The Land of Might-Have-Been, chapter one, part three:   Leave a comment

October 1936: ‘Balmorality’ and Baldwin


At the beginning of October, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang (above, bottom), received an invitation to Birkhall, the holiday home of the Duke and Duchess of York on the Balmoral Estate, about six miles from the Castle itself, where the King, Edward VIII, and Mrs Simpson were entertaining their society guests. The Yorks told their guest, who had been a regular visitor to the castle in the days of the old King, that they were keen that ‘the links with Balmoral may not wholly be broken’. Lang described in his diary how the Yorks’ children, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, came down from the nursery after tea:

They sang some action-songs most charmingly. It was strange to think of the destiny which may be awaiting little Elizabeth, at present Second from the Throne! She and her lively little sister are certainly most entrancing children.

Within weeks, Elizabeth would become first in line to the throne, and there was already growing recognition of this at court and in Parliament. The King was annoyed by his brother’s entertaining ex-courtiers under his snubbed nose. He sent Prince Albert, as he was known to the family, to open the newly completed Royal Infirmary in Aberdeen, so that he could drive to the station to meet Wallis. When he was spotted, badly disguised in driving goggles, he caused great offence among ‘the Scotch and British bourgeoisie’, as Harold Nicholson noted in his diary, adding that ‘there is seething criticism which may develop into actual discontent’. During the Balmoral holiday, the King invited the Yorks to dinner. In a clear breach of protocol, they were met at the porch by Wallis instead of by the King himself. Striding past her, nose in the air, the Duchess announced ‘I have come to dine with the King’. This was a defining moment in the conflict between the ‘Balmorality’ of Elizabeth and the modernity of the King’s mistress. When they returned to London in mid-October, the Yorks were reliably informed that PM Stanley Baldwin (above, top) and the Cabinet would not accept Mrs Simpson as Queen. Edward would face a stark choice: give up his planned marriage or abdicate. There was little doubt that he would choose the latter. Prince Albert was appalled, but did not step back from the prospect of becoming King. The messenger, the King’s own private secretary, Alec Hardinge, then went to Baldwin to inform him that he had taken the first steps in the process of removing the King, should this prove necessary.

On his own initiative, Stanley Baldwin went to see King Edward at Fort Belvedere on 20th October, to tell him of his growing alarm at rumours, which would, he thought, damage the Crown. The King’s relationship with Mrs Simpson was causing great embarrassment abroad, where it was the subject of scandalous reports in the popular press. The King was not only monarch in Britain, but also of the overseas Dominions. There the monarchy was already in danger. Although much of the ‘mother’ country had not yet heard of the King’s affair, since the British press had kept silent in order to spare the King’s blushes., when and where it became known about, his behaviour offended people of all backgrounds and classes. During the Jarrow Crusade that October, Ellen Wilkinson had gossiped about the King and Mrs Simpson at the front of the men with Ritchie Calder. Calder later recalled that, when they stopped for lunch:

We saw mutiny in the ranks and finally a deputation. “What’s all this about the King and that woman?” We tried to pass it off lightly but they were furious with us for repeating the story, and then furious with him…the people of Jarrow had nothing other than the family, and this symbolically came as a threat to the family.

Regarding the divorce case, Baldwin asked Edward, at their meeting, if the proceedings, which named him as a co-respondent, had to go ahead. The King replied that he could not, as monarch, interfere in the lives of private individuals. After an hour, the Prime Minister begged the King to ‘think the matter over’. Neither man discussed the possibility of the King’s marriage to Wallis Simpson following the divorce. Hardinge, Chamberlain, Lang and Dawson, editor of The Times, formed a cabal to force Baldwin to confront the approaching issue more pro-actively.

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