Thursday, September 21, 2006

Good evening, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101. I’m terribly sorry about the lack of an installment last week – due to some rather severe technical difficulties, I was unable to record anything at all. However, British History 101 is back in full swing this week, and I’m glad you’ve tuned in to listen.
Throughout the course of history, it has been quite rare that a ruler will give up their power willingly. Tonight, we’ll take a look at one of those events – the abdication of King Edward VIII. This man, who went from being “Edward VIII, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India,” to the much simpler (and shorter) “His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor,” was at the center of one of England’s most scandalous events during the 20th century.
George V of England died on 20 January 1936, thus passing the throne on to his son Edward. Edward took on the customary Roman numerals immediately, and was proclaimed (but not crowned) king the next day. Edward broke royal protocol by watching the proclamation of himself as king from a window of St. James’ Palace – while a bit unnerving, this breach of protocol is not what gave the nation and Edward’s ministers pause. What was most troubling was Edward’s companion during the proclamation – Mrs. Wallis Simpson, the (still married) woman that Edward had apparently fallen in love with. Edward’s desire to marry Simpson became quite clear when divorce proceedings between Wallis and her husband were brought to Ipswich Crown Court.
Even with Simpson getting a divorce, the situation posed a problem not seen since the days of Henry VIII. British kings since the time of Henry have taken the title Defender of the Faith, and as such the reigning monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England – the Church which did not permit divorced people to remarry in a church while their ex-spouses were still alive. Simpson, with her latest divorce, had two ex-spouses at the time – both of whom were still living. On these grounds, marriage to Simpson was impossible.
More worrisome than the legal and constitutional ramifications of marriage to Simpson was the divorcee’s background. Many saw Wallis as a sex fiend and claimed she held supreme power over Edward via her powers of seduction. It was also known to Edward’s ministers (although not Edward himself) that Wallis had two other lovers while involved with Edward – a married car mechanic and a salesman named Guy Trundle. It has come to light since then that Wallis had yet another lover – Edward Fitzgerald, the Duke of Leinster, who aside from being a peer was also one of King Edward’s closer friends. Simpson disgusted the public in general – especially the public living in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. Americans weighed in with their opinions of Wallis, suggesting many terrible things about her – that she had been a prostitute in Baltimore, that she was a “gold digger,” a lesbian (looked down upon by the world at that time), transsexual, and recipient of an abortion. Furthermore, the United States’ FBI reported that Simpson had an affair in 1936 with the German Reich’s Ambassador to Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop. This led the governments of both the United States and the United Kingdom that Simpson was a Nazi sympathizer – undoubtedly, a terrible thing for the King of Britain to get involved in. While the validity of these claims will most likely never been known for sure, they do an excellent job of portraying the public opinion of Ms. Wallis Simpson in 1936.
Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom under Edward, made it clear that were Edward to marry Wallis, the members of the government under the king would all resign. Baldwin thus presented three options to Edward in handling the situation: 1) Marry, and Wallis Simpson would become Queen (which Edward would not do, as the government would resign); 2) Marry, and Wallis would receive a lesser title than Queen (known as a morganatic marriage); 3) Abdicate, and marry Wallis. Upon review, all but one of Edward’s prime ministers throughout the empire rejected the first two options – they would all resign if he chose either one.
With this in mind, Edward chose the third option – he would have to abdicate. On 10 December 1936, in the presence of his brothers Prince Albert, Duke of York, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and Prince George, Duke of Kent, King Edward VIII signed an instrument of abdication at his home at Fort Belvedere. The following day, Edward committed his last act as King when he gave royal assent to the legislative document acknowledging his leaving of the throne, His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act 1936, thus removing himself as monarch from all the dominions of the Kingdom – except for the Irish Free State. It is an oddity that, because of the way the government worked with the Irish Free State, Edward remained King of Ireland for a day, waiting for the Irish to pass the External Relations act which acknowledged his abdication a day after he did so throughout the rest of the Kingdom.
Edward passed the crown on to his brother Albert, the Duke of York, who immediately became King George VI (whose daughter, we should all know, was Princess Elizabeth). With this, his new title was Prince Edward, until George made him Duke of Windsor soon after – with the provision that “his wife and descendants, if any, shall not hold said title or attribute” – Edward would not pass on his title.
The night that the Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 was signed, Edward made a broadcast to his former Kingdom. The most famous quote from this broadcast is, “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”
Edward, Duke of Windsor, married his love on 3 June 1937 at Chateau de Candè, Monts, France, where Edward was in exile. Because the Church of England refused to perform the ceremony, the Reverend Robert Jardine of Yorkshire offered to marry the couple in a church ceremony. King George forbade anyone from the royal family from attending the wedding, and told Edward that he would cut off his customary royal allowance if he returned to Britain without an explicit invitation from the king.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor visited Germany that year, on a personal invitation from Adolf Hitler. They then settled in France, where they lived for two years until Germany invaded France, before fleeing to Spain and then Portugal. With Wallis’ alleged affair with the German ambassador and the Duke’s defeatist attitude toward the new war in Europe, it was decided that the pair needed to be kicked out of Europe. A British warship carried them to the Bahamas, where Edward was installed as Governor. It is thought by some that Edward and Wallis were Nazi sympathizers, and that they were shut away in the Bahamas so as to get them away from the war and thus minimize the chance that they would act on their sympathies.
