King George VII? Palace plotters' plan would have kept the Queen from the throne

It's amazing how much different the present day could have been.

Take Britain's monarchy. Instead of the comfortably familiar, grandmotherly-type figure of Queen Elizabeth II, we might have ended up with a bald bloke calling himself King George VII.

History could have dictated that that the current queen's cousin, the Duke of Kent, became monarch instead, and it all dates back to the abdication of one of Britain's shortest-reigning monarchs, that of King Edward VIII in 1936.

Back in 1936, panic had set in among royal circles at the thought of "Bertie" (who became King George VI) ascending the throne. Ill-prepared, reluctant, nervous (the king also suffered from a very bad stammer, or stutter, in his speech particularly when nervous) — would his kingship compound the affront to public devotion caused by the abdication? And would the combination of a headstrong king, followed by a weak one, finally end Britain’s monarchy?

Of course, George VI, who was monarch during WWII, was not disastrous to the monarchy, and his daughter became Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.

King George VII? Palace plotters' plan would have kept the Queen from the throne

By Christopher Wilson (external - login to view)
Daily Mail

It seems incredible. But tantalising new evidence shows how, if Palace plotters had won the day, balding ex-army officer the Duke of Kent could have been monarch instead of Elizabeth II . . .

As she delivered her customary Christmas Day message from Buckingham Palace, the Queen was as assured and dignified as ever. But consider for a moment how different things might have been.

Instead of the comfortingly familiar Queen Elizabeth II, we might have been watching a bald, rather self-effacing chap calling himself King George VII.

Yes, the course of history could have been very different, leaving not Elizabeth, but her cousin, the current Duke of Kent, as King. For I have discovered that one key constitutional decision, taken in a heartbeat on a chilly winter’s night a lifetime ago, could have changed the face of the House of Windsor for ever.

How the Christmas Speech would have looked: Edward, Duke of Kent, could have been King

Official histories of Edward VIII’s abdication in December 1936 (after his affair with American divorcee Wallis Simpson) maintain that the handover of power to the King’s younger brother Bertie, Duke of York, was an emotional but smoothly executed affair.

Indeed, in the business of monarchy, it’s always important to look as though everyone is in control of events.

But in researching a new biography, I have come across evidence that suggests the King’s untimely abdication caused, within the palace walls, a colossal wobble — one which has been deliberately kept from the public. Until now.

When Edward VIII made his flight to France, Bertie took the throne as King George VI, ruling from Christmas 1936 to the early weeks of 1952. Although he lacked the charisma of his elder brother, Bertie’s reign was deemed to be the best antidote to the grief and anger caused by the abdication.

Palace insiders considered handing Queen Mary the throne

Dull he may have been, but he was also safe. Biographers have tended to gloss over his cantankerous nature, his obsession with protocol, and his haughty grandeur.

But the truth is that, back in 1936, panic had set in among royal circles at the thought of Bertie ascending the throne. Ill-prepared, reluctant, nervous — would his kingship compound the affront to public devotion caused by the abdication? And would the combination of a headstrong king, followed by a weak one, finally end Britain’s monarchy?

The tumbrels were rolling across Europe at the time, with countries desperate for a new beginning ditching their kings. Republicanism was the very devil to the old guard who surrounded the House of Windsor, and an urgent remedy was sought to the problem of Bertie.

And so these self-same people came up with an alternative candidate for the throne and he was weighed up within the innermost circles of British political and royal life.

Bertie's biographer Sarah Bradford, in a recent TV documentary, was the first to reveal that not everybody was ready to accept Edward’s brother as King; that rumours had started to circulate that he was suffering ‘falling-down fits’ and wouldn’t be up to the job.

Then, in an obscure file in Britain’s National Archive, I uncovered evidence that courtiers, far from accepting Bertie as the only candidate, had discussed putting Queen Mary — the Prince’s mother — on the throne as Queen Regent.

This fact lies hidden in a report composed by a senior civil servant, Sir Horace Wilson. I was amazed to find it there — for researchers who use the National Archive are only too aware that controversial papers have a habit of going missing, with only the ‘authorised’ evidence left for historians to chew over.

In fact, it’s probably there only through an oversight. The evidence is contained on a flimsy piece of paper bearing a single sentence written in an anonymous hand. It
states coldly: ‘Suggested that Queen Mary should be appointed Queen Regent until the divorce and the Abdication should be over.’

Thus, in this one piece of paper, we are at last allowed to glimpse what really happened in that December crisis all those years ago — a rather different story from the one we’ve all been taught.

King Edward VIII made a public broadcast to abdicate from the throne, leaving a succession vacuum

It opens a whole new range of possibilities of what could have happened in the aftermath of Edward VIII’s short, turbulent reign. Clearly the rumour-mongers and others were having serious doubts about Bertie — the stuttering, shy figure who cried on his mother’s shoulder when he learned that kingship had been thrust upon him.

They preferred the option of waiting a while, allowing Queen Mary’s regency to create a breathing space to see who else might fill the vacuum left by Edward VIII’s dramatic exit.

And they had one candidate in mind: Edward VIII’s youngest brother, Prince George, Duke of Kent. This is no idle speculation. Indeed, it was confirmed by Dermot Morrah,
a courtier and scholar. He was encouraged to write an ‘authorised’ version of Princess Elizabeth’s life at the time (early 1952) when she was about to ascend the throne.

And wittingly or unwittingly — we do not know which — he revealed something quite startling.

Palace plotters wanted Prince George, the Duke of Kent, to ultimately take the throne

Morrah wrote: ‘It was certainly considered at this time whether, by agreement among the Royal Family, the crown might be settled on the Duke of Kent — the only one of the
abdicating King’s brothers who at that time had a son to become Prince of Wales and so avoid laying so heavy a future burden upon the shoulders of any woman.

‘The possibility of such a course was debated by some men of State who believed that it would accord with the wishes of the royal concerned.’

This is dynamite stuff. For it means that in the panic that surrounded the abdication, courtiers were ready to toss out the centuries-old tradition of primogeniture — that is, the crown passing to the oldest eligible offspring of the last monarch to die.

Indeed, not only were courtiers ready to overlook Bertie’s claim to the throne, but also that of Harry, Duke of Gloucester, the next brother in line.

Instead, they considered Prince George by far the best choice. A popular figure in the inter-war years, he had married well, to a glamorous Greek princess, Marina, who had already produced an heir.

The couple’s 1932 wedding was greeted with rapture and George had dutifully put behind him his dissolute bachelor life.

And so the British public could be offered a hard-working royal couple who also had the bonus of being glamorous — something which could never have been said of Bertie.

Among Prince George’s following were a hardcore group of aristocrats who, for their own reasons, intensely disliked Edward VIII and, as his kingship faltered in the early months of 1936, wanted him gone.

The distinguished American writer Iles Brody, in a highly informed book Gone With The Windsors, drew attention to this group, whom he called The Misters Of England.

The Misters, he said, hated Mrs Simpson and disliked the root-and-branch culling of ancient traditions under the new Edwardian regime. A bastion of conservatism, they stood for Old England and championed the cause of Prince George.

So outside the palace and within, two separate groups — courtiers and aristocrats — were working towards making Edward VIII’s youngest brother King. First, Queen Mary’s Regency. Then, after a period of reflection, a younger, more people-friendly candidate stepping forward to take the throne.

We do not know, as yet, how far George was complicit in the plotting which occupied
the run-up to the abdication, but having researched his life, I can say without hesitation
that he would have taken the crown if it had been offered to him. He was young, vital, ambitious and conscious of a useful following among MPs and members of the House of Lords.

Had the pendulum of fortune swung his way, he would not have served on the frontline during the war and died in a plane crash. His character had matured and in his last days he talked about doing bigger things.

He regarded his position as one to be used for the greater good, and he may well have created a more vital image for the House of Windsor during the wartime years. Had he been crowned, he, of course, would also have been King George VI.

Had history been different, party-loving Lord Freddie Windsor, pictured here with actress Scarlett Johannson, could have been the next King

But that would have left us today with his son Eddie, currently Duke of Kent, as King.

He would have taken the title King George after his father. Now aged 73, the Duke was a respected Army officer before becoming Britain’s trade ambassador.

His marriage to Katharine Worsley is now a semi-detached affair, but there has never been a whiff of scandal or controversy attached to him. Actually, he would probably have been a rather good King — those who know him admire greatly his qualities of steadfastness and duty.

Of course, were he King today his position would be mired in controversy, for his own son, George, married a Catholic and in so doing destroyed his claim, under current rules, to the throne. His second son, Nicholas, also married a Catholic, similarly disbarring him — leading to the intriguing possibility of the party-loving Lord Freddie Windsor (the son of his younger brother, Prince Michael of Kent) becoming our next King.

In the end, though, convention ruled the day.

It’s clear that 72 years ago this week, Bertie was given the opportunity to stand back and allow someone else to take the throne. But, under the influence of his mother — herself a traditionalist, and as a German-born princess with a pronounced foreign accent, perhaps fearful of the backlash that might accompany her being pronounced Regent — he decided to swallow the bitter pill fate had handed him, and accept the crown.

And whatever the historians’ judgments on Bertie’s reign, it did allow his daughter Elizabeth her glorious place in history. So despite the machinations in those dark December days of 1936, things did, in the end, turn out for the best.

■ CHRISTOPHER WILSON is writing the biography of Prince George, Duke of Kent.
Last edited by Blackleaf; Mar 22nd, 2009 at 03:03 PM..
Ever wonder if King George III would only have negotiated with the American Colonies. They did not want war, in fact they were afraid of losing everything in a war. What would the world be like today?
no new posts