Showing posts from December, 2016

Archbishop Exhorts and Baby Panda Palls

The ever-ambitious Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, attempted to stage a double hijack by marshalling both Christmas and the pending coronation of George VI in May 1937, which had just been proclaimed, for his scheme to relaunch Christianity as a mass religion in Britain. Lang's broadcast on the Sunday after Christmas was labelled a "re-call to religion" and it was made known that the drive would focus on the coronation, although any connection with the abdication was disclaimed. Under a very thin ecumenical veneer, the intended role of the Church of England in leading this movement was plain to see. The birth of a daughter to the Duchess of Kent on Christmas Day (now Princess Alexandra) was probably more in keeping with what the public looked to the Royal family to provide As the siege of Madrid dragged on the British and French floated at tentative proposal for an international agreement to ban foreign "volunteers" from the Spanish Civil W

A Scolding Archbishop and a Talking Mongoose

The dust was only just settling after the abdication when the Archbishop of Canterbury weighed in with a radio broadcast, in which he bemoaned the fact that the ex-King had put his personal happiness before his duty and, worse, “Even more strange and sad it is that he should have sought his happiness in a manner inconsistent with the Christian principles of marriage, and within a social circle whose standards and ways of life are alien to all the best instincts and traditions of his people.” It was widely seen as a spiteful attack the former Edward VIII, but was appreciated at Downing Street where tolerance of Mrs. Simpson had sunk to a low level. On a more positive note, the new King George VI in an early statement of policy for the new reign, promised that the Royal racing stables would be conducted in the same manner as his father, George V, had done. The non-reference to the intervening sovereign told its story. International affairs brought little beyond the grim diet of


A BIG THANK YOU TO ALL  OUR READERS for following this blog for the past eleven months. It has been fascinating to discover the world of 1936 and how much was going on during Edward VIII's brief reign and I hope that it has been interesting  for you too. We will leave the newly created Duke of Windsor as HMS Fury carries him into exile, but keeping checking this blog and Twitter @adriangphillips for lots of exciting and fresh projects.

The Ex-King Leaves the Country into Exile and Idleness

Friday 11th December 1936 At 1.52pm the abdication bill passed its last stage in Parliament and Edward VIII ceased to be King. Henceforth he was to be known as Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, as he and his oldest brother Albert, Duke of York, now George VI, had agreed. In practice the first part of the title was rarely used. That evening he broadcast to the nation and the world over BBC Radio from Windsor Castle to explain his decision. He wanted to deflect potential criticism from Mrs. Simpson by making it plain that the choice was his own. He did not succeed and she was widely blamed. That night he left Portsmouth for exile aboard the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Fury . Only at the outbreak of war almost three years later did he return to Britain at all and he never did more than visit briefly the country over which he had reigned. During the war he held the comparatively minor post of Governor of the Bahamas, but otherwise he had no occupation.

Confidential Briefing Silences Potential Tory Critics

Wednesday 10th December 1936 Behind the Scenes The King was going and Baldwin had told the country  why, but there would still have to at least the formality of a debate in Parliament as the abdication bill was passed. Downing Street decided that stern measures would be needed to draw the teeth of the most significant source of potential trouble, a couple of dozen right-wing Conservative MPs, who were openly critical of the government's handling of the crisis. Their leaders were summoned to Downing Street and given a confidential briefing, which almost certainly made plain the fact that the government had available to it material deeply discreditable to Mrs. Simpson. They left with their enthusiasm for continuing the fight on Edward's behalf dimmed to disappearance.

Edward VIII Decided to Abdicate but Baldwin Soothed the Nation's Hurt

Wednesday 10th December 1936 The nation woke to the knowledge that the King was to send a message to Parliament announcing his decision on the question which had dominated affairs for the past week.. It would not be delivered until about 3pm so there were still a few hours of uncertainty, or even hope, remaining, but the fact that a Cabinet committee was known to be preparing for eventualities that might arise, gave a firm hint that his decision was to be abdication. When the King's message was read out many in the House were nearly in tears as chose Mrs. Simpson over the throne. Baldwin faced one of the greatest challenges that has faced a Prime Minister when he spoke afterwards. He had to begin the task of repairing the public psyche after the traumatic decision by its head of state, the incarnation of national identity to abandon his duty in favour of his private happiness. Baldwin succeeded magnificently in a speech of apparent openness and simplicity, which set out a

