Edward VIII at the beginning of his short reign
No British sovereign ascended the throne with more accumulated goodwill than Edward, the eldest son of George V. Whether because of his courage, his radiant good looks or his avowed concern for the ordinary man (and woman), the new King seemed to embody all that was best about the twentieth century. ‘He is gifted with a genuine interest . . . in all sorts and conditions of people, and he is rich in a study that is admirable and endearing in any man and inestimable in a sovereign – the study of mankind,’ enthused The Times on 22 January 1936. His reign was to last less than year, however, ending in one of the greatest crises the British monarchy has ever endured – obliging his younger brother to take a throne he had not wanted and for which he had not been prepared.
Although noted from an early age for his charm and good looks, Edward had been a shy youth. Then in 1916, at the age of twenty-two, he was introduced by two of his equerries to an experienced prostitute in Amiens who, according to one account, ‘brushed aside his extraordinary shyness’.58From then on, he seemed to be making up for lost time.
Like his grandfather Edward VII before him, Edward adored London night life. Diana Vreeland, a well-connected fashion columnist, appears to have coined the term the ‘The Golden Prince’ and declared that all women of her generation were in love with him.59 Edward showed little interest in the attempts of his strait-laced parents to find him a suitable bride, and instead indulged in a series of affairs, most scandalously one that lasted sixteen years with Freda Dudley Ward, the wife of a Liberal Member of Parliament. After ending the relationship simply by refusing her telephone calls, the Prince moved on to Thelma, Lady Furness, the American-born wife of Viscount Furness, the shipping magnate, and twin sister of Gloria Vanderbilt. The couple had a brief affair.
It was at her husband’s house, Burrough Court, near Melton Mowbray, either in 1930 or 1931 (depending on whose account you believe) that Thelma introduced the Prince to her close friend, Mrs Wallis Simpson. A fairly attractive, stylishly dressed woman in her mid-thirties, she had been born Bessie Wallis Warfield in 1896 into an old Pennsylvania family that had fallen on hard times – an experience that appeared to have left her with an acquisitive streak. In 1916, aged just twenty, she married Earl Winfield Spencer, an American airman, but he was a drunk and they divorced in 1927. A year later she moved up in the world, marrying Ernest Simpson, an American businessman based in London with connections in smart society.
As the Duke of Windsor was later to recall in his memoirs, their relationship got off to a curious start. Casting around for a bland topic with which to start a conversation, he asked whether, as an American, she suffered from the lack of central heating while visiting Britain. Her reply surprised him. ‘I am sorry, Sir,’ she said, a mocking look in her eyes, ‘but you have disappointed me.’
‘In what way?’ replied the Prince.
‘Every American woman who comes to your country is always asked that same question. I had hoped for something more original from the Prince of Wales.’60
The directness of her approach endeared her to Edward, who spent much of his time surrounded by sycophants. Initially they appeared to have been just friends, but this turned to an affair after Thelma went back to America in January 1934 to visit her sister. Then, that summer, the Prince invited Wallis and her husband on a cruise aboard the Rosaura, a 700-ton ferry that had just been converted into a luxurious pleasure cruiser by Lord Moyne, a businessman and politician whose family founded the Guinness brewing firm. Ernest had to decline because he had to go on a business trip to America, but Wallis went on her own. It was at this point, she subsequently claimed, that she and the Prince ‘crossed the line that marks the indefinable boundary between friendship and love’.61
The fact that the Prince of Wales should have a mistress – even a married American one – was not especially problematic, even if the mood of the age was rather different from the time when a previous holder of the title, the future Edward VII, had been pursuing women across London. Provided that she remained a mistress, that is. But the Prince of Wales appeared unwilling to follow his predecessor’s acceptance of a distinction between those women who could serve as mistresses and those who had the appropriate background to make them a potential queen. This meant trouble – although it was to take a few months.
After he became King, Edward’s popularity grew with his love of all things fashionable and modern. During a visit to the coal mining villages of South Wales, especially hard hit by the Depression, he delighted the crowd by declaring that ‘something must be done’. Those around him were less impressed: he dismissed many Palace officials whom he saw as symbols and perpetuators of an old order and alienated many of those who remained by cutting their salaries in the interest of balancing the royal books – yet at the same time spending lavishly on jewels for Wallis from Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.
To the exasperation of ministers, Edward was often late for appointments or cancelled them at the last moment. His Red Boxes containing the state papers on which monarchs were meant to work so diligently, were returned late, often apparently unread or stained by the bases of whisky glasses. The Foreign Office took the unprecedented step of screening all the documents they sent to him. Edward was quickly growing tired of what he described as ‘the relentless grind of the King’s daily life’; George V’s warning that, as monarch, his eldest son would ‘ruin himself within a year’ was beginning to look prescient.
The King was distracted – and the source of his distraction was not difficult to find. Yet he faced a serious impasse: Wallis Simpson was not going to go away; nor would he have allowed her to. In an attempt to square the circle, there was talk of making her Duchess of Edinburgh or of a morganatic marriage – that is one in which none of the husband’s titles and privileges pass to the wife or to any children, even though there was no precedent for such a union in Britain. To the alarm of all political parties, there was even a suggestion that Edward might take his fate to the country.62
Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative prime minister, and other members of the political establishment considered Mrs Simpson totally unsuitable to be Queen – and feared the heads of the Dominion governments felt the same way. As head of the Church of England, Edward could not be married to a twice-divorced woman with two living husbands. Rumours circulated that she exerted some kind of sexual control over him; there were suggestions she had not just one but two other lovers beside him. Some even said she was a Nazi agent.
As long as Wallis remained married to Ernest, their affair was a potential scandal rather than a political and constitutional crisis. Yet matters were progressing on that front, too. Although there seemed little doubt that it was Wallis’s adultery with the King that precipitated her marital break-up, it was customary among gentlemen keen to spare their wives’ blushes that they should pose as the guilty party. Ernest had chosen 21 July, the eighth anniversary of his marriage, to be caught in flagrante by staff at the swanky Hotel de Paris at Bray on the Thames near Maidenhead with a Miss ‘Buttercup’ Kennedy. The following month, the King and Mrs Simpson set off on another cruise – this time through the Eastern Mediterranean on board the steam yacht Nahlin. Their journey was covered widely in the American and European press, but their British counterparts maintained a self-imposed silence.
So when the case came to court on 27 October at Ipswich Assizes (chosen on the grounds that a hearing in London would attract too much attention from the press), it was Wallis who was divorcing her husband for adultery rather than vice versa. The town had never seen the like.63 With the King’s chauffeur at the wheel, Wallis swept into Ipswich in a Canadian Buick at such speed that a news cameraman’s car following at 65 mph was left behind. Security around the courtroom was tight: all newsreel crews had been sent out of town, and two photographers had their cameras smashed with truncheons. Access to the courtroom was also restricted: the mayor, himself an Ipswich magistrate, was admitted only after arguing with his own police officers. All courtroom gallery seats faced by Mrs Simpson as she stood in the witness box were vacant. Tickets were issued only for a few seats to which her back was turned.
Members of staff of the Hotel de Paris then took the stand and described how they had brought morning tea to Mr Simpson and found a woman who was not Mrs Simpson with him in his double bed. After nineteen minutes it was all over and Wallis was granted her decree nisi, with costs against her husband. After she left the court, police locked the doors behind her for five minutes to hold the press at bay. Her Buick flashed out of Ipswich as fast as it had arrived and the police swung one of their cars squarely across the road after her, blocking traffic for ten minutes.
Edward and Wallis were not yet free to marry, however. Under the divorce law of the time, the decree nisi could not be made absolute for six months – which meant that, formally speaking, she would be under the surveillance of an official known as the King’s Proctor until 27 April 1937. If, during that period, she was discovered in compromising circumstances with any man she could be hauled back into court and, if the decision went against her, be forever unable to divorce her husband in an English court. This was only a formality. As Time reported, some thirty-six hours after obtaining her decree, Wallis ‘was supping gaily in the Palace with the King and a very few friends’. Afterwards, Edward ‘squired’ her back to her home on Cumberland Terrace.
The clock was now ticking – and the government faced a dilemma. While the American papers offered salacious blow-by-blow accounts of the affair, the British press continued to exercise extraordinary self-restraint. The Times, the newspaper of record, did report the divorce but only at the foot of a column of provincial news items on an inside page. American and other foreign newspapers brought into Britain that contained stories about the King and Mrs Simpson’s relationship had the relevant columns blacked out or pages removed.