Edward, Duke of Windsor and the proclaimed but never crowned King of Great Britain, died in May 1972 in Paris of throat cancer. He was buried at Frogmore near Windsor Castle, where Wallis joined him in the late 1980s. The man who, at one time, was known as the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland,” died a blemish on the Windsor family and the shame of a nation. It would be difficult to say that he was missed.
As past listeners know, I’ve been having a lot of trouble with the British History 101 blog. The problem has been corrected, although I hope this is only a temporary fix. The blog’s address is much the same as the old one, but with hyphens inserted; it’s now located at I understand it’s a terribly cumbersome URL but with the extremely limited budget of British History 101, my domain choices are quite limited. I hope you’ll update your bookmarks and continue to enjoy the blog as much as before!
I received an email this week from Jane in California with her compliments on the show (thank you, Jane!), and she brought a startlingly obvious yet fascinating thought to light. Jane points out that with the beginning of printed text, the printing process (and thus the reception of content) was controlled by geography – people grouped together because, simply, books were available. It didn’t really matter what the books were about; as long as someone was able to read them, people would gather and hear whatever was contained in the text. However, with the development of podcasts, people are now able to gather according to the content itself – if someone knows what they want to learn about, they can hop onto the Internet and find exactly what they’re looking for. We see clusters of people sharing the same thoughts and ideas because they’re able to find each other, whereas before you learned whatever the guy next to you was learning because that’s all there was around. Jane suggested that perhaps there is a parallel between the development of the printed word and the now-podcasted word. Some excellent food for thought, to say the least; drop me a line if you have anything you’d like to pitch in on this issue, and it would be nice if we could continue this discussion in future episodes. Thanks again, Jane.
That’s it for this episode. If you’d like to look back over our discussion of Edward, check out my blog at for a transcript of this and, in the future, every other episode – unfortunately I’m not technically savvy enough to import the archived transcripts from the old blog. Send suggestions, questions, comments, rants, and raves to Our music tonight is “Angelus ad Virginem,” performed by Briddes Roune and available on Magnatune is an independent online record label that equally shares all revenue from album sales with their hand-selected artists while allowing them to retain full rights to their works. Visit for great music at low prices and support the many wonderful artists hosted there. Until next week, my best to you all, and have a great night. Thanks for listening, and I can’t wait to learn with you again.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Good evening, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101. Tonight’s episode will feature a discussion on Magna Carta, the “Great Charter” that is known round the world as one of the greatest pieces of legislation in history. It is known today as one of the biggest influences on the creation of worldwide constitutional law and is the best known document restricting the rights of a monarch under legal binding. We’ll see what brought it about, who was involved, and whether or not it really had much of an effect on England.
Our timeframe for Magna Carta is the 13th century. During this time period, English monarchs were at one of their high points of power – a scary thought indeed when a man such as King John was crowned in 1199. John was king of all England and held vast tracts of land in Norman territory. His holding of supreme and unyielding authority led to the event causing him to become the English king popularly known for centuries after as the ruler whose power was cut out from under him by the nobles of his land.
One catalyst that brought about the need for this “Great Charter” was John’s control over the Church in England. Traditionally, the king appointed a candidate to be Archbishop of Canterbury, and the monks of Canterbury would approve said candidate. However, by the early 1200s, those same monks began to feel that they had no control over the process, and thus they elected their own candidate. John, enraged to find tradition thrown away and that he had been left out of the question altogether, appointed the Bishop of Norwich to the Canterbury seat. Norwich was sent to Rome for papal approval, but the reigning pope, Innocent III, rejected him, along with the man originally chosen by the Canterbury monks. Innocent instead used his influence to make the monks pick a man named Stephen Langton for the holy job. John, in a display of his power as king, exiled the Canterbury monks from his kingdom for not accepting his candidate and electing the man Innocent had proposed. In another move of retaliation, Pope Innocent III exercised the power of the Church by placing all of England under papal interdict – the prohibition of public worship – in 1208. Masses were not said; Holy Eucharist was not received; church bells fell silent, and the fates of souls across the island were unknown. In effect, Innocent did what he could to pull the Church’s blessing from England. The following year, Innocent excommunicated John, which more or less took him out of the running for acceptance into heaven (according to the Church’s laws barring excommunicants from receiving the Sacraments.). This was less a matter of spirituality than a declaration of England as an enemy of the Church – and in these times, being an enemy of the Roman Church, especially in Europe, was a very bad thing. Pope Innocent even gave Philip of France support to invade England in 1212.
Faced with these enormous punishments, John acquiesced to Innocent’s pressure and gave Stephen Langton the archbishopric of Canterbury. He also allowed the exiled monks to return. He even went so far as to give England and Ireland to the pope as papal territories and renting them for 1,000 marks per year. Here we see the dispute turn from a disagreement between king and Church to a feud between king and nobles – the English baronage was understandably infuriated at John’s actions. The lands they owned had become papal property and thus their power was greatly weakened. It is not hard to see the difficulties that were bound to arise from nobility being pitted against monarch.