Baldwin Forces the Pace of Abdication

Wednesday 9th December 1936 Behind the Scenes After his conversation with the King the previous evening at Fort Belvedere, Baldwin knew that there was no way of reversing his decision to abdicate and set out to bring the process to as rapid a close as possible. The first Cabinet meeting of the day agreed to send the King a letter asking him formally, but hopelessly to reconsider. Baldwin did not even wait for a written reply and once a phone message had come from Fort Belvedere that the King would abdicate he called a second Cabinet of the day to rubber-stamp the decision to make the practical preparations for abdication. 

Britain's Most Lethal Air Crash

Wednesday 9th December 1936 Britain suffered its worst air disaster of the inter-war period. But for the abdication crisis, which dominated the news even though there no material developments in the public domain, it would have attracted immense coverage. A DC2 aircraft of the Dutch airline KLM headed for Amsterdam crashed in fog taking off from Croydon airport. The take-off had been made by the crude but widespread method of following a straight white line painted on the grass runway. Of course, one the aircraft was airborne this no longer provided guidance. The machine hit a mercifully empty house in the suburb of Purley, which was practically destroyed. Of the 17 people aboard, 15 died. Given the cost of air travel in that era it was practically inevitable that the victims included a number of distinguished individuals. They included a former Prime Minister of Sweden, a German Baron married to a filmstar, a director of a number of major Swedish concerns and the Spanish inv

Baldwin Makes a Last Ditch Visit to Fort Belvedere

Tuesday 8th December 1936 Behind the Scenes With the prospects for Mrs. Simpson's divorce going through smoothly dwindling rapidly, Baldwin set off on the wearisomely familiar road to Fort Belvedere one more time, in a last ditch attempt to persuade the King to reconsider. He had even come prepared to spend the night reasoning with the King. Almost from the first moment, he knew that it was in vain. The King's mind was made up and he affected utter unconcern through a surreal dinner, at which the men around the table discussed anything but the crisis. Afterwards, he and Baldwin agreed that he had to abdicate before the end of the week. 

Mysterious but Suggestive Journey to Cannes

Tuesday 8th December 1936 The days developments in the Royal crisis added mystery if nothing else. the government admitted to no change in the situation. The fact of audiences at Fort Belvedere between the King and the Prime Minister and Cabinet meetings became known, but with no clue as to what was discussed. One event that became public property with remarkable speed was the air journey to Cannes by Theodore Goddard, Mrs. Simpson's solicitor. For the extremely gullible, Lord Brownlow explained this by the need to deal with disposing of the lease on her house in London. More sceptical enquirers were more drawn to the fact that Goddard was accompanied by Dr. Kirkwood, who had some reputation as a gynaecologist, which had also become known very quickly.

If the abdication happened today...........


Mrs. Simpson's Solicitor Prepares to Fly to Cannes

Monday 7th December 1936 Behind the Scenes It had become increasingly obvious that little attempt had been made to work on Mrs. Simpson to end the crisis. In the course of the morning the government decided to send an emissary to her in Cannes. Downing Street's choice fell on her solicitor, Theodore Goddard, who had shown himself anxious to help the government in the earlier phases. He also had a valid professional reason to advise his client. The government law officers were being notified that formal intervention in her divorce suit was about to be launched, which might leave her trapped in her marriage to Ernest and unable to marry the King.

Glimmer of Hope as Mrs. Simpson Seems Willing to Withdraw

Monday 7th December 1936 After a nightmare journey across France pursued by an immense press pack, Mrs. Simpson had arrived at the the Villa Lou Viei near Cannes, owned by her friends, the Rogers late on the Saturday night. The villa was then besieged by the journalists. On the Monday evening, the royal courtier, Lord Brownlow, who had accompanied Mrs. Simpson on the journey, delivered a statement to the press on her behalf. It caused an immediate sensation and when it reached London, many thought that the crisis had been brought to a happy end. According to the statement Mrs. Simpson was willing to withdraw in order to ease the situation. It was, however, ambiguously phrased and sceptics doubted, in the event correctly, that it would lead to anything.

Archepiscopal Visit to Downing Street Sure Sign of Grave Trouble

Sunday 6th December 1936 After the excitement of Friday's statement ruling out a morganatic marriage, the public was returned to a diet of logistical information and speculation. It was know that ministers had met twice, most unusually for a Sunday. In another clear sign that something very grave was afoot, the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Downing Street. There were even signs that the political establishment was disunited. A group of Tory right-wingers, grouped around the Imperial Policy Group, a relic of the die-hard campaign against any measure of autonomy for India, had called a meeting  of peers and MPs to discuss their  "acute and growing anxiety at the Government's action and procedure."  

Ministers Kill the "Two Bills" Plan

Sunday 6th December 1936 Behind the Scenes The meeting of ministers during the morning and the full Cabinet meeting in the afternoon had both been called to discuss the "two bills" proposal under which two pieces of legislation would be passed simultaneously; one giving effect to the abdication and the other making Mrs. Simpson's divorce absolute without further ado. This would avoid a potentially awkward situation in which Edward abdicated but found that Mrs. Simpson's divorce had been blocked, thus meaning he had given up the throne for nothing. Apart from Baldwin on-one liked the plan. It smacked of a corrupt bargain to persuade the King to leave the throne. Opposition was vehement enough at the morning meeting of a select group of ministers to kill the proposal stone-dead. The Cabinet endorsed this rapidly and was left to a general discussion of practicalities.

Contrived Solution to Remove the Threat that Mrs. Simpson's Divorce Could be Blocked

Saturday 5th December 1936 Behind the Scenes Unmentioned in any of the public discussion of the King's affair was the practical problem posed by Mrs. Simpson still being married to Ernest. If the King were to abdicate, he could find himself unable to marry her, if her divorce were overturned between the decree nisi granted at Ispwich in October and the decree final which could not be granted until April 1937 as English law stood then. There was every reason to fear this might occur, given the apparently flagrant adultery committed by Mrs. Simpson with the King. In the course of a long conference at London gentleman's club between senior figures at Downing Street and the King's advisers, a solution was concocted. Two bills would pass through Parliament simultaneously, one giving force to the King's abdication and the other making Mrs. Simpson's divorce absolute. In the nineteenth century, a private Act of Parliament had been the only way to get a divorce, so thi

Front Populaire Assailed from Left and Right

Saturday 5th December 1936 L é on Blum's Front Populaire government limped on in the face pressure from Right and Left in the Assembly. The unwise attempt to impose press controls notably the punishment of the publication "false news" laid it wide open to criticism. They were an uncomfortable echo of the   Lois scélérates of forty years previously by which right wing governments had attempted to muzzle anarchists.Perhaps worse, the plan to force newspapers to publish their financial accounts provided an invitation to call for the disclosure of the funding of the Communist newspaper L'Humanit é . The government did win a healthy majority in the vote on its foreign policy, but it was empty victory. The Communists had abstained in a major breach of solidarity with the Front and, worse, had explained the abstention in virulent terms, castigating once again government neutrality in the Spanish Civil War. Blum had come close to resignation.  

Churchill's Loyalty is the King's Last Card

Friday 4th December 1936 Behind The Scenes Baldwin's statement to Parliament announcing very publicly that the morganatic scheme was not acceptable, came as a body blow to the King. He had begun gently to negotiate terms for going, but still nursed hopes of marrying Mrs. Simpson and remaining on the throne. Almost his last card was the loyalty of Winston Churchill, his one potential heavyweight political ally. With Baldwin's unenthusiastic acquiescence, he asked Churchill to dine at Fort Belvedere that very evening.

PM's Statement to Parliament Dashes Hopes of Morganatic Solution

Friday 4th December 1936 The government finally made something in the nature of a firm statement of what was happening in the Royal crisis just before the House rose at 4pm. Things were clearly developing as only the morning Baldwin had repeated his bland and uninformative holding statement. What he said to Parliament killed off any thought that a morganatic marriage, which had been discussed in the press, might provide a way out of the difficulty. The statement was cold, uncompromising and decidedly lawyerly in tone. There was no hint that the proposition might have been subjected to any consideration. The woman whom the King married became Queen; there was no other  possibility. Baldwin  did not say openly that Mrs. Simpson was unacceptable as Queen, but there could be little doubt of it. Baldwin had gone a long way to saying that the King had to choose between his throne and Mrs. Simpson.

