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The madness of King Edward VIII: Shocking letters hidden for 76 years reveal Archbishop accused Monarch of insanity, alcoholism and persecution mania - and forced him into abdication crisis

By // News | The madness of King Edward VIII: Shocking letters hidden for 76 years reveal Archbishop accused Monarch of insanity, alcoholism and persecution mania - and forced him into abdication crisis
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By Claudia Joseph

PUBLISHED: 16:23 EST, 28 April 2012 | UPDATED: 19:58 EST, 28 April 2012

He was the first celebrity Archbishop – a man of the cloth who enjoyed the trappings of power.

Intelligent and charismatic, Cosmo Gordon Lang baptised the Queen and was a close friend of the Queen Mother.

He became the first Archbishop of Canterbury to broadcast to the nation and is even credited with inventing the royal walkabout.

But now a darker side to the Archbishop has emerged, with newly discovered Lambeth Palace archives revealing that he betrayed King Edward VIII – the Monarch he was supposed to serve – and orchestrated the Abdication crisis.

Plotter: Cosmo Lang, pictured with Edward in 1936, stooped to blackmail and rumour-mongering, falsely alleging that the King was mentally ill and an alcoholic

Plotter: Cosmo Lang, pictured with Edward in 1936, stooped to blackmail and rumour-mongering, falsely alleging that the King was mentally ill and an alcoholic

Lang colluded with the editor  of The Times to threaten Edward over his affair with divorcee  Wallis Simpson.

He stooped to blackmail and rumour-mongering, falsely alleging that the King was mentally ill and an alcoholic.

And in a hand-written letter delivered by a footman to No 10 – a document described as the ‘smoking gun’ – Lang told Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that Edward must go immediately.

He wrote: ‘I understand that you are seeing him tonight; and doubtless you would make this plain.’

It has long been assumed that the two leading figures chiefly responsible for pushing Edward from office in 1936 were Baldwin, and the editor of The Times, Geoffrey Dawson.

But an Essex vicar, the Rev Dr Robert Beaken – who interviewed the late Queen Mother and spent hours looking through dusty files in Lambeth Palace – has established that the puppetmaster was Lang.

Scandal: The Archbishop had a boundless dislike of the 'playboy Prince', as Edward, right, had been described, after the Royal's affair with divorcee Wallis Simpson, left,

Scandal: The Archbishop had a boundless dislike of the 'playboy Prince', as Edward, right, had been described, after the Royal's affair with divorcee Wallis Simpson, left,

Dr Beaken, who uncovered the archives during his research for a book, says Lang was no mere ‘bystander’ in the crisis. ‘The papers show that Lang pressurised Baldwin to ensure that the King went, and went swiftly,’ he says.

According to Dr Beaken, parish priest of St Katharine’s, Little Bardfield, the Archbishop had a boundless dislike of the ‘playboy Prince’, as Edward had been described, and feared the effect the new King would have on the institution of the Monarchy.

First he colluded with Baldwin and Dawson to ensure that Edward received a clear threat: his affair with Mrs Simpson would be exposed in public unless the King abdicated.

The relationship was seen as scandalous by the establishment, threatening a constitutional crisis,  and no details were reported in the domestic press – though it was becoming widely reported abroad.

Uncovered: Archbishop Lang's 'smoking gun' secret letter to the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin

Uncovered: Archbishop Lang's 'smoking gun' secret letter to the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin

The Archbishop’s private secretary records in his diary that: ‘Lang had some talk with Geoffrey Dawson.

It seems to be agreed that Baldwin must take action quite soon in order to clear the air. Dawson is prepared to come out with an utterance in The Times if necessary.’

Baldwin authorised the delivery of a letter warning the King of their intentions. Then, in the face of continuing public support for Edward, Lang attempted to blacken the King’s name.

A devastating private letter was sent to Dawson that said: ‘My dear Dawson, I have heard from a trustworthy source that His Majesty is mentally ill and that his obsession is due not to mere obstinacy but to a deranged  mind.

More than once in the past he’s shown symptoms of persecution-mania. This, even apart from the present matter, would lead almost inevitably to recurring quarrels with his ministers if he remained on the throne.’

Lang also told Baldwin that Edward had undergone treatment for alcoholism using hypnotism, though he had no evidence of this.

The cause of the conflict between the King and his Archbishop appears to have been a question of style as well as traditional morality.

Lang had come into his own during the Depression when he recognised that the Monarchy faced a threat from a disgruntled public.

'Deranged mind': The Archbishop wrote to Times editor Geoffrey Dawson, saying that Edward was 'mentally ill' and had a 'deranged mind'

'Deranged mind': The Archbishop wrote to Times editor Geoffrey Dawson, saying that Edward was 'mentally ill' and had a 'deranged mind'

His masterstroke had been to bind the Royal Family to the Church of England, helping to ensure their popularity as a God-fearing example to the nation.

But the new King was more interested in high society than the Church. He had been a modern Prince, adored by the crowds for his smooth good looks, easy charm and fashion sense.

