Thursday, 16 February 2017

"The Price of Kingship" - The Spectator, 4th December 1936

As set out in the VBCW Timeline, the story of King Edward VIII's relationship with Mrs Simpson only broke in the British press on 3rd/4th December 1936. Here is the full text of a leading article in "The Spectator", published on 4th December 1936, headed "The Price of Kingship":

"NO question, as every experienced journalist knows, is more difficult for a responsible journal to decide than the point at which a loyal reticence becomes a conspiracy of silence. The question has for months past been under anxious consideration in every newspaper-office in this country in a particular connexion. During that period the newspapers of the United States and of some of the Dominions have been printing millions of words on a subject on which the British Press has maintained an unbroken silence. Now silence is possible no longer. A sentence in the address of the Bishop of Bradford to his Diocesan Conference on Tuesday is unmistakable in its implications. Speaking, in reference to the Coronation ceremony, of the King's need for God's grace, Dr. Blunt, having manifestly weighed his words, expressed the hope that King Edward was aware of the need, and added "some of us wish that he gave more positive signs of his awareness."

To those who have lived through the reign of King George V that is surprising and disturbing language, and if the Bishop of Bradford had not specific grounds for his criticism of King George's son condemnation of his temerity would be universal. As things are the Bishop will be generally held to have rendered a public service. That it did not become him in particular to render it may no doubt be argued. There arc higher dignitaries in the Church and State to which the task more properly belongs. But no one who has read the leading articles, admirable alike in their firmness and their discretion, which the Bishop's address has inspired in some of the great provincial papers—most notably the Yorkshire Post— can long retain any doubts of the advantage of elevating discussion of the King's affairs, if discussion there must be, from the chatter of railway-carriages and drawing-rooms and clubs to the responsible columns of serious organs of opinion.

For whatever comment is so expressed will be reluctant, respectful and profoundly sympathetic. The King of Great Britain and the Dominions is the servant of his people. His life is not his own but theirs. It is ceaselessly spread before their gaze, and " the fierce light that beats upon a throne " is pitiless. In his self-sacrificing devotion to public duty King Edward upholds the highest traditions of his father, and with no such support and stay as his father drew from an ideal marriage. Set on his lonely eminence the King has a double claim on the affection and loyalty of his people. That claim, it is fair to add, has been honoured to the full. Never did a ruler of these realms ascend the throne more richly dowered. He succeeded to the privileges and obligations of a father who had been the very mould and pattern of a constitutional king, and a king whose unexampled hold on the loyalty and devotion of his subjects sprang before all things from their admiration of a family life which the highest and the lowest of his people could with advantage take as modeL It is to that tradition that King Edward is called on to be scrupulously true. The life of an unmarried king must necessarily in a measure be a life of solitude. None would dream of grudging him the fullest measure of such friendships as lesser men and women find part of the indispensable substance of a rounded life. None would willingly intrude for a moment into such privacy as the exigencies of his high station leave him. But the King, after all, has obligations that his subjects have not. In transferring to him unabated the confidence and affection bestowed on his father the people of these realms counted, and had a right to count, on that fulfilment of a spiritual and unwritten contract in which King George never faltered nor was capable of faltering. Noblesse oblige. Even in kingship there must be sacrifice. Both as prince and monarch King Edward has shown himself conscious to the full of that—never more than in the last few weeks, when his visit to his storm-tossed fleet and his tireless investigation of conditions in South Wales have identified him as never before with every section of his people. 

But something still further is asked of the King. Nothing more is charged against him than a friendship carried to the point of unwisdom with a lady who, till the decree granted in her favour six weeks ago is made absolute, is still married woman. Nothing need be said of that in itself. If it could be regarded as the King's concern alone every paper that has preserved silence so far would preserve it thankfully still. But what would be a private matter for a private citizen may have grave reactions when it involves a king. The person and personality of the sovereign is a factor of inestimable importance in the British Commonwealth of Nations. He is the supreme link between the Dominions and this country. In India above all, knowledge of the ground for any breath of criticism of the King-Emperor would have disastrous consequences. Demands almost as terrible in their rigour are made on the sovereign of these Dominions. They are not made lightly. There is no stint of generous sympathy with a King called on to observe standards set remorselessly high, which any of his subjects can transgress with relative impunity. But he is not asked for an unrequited sacrifice. If he so sets his course, and orders his associations, as to retain the homage and loyalty which the people of Britain and her Dominions have bestowed in their amplitude on his father, he has a reward as no other living man, and few in any age, could enjoy.

There may be something on which he sets an even higher price than that. If so, his decision would be received on public grounds with deep regret. On private grounds it could command nothing but sympathy and respect. Times change. The creation of new precedents cause no consternation. Restraints on a sovereigns choice of consort become increasingly distateful. But that question can be regarded as one for himself alone, in which his Ministers and his people have no part, is more than can be conceded. That is the price of kingship. The personality of the Queen and the mother of the King's children and heirs is a matter of supreme public concern."

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