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You may also like. In the s he was, for British newspaper readers, the beau ideal of the modern man. Though a demon rider to hounds, he also sought out the new world of nightclubs and golf links.
He was taken at face value by the masses, in Britain and overseas, as an attractive man of energy, advanced views and great charisma. Despite his bad behavior, one can sympathize. Edward was also tinged with the progressive ideas of the day. The idea that my birth and title should somehow or other set me apart from and above other people struck me as wrong.
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That is what comes, perhaps, of sending an impressionable Prince to school and war. He took married mistresses, then brutally dumped them. He danced into the small hours and infuriated his staff with his petulant demands. Behind the scenes, he caused despair to the people on whom he depended, and no senior member of the royal family can afford to do that. Unlike the rest of us, they are attended on, followed and guided by a small army of their own. And as in any army, if the chief loses the support of the soldiers, everything goes.
A passionate monarchist who later served George VI and, briefly, the present Queen, Lascelles was delighted by his new job. I expected to get my head bitten off; but Baldwin heard me to the end, and, after a pause, said he agreed with every word I had said. Lascelles considered resignation, but was short of money and long on patriotism. Encouraged by his wife, he soldiered on. The thoughtless behavior of the Prince had made the life of any courtier with the slightest self-respect intolerable. Lascelles—not the last senior courtier to grind his teeth about a Prince of Wales—finally exploded at Edward during their lion- and elephant-hunting expedition in East Africa in November When the King fell seriously ill, Baldwin cabled the Prince repeatedly, begging him to come home at once.
Barnes, wife of the local Commissioner. He told me so himself next morning. Lascelles returned to serve George V shortly before he died, and remained at Buckingham Palace through the next two reigns. He was not surprised by the abdication when it came, but he was appalled by what he saw as a dereliction of duty.
For seventy years, the crisis has been exhaustively described by historians, novelists and journalists: the wild rumors about the sexual hold Wallis Simpson had over the King; the brutal political battle between the King and Stanley Baldwin; the endless arguments about a morganatic marriage in which he would have been King but Wallis would not have been Queen ; and the fight over money and status when the King finally did abdicate. Her father would surely have lived longer since he would not have had to endure the heavy responsibilities of kingship during the world war to come.
Her sister too would have led a happier and more private life. During the abdication crisis, the new dynasty looked into the abyss. Had Edward fought to stay on as King and succeeded, it might well have meant the breakup of the British Empire, with very great consequences for the war to follow. As it was, the institution of monarchy was exposed and sniggered at around the world. The House of Windsor felt itself wobble. These things are not forgotten in the family.
THE Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Andrew Marr (Paperback, 2013)
Almost as soon as Edward VIII abdicated and became the Duke of Windsor, going abroad to marry without the support of his brother or parents, he was vigorously erased from the story. Once again, the royal family embraced the values it had so long embodied: convention, family, duty. The King experienced health problems as he aged, and, like most of his generation, he was a heavy smoker.
Even so, the alteration is shocking. In his mid-thirties, he looked like an adult boy, with a sensitive, carefree face, big dark eyes and full lips. By his mid-fifties, he has the hair of a young man and the face of someone in his seventies; his visage is haggard, lined and sunken, an image of exhausted decay. I know that now. He felt he was horribly ill-equipped for the job.
David has been trained for this all his life. There is no more fitting preparation for a King than to have been trained in the Navy. This must have been a challenging experience for a shy boy who had never mixed well with other children. He was bullied and struggled to make his mark, coming sixty-eighth out of sixty-eight in his final exams. Bertie nevertheless went on to the next phase of his naval training at Dartmouth, did a year at Oxford and was commissioned as a junior midshipman a year before the beginning of the Great War.
As a boy he had had bowlegs and been forced to wear excruciatingly painful leg braces. His digestive system was badly impaired, perhaps partly as a result of neglectful feeding by an early nurse. During the war, he repeatedly spent time away from his ship in hospitals but he did manage to participate in the titanic, if indecisive, Battle of Jutland.
Unable to speak well in public because of his famous stammer, untrained in statecraft, physically in poor shape though a good rider and tennis player , he seemed about as badly suited to become the King-Emperor as a man could be. Yet he had shown another side to his character, a streak of determination and persistence that would change his reputation.
After the war, he fell in love with a glamorous Scottish aristocrat. Elizabeth Bowes Lyon was only twenty when they met for the first time at a dance in She was besieged by confident and pushy admirers, but Bertie paid court and made his first marriage proposal through an emissary. Though it was rejected, he refused to give up, and in January his proposal was finally accepted. This was a side to Bertie his parents had not seen before, and they were delighted. Elizabeth was the first commoner to be ushered into the family since the Windsor revolution.
It would be a pivot in his life. Between the wars Bertie had settled into the quiet life of a private gentleman, while not shirking the royal duties imposed by his father. He was interested in industry and public works, opening a summer camp for boys from very different backgrounds. But his inclinations were profoundly private and quietly conservative, and he reveled in a warm family life, leaning on a wife who was, according to courtiers at the time, even more instinctively conservative than he was.
He loathed public speaking and experienced a deeply embarrassing moment in May when he struggled to complete a speech at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley.
Such speeches were meant to be part of the daily routine of the Duke, who was second in line to the throne, yet he had conspicuously failed to rise to the challenge. Speech therapy was still in its infancy, a hit-or-miss affair which oscillated between psychology, physical work on the diaphragm, lungs and tongue, and exercises both useful and bizarre.
Logue was not medically trained but was himself a good and self-confident speech maker and performer whose optimism and energy won over his suspicious and pessimistic royal client. The most striking thing about the treatment was the sheer relentlessness and frequency of the sessions. In a little over a year, running through to December , Bertie endured eighty-two sessions with Logue in Harley Street. He practiced day after day at home, breaking engagements and leaving his beloved hunting field early to force himself through tongue twisters, breathing exercises and reading practice.
Little by little, the intense effort paid off and audiences who had been expecting a monosyllabic, stuttering performance found themselves listening to relatively fluent speeches.
Throughout, his wife was urging him on, sitting beside him, her knuckles white with tension. As the years went on—during foreign visits and while making numerous home speeches and even broadcasts—Bertie got better. Speech defects do not disappear overnight, and absolute cures are rare. The psychological pressures of his early upbringing could not be simply magicked away; like so many people, the future King lived with the scar tissue of those hard years and learned to cope with the consequences.
He was, it was said, too nervous and dim to manage the duties of kingship; he would barely make it through his Coronation. Certainly in his first years as King, George VI had to endure a torrent of loud clubland muttering and drawing-room whispering. He did not visit India for the expected durbar and, despite being its last emperor, never visited India at all. Unhelpfully, the somewhat cloddish Archbishop of Canterbury of the day openly discussed his stammer.
His brother bombarded him with unwanted advice from his Austrian exile. When his first prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, who had been an avuncular source of support, quickly resigned, George VI was forlorn. Yet again he showed the tenacity which had won him his wife and subdued his stammer, applying himself to royal business and duty with a grim vigor Edward VIII had been incapable of.
King Edward had horrified the political establishment by ignoring boxes of official papers, sending them back with whisky-glass stains or, worse, showing them around, so that Whitehall officials began to censor what was sent to the Palace. George read his papers and kept his counsel, and gradually he began to overcome his meager constitutional education. The establishment responded, warily and then with relief.
The British press, which had hushed up the Edward and Wallis affair almost until the last moment, returned to its former instincts for loyalty and discretion. In many ways, this proved to be bad for the monarchy. The court was deeply suspicious of Churchill in particular, who had been belligerently pro-Edward. More generally, Lascelles and his colleagues provided a protective crust of tradition and precedence around the four-strong family, which lasted until the s. When his second prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, embarked on the policy of appeasement, the King backed him so enthusiastically that some MPs believed he was behaving too politically, breaking his constitutional role.
The atmosphere is hard to recapture: at the time most British people were also delighted. To replace Chamberlain the King wanted Lord Halifax, another arch-appeaser and a high-Tory aristocrat. Only with great reluctance did he eventually accept the idea that the rogue elephant Winston Churchill was the better choice, and he took quite some time to get used to him. He could seem shy and harassed, aloof and even morose.
Underneath the thin skin was an intelligent and sensitive man with an iron sense of duty. He was on a long-planned visit to Canada and President Roosevelt invited him south. No reigning British sovereign had ever traveled to the United States, but Roosevelt had seized his moment. Both the King and Queen Elizabeth were greeted ecstatically, and they impressed American politicians, newspapers and crowds with their informality and warmth.
When President Obama visited London in the spring of , he brought as a present for the Queen a bound volume of photographs of this visit: it meant a lot to her father and so meant a lot to her too. George VI was privy to the deepest secrets of wartime, including the Enigma intercepts; he also had prior knowledge of the invention and then the use of the atomic bomb. Despite occasional spats, he and the arch-royalist Churchill became close friends.
He worked hard, ruthlessly cut back the costs of the court and supported his extraordinary prime minister in every way. He famously refused to leave London during the Blitz—though the royal family spent their nights at Windsor, where Princess Elizabeth was largely sheltered from the privations of wartime. Buckingham Palace was bombed nine times.
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Churchill grumpily stayed at home a little longer. By the end of the war, the King had become a genuine symbol of British doggedness: shy, devout, and surprisingly humble in an age when so many countries had monsters for their heads of state. After the war was over, George supported Indian independence and demonstrated his hostility to South African racism during a visit there. Just as Queen Victoria had been horrified by slavery in the United States and had delighted in the close attention of her Indian servants, so George VI gave every indication of being genuinely color-blind, though of course his empire as a whole was not.
Just as his father had had to cope with the first arrival of a Labour government in , so the son had to swallow his instincts and deal with unfamiliar men holding alarming views. He coped but did not enjoy it. In many ways, George VI remained a highly conservative prewar traditionalist; meticulous about dress, honors and court precedence, obsessively keen on shooting, he was a thinner, clean-shaven version of his father.
All this was observed and noted by his elder daughter, the serious-minded girl he knew would be Queen. He introduced Elizabeth early into the work and rituals that being the British monarch would entail. The House of Windsor has an unusually direct transmission of ideas and behavior from its origin in through grandfather, father and daughter. They have been called the welfare monarchy, or the democracy monarchy, or even the suburban monarchy. The essence of this new paradigm is a paradox: the ruler who is servant to her subjects. The Queen put them right.
It is also true that the Queen and the Windsors shared something else with the Tudors: they, too, reinvented themselves as a dynasty. But there are two other major characters without whom we cannot understand the Queen and her reign. One is, obviously, her mother, but first we will consider a less obvious influence, and a more ambiguous one, whose impact was at its height in the mid-twentieth century. Traveling alongside the future Edward VIII on those post tours had been a besotted admirer who was part of the family.
Prince Battenberg and his son were members of a relatively junior branch of the interwoven tree of European royal dynasties. Even so, the Battenbergs had holidayed with the Romanovs in Russia and felt entitled to meddle in the affairs of kings from Sweden to Greece. Louis Mountbatten, as he became, was a British naval officer in the Great War; between the wars, he rose through the naval ranks, became very close to the future British king, and then married one of the richest women in Britain. Mountbatten got his great career break during the Second World War despite a series of early embarrassments as a serving captain.
His destroyer, HMS Kelly , hit mines and once another ship, and it was badly damaged by bombers after he sent nighttime signals that were picked up by the enemy. He was very lucky to survive; members of his crew did not. But thanks to Winston Churchill, who recognized a dynamic and publicity-conscious personality rather like his own, Mountbatten was soon raised far above his rank to become Chief of Combined Operations. There he would successfully lead the fight to retake Burma and Malaya from the Japanese. Wars accelerate everything, including promotions, but to go from being the captain of a destroyer mocked for depth-charging a shoal of fish to becoming one of the grand masters of strategy in a global conflict was quite extraordinary.
He had always milked his connections and shamelessly lobbied for every job he wanted, right back to his appointment accompanying the Prince of Wales on his foreign jaunts. After the abdication, he had quickly switched allegiance to the new King George VI and never forgot to remind all around him about his close royal ties.
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Mountbatten, it seemed, had everything. He had good looks, personal courage, charm and the self-possession of a very wealthy man. And he was part of the royal establishment at a time when that counted for a lot. No wonder so many well-placed people hated him with such cold and sparkling intensity. He did so, working to a tight timetable and with energetic ruthlessness.