Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The year of the three kings

Twice in Britain's royal history has its throne seen three men claim it in one year.  In 1483, Edward IV's sudden death and the even more sudden disappearance of his heir just months later led to a trio of royal rulers within twelve months.  And the events that turned 1936 into the year of the three kings were no less shocking.  Today, 77 years ago, Edward VIII became the first king in over 500 years to abdicate his throne.  On a cold, foggy evening in December 1936 the man born to rule half the world signed it all away to marry the woman he loved.

The newspaper front pages reporting the end of one of the shortest reigns in royal history.  On December 10th 1936, Edward VIII abdicated his throne to marry Wallis Simpson
There is no proper popular account of how this shocking news affected the country that Edward fled soon afterwards.  Famously, the British press kept quiet about the romance between Edward and Wallis Simpson as it turned form fascination to obsession to constitutional crisis.  By the time Mrs Simpson won her second divorce in a draughty court in Ipswich in Suffolk, her name was known but the scale of the crisis that her relationship with the golden king of England had caused behind closed palace doors remained a secret.
Mrs Simpson's name and face were known, but not well known, by the time Edward VIII abdicated his throne to be able to make her his wife
By the time the relationship was known, it was all but inevitable that the king who had been the darling of his people since birth would be leaving them.  The limited amount of time that his subjects had to get used to the news of a possible change of king less than a year after losing their previous monarch was mostly filled with surprise.  The papers of the day, once they started to use the information at their disposal, had little time to tell the story they decided to print.
The British newspapers kept quiet about the Abdication crisis until almost the moment the instrument was signed
For the British people, and the British press, the change of monarch was summed up by the grey, cold weather outside.  Edward VIII, the beautiful boy brought up to be king, had been their darling for over thirty years with his film star looks and his endless charm not to mention his knack of knowing just how to speak to people whether it be one to one or a huge crowd.  As he was driven through the mists of the end of the year into exile, his replacement was the quiet younger brother who struggled to speak at all and who had none of the glamour or glory of the king and emperor he replaced.  No one knew on December 10th 1936 that the man who became Britain's king as the day entered its final hours, would become one of the greatest ever to wear its crown.
The shock of losing the golden boy born to rule an empire totally overshadowed the beginning of the reign of George VI who went on to be one of the best loved and most respected of all British monarchs.  His reign began 77 years ago tonight.

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