The 1936 Abdication Crisis – Part 5: Varying the Succession

queen mary of teck (2)

The Dowager Queen Mary


As events progressed and the removal of Edward from the throne became a more imaginable prospect, Sir Horace Wilson (a freelance adviser to the PM) together with Sir Maurice Gwyer (the First Parliamentary Counsel)  wrote to the PM suggesting that in the event of Edward’s removal from the throne, a possible way to re-stabilize things and recover the prestige of the monarchy would be to install the Dowager Queen Mary as the “Queen Regent.”

Gwyer wrote to Baldwin saying, “The difficulty about the immediate ‘succession’ of [Albert] the Duke of York is that a substantial part of the country might still favour the present King and see his brother as a sort of interloper…Queen Mary as Regent would re-establish the reputation of the monarchy…The Duke of York could scarcely object and all the King’s subjects would only rejoice to see Queen Mary carrying on again.”

george, edward and albert

Three princes and heirs – George, Edward and Albert

Unsure of the suitability for the throne of Edward’s younger brother, the stuttering Prince Albert, Wilson and Gwyer proposed that the Queen Regent could later sideline Albert from the succession, on the grounds of his various chronic health problems, clearing the path for the youngest brother, the supremely self-confident man-of-the-world, Prince George Duke of Kent, to succeed her as a King George VI. And what better name could there be than George to carry the message of royal continuity!

Prince George Duke of Kent touted as George VI.jpg

Prince George and Princess Marina of Greece – The Duke and Duchess of Kent

The idea was not at all far-fetched. Varying the succession is nothing unusual in royal history. For instance Edward and Albert’s own great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, was the daughter of a prince no closer than 4th-in-line to the throne. So Victoria did not ascend the British throne without some rather intense conversation among members of the royal family of Europe. Two successions later, history reports that by the time George V came to the throne his older brother, Prince Albert-Victor, Duke of Clarence (the first in line to the throne) had died – but not before a family decision had been taken to exclude him from the succession (one way or another) over questions of his intellect and moral character.



From a purely British perspective  a voluntary abdication was an unprecedented aberration. In a thousand years the Crown had passed from one head to the next only through death by natural causes, murder or threat of murder. A wider perspective shows it in a less dramatic light. In that regard, consider the portrait above of 9 Kings. They are the royal heads of state of 9 independent, sovereign nations – Norway, Bulgaria, Portugal, Germany+Prussia, Greece, Belgium, Spain, UK and Denmark. Yet they are, simultaneously, members of one Extended Family. Each one is either descended from or related by marriage to John William Friso.

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John William Friso, Prince of Orange 1687-1711

In the twenty-first century the seven European countries with a monarch are still reigned over by members this same one family. It is a royal monopoly which has continued, unimpeded by the constitutional powers of nation states and the advent of democratic governments. It is a royal hegemony on which Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936 had precisely zero impact!

Across Europe alterations to succession, or abdications in times of political pressure, are not as unusual as we tend to think. Although a voluntary abdication was without precedent in British history, throughout the course of the twentieth century, European thrones were in fact abdicated eleven times – and without any alloying of the Friso family monopoly.

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