HL Deb 10 December 1936 vol 103 cc725-34

My Lords, I have received a gracious Message, addressed by His Majesty to this House, which it is my duty to read:

Fort Belvedere,



"My Lords,

"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. Realising 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 tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, 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.

"(Signed) EDWARD R.I.

"10th December, 1936."

I beg to move that the gracious Message be now considered.

Moved, That His Majesty's gracious Message be considered forthwith.—(Viscount Halifax.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


It is I think owing to your Lordships that I should say something on behalf of His Majesty's Government upon the consideration of the gracious Message.

Your Lordships will be aware that on Tuesday my right honourable friend the Prime Minister had another long interview with His Majesty, in the course of which His Majesty intimated his determination to renounce the Throne. This determination His Majesty said was final and unalterable, and my right honourable friend was unable to shake His Majesty in his decision. Yesterday the Prime Minister reported his interview to the Cabinet, who unanimously desired him to represent once again to His Majesty that which they had no doubt was the heartfelt desire of all his subjects—that he might be graciously pleased to reconsider a decision that must cause such universal consternation and distress.

Accordingly, at the Cabinet's wish and with the Cabinet's approval, the following letter was transmitted to His Majesty yesterday immediately after the Cabinet session: Mr. Baldwin with his humble duty to The King. 1. 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. 2. 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. 3. 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. To that Message the King was pleased in the course of yesterday afternoon to make the following reply: The King has received the Prime Minister's letter of December 9, 1936, informing Him of the views of the Cabinet. His Majesty has given the matter His further consideration, but regrets He is unable to alter His decision. It has therefore fallen to me to ask your Lordships to give consideration to the Message that you have just heard read.

I suppose that the feeling which is uppermost in the minds of all the people of this country, as in all parts of His Majesty's Empire, is one of bewilderment at the suddenness of the loss we have sustained, together with a deepening sense of sorrow as we come to realise its full significance. It is not difficult to appreciate how stern must have been the contest for His Majesty between conflicting loyalties. To few indeed is it given to be immune from such interior civil war; but for none surely can the burden of decision in the solitary sphere of conscience have been so sorely weighted by the knowledge of its inevitable impact upon the life of the whole Commonwealth of which the man who had to make decision was also Sovereign head.

It is no part of His subjects' duty, even if their hearts allowed, to pass judgment upon the conclusion which His Majesty has felt impelled to reach. We can but signify our profound emotion at the outcome of these days and weeks of painful stress, and give, if we may, a humble assurance of how close our thoughts are to those of His family who stand nearest to the King, and especially to Her for whom the noble Marquess spoke the feeling of the whole House on Tuesday.


Hear, hear.


Your Lordships will recall the universal sense of public and of personal deprivation that followed the death of His Late Majesty, and how all who owed allegiance to the British Crown sought comfort in the promise of the new reign then begun. We knew and we have valued all that His Majesty had it in power to give by way of inspiration, encouragement and understanding, and it is with great sadness that we have learnt of the untimely withdrawal of these gifts from the service of the State. Your Lordships will neither expect nor wish me to say more. We are yet too close to the unhappy sequence of events that has so suddenly overwhelmed both those early anticipations and our hopes.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, in another place, will to-day introduce the necessary legislation to give effect to His Majesty's wishes. The Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand and the Union of South Africa have all assented to the enactment of this legislation. So far as the Irish Free State is concerned, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has received a message from Mr. de Valera saying that "The Government of the Irish Free State are summoning their Parliament, if possible to-morrow, to make provision for the situation which has arisen in the Irish. Free State." It is finally proposed to pass our United Kingdom legislation, in accordance with the expressed desire of His Majesty for expedition, through all its stages in another place to-morrow; and it will be my duty to ask your Lordships, on receipt of the Bill from another place, to suspend the necessary Standing Orders to enable this House similarly to pass it through all stages, in order that it may receive the Royal Assent by Commission before we rise to-morrow.


My Lords, you will have heard the statement which has been made to the House with sorrow and with deep regret. All of us had hoped that the appeals which had been made to His Majesty would have induced him to reach a different conclusion. It seems only a few short days since Edward VIII ascended the Throne amid the heartfelt greetings of his people. There is not one of us who did not wish for him along, a happy, and a prosperous reign, and none of us would have withheld from him co-operation in any effort necessary for the good of our nation and of His Majesty's personal happiness and wellbeing. To-day we have a different and melancholy situation to face. By his own will, and against the earnest solicitations, many times repeated, of his responsible advisers, His Majesty has decided to take this momentous step. We can only, with infinite regret, accept his decision. He is the master of his own destiny, and he has made his choice. This is not the occasion when any criticism of the issues in this grievous matter could usefully be made. Our thoughts and feelings are so deeply concerned with the personal sorrow of paring with and from a Ruler whose career and promise some of us have followed with hope and satisfaction since his birth, that other matters seem inappropriate.

I am certainly not in a position to speak concerning the facts, because I do not know them. Less, perhaps, than any of your Lordships, can we on these Benches venture upon an interpretation of the King's mind. We know him only in his official capacity, and we have had no closer contact with him than has been enjoyed by the general public. We do not complain of that, but it does lessen the opportunity to offer to him understanding assistance at this, the great crisis of his life. I hope your Lordships will agree that in a position of unusual difficulty, and without the information which has been available to the Government, my own Party has tried to face this tragic situation with a becoming dignity and restraint. Now that the deciding step is taken, and we are called upon to accept the Abdication of a King to whom we were bound by many precious experiences and memories, it only remains to us to think of him as in happier days and to express our deep sympathy with him in the difficult issues that he had to face. Members of my own Party have special reasons of sorrow at his departing. As a Prince he was sympathetic and progressively-minded, and as a King he showed great interest in the well-being of the poorer sections of his people. His sympathy with the miners in the hour of their great need and his more recent and courageously-expressed sympathy with the unemployed workers in the Distressed Areas make this occasion for us one of special sorrow and regret.

There is nothing more to be said. We must accept a situation which we have not made and which we cannot influence. And yet there remain two things that I must say—first, to express our sympathy with the Prime Minister who has had both long and arduous and most difficult duties to perform. In my opinion, with such facts as are at my disposal, he sought to be a good friend to the King and to fulfil at the same time his duty to the nation and Empire which his position as Prime Minister imposed upon him. The second thing I must do is, on behalf of my noble friends, to express our very sincere sympathy with Queen Mary and with all the members of her family. May I venture to hope that Her Majesty will be comforted at this hour by the constant and affectionate good will of the people of the British nation and the peoples of the British Commonwealth and Empire. Our minds inevitably and anxiously turn to the problems of the immediate future. Certain consequential decisions will be required following what we do here to-day, and some of them will require the careful consideration of Parliament.


My Lords, I join with the noble Viscount who leads the House and with the noble Lord who has just sat down in the feeling which I am sure we all share of the deepest distress at the Message which His Majesty King Edward has sent to Parliament. Even to those who, like His Majesty's Ministers, have for the last weeks or even longer been observing the trend of events, this Message comes as an overwhelming shock. How much greater a shock it must be to those thousands all over the country who have heard nothing but vague and unsubstantial rumours of future trouble, but have known little or nothing of the real circumstances. I feel that in facing the facts of His Majesty's Abdication we look back to many things. We look back to the gallant story of the part he played in the War; we look back to the wide knowledge of the Empire which he gained in his many journeys; we look back, as the noble Lord has just said, to the special sympathy which he has always shown to the most distressed among his subjects, and we cannot forget the personal appeal which his figure of manliness and candour has made ever since he grew up both to young and old.

I quite agree with what has just fallen from the noble Lord, Lord Snell, that it would be more than needless, it would be wrong to attempt to examine the circumstances in which His Majesty has arrived at this momentous decision, or to consider the possible motives by which that decision was reached. May it be possible to hope that even in this age of garish sensation and of strident publicity the same reticence may be observed everywhere, as I believe it might, because I am sure that the good feeling of the country is prevalent in all parts of it; for any form of discussion or controversy on those circumstances or on those motives can do good to nobody and can only cause pain to those most intimately concerned. I would only say this more, the British Monarchy, after all the changes and chances of more thin a thousand years, has been impregnably fixed on the foundation of confidence in this country and the whole of the Empire, and we may feel sure that it will suffer nothing either in dignity or in influence in the hands to which it will be now committed.


Hear, hear.


