142. RECORDS OF EDWARD VIII'S ABDICATION (1936)
(A) Speech by Prime Minister Baldwin
[10 December.] The prime minister (Mr. Baldwin) at the bar acquainted the house that he had a message from his majesty the king to this house, signed by his majesty's own hand. And he presented the same to the house and it was read out by Mr. Speaker as followeth, all the members of the house being uncovered:
Fort Belvedere, Sunningdale, Berkshire. Members of the House of Commons:
After long and anxious consideration, I have determined to renounce the throne to which I succeeded on the death of my father, and I am now communicating this, my final and irrevocable decision. Realizing as I do the gravity of this step, I can only hope that I shall have the understanding of my peoples in the decision I have taken and the reasons which have led me to take it. I will not enter now into my private feelings, but I would beg that it should be remembered that the burden which constantly rests upon the shoulders of a sovereign is so heavy that it can only be borne in circumstances different from those in which I now find myself. I conceive that I am not overlooking the duty that rests on me to place in the forefront the public interest, when I declare that I am conscious that I can no longer discharge this heavy task with efficiency or with satisfaction to myself.
I have accordingly this morning executed an Instrument of Abdication in the terms following: "I, Edward VIII, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Emperor of India, do hereby declare my irrevocable determination to renounce the throne for myself and for my descendants and my desire that effect should be given to this Instrument of Abdication immediately. In token whereof I have hereunto set my hand this 10th day December, 1936, in the presence of the witnesses whose signatures are subscribed, (signed) Edward, R.I." My execution of this instrument has been witnessed by my three brothers, their royal highnesses the duke of York, the duke of Gloucester, and the duke of Kent.
I deeply appreciate the spirit which has actuated the appeals which have been made to me to take a different decision and I have, before reaching my final determination, most fully pondered over them. But my mind is made up. Moreover, further delay cannot but be most injurious to the peoples whom I have tried to serve as prince of Wales and as king, and whose future happiness and prosperity are the constant wish of my heart.
I take my leave of them in the confident hope that the course which I have thought it right to follow is that which is best for the stability of the throne and empire, and the happiness of my peoples. I am deeply sensible of the consideration which they have always extended to me both before and after my accession to the throne, and which I know they will extend in full measure to my successor.
I am most anxious that there should be no delay of any kind in giving effect to the instrument which I have executed, and that all necessary steps should be taken immediately to secure that my lawful successor, my brother, his royal highness the duke of York, should ascend the throne.
The prime minister: I beg to move that his majesty's most gracious message be now considered. No more grave message has ever been received by parliament and no more difficult, I may almost say repugnant, task has ever been imposed upon a prime minister.... I should like to say at the start that his majesty, as prince of Wales, has honoured me for many years with a friendship which I value, and I know that he would agree with me in saying to you that it was not only a friendship but, between man and man, a friendship of affection....
Now, sir, the house will want to know how it was that I had my first interview with his majesty. I may say that his majesty has been most generous in allowing me to tell the house the pertinent parts of the discussions which took place between us. As the house is aware, I had been ordered in August and September a complete rest.... When October came ... I felt that I could not in fairness to my work take a further holiday.... There were two things that disquieted me at that moment. There was coming to my office a vast volume of correspondence ... expressing perturbation and uneasiness at what was then appearing in the American press. I was aware also that there was in the near future a divorce case coming on as a result of which I realized that possibly a difficult situation might arise later; and I felt that it was essential that some one should see his majesty and warn him of the difficult situation that might arise later, if occasion was given for a continuation of this kind of gossip.... I felt that in the circumstances there was only one man who could speak to him and talk the matter over with him, and that man was the prime minister. I felt doubly bound to do it by my duty as I conceived it to the country and my duty to him, not only as a counsellor, but as a friend. I consulted, I am ashamed to say and they have forgiven me, none of my colleagues....
I communicated with him through his secretary and stated that I desired to see him this is the first and only occasion on which I was the one who asked for an interview that I desired to see him, that the matter was urgent. I told him what it was. I expressed my willingness to come to Sandringham on Tuesday the 20th, but I said that I thought it wiser, if his majesty thought fit, to see me at Fort Belvedere; for I was anxious that no one at that time should know of my visit, and that at any rate our first talk should be in complete privacy. The reply came from his majesty that he would motor back on the Monday, 19th October, to Fort Belvedere, and he would see me on the Tuesday morning. And on the Tuesday morning I saw him.
