The Abdication of King Edward VIII
by Lord Beaverbrook, edited by A.J.P. Taylor
Atheneum, 122 pp., $4.50
by Brian Inglis
Macmillan, 448 pp., $6.95
The abdication of Edward VIII was the most celebrated non-event of recent British history. It changed nothing. The political and social configurations in the country were unaltered; it had no effect upon the United Kingdom’s relations with other members of the Commonwealth; British foreign policy was unaffected; and scarcely any difference in the delicate balance of power between the political personalities of the day could be perceived when it was over. It did not even shake the institution of monarchy. The constitutional position of the Crown remained almost exactly where it was before Edward came to the throne.
These prosaic facts are usually overlooked by those who persist in regarding the abdication as a fairy tale—even if the tale has an unhappy ending. For them it is the story of Prince Charming who finds his Cinderella and offers her his hand in marriage. He rules over a kingdom beset by two dragons, Unemployment and Antiquated Industry, who eat up his subjects. The Prince should be able to draw his sword and slay the dragons, but he cannot summon up the strength to do so until he marries Cinderella. She is of the New World, the symbol of the new life of freedom from convention and from the restrictions of the court which weigh upon the Prince. Unfortunately the Kingdom has fallen under the spell of a mighty sorcerer, Essbee, who, aided by the Archwizard Cantuar, forbids the wedding and bemuses the Prince’s loyal subjects into believing that adherence to convention and rigid court etiquette will alone save them from the dragons. How can the sorcerer’s spells be broken? Surely the Prince can find some friends in his hour of need. Two friends appear called Winston and Max. They have been turned into toads by a wave of the sorcerer’s wand, Unpopularity, but the toads have a plan to overcome the sorcerer. If only the Prince will postpone his marriage until some time after the Crown is placed on his head by the Archwizard, all will be saved. He can then assert his rights under the ancient Act of Settlement and the sorcerer and all his crew will be powerless to prevent his sweeping them away. The gloomy cathedrals of the Archwizard will crumble into ruins and in their place will rise the temple of the smiling Winston Sarastro, who will have regained his natural shape. Max will organize free trade within the Prince’s far-flung dominions, the dragons will be slain, and the Prince will marry Cinderella. But the Prince is doomed. He loves his bride-to-be not wisely but too well. He cannot endure the thought that she must undergo trials and tribulations which Sarastro tells him the sorcerer will inevitably inflict upon her. He will not wait to marry her, and well though he knows the sorcerer’s might, he puts himself in his power. All is lost. The sorcerer waves his wand, and the Prince and Cinderella are changed into doves who fly …