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Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 17:56 GMT
Profile: Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin in 1937
Stanley Baldwin was the son of an MP
As the Public Record Office releases more documents concerning the abdication of King Edward VIII, BBC News Online looks at the career of Stanley Baldwin - the prime minister who played a vital role in the crisis.

The abdication crisis was one of the key moments of Stanley Baldwin's political career.

It fell to the then Conservative prime minister to refuse King Edward VIII permission to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson - and to outline the situation to the Commons.

The speech he made to MPs has been described as one of the greatest of the age.

It prompted Harold Nicholson MP to report in his diary: "We file out broken in body and soul, conscious that we have heard the best speech we will ever hear in our lives.

"No man has dominated the House as he dominated it today and he knows it."

Stanley Baldwin
Our people... will not stand for this sort of thing in a public personage

Stanley Baldwin to King Edward VIII
Stanley Baldwin - who was to become prime minister three times in the 1920s and 1930s - was born in 1867, the only child of a Worcestershire ironworks owner and local MP.

The family was Methodist, and Baldwin himself was deeply religious.

After attending Harrow School and Cambridge University, Baldwin joined the family firm in 1888.

He entered Parliament in 1908. By 1923 he was prime minister.

He was asked to form a government when Andrew Bonar Law resigned due to illness.

Cunning

His first stint leading the country was brief. He lost the December 1923 general election and Labour took over. But by November 1924 he was back in Number 10.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor
Baldwin confronted Edward over his relationship with Wallis Simpson
Baldwin's approach to government was to give his ministers the freedom to act while he maintained a general overview.

Some saw this as laziness and pointed to Baldwin's insistence on taking long holidays, even if matters of state were pressing.

Others saw it as cunning and the only way he could maintain control over a party with significant internal divisions.

Baldwin lost the general election of 1929, and Labour came back into power.

Crisis role

He came close to quitting politics in 1930 and spent much of the next two years fighting elements of his own party.

But in 1931 he returned to government as a member of Ramsay MacDonald's National Coalition and in June 1935 he became prime minister again when MacDonald resigned.

No prime minister has ever chosen a better moment to bow out

Robert Blake, historian
This term in office was dominated by affairs in Europe and by the abdication crisis.

The latter saw Baldwin at his peak, the former was to dash his reputation after he had left office.

When King Edward VIII came to the throne in January 1936, Baldwin did not approve wholeheartedly of the new monarch for reasons as diverse as his taste for light-coloured suits and what was believed to be his sympathy for certain aspects of Nazi Germany.

When the King told Baldwin he wanted to marry Mrs Simpson, the prime minister told the monarch it would be unacceptable.

"I think I know our people," he told them. "They will tolerate a lot in private life, but they will not stand for this sort of thing in a public personage."

Mussolini
Baldwin was blamed for not standing up to Mussolini
In a series of meetings he spelled out Edward's options to him, which eventually boiled down to renouncing Mrs Simpson or abdicating - the King chose the latter.

It was generally agreed Baldwin had handled the situation well.

He retired a few months later, shortly after the Coronation of George VI in May 1937, and in the words of historian Robert Blake "no prime minister has ever chosen a better moment to bow out".

But his reputation did not last long as he took some of the blame for not standing up to Hitler and Mussolini early enough.

When World War II began in September 1939, Baldwin was blamed for having left Britain with insufficient defences.


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