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 Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 00:07 GMT
King's abdication appeal blocked
King Edward VIII broadcasting to the nation
Broadcast: King wanted to appeal to the people

King Edward VIII tried to make a last-minute broadcast to the British Empire to win public support for his proposed marriage to Wallis Simpson and avoid abdication.

Papers revealed at the Public Record Office show the King's planned broadcast in December 1936 was a critical turning point in the abdication crisis, with the then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin rallying his government and the key members of the Empire against the monarch.
I could not go on bearing the heavy burdens unless I could be strengthened in the task by a happy married life ...

King Edward VIII

They and the government's legal experts blocked the broadcast saying it would have created a crisis comparable to the beginning of the English Civil War.

Edward proposed the broadcast as newspapers ended their blackout on reporting his relationship with the American socialite, splashing the growing scandal on front pages.

Broadcast

In a tense meeting with Stanley Baldwin on 3 December 1936, the King asked to be allowed to speak via the BBC.

The text of the proposed speech, never publicly seen until now, was a direct appeal to the people.

Baldwin: Determined to prevent broadcast
"By ancient custom, the King addresses his public utterances to his people," it began. "Tonight I am going to talk to you as my friends - British men and women wherever you may reside, within or without the Empire.

"I am still the same man whose motto was 'Ich Dien', I serve. And I have tried to serve this country and the Empire for the last twenty years."

The King said he had reached the point where he had no choice but to speak out.

"I could not go on bearing the heavy burdens that constantly rest on me as king unless I could be strengthened in the task by a happy married life; and so I am firmly resolved to marry the woman I love, when she is free to marry me.

Speech: A personal appeal to his subjects
"It has taken me a long time to find the woman I want to make my wife.

"Without her, I have been a very lonely man. With her I shall have a home and all the companionship and mutual sympathy and understanding which married life can bring.

The King said he believed his subjects would wish him "to be blessed" with the same good fortune in happiness as themselves.

"Neither Mrs Simpson nor I have ever sought to insist that she should be Queen.

"All we desired was that our married happiness should carry with it a proper title and dignity for her befitting my wife."

The King's speech would have concluded with him saying he was "to go away for awhile," his plan being to go abroad while the public debated his appeal.

"Nothing is nearer to my heart than that I should return," he wrote. "But whatever may befall, I shall always have a deep affection for my country, for the Empire and for you all."

Open in new window : Abdication papers
See the documents for the first time

So shocked was he at the King's proposal, Mr Baldwin returned to Downing Street where he immediately telegrammed counterparts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

The last time when this happened in English history was when Charles I raised His Standard at the beginning of the Civil War on 22 August 1642

Govt legal opinion on broadcast
Mr Baldwin suggested the respective leaders agreed a constitutional line that there was "fundamental difference" between the position of the King and that of a private person.

In the King's case, his every utterance had to be approved by ministers because of his constitutional position as the figure uniting the nations, Empire and Commonwealth.

At the same time, Mr Baldwin moved to prevent the King contacting the BBC directly.

Sir Horace Wilson, a key Downing Street advisor, met the Director General of the BBC Sir John (later Lord) Reith and gained his assurances that he would reject any approach by the King.

"I have told Sir John Reith that he is to observe the arrangement [discussed] and that he is to take no action of any kind without direct authorisation," Sir Horace wrote to Mr Baldwin.

The next day, the government's constitutional experts gave their legal opinion which concurred with the prime minister's conclusions.

"The sovereign can make no public statement on any matter of public interest except on the advice of his ministers," said the opinion.

"The king's ministers must take responsibility for every public act of the King. This is the basis of the constitutional monarchy.

"If the King disregarded it, constitutional monarchy would cease to exist. The King is bound to accept and act upon the advice of his ministers ... for the King to broadcast in disregard of that advice would be appealing over the heads of his constitutional advisers.

"The last time when this happened in English history was when Charles I raised His Standard at the beginning of the Civil War on 22 August 1642."

Baldwin succeeded in blocking the broadcast and within days the machinery was in motion for the King to abdicate rather than win the public's support.

Edward finally did make a different speech announcing his abdication on 11 December 1936.


It would be more than half a century before a major royal figure would talk to the nation again about their controversial love life - Diana, Princess of Wales in her interview with the BBC's Panorama programme in 1995.


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