Sir, I may say, before I proceed to the details of the conversation, that an adviser to the crown can be of no possible service to his master unless he tells him at all times the truth as he sees it, whether that truth be welcome or not. And let me say here, as I may say several times before I finish, that during those talks, when I look back, there is nothing I have not told his majesty of which I felt he ought to be aware nothing. His majesty's attitude all through has been let me put it in this way: never has he shown any sign of offence, of being hurt at anything I have said to him. The whole of our discussions have been carried out, as I have said, with an increase if possible of that mutual respect and regard in which we stood.
I told his majesty that I had two great anxieties. One [was] the effect of a continuance of the kind of criticism that at that time was proceeding in the American press, the effect it would have in the dominions and particularly in Canada, where it was widespread the effect it would have in this country. That was the first anxiety. And then I reminded him of what I had often told him and his brothers in the past: the British monarchy is a unique institution. The crown in this country through the centuries has been deprived of many of its prerogatives; but to-day, while that is true, it stands for far more than it ever has done in its history. The importance of its integrity is, beyond all question, far greater than it ever has been, being as it is not only the last link of empire that is left, but the guarantee in this country, so long as it exists in that integrity, against many evils that have affected and afflicted other countries. There is no man in this country, to whatever party he may belong, who would not subscribe to that. But while this feeling largely depends on the respect that has grown up in the last three generations for the monarchy, it might not take so long, in the face of the kind of criticisms to which it was being exposed, to lose that power far more rapidly than it was built up; and once lost, I doubt if anything could restore it....
I told him I had come naturally, I was his prime minister but I wanted to talk it over with him as a friend, to see if I could help him in this matter.... He said to me, not once but many times ...: "You and I must settle this matter together; I will not have any one interfering." I then pointed out the danger of the divorce proceedings; that, if a verdict was given in that case that left the matter in suspense for some time, that period of suspense might be dangerous, because then every one would be talking. And when once the press began as it must begin some time in this country a most difficult situation would arise for me [and] for him.... I said that I pressed him for no kind of answer; but would he consider everything I had said?
The next time I saw him was on Monday, 16th November. That was at Buckingham Palace. By that date the decree nisi had been pronounced in the divorce case. His majesty had sent for me on that occasion.... I felt it my duty to begin the conversation, and I spoke with him for a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes, on the question of marriage. Again, we must remember that the cabinet had not been in this at all. I had reported to about four of my senior colleagues the conversation at Fort Belvedere. I saw the king on Monday, 16th November, and I began by giving him my view of a possible marriage. I told him that I did not think that a particular marriage was one that would receive the approbation of the country. That marriage would have involved the lady becoming queen. I did tell his majesty once that I might be a remnant of the old Victorians, but that my worst enemy would not say of me that I did not know what the reaction of the English people would be to any particular course of action. And I told him that, so far as they went, I was certain that that would be impracticable.... I pointed out to him that the position of the king's wife was different from the position of the wife of any other citizen in the country; it was part of the price which the king has to pay. His wife becomes queen; the queen becomes the queen of the country. And therefore, in the choice of a queen, the voice of the people must be heard. Then his majesty said to me I have his permission to state this that he wanted to tell me something that he had long wanted to tell me. He said, "I am going to marry Mrs. Simpson, and I am prepared to go." I said, "Sir, that is most grievous news and it is impossible for me to make any comment on it to-day." ...
He sent for me again on Wednesday, 25th November. In the meantime a suggestion had been made to me that a possible compromise might be arranged to avoid those two possibilities that had been seen.... The compromise was that the king should marry; that parliament should pass an act enabling the lady to be the king's wife without the position of queen. And when I saw his majesty on 25th November, he asked me whether that proposition had been put to me; and I said Yes. He asked me what I thought of it. I told him that I had not considered it. I said, "I can give you no considered opinion." If he asked me my first reaction informally, my first reaction was that parliament would never pass such a bill. But I said that, if he desired it, I would examine it formally. He said he did so desire. Then I said, "It will mean my putting that formally before the whole cabinet and communicating with the prime ministers of all the dominions." And was that his wish? He told me that it was. I said that I would do it.
