The coronation that never was 2


On 12 May 1937, Westminster Abbey rang with shouts acclaiming the new King-Emperor. In 1936, Britain had prepared for the coronation. Much of this effort was wasted when Edward VIII abdicated on 10 December 1936. Everyone had been getting ready for the coronation that never was. 

The Coronation of a new King-Emperor promised a bonanza for British manufacturers. Factories that had been quiet during the darkest days of the Great Depression now hummed with activity. 

Souvenir for the coronation of Edward VIII

Orders poured in for mugs, plates, medallions and a myriad other souvenirs. Many featured the distinctive profile of the new monarch, his head turned to the left to show off his sharp side-parting.

The London Illustrated News decided to scoop its rivals by commissioning an opulent coronation portrait. Albert H Collings depicted the King wearing purple and gold robes with an ermine cape and the gold and ruby chain of the Order of the Garter. 

Coronation portrait of Edward VIII (Illustrated London News)

Meanwhile, official preparations were set into motion. Illustrators got to work on the design of the official souvenir programme. Prints would be sent around the world well in advance of the ceremony. 

There was just one problem. Everything was made in the dying months of 1936 and depicted a King who was about the abdicate. Outstanding orders were discretely cancelled. Items already produced were destroyed or hidden away. They were souvenirs for the coronation that never was.

Edward VIII had succeeded his father on 20 January 1936. He broke royal protocol to watch the proclamation of his accession the next day. This was a sign of the crisis to come. It showed his disregard for tradition. Even worse, he was watching with the still married Wallis Simpson.

King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson on holiday in Yugoslavia, 1936 By National Media Museum from UK [see Wiki Commons page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

As 1936 unfolded, the constitutional crisis developed in intensity. British newspapers had been silent on the scandalous union between Edward and Wallis. Their American and European counterparts did not uphold such discretion and gleefully reported every detail.

As news seeped into the UK, public opinion moved sharply against the new king. The British political and religious establishment made it clear that Edward and Wallis’s relationship could not continue. 

Wallis was already a divorcee. She was about to divorce her second husband so that she could marry Edward. Perhaps even more shocking to imperial Brits, she was American.  

Edward wanted to defy convention and public opinion. He wanted to have his woman and keep his crown. Incongruous preparations for his 12 May 1937 coronation unfolded at same time as the crisis meetings that would lead to his abdication. 

With only months left, officials, newspapers and manufacturers carried on their preparations. Edward would sit for the Illustrated London News’s coronation portrait just days before his abdication. 

King Edward VIII - Instrument of Abdication (By Government of the United Kingdom [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

As it happened, on 12 May 1937, a King was crowned at Westminster Abbey. After all, the date was already in everyone’s diary. The massed ranks of ermine clad peers and robed clergy gathered to proclaim Edward’s brother as King and Emperor. 

The coronation portrait was also given a second chance. The purple and gold robes, ermine cloak and chain stayed the same. Edward’s face was simply replaced by a portrait of George VI. 

Postbox cipher of Edward VIII - Whitchurch (Mick Lobb [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Postal Station K in Toronto, Canada By Jamie (originally posted to Flickr as Postal Station K) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There are still a handful of traces of Edward’s brief reign. A clutch of Royal Mail postboxes carry his distinctive cipher. A handful of public buildings completed in 1936 are similarly adorned. Philatelists and numismatist prize rare examples of stamps and coins bearing Edward VIII’s distinctive profile.

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2 thoughts on “The coronation that never was

  • Dennis

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