Mrs. Simpson Flees Publicity and the Country

Thursday 3rd December 1936 Behind the Scenes The psychological pressure had been building on Mrs. Simpson for weeks and finally she gave way. The final straw were large photographs on her on newspaper front pages. It was the return of the nightmare of the foreign press coverage of the Nahlin cruise only this time on her own doorstep. She feared it would provoke mob violence against her. Even though the King had bitterly resisted any idea of her going abroad in the earlier phases of the crisis, he bowed to the inevitable and she left for France with minimal preparation. 

Country Suddenly Plunged into Crisis

Thursday 3rd December 1936 The national newspapers had picked up the story launched the day before by the leading provincial papers and there could be absolutely no doubt that the country faced a major problem. One piece of hard news that featured was that the King had announced his intention of marrying someone of whom the government disapproved. Otherwise the public had to be content with a recitation of the movements of the main players and the fact of Cabinet meetings and other conversations. And, of course, prominently displayed photographs of Mrs. Simpson. In response to a question for Clem Attlee, the opposition leader, Baldwin made the most perfunctory statement to the House. When Winston Churchill asked for an assurance that "no irrevocable step" - code for abdication - would be undertaken, he was practically ignored. In this atmosphere rumours of an impending constitutional crisis abounded.

End of Press Silence Puts King on Back Foot

Wednesday 2nd December 1936 Behind the Scenes The King was firmly on the back foot when he had an audience with Baldwin. He was rattled by the critical tone of the press coverage and terrified that the The Times would weigh in with an even more hostile article. The end of the press silence had worked to his disadvantage. He had also realised that Mrs. Simpson's divorce was far from final and there was a risk that it could be torpedoed. It was out of Baldwin's power to promise that it would be granted without difficulty and he had no hesitation in telling the King so. 

The King's Affair Explodes into the Public Domain

Wednesday 2nd December 1936 The British press had been loyally observing a self-imposed silence on the King's relationship with Mrs. Simpson since the beginning. This had started as the universally observed discretion over the private lives of the Royal family practised in those days, but this had become de facto  a tool to give the government and the King to settle the problem in discreet silence. At the outset, this had been done with the best of intentions, but as the crisis between King and government escalated, it had created a worryingly volatile situation. Knowledge of the difficulty was becoming so widespread that it was inevitable that silence would break, but the consequences were quite unpredictable. Bishop blunt's speech calling on the King to show awareness of spiritual matters provided a convenient pretext for increasingly restive newspapers to bring the matter into the open. It was two major provincial papers, The Yorkshire Post and the Birmingham Post

The Dominions come Out Against the Morganatic Scheme

Tuesday 1st December 1936 Behind the Scenes One by one the Dominion governments were responding to telegrams from the British government asking their opinion of the morganatic scheme. They were almost unanimously hostile, barely surprisingly given the more traditional morality that ruled there. Australia was most hawkish of all, implying that abdication was the only solution.

Liberal and Conservative Bishops Spar over Coronation Service

Tuesday 1 st December 1936 Only one bishop was appointed (under Ramsay MacDonald’s first premiership, Ernest Barnes, a one-time mathematician and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who was notably liberal in his theological views. He stirred up a hornet’s nest when he suggested that the coronation ceremony for Edward VIII might depart from the tradition of treating as something other than a Holy Sacrament. Bishop Blunt of Bradford, a conservative traditionalist, responded trenchantly in a speech to the Dioscesan Conference. He argued that Barnes’s proposal would be in practice a step towards the disestablishment of the Church of England. It would greatly weaken the religious aspect of the coronation and reduce it to a “piece of national pageantry”. Blunt was on a roll and allowed himself a scantily veiled criticism of the King’s perfunctory approach to Christian worship in view of his need for considerable amounts of Divine Grace at such a solemn moment, “We hope th