There were limits to how long the cover-up could be maintained, not least because of Britons who travelled abroad and read or heard on the radio about what was happening back home. On 16 November Edward invited Baldwin to Buckingham Palace and told him he intended to marry Mrs Simpson. If he could do so and remain King, then ‘well and good’, he said – but if the governments of Britannia and its Dominions were opposed, then he was ‘prepared to go’.
The King did have some prominent supporters, though, among them Winston Churchill, Britain’s future wartime prime minister, who was shouted down by the House of Commons when he spoke out in favour of Edward. ‘What crime has the King committed?’ Churchill demanded later. ‘Have we not sworn allegiance to him? Are we not bound by that oath?’ Initially, at least, he also appeared to have thought Edward’s relationship with Mrs Simpson would fizzle out, just as his various earlier liaisons had done.64
Logue will have watched the unfolding of the dramatic events of December 1936 with as much surprise and shock as King Edward’s other subjects. His relations with the Duke of York had also been put on the back burner, although he did receive an invitation to attend a garden party on 22 July at Buckingham Palace.
There were important developments, too, on the Logue domestic front: that September his eldest son Laurie, who was second in command of the ice cream department at Lyons, married Josephine Metcalf from Nottingham. His doctor son Valentine, five years Laurie’s junior, was now on the staff at St George’s Hospital, where he was awarded the prestigious Brackenbury Prize for surgery. ‘I wanted him to follow in my job – but he is set on being a surgeon,’ Logue wrote to the Duke.
In the meantime, he had not given up on reviving his royal connection. On 28 October– the day after Wallace Simpson obtained her decree nisi – Logue wrote yet again to the Duke suggesting a meeting. ‘It was in July 1934 that I last had the honour of speaking with your Royal Highness’, he wrote, ‘and although I follow all you do and say with the greatest of interest, it is not the same as seeing you personally, and I was wondering if you could spare the time out of your very busy life to come to Harley St – just to see that all the “machinery” is working properly.’65
The Duke could be excused for not responding to Logue’s proposal: the crisis surrounding his brother’s relationship with Mrs Simpson was moving towards a climax and, for the time being at least, he had more pressing matters than his speech impediment.
On 3 December the British press broke their self-imposed silence about the affair. The catalyst was a bizarre one: in a speech to a church conference, Alfred Blunt, the appropriately named Bishop of Bradford, had talked about the King’s need for divine grace – which was interpreted, wrongly as it turned out, by a local journalist in the audience as a none-too-veiled reference to the King’s affair. When his report was carried by the Press Association, the national news agency, the newspapers saw this as the signal they had all been waiting for: they could report about the monarch’s love-life.
Over the previous few months, only a relatively small number of Britons had known what was going on. Now the newspapers quickly made up for lost time, filling their pages with stories of crisis meetings at the Palace, pictures of Mrs Simpson and interviews with men and women in the street asking them their opinion. ‘They have much in common,’ began a gushing profile of the royal couple in the Daily Mirror on 4 December. ‘They both love the sea. They both love swimming. They both love golf and gardening. And soon they discovered that each loved the other.’
The Yorks had been in Scotland for the previous days. Alighting from the night train at Euston on the morning of 3 December, they were confronted with newspaper placards with the words ‘The King’s Marriage’. They were both deeply shocked by what it might mean for them. When the Duke spoke to his brother, he found him ‘in a great state of excitement’. The King had apparently not yet decided what to do, saying he would ask the people what they wanted him to do and then go abroad for a while.66 In the meantime, he sent Wallis away for her own protection. She was receiving poison pen letters and bricks had been thrown through the window of the house she was renting in Regent’s Park. There were fears that worse was to come.
The same day the Duke telephoned his brother, who was holed up in Fort Belvedere, his retreat in Windsor Great Park, to make an appointment, but without success. He kept trying over the next few days but the King refused to see him, claiming he had still not made up his mind about his course of action. Despite the huge impact that the decision he made would have on his younger brother’s life, Edward did not seek his advice.
Many people spend their careers dreaming of having the top job, but the Duke had no desire to become King. His sense of foreboding was growing. The Duke was ‘mute and broken’ and ‘in an awful state of worry as David won’t see him or telephone,’ claimed Princess Olga, the wife of Prince Paul of Yugoslavia and sister of the Duchess of Kent.67 On the evening of Sunday 6 December the Duke rang the Fort to be told his brother was in a conference and would call him back later. The call never came.
Finally, the next day, he made contact: the King invited him to come to the Fort after dinner. ‘The awful and ghastly suspense of waiting was over,’ the Duke wrote in his account. ‘I found him [the King] pacing up & down the room, & he told me his decision that he would go.’68 When the Duke got home that evening, he found his wife had been struck down with flu. She took to her bed, where she remained for the next few days as the dramatic events unfolded around her. ‘Bertie & I are feeling very despairing, and the strain is terrific,’ she wrote to her sister May. ‘Every day lasts a week & the only hope we have is in the affection & support of our family & friends.’69
Events moved swiftly. At a dinner on the eighth attended by several men, including the Duke and the prime minister, the King made it clear he had already made up his mind. According to Baldwin’s account, he ‘merely walked up and down the room saying, “This is the most wonderful woman in the world.”’
The Duke, meanwhile, was in sombre mood. It was a dinner, he wrote, ‘that I am never likely to forget’.
At 10 a.m. on 10 December, in the octagonal drawing room of Fort Belvedere, the King signed a brief instrument of abdication in which he pledged to ‘renounce the throne for myself and for my descendants’. The document was witnessed by the Duke, who now succeeded him as George VI, as well as their two young brothers, the Dukes of Gloucester and of Kent.
The next evening, after a farewell dinner with his family at the Royal Lodge, the man who was no longer king made a broadcast to the nation from Windsor Castle. He was introduced by Sir John Reith, the director-general of the BBC, as ‘His Royal Highness the Prince Edward’. ‘I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love,’ he declared. Edward’s reign had lasted just 327 days, the shortest of any British monarch since the disputed reign of Jane Grey nearly four centuries earlier.
After returning to the Royal Lodge to say his familial goodbyes, he left just after midnight and was driven to Portsmouth, where the destroyer HMS Fury was waiting to take him across the Channel to exile. As the enormity of what he had done began to dawn on him, he spent the night drinking heavily and pacing up and down the officers’ mess in a state of high agitation. The Duke of Windsor, as he would henceforth be known, travelled on from France to Austria where he was to wait until Wallis’s divorce was made absolute the following April.
On 12 December, at his Accession Council, the Duke of York, now King George VI, declared his ‘adherence to the strict principles of constitutional government and . . . resolve to work before all else for the welfare of the British Commonwealth of Nations’. His voice was low and clear but, inevitably, his words were punctuated by hesitations.
Logue was among those to write his congratulations when he sent his usual birthday greetings two days later. ‘May I be permitted to offer my very humble but most heartfelt good wishes on your accession to the throne,’ he wrote. ‘It is another of my dreams come true and a very pleasant one.’ Seeing a chance of reactivating their old ties, he added: ‘May I be permitted to write to your Majesty in the New Year and offer my services.’70
The newspapers greeted the resolution of the crisis and arrival of the new king with enthusiasm. Bertie may not have had the charm or charisma of his elder brother, but he was solid and reliable. He also had the benefit of a popular and beautiful wife and two young daughters, whose every move had been followed by the press since their birth. ‘The whole world worships them today,’ declared the Daily Mirror in a story about Princess Elizabeth and Margaret, whom it called ‘the great little sisters’.
Some foreign observers allowed themselves a more cynical aside. ‘Neither King George nor Queen Elizabeth has lived a life in which any event could be called of public interest in the United Kingdom press and this last week was exactly as most of their subjects wished. In effect a Calvin Coolidge entered Buckingham Palace with Shirley Temple for his daughter,’ commented Time.71
Looming over the King was the question of his speech impediment. Thanks to Logue, he had made huge progress since his humiliating appearance at Wembley a decade earlier, but he was not completely cured of his nervousness. For obvious reasons, the tactic adopted was not to draw attention to it, which meant Logue was appalled when Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, mentioned his stammer in a speech on 13 December, two days after the abdication.