Although John had more or less turned his realm over to Rome, the country could still operate without his leadership – the civil service put into place by Henry II took care of that. However, it costs money to run a kingdom. John had lost most of his Norman holdings in his messy ascent to the throne, and the loss of all that land led to a huge loss in tax revenue. John’s lost lands could not be reclaimed without raising an enormous amount of taxes, and tradition made it very difficult to increase the tax rate. John therefore introduced several radical (and ridiculous) laws that would raise the state’s income, including laws regarding the king’s forest that carried severe punishments for menial crimes. At that time in history, the feudal system included scutage – payment made to an overlord in lieu of military service. In the 2 score years or so before John’s coronation, the scutage had been raised eleven times. In John’s seventeen years as king, he raised it the same number of times himself. Furthermore, King John also brought about the first income tax to support the revenue lost to his military failures in Normandy.
By 1215, England’s nobility had had enough of this business. On June 10 of that year, many of the country’s barons stormed London, taking it by force. Five days later, they forced John to sign what they called the “Articles of the Barons” on the meadow at Runnymede. As an outward display of their so-called loyalty to John, those same barons reaffirmed their fealty to him on June 19. About a month later, on July 15, 1215, the royal chancery formally recorded the agreement, and Magna Carta was born. The most important part of Magna Carta, or at least the most important part as far as what it is known for, was clause 61, which formed a committee of 25 barons who had the power to overrule the decisions of the king. John was forced to swear obedience to this committee, should they decide to exercise their power and veto the actions of the king.
Interestingly enough, the Pope spoke out against Magna Carta. He issued an annulment against it, saying it was a “shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the king by violence and fear.” He gave his official blessing for John to openly disobey the new legislation. It is quite obvious that Innocent’s motives had little to do with John’s dignity; rather, the Pope was angered that the nobility would claim authority over the lands John had handed over to him.
Soon after signing the Great Charter, King John of England renounced its authority. This lead to the civil war now known as the First Baron’s War. The war carried on for over a year; it ended with John’s death on October 18, 1216. Upon his child son Henry’s accession to the throne, the war was ended, and King Henry III was the new lord in the country.
In a cunning move, Henry’s regents reissued Magna Carta a little less than a month after his coronation – albeit without its restrictive Clause 61, among other Clauses. Henry himself issued the Charter again in 1225, shortening it even further; his son, Edward I, reissued it one final time in 1297, confirming the version that Henry III had set down as authoritative. Thus, the Magna Carta that survives today does not have what the original document contained; rather, it is Edward’s 1297 edition that we call Magna Carta now.
The laws set down in Magna Carta were slowly but surely repealed in the centuries following that day at Runnymede, and very few of the statutes put forth by the document remain today. However, its influence can be seen in any modern legislation that upholds the rights of people against rulers – a fine example of this is the U.S. Constitution. It was an invaluable piece in the puzzle that gradually came together to form modern democracy, and without it the process would sure have taken decades, if not centuries, longer, and we may not be at the point of freedom we find ourselves at today.
And so there we have it. The actions of a power hungry and hot-tempered ruler brought into reign the laws set forth to prohibit a monarch from running amok with authority. Although John flagrantly disregarded Magna Carta, it was nevertheless a valuable link in the chain that connects the politics of the past with the system of today. We have Magna Carta to thank for setting into motion the many freedoms and liberties we experience every day.
I’d like to ask for a bit of feedback regarding this week’s episode. I have tried a few things to correct the volume problem, but I haven’t heard from anyone on whether or not they actually worked! If you have a few spare moments, drop me a line and let me know how British History 101 makes it into your ears. Another huge thank you to Dan in New Zealand for all his efforts!
Listeners of British History 101 know how much of a proponent I am for the podcasting community. Last week, we heard from Phillip Zannini on his new ‘cast, the Biography Podcast. It’s fresh, fun, and full of interesting information that makes me glad Philip started it. However, I’d like to remind everyone this week once again of the great podcast that started it all for me, Matt’s Today in History.
Thanks, Matt. If anyone listening now is like me, I know they look forward to seeing a new episode on their podcast list every day.
That’s it for this episode of British History 101. If you’d like to look back over our discussion of Magna Carta, I hope you can check out my blog at for a transcript of this and every other episode. I’ve run into some trouble with the blog; for some reason, new posts aren’t appearing. I’m in contact with Blogger as we speak to try and rectify this issue. Please bear with me! Send suggestions, questions, comments, rants, and raves to Our music tonight is “O Maria, Prius Via,” performed by Joglaresa and available on Magnatune is an independent online record label that equally shares all revenue from album sales with their hand-selected artists while allowing them to retain full rights to their works. Visit for great music at low prices and support the many wonderful artists hosted there. Thanks again to all of British History 101’s listeners. Until next week, my best to you all, and have a great night. I can’t wait to learn with you again.

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