This stirred resentment at the highest levels of society even before he met Mrs Simpson. His father, George V, was horrified by his son’s relationship with ‘that dreadful common American woman’.

Intrigue: Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop in the film The King's Speech with Colin Firth as Edward's brother Albert, later George VI

Intrigue: Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop in the film The King's Speech with Colin Firth as Edward's brother Albert, later George VI

George V confided in Lang: ‘What’s the use in all this if my son is going to ruin it after I’m gone?’

Lang’s private secretary recorded in his diaries that: ‘Edward is all out for youth and common people. He hates society and the conventions of court life. All this has its advantages in a democratic age but there are difficulties.’

Edward was equally scathing about the Archbishop, writing that he was ‘more interested in the pursuit of prestige and power than the abstractions of the human soul’.

The gulf between Lang and Edward became apparent shortly after the funeral of George V on January 28, 1936. The Archbishop feared losing his role as an intimate adviser to the Crown, while Edward described his nemesis as ‘a spectre clad in black gaitors going noiselessly about’.

When Edward took Wallis to the Mediterranean that August, flaunting her to the world as if she were already Queen, the churchman was horrified.

Matters came to a head when Edward and Wallis held court at Balmoral. For the first time in  25 years, Lang was not invited.

Snubbed, he travelled north to his own Scottish retreat and meditated in seclusion. At that point, according to Dr Beaken, Lang became determined that Edward had to go.

Lang had friends at the highest level including, it seems, Edward’s younger brother Albert, the Duke of York (father of the current Queen, and later George VI).

When Lang was invited to stay with the Yorks at Birkhall, their Scottish residence, he wrote about his visit and was apparently already considering a change of Monarch.

‘The children Lilibet and Margaret Rose joined us,’ he recorded. ‘They sang .  .  . most charmingly. It was strange to think of the destiny which may be awaiting the little Elizabeth.’

His invitation to Birkhall was not necessarily as innocent as it seemed: there was a sense in which the Yorks had set up a rival Court.

Historian Susan Williams, author of The People’s King: The True Story Of The Abdication, explained:  ‘It was not a neutral act because  the Archbishop of Canterbury had always been in living memory the cornerstone of the Court.

‘Edward certainly understood this as an attack. He was in fact furious with his brother Albert and he felt that Albert had thrown the gauntlet down as if to say we’re on the offensive now.’

Turmoil: To Lang¿s horror, Winston Churchill suggested a solution that would keep Edward on the Throne

Turmoil: To Lang¿s horror, Winston Churchill suggested a solution that would keep Edward on the Throne: that he could marry Wallis if she became Duchess of Cornwall, rather than Queen

Despite the turmoil, Edward continued with his public duties and remained popular. And to Lang’s horror, Winston Churchill suggested a solution that would keep Edward on the Throne: that he could marry Wallis if she became Duchess of Cornwall, rather than Queen.

At the time, it would have been an extraordinary departure for a king (although, when Prince Charles  followed in his great-uncle’s footsteps and married a divorcee this was the very title taken by Camilla Parker Bowles, rather than Princess of Wales).

Lang’s response has remained hidden for generations. In a letter to Baldwin, dated November 25, 1936, he dismisses Churchill’s plan and, warning that the scandal could go public at any time, advises the Prime Minister to tell the King that he must give up the Throne.

He wrote: ‘My dear Prime Minister, Forgive me if in this letter  I seem to intrude unasked into your heavy responsibilities about The Affair. I gather that it is becoming more and more difficult to prevent leakage into the press. If so, the leakage will soon become a flood and burst the dam.

‘He must leave as soon as possible.It would be out of the question that he should remain .  .  . any announcement that is to be made of the kind you indicate to me, it should be made as soon as possible and the announcement should appear as a free act.

‘I understand that you are seeing him tonight; and doubtless you would make this plain.’

Dr Beaken says: ‘I found this letter Lang had written to Baldwin which took my breath away.

‘It’s the smoking gun. It’s not typed. There is no carbon copy. The secretaries don’t know. The chaplains don’t know. He puts it in an envelope and then gets a footman to take it to No 10 Downing Street.’

Baldwin received the Archbishop’s letter just before he saw the King and told him bluntly the Cornwall plan was dead.

Edward had found himself alone and unguided against a seasoned politician and a ruthless archbishop and the letter sealed his fate.

Over the coming week Lang consulted daily with Baldwin, who was booed in Downing Street by the King’s supporters.

On December 10, 1936 – exactly as Lang had intended – the King announced his decision to abdicate ‘of his own accord’. He had been on the Throne for just 325 days.

‘They were all glad he was going but pretended hard to be so very sorry,’ wrote Lang’s secretary.

And the reaction of the new Queen, the late Queen Mother?

Archbishop Lang immediately received a letter of thanks and was invited to tea with her.

  • Edward VIII: The Plot To  Topple A King will be screened  on Channel 4 at 9pm on May 9.
  • Cosmo Lang, Archbishop  In War And Crisis, by the Rev  Dr Robert Beaken, is due to  be published in October.
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