On 2nd December the king asked me to go and see him. Again I had intended asking for an audience later that week, because such inquiries as I thought proper to make I had not completed. The inquiries had gone far enough to show that neither in the dominions nor here would there be any prospect of such legislation being accepted. His majesty asked me if I could answer his question. I gave him the reply that I was afraid it was impracticable for those reasons.... His majesty said he was not surprised at that answer. He took my answer with no question and he never recurred to it again.... That decision was of course a formal decision, and that was the only formal decision of any kind taken by the cabinet until I come to the history of yesterday. When we had finished that conversation, I pointed out that the possible alternatives had been narrowed and that it really had brought him into the position that he would be placed in a grievous situation between two conflicting loyalties in his own heart: either complete abandonment of the project on which his heart was set, and remaining as king, or doing as he intimated to me that he was prepared to do ... , going and later on contracting that marriage if it were possible....
I would say a word or two on the king's position. The king cannot speak for himself. The king has told us that he cannot carry ... these almost intolerable burdens of kingship without a woman at his side, and we know that. This crisis, if I may use the word, has arisen now, rather than later, from that very frankness of his majesty's character which is one of many of his attractions. It would have been perfectly possible for his majesty not to have told me of this at the date when he did, and not to have told me for some months to come. But he realized the damage that might be done in the interval by gossip, rumours, and talk; and he made that declaration to me when he did on purpose to avoid what he felt might be dangerous, not only here but throughout the empire, to the moral force of the crown which we are all determined to sustain.
He told me his intentions and he has never wavered from them. I want the house to understand that. He felt it his duty to take into his anxious consideration all the representations that his advisers might give him; and not until he had fully considered them did he make public his decision. There has been no kind of conflict in this matter. My efforts during these last days have been directed, as have been the efforts of those most closely round him, in trying to help him to make the choice which he has not made, and we have failed. The king has made his decision to take this moment to send this gracious message, because of his confident hope that by that he will preserve the unity of this country and of the whole empire....
Yesterday morning, when the cabinet received the king's final and definite answer officially, they passed a minute and, in accordance with it, I sent a message to his majesty which he has been good enough to permit me to read to the house with his reply. "Mr. Baldwin, with his humble duty to the king. This morning Mr. Baldwin reported to the cabinet his interview with your majesty yesterday and informed his colleagues that your majesty then communicated to him informally your firm and definite intention to renounce the throne. The cabinet received this statement of your majesty's intention with profound regret, and wished Mr. Baldwin to convey to your majesty immediately the unanimous feeling of your majesty's servants. Ministers are reluctant to believe that your majesty's resolve is irrevocable and still venture to hope that, before your majesty pronounces any formal decision, your majesty may be pleased to reconsider an intention which must so deeply distress and so vitally affect all your majesty's subjects. Mr. Baldwin is at once communicating with the dominion prime ministers for the purpose of letting them know that your majesty has now made to him the informal intimation of your majesty's intention."
His majesty's reply was received last night: "The king has received the prime minister's letter of the 9th December, 1936, informing him of the views of the cabinet. His majesty has given the matter his further consideration, but regrets that he is unable to alter his decision." ...
Ibid., CCCXVIII, 2175 f.
(B) Declaration of Abdication Act
An act to give effect to his majesty's declaration of abdication, and for purposes connected therewith. Whereas his majesty by his royal message of the 10th day of December in this present year has been pleased to declare that he is irrevocably determined to renounce the throne for himself and his descendants, and has for that purpose executed the Instrument of Abdication set out in the schedule to this act, and has signified his desire that effect thereto should be given immediately; and whereas, following upon the communication to his dominions of his majesty's said declaration and desire, the dominion of Canada, pursuant to the provisions of section 4 of the Statute of Westminster, 1931, has requested and consented to the enactment of this act, and the commonwealth of Australia, the dominion of New Zealand, and the union of South Africa have assented thereto: be it therefore enacted ... as follows:
Immediately upon the royal assent being signified to this act, the Instrument of Abdication executed by his present majesty on the 10th day of December, 1936, set out in the schedule to this act, shall have effect, and thereupon his majesty shall cease to be king and there shall be a demise of the crown, and accordingly the member of the royal family then next in succession to the throne shall succeed thereto and to all the rights, privileges, and dignities thereunto belonging. His majesty, his issue, if any, and the descendants of that issue, shall not after his majesty's abdication have any right, title, or interest in or to the succession to the throne, and section 1 of the Act of Settlement shall be construed accordingly. The Royal Marriages Act, 1772, shall not apply to his majesty after his abdication nor to the issue, if any, of his majesty or the descendants of that issue....
Public General Acts, 1936: I Edward VIII, c. 3.