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Sunday, 31 January 2016

31st January 1936
The new reign began to slip into routine with a small Privy Council meeting at 11am. The two politicians who attended, Ramsay MacDonald and Sir John Simon, each had separate audiences with the King as well. MacDonald was present in his capacity as Lord President of the Council, an antique office which still today ranks as the fourth highest of the great offices of state. It serves as a bridge between the sixteenth century government and today's.  The holder sits in Cabinet as a minister without portfolio.

MacDonald's presence was a tribute to the political skills of King George V. MacDonald had been Britain's first Labour Prime Minister in 1924. It was a delicate moment in the change in British politics from its aristocratic past to a broad democracy. But for the King's easy and open espousal of the right of the Labour ministers to their posts and his willingness to treat them no differently to their more conventional predecessors, the process would have been far harder on both sides. King George's happy relationship with MacDonald delivered its greatest achievement when he persuaded him to lead a National Government to deal with Britain's economic crisis in 1931. He had only stepped down as Prime Minister the previous year, swapping places with Stanley Baldwin. He was no longer a significant force in politics. The National Labour party had shrunk to near invisibility and he himself was suffering cruelly from his age, but MacDonald still had the aura of an elder statesman.

Also present at the Council was the Archbishop of Canterbury and the inevitable Sir Maurice Hankey took the minutes. At one level it was a comforting throwback to the age-old practices of the monarchy but there was a yawning gap between the King's generation and the others' present at the Council. It would open wider.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Royal Support For Areas Of High Unemployment

30st January 1936

An exhibition opened at Charing Cross Underground Station on the Special Areas. These were zones of especially high unemployment in the North and Wales, mainly dependent on coal-mining, which had been designated by Act of Parliament in 1934. Even though the rest of the country was slowly pulling itself out of its economic problems, conditions in the Special Areas had not improved much since the depths of the Depression. London, then as now, was the most prosperous part of the country and part of the exhibition's goal was to bring home to them how fortunate Londoners were. It was a cause close to the new King's heart and he had written a letter of support for the exhibition before his accession. In 1929 he had toured the coal-mining areas of Durham and Northumberland, expressing sympathy for the miners and horror at their conditions. The whole visit and his comments had been deplored by Lord Londonderry, a government minister and major mine owner.

Friday, 29 January 2016

German Visitors To The King

The funeral of King George V had brought a huge influx of dignitaries to London and Royal duty demanded that the most senior, at least, be received by the King. The day after the funeral these included Baron von Neurath, the German foreign ministers, and Prince Stahremberg, the Vice-Chancellor of Austria. The King had also spoken to another German visitor, his distant kinsman,  ardent Nazi and wild fantasist, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg. The Duke reported to the German foreign ministry  a ludicrously improbable conversation in which the King claimed that an alliance between Germany and Britain was urgently necessary and that he intended to take control of government personally. Worryingly, this type of nonsense found an eager audience in Berlin and quite unrealistic ideas developed as to how the new King might be exploited.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Tense Moment In The Funeral Procession

As the funeral procession was on Marble Arch, the police cordon broke and the crowd surged towards the gun carriage bearing the coffin. The King had a horrible vision of the coffin being knocked to the ground, but mercifully it got through safely. The incident left a deep enough impression for the Duke of Windsor, as he had become, to claim that he would inspect every police checkpoint on the funeral procession for his brother, King George VI, in 1952 to ensure that there would be no repetition.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Dignified Gesture By The Late King's Sons

The final night of the lying-in-state was enhanced by a striking innovation. By one account it was the idea of Edward VIII himself and he certainly espoused it with enthusiasm. At around midnight he and his three brothers wearing ceremonial military uniforms took the places of the regular troops around the catafalque and stood guard over their father's coffin. It was a striking and moving act of homage to the dead King and it was recorded in a painting after the event entitled The Princes' Vigil: 12.15am, January 28, 1936. In 2002 the gesture was repeated at the state funeral of his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, the Queen Mother with four of her grandsons, including the Prince of Wales, standing guard.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

