Obscure Shaw play used by the King as a blueprint for abdication

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The Independent Online

An obscure short play by George Bernard Shaw directly influenced the handling of Britain's abdication crisis, research shows.

The playlet, written 70 years ago, is said to have been brought to the attention of Edward VIII by Winston Churchill who suggested the King emulate the actions of the Shaw's fictitious monarch.

In Shaw's drama The King, the Constitution and the Lady, a king takes on the twin establishments of church and polity to marry his twice-divorced American mistress Daisy Bell.

The playlet is based on The Apple Cart, an earlier Shaw comedy, in which King Magnus is pressured by his mistress to marry her but faces opposition from his prime minister on constitutional grounds.

Magnus wins the battle by agreeing to abdicate in favour of his son, but with the caveat that he then intends to enter the political process and run for election. Recognising the king's popularity with the public, the prime minister caves in.

Writing in the magazine History Today, the biographer Stanley Weintraub describes how Edward Grigg, a Tory MP and a supporter of Edward, asked the King to follow Magnus's example. If he adopted the domestic politics of Lloyd George and Churchill's foreign policies, said Grigg, the King would be irresistible at the polls.

As the crisis intensified, dividing the nation, Shaw wrote The King, the Constitution and the Lady in the Evening Standard - owned by the pro-Edward Lord Beaverbrook - with echoes of The Apple Cart. Churchill then sent his famous letter to Edward asking him to stand down.

Weintraub writes: "The GBS piece was almost certainly the reason for Churchill's euphoric late-evening letter and Shaw had very likely placed it in the Evening Standard because he knew Beaverbrook was on the King's side.

"Shaw's playlet was described as a fictitious dialogue set in a country identified as The Kingdom of the Half-Mad. Shaw was advising Edward VIII indirectly, and the British public directly, through the newspapers that with the support of the people the King could do as he pleased."

Under intense pressure from the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, "Edward had no further stomach for kingship, whatever the popular and partisan divisions on his future", says Weintraub.

Weintraub maintains that the Duke of York, Edward's younger brother, who succeeded him as George VI, saw the danger to the establishment of Edward reincarnating himself as a politician. John Reith, director general of the BBC, had expected to introduce Edward announcing his abdication on the radio as Mr Edward Windsor, but the Duke of York objected.

By insisting that his brother take the title of Royal Duke, George made sure that Edward could not speak or vote in the House of Lords.According to the biographer Sarah Bradford: "He realised the implications of a potentially bitter and vindictive brother returning as a rival for dominance. As the first act of his reign, he announced that his brother would be known as His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor."