The Abdication of Edward VIII
By Trisha Hughes
Early morning fog lay heavily over the Thames on Friday 11th December 1936. The river wound sluggishly through London as dark clouds collected on the horizon, turning it dishwater grey in the gathering gloom. Slowly, the fog lifted revealing Fort Belvedere in Windsor Great Park as a rambling turreted lodge. For 40-year-old Albert, younger brother of David, King Edward VIII, it was the most distressing day of his life.
For days before, Albert had not been welcome at David’s home, Fort Belvedere, even though he had tried repeatedly to talk to his brother. When he arrived that day, the press were already camped outside and a myriad of flashbulbs went off simultaneously to catch a glimpse of the distraught prince for a worldwide audience. Everyone knew that the British monarchy was being shaken to its very core.
Once inside the gates, the uproar ceased as Albert was led through a hallway to where his brother waited for him. A few officials whispered quietly in respectful conversations but as Albert entered, they ceased talking. The unseen presence in the room was Wallis. Albert had no doubt that it was she who was the catalyst that was bringing the four brothers together that morning. She was the presence who had brought David to this point to sign away his birth right.
David had a reputation for being calm under the most stressful of circumstances. This proved correct as he showed no emotion whatsoever when Albert entered the room, remaining remarkably composed. Neither of their brothers, Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester or Prince George Duke of Kent had arrived as yet so the meeting would have to wait until all four brothers were present.
On a writing table, small elegant crystal glasses and a jug of water waited on a gleaming silver tray. Beside them sat copies of the Instrument of Abdication ready for David to sign. Each copy needed to be signed and witnessed by each of his brothers as the kingdom and empire was transferred from one brother to the other. When that was done, Albert would be the next king of England as King George VI. All that was needed was David’s signature to make it official.
Albert was in shock. Nothing had prepared him for this calamity. Although painfully aware of his own weakness, he fully understood his older brother’s failings. The passion that burnt in Albert’s chest had never burnt brightly in David’s. There were too many rules and too many regulations for him. It had been less than a year since their father had died and Albert shared his mother’s bewilderment that the monarchy was being plunged headlong into this crisis. His mother and father had brought all boys up to believe that the monarchy was “something sacred” and every monarch had the responsibility and obligation to put the country before anything else. But here was David, abdicating because his wish was to marry a divorced woman already in possession of “two husbands living”. The newspapers had exploded with the news and the scandal had been splashed over the headlines in every paper, both in Britain, in Europe and throughout the Commonwealth. Suddenly, the monarchy was tainted, perhaps destroyed. But in that room on that morning, there was no hint that David was bending under the strain.
Albert still couldn’t believe what was happening. In his eyes, his brother had qualities that he would never have. Just one week before, David was the life and soul of a dinner party, while Albert was happy to stay quiet, dull and reserved. As always, David had dazzled everyone as he talked about labour problems in South Wales. Albert never imagined he would be able to match his legendary older brother, much less replace him. For most of his life, he had never lived up to anyone’s expectations of being a royal.
David had approached the role of king lazily. He was unwilling to cooperate, and Documents of State were regularly returned unread. He offended the Church by failing to attend services or take Communion on the rare occasions that he did attend. More importantly, he had expressed his pro-German view when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor, then Head of State and finally Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Hitler had just reintroduced conscription in Germany and announced the German Air Force in direct contravention of the Treaty of Versailles signed after the First World War. David seemed unconcerned with the queasy facts and blind to Hitler’s ambitions.
Albert had seen the danger in the approaching months as David paraded Wallis on his arm around London. He knew that behind the figure-hugging satins was a determined, strong woman with an incredible belief in herself. Life out of the limelight was not what she had in mind. She wanted to be royal and acknowledged in every bow and every curtsey. At the very least, she wanted her royal sisters-in-law to show her some sort of respect. She was the one who had captured David’s heart and she wanted everything that he had promised her. And she was prepared to fight for it.
To Albert, the storm his brother created was excruciating. David was known the world over while Albert had managed to stay quietly in the background. It meant that when David stepped down, pictures had to be hastily found of Albert and the newspapers played the family card. Pictures of the awkward Duke, his wife Elizabeth and his pretty daughters, 10-year-old Elizabeth and 6-year-old Margaret were discovered and overnight the family became public property. Pictures surfaced of his wife on a blanket with her Welsh corgi, looking motherly, as she played in the garden with the dark-haired princesses in identical dresses. She looked plain, not elegant like Wallis, but to Albert she was utterly wonderful. Only the day before, crowds had gathered outside their Piccadilly home, hoping for a glimpse of their new king, and he had felt like he was on the edge of an abyss.
Disrupting Albert’s thoughts, his 36-year-old brother Henry Duke of Gloucester was shown into the room. As an army man, Henry knew all about the time-honoured role of the monarch. Henry had never been close to David but he’d expected him to do his duty. His father had done his duty, as had his grandfather, but his brother seemed hell-bent on breaking all the rules. But as he was shown in, he appeared composed as he prepared to do his unpleasant duty of witnessing his brother’s signature.
The fourth and youngest brother, the glamorous 33-year-old Prince George Duke of Kent was still missing. Always attempting to lighten the mood, David remarked, “George would be late”.
His lateness was characteristic. The Duke of Kent was unpredictable, volatile and flamboyant, and totally alien to his solemn, quiet brother Albert. Kent had no sense of duty, but he was film-star handsome and a playboy whose irresistible good looks had attracted a series of women. His closeness to his older brother was the fundamental guiding force in his life and how he would react to the news was anyone’s guess. It was Albert’s job now to keep his brothers in line and do all he could with or without their support to face the crisis.
