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Historically Speaking: The Man Who Toppled a King

By Tom Morrow

Anyone who has studied 1930s history, especially English history, knows that King Edward VIII abdicated his crown for “… the woman I love.” What wasn’t known until recently is the push out the royal door brought about by Cosmo Gordon Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, head cleric of the Church of England.

King Edward

This closeness to the throne was not maintained when George V died in January 1936 and was succeeded by his son, Edward VIII. The new king was wary of Lang, whom he had once admired.
Lang believed that, as Prince of Wales, Edward had not always been wise in his choice of friends and acquaintances, whose standards Lang was later to condemn as “alien to all the best instincts and traditions of his people.” The archbishop had been aware for some time of the king’s relationship with the American Wallis Simpson, then married to her second husband Ernest Simpson.
In mid-1936 it became clear Edward intended to marry Simpson either before or shortly after his impending coronation, depending on the timing of her divorce from her husband. It would be unthinkable to have a divorcee, especially an American, sit on the throne as Queen.
Lang agonized over whether he could, with good conscience, administer the Coronation Oath to the king in such circumstances, bearing in mind the Church’s teaching on marriage. Lang confided to his recently opened diary his hopes that circumstances might change, or that he might be able to persuade the king to reconsider his actions, but the king refused to meet with him. Lang kept close contact with the king’s mother, Queen Mary, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and the king’s private secretary. Edward believed Lang’s influence was strong, later recalling how from beginning to end he felt the archbishop’s “shadowy, hovering presence” in the background.
Cosmo Gordon Lang

The matter became public knowledge on Dec. 2, 1936 when the Bishop of Bradford made an indirect comment on the king’s “need for Divine Grace.” By then the staunch opposition by the Church and Parliament the king had unalterably decided he would abdicate rather than give up Wallis Simpson. All attempts to dissuade him failed, and on Dec. 11, he gave up his throne in favor of his brother, George VI. Two days later Lang broadcast a speech, in which he said: “From God he received a high and sacred trust. Yet by his own will he has … surrendered the trust.”
Lang did not disguise his relief that the crisis was over. He wrote of George VI: “I was now sure that to the solemn words of the Coronation there would now be a sincere response.” On May 12, 1937, Lang crowned Edward’s brother, George VI with full pomp and ceremony in Westminster Abbey.
Time magazine recorded:
“… All through the three-hour ceremony, the most important person there was not the King, his nobles or his ministers, but a hawk-nosed old gentleman with a cream and gold cape who stood on a dais as King George approached: The Rt. Hon. and Most Reverend Cosmo Gordon Lang, D.D. Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England.” Supposedly the archbishop fumbled with the Crown but Lang himself was fully satisfied.”
Years later, it was revealed that Lang had placed the crown on George’s head backwards.
Up until recently it wasn’t known just how much influence Lang had in causing Edward to abdicate his crown. Lang’s private diary was discovered detailing how he and then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin more or less colluded in forcing Edward to step down off the throne. Ironically, today, divorce no longer matters as Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Margaret, her children all have divorced. What ruined Edward VIII, today is merely a blip in the pages of history.


To Learn More about Tom Morrow, the author click here.
E-mail Tom Morrow at: quotetaker@msn.com

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Historically Speaking: The Man Who Toppled a King