So Many Mourners That Westminster Hall Stayed Open All Night

The third day of the lying-in-state of King George V was a Sunday and the number of mourners surged yet again. The weather was also much better. At its longest the queue formed a large U shape running west to Vauxhall Bridge, crossing the bridge and the running eastwards as far as Westminster Bridge, just across the river from its destination. By midnight 250,000 people had paid their respects, making a total of half-a-million since the Hall had opened its doors on the Friday morning. It was decided to keep Westminster Hall open through the night, wisely as the queue still reached Vauxhall Bridge at midnight.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Ever More Mourn King George V

The second day of King George V's lying-in-state was a Saturday and the number of people who came to pay their respects was far above that on the previous day. By the time Westminster Hall closed its doors at midnight, 150,000 people had passed through compared to 110,000 the day before. There was a noticeable increase in the number of mourners when businesses closed at lunchtime.  They had waited for three hours or more, enduring rain and fog in a queue that stretched up the embankment and halfway across Vauxhall Bridge, a mile from the Hall.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

King George V's Lying-in-state Begins

Eighty years ago today the public lying-in-state of the body of George V began in Westminster Hall. By the time that doors closed at 10.30pm, 110,000 people had filed past the coffin. At one point the queue stretched for a mile. George V had been respected by the British people rather than loved during his lifetime, but the scale of the attendance showed how strong the feeling was. It also illustrates how important the monarchy was. The Hall was emptied of the public shortly before 6pm to allow Edward VIII and his mother to spend ten minutes paying their respects.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

French PM Falls Victim To Outrage At Hoare-Laval Pact

The government crisis got fully underway in France. The Prime Minister, Pierre Laval,  was forced to resign and the search was on for a new government. His resignation was a delayed reaction to the the leak in the middle of December of the Hoare-Laval pact, a botched piece of Realpolitik by which France and Britain planned to condone Mussolini's aggression in Ethiopia so as not to force Italy into the arms of Germany. League of Nations sanctions had failed abjectly to bring Italy to heel so the outrage in both countries when the pact was leaked was more sanctimonious than practical. The affair cruelly exposed the weakness of the western democracies in trying to deal with the dictators. It was a foretaste of similar humiliations to come.

One of the pact's major architects had been Sir Robert Vansittart, head of the British Foreign Office, who was resolutely anti-German. He escaped unscathed but his political master, the Foreign Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare, became the scapegoat and resigned briefly from the government. He was an easy target. His nickname was "slippery Sam" after a card game of the time and the fact that he had just been injured in an ice-skating accident was a gift to the cartoonists.When George V had his first audience with Hoare's successor, he is supposed to have said, "No more coals to Newcastle, no more Hoares to Paris." Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin was felt to have handled the whole affair badly and diplomatic problems piled pressure on him both politically and personally. 

Friday, 22 January 2016

First Audiences With Key Polticians

On 22nd January 1936 Edward VIII had his first audiences as King with two politicians who were to play major parts in the abdication crisis: Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, and Sir John Simon, the Home Secretary. Baldwin already knew Edward well from his visit to Canada in 1927, when he had accompanied the Royal party. He was the most important Conservative politician of the inter-war years. Between 1923 and 1937 he was either Prime Minister, de facto deputy Prime Minister or the leader of the opposition.Simon was the archetype of the successful lawyer in politics. Nominally he was a Liberal.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

King Edward VIII Begins His Reign With Two Provocative Gestures On The First Day

On the first day of his reign, 21st January 1936, Edward VIII did two things which came to be seen as unnecessarily provocative. They gave a flavour of the headstrong contempt for the established order that was to mark his time as King.

Edward had a confrontational and unhappy relationship with his father, King George V. His father carped demeaningly and publicly when Edward departed from the dress code of idiotic complexity that he followed with near obsessive precision. Inevitably this grated severely on Edward's patience as did his father's happy adherence to Sandringham Time, the quaint practice instituted by Edward VII by which all the clocks on the estate were kept half an hour fast so as to extend the day's shooting in winter. Almost Edward VIII's first act as King was to order the clocks to be moved into line with the rest of the country. It was unimportant but tactlessly hasty.

