1936 - The King's decision

Edward VIII, the Crown and Mrs Simpson

Things had reached such a pass that the lesser evil was the King's abdication. But there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about how things ever reached this pass, and the best service we can do is frankly to discuss certain facts that have not been made plain to the public.

It is altogether unfair to the King to pretend, as the Times pretends, that the King had himself shown that he realised Mrs Simpson's unsuitability by suggesting that she should be married to him without being Queen. For the question of his intention to make Mrs Simpson Queen had been fully discussed with Mr Baldwin in private before this "morganatic" solution was suggested. It was only because Mr Baldwin had intimated that the Government would resign if Mrs Simpson was to become Queen that the King advanced the morganatic solution as a second best. The simple truth is that the King is a lonely, highly strung person who had found for the first time in his life a woman who gave him confidence and happiness. It seems to us that it would have been better to have allowed him to marry her morganatically than to have made marriage impossible without abdication.

Only one of the arguments urged against this solution seems to us valid. If it is true that the Dominions would have refused to pass the necessary legislation, that was a good reason for refusing it. But the attitude of the Dominions obviously depended very much on the way in which the suggestion was made to them, and we do not doubt that some of the Dominions which were most opposed to the marriage would have accepted Mrs Simpson either as Queen or as the King's wife if the proposal had been preceded by the necessary governmental and press preparation. We urged this solution before Mr Baldwin's statement last week, because it was clearly the only solution compatible both with the King's happiness and his remaining on the throne.

This, however, is now past history. Mr Baldwin held that it was better for the King to abdicate than to have Mrs Simpson as Queen or even as the King's wife. He had the right to make this decision and we have the right to criticise it. What neither we nor anyone else had the right to do was to attempt to rally political support for the Crown against his Ministers. Nothing but disaster could have followed the formation of a King's Party and a battle between some group of "King's friends" and the majority of the House of Commons. Once Mr Baldwin had made it clear that the Government would not support a morganatic marriage, only the enemies of democracy would have urged that the King was still free to make a personal appeal to the country over the heads of his Ministers, and it was significant that it was at this stage that Lord Rothermere decided to support it. Lord Rothermere, like Sir Oswald Mosley, would no doubt have been a willing cavalier in a battle between King and Parliament. For ourselves, we dislike much of the unctuous humbug that has been advanced against the King's marriage. But if it had come to a battle between Cavaliers and Roundheads, we should have been Roundheads all the time.

There is one other important factor which may temper the regret we feel that the King should have abdicated on such an issue. Much has been made of his carelessness of scandal and of the damage caused by the gossip that has flooded the American press almost from the day of his accession, which followed him everywhere on his Adriatic holiday and which reached its climax at the Ipswich divorce. More important in the long run, however, was the doubt felt by many informed persons about whether the King would desire fully to carry out his duties as sovereign. He had expressed this doubt himself before he became King, and he obviously continued to hate many of the ceremonial functions of royalty after his accession.

Every sensitive person will sympathise with this dislike and, as we said last week, the most attractive part of the King's character is his loathing of humbug. But then the functions of royalty are largely ceremonial, and it may be that a tolerance of humbug is an essential characteristic of the holder of any great ceremonial office. In any case, until we are a Republic the man who sits on the throne of England must be prepared for a monotonous and exacting job and if he is not prepared for all the discipline necessary for fulfilling his decorous functions it is better for him not to be King. Edward VIII, moreover, disliked the old type of royal adviser; no doubt many of those whom he was expected to spend his time with were dull and "stuffy" people. But they were also responsible people, and it is an open secret that much of the society that has surrounded King Edward has been irresponsible and politically, as well as morally, undesirable. If the facts were known, the British public would have far less objection to Mrs Simpson than to some of the other influences in the King's entourage.

The King's abdication is an unhappy solution of an unhappy situation. It is nevertheless the best solution. Since he is not allowed to marry the woman of his choice and remain on the throne he is better off it, both for his own sake and the country's. We see only one good result out of this lamentable affair. The monarchy had been built up by deliberate propaganda to a dangerous eminence. A few weeks ago, it was considered bold to recall that the King was a man who might have faults like other people. Today it has become possible once again to talk sense about monarchy. We welcome this return to sanity. So clearly does it mean a return to sanity that we may even venture to recall that, although it matters who is King of England and who is Queen, it matters rather more that war is now raging in Europe.