In what shocked many of those listening, Lang, a highly influential figure, had begun his words with an attack on the former King who, he said, had surrendered the high and sacred trust placed in him to a self-admitted ‘craving for private happiness’. ‘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,’ the Archbishop thundered. ‘Let those who belong to this circle know that today they stand rebuked by the judgment of the nation which had loved King Edward.’
The directness of the Archbishop’s comments promoted an angry response from several people who wrote in to the newspapers – and distressed the Duke of Windsor who listened to this news from the castle in Enzesfeld, Austria, where he was staying with Baron and Baroness Eugen Rothschild.
Ultimately more damaging, however, was what the Archbishop had to say about the new King. ‘In manner and speech he is more quiet and reserved than his brother,’ he said. ‘And here may I add a parenthesis which may not be unhelpful. When his people listen to him they will note an occasional and momentary hesitation in his speech. But he has brought it into full control and to those who hear, it need cause no sort of embarrassment, for it causes none to him who speaks.’
The Archbishop clearly thought his words were for the best. In a speech the following day in the House of Lords, he praised the new King’s ‘sterling qualities’ – his ‘straightforwardness, his simplicity, his assiduous devotion to public duty’ – which, even though he did not say so directly – were clearly in direct contrast to the brother whom he had succeeded.
Archbishop Lang’s comments were picked up by the American press. ‘The 300 Privy Councillors were asked by all their intimates one question: “Does he still stutter?”’ reported Time on 21 December. ‘No Privy Councillor could be found willing to be quoted as saying that His Majesty does not still stutter.’
Although the British press refrained from discussing such matters, Lang’s comments helped fuel a whispering campaign of gossip against the new King and his fitness to rule. This grew in intensity after he announced in February that he was postponing a Coronation Durbar in India which his brother had planned for the following winter, blaming the postponement on the weight of duties and responsibilities he had faced since his unexpected accession to the throne. For some, though, it was taken as a sign of weakness and frailty; several among the Duke of Windsor’s dwindling band of allies suggested Bertie might not be able to survive the ordeal of the coronation, let alone the strains of being King.
Back in Australia, Bertie’s accession to the throne had led the newspapers to refocus attention on the role of one of their own in helping cure his speech impediment. A rare note of dissent, however, was struck in the letters column of the Sydney Morning Herald on 16 December 1936 by one H. L. Hullick, honorary secretary of the Stammerers’ Club of New South Wales, who took exception to Logue’s diagnosis of the King’s speech disorder as physical in nature.
I have ample authority [Hullick wrote] for stating that no stammer has a physical cause.’ This theory was discarded in the 19th century and was at any time but a poor guess without any logical basis. Stammering is an emotional disorder and unless this fact is taken into consideration in giving treatment, the voice condition cannot be relieved.
As a life-long stammerer who has only recently obtained release, I can appreciate better than anyone the struggles his Majesty must have experienced in overcoming his impediment, and this consolidates my deep respect for him. I know nothing of Mr Lionel Logue but have heard of at least four other gentlemen who also claimed to have cured the Duke of York of stammering.
Hullick’s letter provoked a spirited response from several other correspondents, including an Esther Moses and Eileen M. Foley of Bondi, whose letter was published on 24 December:
We wish to inform the secretary of the Stammerers’ Club of a few facts concerning Mr. Lionel Logue, of Harley Street, formerly of South Australia, and of his undoubted successful treatment of his Majesty, King George VI, then the Duke of York.
During a visit to London in 1935 and 1936, we were the privileged guests of Mr. and Mrs Logue in their private home at Sydenham Hill, and are therefore in the position to prove to your correspondent that without doubt Mr. Logue did cure his Majesty of his stammering, after all other specialists had failed.
In vindication of this statement we have read letters, personally written by his Majesty, to Mr. Logue, in which he gratefully thanked him for the success of his treatment. This was effected just prior to the Royal visit to Australia of the Duke and Duchess of York in May, 1927, and greatly contributed to the success of their tour.
Much credit is given to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, who during the entire trip, untiringly carried out instructions, personally given her by Mr. Logue. Your correspondent writes that he has heard of at least ‘four other gentlemen’ who claim to have ‘cured the Duke of stammering.’ Can he, or any of these four gentlemen, produce similar evidence of the success of their treatment?’