech was written to inspire the nation at a time of great anxiety. However, it has since been documented that King George was fighting a personal battle as well. Following his brother’s abdication, he worked hard to overcome a stammer, to make himself feel worthy of leading his country into war.

The success of his speech at the beginning of the war helped him to win the ultimate respect of his ministers and his subjects. In the powerful final line, he declared: “If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then, with God's help, we shall prevail.”

King George VI – VE Broadcast (1945)

Addressing a battle-weary nation, King George VI delivered a significant speech on 8 March 1945, announcing that longed-for victory was finally at hand. He addressed the nation from inside Buckingham Palace, which itself had suffered damage from an unexploded bomb. The tone of the speech was a blend of jubilation with quiet reflection.

King George spoke of London’s resolve in the face of extended bombing campaigns and asked everyone to offer a salute to those who has lost their lives. It was a bittersweet time for the country as it looked forward to the future with hope after suffering so much loss.

“The Queen and I know the ordeals which you have endured throughout the Commonwealth and Empire. We are proud to have shared some of these ordeals with you, and we know also that together we shall all face the future with stern resolve and prove that our reserves of will-power and vitality are inexhaustible.”

Princess Elizabeth – 21st Birthday Speech (1947)

It’s widely regarded that Queen Elizabeth II delivered perhaps her most impactful speech at the age of just 21, while she was still a princess. She recorded the video address while touring South Africa and Rhodesia and expressed her thanks for the numerous birthday wishes she had received.

The most powerful moment came when the young woman dedicated her life to serving the people and nations of the Commonwealth. She promised to her millions of viewers: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

It would be another nine years before Elizabeth ascended the throne, but the sentiment from the speech continued to resonate across the globe. It was a clear indication of what was to come from a monarch who oversaw so many cultural shifts along with the breaking down of historical boundaries.

Queen Elizabeth II – Coronavirus Broadcast (2020)

Less than a month after prime minister Boris Johnson said the global pandemic was the biggest challenge the country faced since World War II, Queen Elizabeth II offered a calming message to the nation. Her speech on 5 April 2020 was watched by 24 million people. In it, she thanked the NHS and all members of the public for following the government guidelines and playing their part in helping others.

The special television broadcast was only the fifth made during her reign outside of her annual Christmas presentations. During the speech, she outlined the collective challenge that lay ahead for the nation, but also spoke with great optimism about how the country might one day reflect on that period of history.

Elizabeth II quoted Vera Lynn to close the speech, saying: “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”