His other unfortunate act gave a worrying foretaste of the issue which was to cost him the throne. He invited Mrs. Simpson to watch informally the ceremonial Proclamation of his Accession at St. James's Palace with him. By tradition the new sovereign does not participate in this ceremony so he and she were out of sight but the news spread quickly around Court insiders. It was not appreciated and it badly dented hopes that she would be kept as a discreet mistress entirely out of the public eye..

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Successful Constitutional Monarch Passes Away

Eighty years ago the King's doctor, Lord Dawson of Penn, composed the now infamous statement that, "The King's life is drawing peacefully to a close." The overdose of opiates with which Dawson injected the King helped on both counts and he died just before midnight. The news thus appeared first in the morning newspapers, considered in those days to be far more reputable than the evening papers.

Although he was a somewhat remote figure to his subjects, they had shown genuine enthusiasm and affection at his Silver Jubilee in 1935. He had been a highly successful constitutional monarch. His good sense and probity helped the country through a number of difficult episodes with major constitutional implications: the People's Budget in 1910 just after his accession, the attempt to introduce Irish Home rule in 1914, the first Labour government in 1924 and the formation of the National Government in 1931. His reign had seen many of Europe's monarchies swept away but he had played a large part in the survival of Britain's with its prestige undimmed.


The Last Act of George V's Reign

At 12.15pm on January 20th 1936 George V held a Privy Council meeting, the last formal act of his reign. He was just capable of indicating his assent to the proceedings. The presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his doctor, Lord Dawson of Penn, was clear pointer  to the fact that the end was near. Sir Maurice Hankey was present in his capacity as Secretary to the Council and as such he would be deeply involved in the formalities of the transition from one reign to the next. As a long-standing friend to the Royal couple and one of the most powerful men in Whitehall in his capacity as Secretary to the Cabinet, Hankey would have other work and far more sensitive work to do as well.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Another Son Comes To George V's Deathbed

On 19th January Prince George, Duke of Kent joined his brothers at their father's deathbed at Sandringham. For a number of years he had given the family much to worry about. He had been sexually promiscuous, according to rumour with men as well as women. One of his girlfriends was a heavy drug-taker and he experimented himself if not worse. In one of the rare purely altruistic acts of his life, the Prince of Wales, to whom he was especially close, took him firmly under his wing and brought his life back on track. The process of rehabilitation was crowned by George's marriage to the elegant, beautiful Princess Marina of Greece in 1934. Children followed soon afterwards. It was a highly successful marriage which further boosted the prestige of the Royal family. The Duke came to dislike Mrs. Simpson bitterly.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Rudyard Kipling Dies

On 18th January 1936 Rudyard Kipling died suddenly. He had just turned 70 but his writing had already passed out of fashion. He was the poet of the high, confident period of the British Empire and his day as an author had passed. Seven months before his first  cousin and near contemporary Stanley Baldwin had become Prime Minister for the third and final time. Few expected him to remain in office very long. Politically and culturally an era was coming to an end.
On 18th January 1936 the "Little Princesses" left Sandringham. Their grandfather, King George V, was gravely ill and they had seen him for the last time. Princess Elizabeth born in 1926 and Princess Margaret Rose born in 1930 were the daughters of the Duke of York and his wife Elizabeth. As their uncle Edward,  Prince of Wales,  was unmarried they ensured the line of succession and attracted enormous public interest. They were the future of the monarchy in the eyes of the public and those in the know about their uncle's passionate devotion to a married American woman would have suspected that this was not going to change. As their nickname suggests,  the Princesses were surrounded by a fairy tale aura. Together with their uncle they were probably the most glamorous faces of the monarchy at the time. In one of his novels Grahame Greene mocked the adulation they attracted.