One hour later, the doors burst open and George Duke of Kent was shown into the room. That morning, he was uncharacteristically subdued. He was the youngest and closest to his oldest brother but still, he’d been unable to reach David during his self-imposed isolation until two days before. He’d wanted to talk to David before he made an irrevocable decision but on that occasion, when he finally met with him, David was anguished, chain-smoking and stressed beyond reason. But he was definite. He was going to abdicate. There was nothing that would convince him to give up Wallis.
Albert watched as his youngest brother swaggered into the room. He knew Kent had hidden himself away with David for most of the weekend and he’d heard the whispers from various factions that the Prime Minister was considering altering the succession to bypass both Albert and his equally unsuitable third brother Henry so that Kent, with his regal bearing, self-assurance and charm, could inherit the throne. Would the abdicating king leave easier if his favourite brother were to sit on the throne? Was it possible that Kent had even suggested it? That morning as he walked into the room, Kent certainly looked and sounded confident. Could Albert even trust him?
Back row from left to right: The Prince of Wales, future King Edward VIII, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, King George V, Prince Albert, future King George VI, and Prince George, Duke of Kent.
With Kent’s arrival, the formalities commenced, and an air of unreality took over. The dreaded event was becoming a reality. The time had come for David to sign the pages that would change history. Albert watched as David moved slowly towards the writing table and the room fell silent as he picked up the pen. All three brothers simultaneously held their breath, hardly daring to move, as David’s pen poised over the page. Then without any more delay, the pen scratched over the page and it was done. In that one moment, the world tilted and Albert and David swapped places in history.
As soon as David put the pen down, he glanced at Albert as if trying to see inside his heart. To anyone watching the pair, David looked like a swimmer coming up for air while Albert stared at his brother in dread. Without another word spoken, the four brothers shook hands and parted.
Victoria to Vikings
The Circle of Blood
By Trisha Hughes
At the heart of our present are the stories of our past. In ages gone by, many monarchs died while they were still young. There were battles and diseases and many were simply overthrown. But the days of regal engagement in hand-to-hand combat are over and the line of succession has a good ageing prospect these days.
One of the most famous monarchs in history is Queen Victoria and her passing brought an end to an amazing era. She could be demanding, rude and she frequently fled public duties for the solitude of Scotland. But she loved fiercely and her people loved her fiercely in return. Under her reign, England achieved a greatness it had never known before.
Victoria to Vikings: The Circle of Blood spans from this great queen to another one: Queen Elizabeth II. Ours is the era of the longest living monarch in history and her ancestry is incredible. But walking two steps behind her, stalwart and loyal, stands Prince Philip, the strawberry to her champagne, and with him comes his own amazing Viking heritage.
Pick up your copy of
Victoria to Vikings
The Circle of Blood
Vikings to Virgin:
The Hazards of Being King
In Vikings to Virgin - The Hazards of Being King Trisha Hughes provides the reader with a pacey introduction to the many pitfalls faced by the ambitious as they climbed the dangerous ladders of royalty. It is easy to think that monarchs are all powerful, but throughout the Dark and Middle Ages it was surprisingly easy to unseat one and assume the crown yourself. But if it was easy to gain ... it was just as easy to lose.From the dawn of the Vikings through to Elizabeth I, Trisha Hughes follows the violent struggles for power and the many brutal methods employed to wrest it and keep hold of it. Murder, deceit, treachery, lust and betrayal were just a few of the methods used to try and win the crown. Vikings to Virgin - The Hazards of Being King spans fifteen hundred years and is a highly accessible and enjoyable ride through the dark side of early British monarchy.
Virgin to Victoria
Virgin to Victoria is a powerful retelling of the history of the British monarchy, beginning with Henry VIII's daughter, Elizabeth I, as she comes to the throne. Charting Elizabeth's incredible journey, Virgin to Victoria travels in time through the confusion of the Stuart dynasty, the devastation of a Civil War led by Oliver Cromwell, horrific battles for the throne and the turbulent Hanover dynasty with its intricate family squabbles. Despite her amazing legacy, Elizabeth failed England in one vital area. She never married, nor did she leave an heir to the Tudor family. In making this one fateful decision, the Virgin Queen left the path open for a take-over and life would never be the same. Victoria did not ask to be Queen. It was thrust upon her by a series of events that removed all others who stood in line for the throne. She assumed it reluctantly and, at first, incompetently. Parliament was sure that the 18-year-old could be relied upon to leave the job of running the country to the professionals. Couldn't she?
I was born in a little outback town called Blackall in Central Queensland, Australia. From there my parents moved to the Brisbane suburb of Fortitude Valley where I grew up to be a tiny, self-reliant little girl.
My first book, ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ is my story, written eighteen years ago, fuelled on by the discovery of a family I never knew I had. It’s full of family secrets, tremendous heartache but proves the human spirit’s amazing ability to triumph over adversity. Nineteen years ago, after just one phone call, my life changed abruptly. With that change came a passion for writing and I have been writing ever since.
I love writing crime novels but my passion is with the history of the British Monarchy. The first in my‘V2V’ trilogy is ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ published in 2017. The second in the series is due for release on 28th April this year and is called ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is Dead. Long live the Queen.’ The final book, ‘Victoria to Vikings – The Circle of Blood’ will be released early 2019.
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx