Today (December 11) in London History – Abdication

The abdication of King Edward VIII occurred on December 11, 1936. This Today in London History podcast tells the tale.


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London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

It’s December 11th, 1936. Important day in this country’s history. Especially its royal history.

And I think we’ll do this one a little bit differently from the run-of-the-mill. We’re going to work with some primary documents. So instead of refracting what happened through a historian, I think we’ll hear from some of the people who were there. Starting with the king. And then moving on to Duff Cooper, his diary entry for this day.

And it’s no good just banging down the diarist’s name, Duff Cooper, we have to get him into focus. Who was he?

And while we’re at it, who were his parents. His father, Alfred Cooper, was a fashionable London surgeon, the surgeon to kings and princes. He specialised in the sexual problems of the upper classes. As for Duff Cooper’s mother – well, what a couple Dr Alfred and Lady Agnes Cecil Emmeline Flower must have been. You’ve got the Dr renowned for his skill, discretion and conviviality and as for his good lady, well, for starters, before she met the surgeon she’d already eloped with two husbands, one of whom she deserted. The other died. Anyway the Dr and Lady Agnes produced three daughter and then the boy Duff. His name was Alfred but nobody ever called him Alfred. He was always Duff.

Duff went to Eton. And then Oxford.

It’s a story that’s only too familiar. It’s Bullingdon Club stuff. In other words, at Oxford Duff took up with a lot of fellow toffs. In the words of biographer Philip Ziegler, under the expert tutelage of his chums he learned to drink too much, gamble for stakes higher than he could afford, and pursue beautiful women—tastes which he cherished throughout his life and which brought him vast pleasure. Almost all these friends were to die in the First World War.

Duff himself went off to the war and was lucky. He survived it. Though he was wounded. He comes home and marries Lady Diana Manners. Officially she was the daughter of the 8th Duke of Rutland. But everybody – including Diana herself – believed her father was the notorious philanderer and literary eminence Harry Cust. The marriage was very happy. Though just a tad irregular. Duff was endlessly promiscuous and Lady Diana was endlessly tolerant. 

Professionally, he went into politics. Had a distinguished political and diplomatic career.

He died on New Year’s Day1954. He was on a cruise. Something appropriate about that. 

He was an upper-class rapscallion but awfully likeable. Philip Ziegler says, Courage and joy in living were the most conspicuous features of his personality. He can fairly be accused of an extravagantly short temper, self-indulgence, and an inordinate appetite for wine, women, and gambling, but he was never mean or in the least ignoble; at times, indeed, he showed true nobility. He was a great-spirited patriot, too proud to court popularity, too reserved to command it readily, but a man whose honesty, generosity, and public spirit were never put in question. I’d say a life well lived, if unconventionally lived. His courage is maybe reflected in that remark in his autobiography, ‘I love the sunlight but I cannot fear the coming of the dark.’

So that’s our man. What is patently clear from our little biographical sketch is that Duff Cooper was to the manor born. He was moving in those circles.

Ok, here we go. Here are our primary documents. First of all the king’s short broadcast, from Windsor Castle, on December 11th 1936. And then Duff Cooper’s diary entry for that day. 

Except of course Edward wasn’t the king anymore. 

BBC Director-General Sir John Reith introduced him as “His Royal Highness, Prince Edward.”

Here’s the abdication address. Notice the little stumble, the hesitation right at the beginning.

“At — At long last I am able to say a few words of my own. I have never wanted to withhold anything, but until now it has not been constitutionally possible for me to speak.

A few hours ago I discharged my last duty as King and Emperor, and now that I have been succeeded by my brother, the Duke of York, my first words must be to declare my allegiance to him. This I do with all my heart.

You all know the reasons which have — have impelled me to renounce the throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the empire, which, as Prince of Wales, and lately as King, I have for 25 years tried to serve.

But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.

And I want you to know that the decision I have made has been mine and mine alone. This was a thing I had to judge entirely for myself. The other person most nearly concerned has tried up to the last to persuade me to take a different course.

I have made this, the most serious decision of my life, only upon the single thought of what would, in the end, be best for all.

This decision has been made less difficult to me by the sure knowledge that my brother, with his long training in the public affairs of this country and with his fine qualities, will be able to take my place forthwith without interruption or injury to the life and progress of the empire. And he has one matchless blessing, enjoyed by so many of you, and not bestowed on me — a happy home with his wife and children.

During these hard days I have been comforted by her majesty my mother and by my family. The ministers of the crown, and in particular, Mr. Baldwin, the Prime Minister, have always treated me with full consideration. There has never been any constitutional difference between me and them, and between me and Parliament. Bred in the constitutional tradition by my father, I should never have allowed any such issue to arise.

Ever since I was Prince of Wales, and later on when I occupied the throne, I have been treated with the greatest kindness by all classes of the people wherever I have lived or journeyed throughout the empire. For that I am very grateful.

I now quit altogether public affairs and I lay down my burden. It may be some time before I return to my native land, but I shall always follow the fortunes of the British race and empire with profound interest, and if at any time in the future I can be found of service to his majesty in a private station, I shall not fail.

And now, we all have a new King. I wish him and you, his people, happiness and prosperity with all my heart.

God bless you all.

God save the King!

And now much less well known, here’s the Duff Cooper diary entry. There’s one word you might not be familiar with. Durbar. An Indian word, it means a public audience or levee held by a native prince or by a British governor or viceroy; an official reception.

Here we go.


Ok, time for a Today in London recommendation.

How about The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. Pretty good fit wouldn’t you say. 

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

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And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. See ya tomorrow.

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