LONDON, Feb. 6, 1952 (UP)-King George VI died peacefully in his sleep early today and 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth became reigning sovereign of the British Commonwealth and empire. No announcement was made as to the cause of death, but medical circles speculated that it was coronary thrombosis. The king had been in failing health for several years.
The new queen, who will reign over one-quarter of the world's surface and population, was vacationing in Nairobi, Kenya, an African colony, when the death of her 56-year-old father elevated her to the throne.
She will return at once to England by air with husband and prince consort, Philip, duke of Edinburgh. They had been scheduled to sail from Africa tomorrow, for a royal tour of Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand.
The king was found dead in his bed by his valet at his Sandringham country estate at about 7:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m., Eastern time). Sandringham is in Norfolk, 60 miles north of London.
The news was kept within the royal family and the highest government circles until Elizabeth, in a gay holiday mood at the royal lodge in Kenya, could be told privately of her father's death.
Then, shortly before 11 a. m. (6 a. m. Eastern time) Buckingham Palace released the sad news.
The brief announcement said:
"It was announced from Sandringham at 10:45 a.m. today, Feb. 6, 1952, that the king, who retired to rest last night in his usual health, passed peacefully away in his sleep early this morning."
Death came to the king at the same estate where he was born Dec. 14, 1895.
He had reigned through 15 of Britain's most momentous years. He succeeded to the throne Dec 11, 1936, when his brother, Edward VIII, abdicated for the "woman I love." Edward became the duke of Windsor
The king's wife, Queen Elizabeth, and his younger daughter, Princess Margaret, were at Sandringham at the time of death.
The death came as a stunning shock to Britain and the empire. The monarch had been believed well on the road to recovery from his dangerous operation of last Sept. 23, when all or part of one lung was removed.
The king had been out in the countryside in both morning and afternoon yesterday, apparently in good health. Only last week he had attended a performance in London of the American musical, "South Pacific."
But loyal subjects recalled that his voice sounded harsh and shaky in his annual Christmas Day broadcast in December. And pictures taken as he bade farewell to then Princess Elizabeth and her husband only last Thursday showed him thin and haggard.
The king, with the queen and Princess Margaret, had planned to take a cruise in March through the warm waters of the South Atlantic to South Africa in an attempt to speed his recovery.
Elizabeth is Britain's first reigning queen since the memorable Victoria. Her husband is the first royal consort since Albert, husband of Victoria.
Their three-year-old son, Charles, is now crown prince.
News of the sovereign's death spread rapidly throughout the country. Flags were lowered to half staff. The House of Commons adjourned. Theaters and music halls closed. The British Broadcasting Corp. canceled all but news broadcasts.
Hushed crowds began gathering outside Buckingham Palace during the noon lunch hour.
The cabinet met at 10 Downing St. A silent gathering of about 50 men and women watched Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and other ministers arrive.
There was no immediate announcement on funeral plans. But court circles said it was likely that a majestic funeral service would be held at Westminster Abbey, burial place of a long line of early monarchs. They laid the king probably would be buried beside his father, George V, at the family mausoleum at Windsor.
It is in Westminster abbey also that the new Queen Elizabeth will be formally crowned six months hence.
But Elizabeth, in fact, became reigning sovereign over the 14,435,000-square miles and 539,870,000 persons who make up the British commonwealth and empire immediately upon the king's death.
However, the Privy Council was summoned to meet this evening, at which time her accession to the throne will be proclaimed.
The proclamation of the accession will be signed by Elizabeth when she returns and then will be read from the balcony of St. James's Palace, the steps of the Royal Exchange in the City of London and by mayors throughout the nation.
The House of Commons met for only two minutes this afternoon to hear solemn, steely-voiced Prime Minister Winston Churchill give the formal announcement of the king's death.
"We cannot at this moment do more than record a spontaneous expression of our grief," he said.
The House will meet again tonight, when each member will in turn swear allegiance to the new monarch.
As one of her first duties, Elizabeth will send messages to the armed forces at home and abroad asking for their allegiance. She also will broadcast to the nation and empire.
Ironically, Elizabeth and Prince Philip had undertaken the tour on behalf of the king, who twice had agreed to visit the "down under" dominions and then had to cancel his plans because of illness.
The news was telephoned to the king's mother, 84-year-old Queen Mary, at her London home, Marlborough House. It was understood she would remain in London today at least.
Labor members of Parliament were meeting in a committee room in Commons discussing their plan of attack against Churchill when former Prime Minister Clement R. Attlee, who was presiding, was called outside. He returned to announce the king's death. The Meeting adjourned at once and the members left the building.
Courts throughout the country adjourned after observing two minutes of silence.