I remember many years ago listening to a speech by one of the greatest orators of his time, the Duke of Argyll of an earlier generation. Speaking of those who stood by the watch tower, he spoke of them as not asking "Watchman, what of the night?" but "Watchman, what of the morning and of the coming day?" The whole country and the whole Empire has been passing through some dark hours but we must all think of the coming day.


My Lords, it is most difficult to add anything to the moving words of mingled reticence and sincerity which have fallen from the noble Lords who have spoken. This is an occasion when our thoughts lie too deep for tears, certainly too deep for words. No such tragedy of a pathos so profound has ever beers enacted on the stage of our national history. I wonder whether in all history any renunciation has ever been made comparable with that which has been announced in the gracious Message we have just received. Of the motive which has compelled that renunciation we dare not speak. It takes us into the region of the inner mysteries of human life and human nature. The heart knoweth its own bitterness, yet even we can understand in some measure the ordeal through which His Majesty has been passing and the cost of his renunciation. We can only offer him the profound sympathy of our hearts and accept with infinite sorrow the decision he has made.

Was there not, my Lords, something like a stab, in our hearts when we heard the words in which His Majesty took leave of his subjects? Yet, with those inevitable feelings of sympathy and sorrow, there must needs arise also the remembrance of all that His Majesty has done in the past for this nation and Empire by the frankness and charm of his personality, by his most genuine care for the poor and suffering and the unemployed, by his gifts of speech in which he interpreted and directed the thoughts of his fellow countrymen, by his embassies across the seas which kindled the loyalty of the whole Empire. The thought of all these manifold services, of the rich promise so suddenly and unexpectedly bereft of its full fruition, cannot take away from the affection and admiration which we have felt in the past and which we shall never be able to forget in the unknown future. It can only add to the infinite and inexpressible pathos of the present.

If our sympathy goes out to King Edward it must needs in equal measure go out to the Prince who in circumstances so sudden, so painful to himself, has been called to take the place of a beloved brother and to face the vast responsibilities which he has laid down. We shall surround him and his gracious Consort with a loyalty all the more eager and resolute because it is deepened by our sympathy. There is one other to whom that sympathy is due and is most respectfully offered. It is to Her Majesty Queen Mary, of whom we specially think to-day as the Queen Mother and who has borne herself, as I well know, during these weeks of tension and anxiety with all the dignity, calmness and courage which has given her a place so secure in the hearts of all her people. My Lords, we meet at a moment unprecedented in our history. I am sure that there arises from the whole of your Lordships' House a fervent prayer to the God of our Fathers that He will take into His gracious mercy and protection both the King that has been and the King that is to be according to their separate needs, and give a spirit of calmness, steadfastness and unity to all the peoples of the Realm and Empire.


My Lords, I have no title to speak to your Lordships such as is possessed by those who have preceded me, and yet perhaps I have some claim from seniority to say a word at this most lamentable moment. In the first place I think that perhaps from this side of the House there ought to be a word re-echoing what has been said so admirably by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, of appreciation of the way in which Mr. Baldwin and his colleagues have borne themselves and have represented the nation in this crisis. We are deeply grateful to them because we recognise how very painful much that has passed must have been to them. But we are above all things grateful to learn, as is revealed in the letter which has been read—the letter containing the representation of the Cabinet—how urgently they pressed upon His Majesty not to take this step. It has been said sometimes outside that there was pressure upon His Majesty to take this extreme step of abdication, but it is now apparent to the whole world that so far from pressing it upon him, the Government did all they could to persuade him, if he would, to think yet once again and renounce his decision.

I cannot help saying, my Lords, how profoundly I feel the formidable character to this country of an abdication. The abdication of a Sovereign is a momentous, almost a desperate act. He has a mandate from nobody to whom he can return his trust. He sits there by an authority which is outside the ordinary human methods of appointment, and his abdication is a wound in the body politic which is a disaster. It leaves it mutilated. No doubt his successor, whom we shall do our utmost to serve, will amply vindicate the traditions of his forefathers; yet we shall know for all time that there has happened in this country the abdication of a Sovereign. I cannot tell your Lordships how deeply that impresses me, and when we think of all the qualities which have been so admirably set out by the speakers who have preceded me, all the qualities of His Majesty King Edward, his great genius for popularity, his knowledge of all parts of the Empire, his deep acts of sympathy with the working classes, and his knowledge of their needs, and when we think that he has abandoned all these responsibilities, my Lords, we can only bow our heads in sorrow.