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Secretly, in the Dead of Night

David Low (1891-1963)


Signed and inscribed with title

Pen ink and pencil

12 ¼ x 18 ¾ inches

Evening Standard, 11 December 1936

The Illustrators. The British Art of Illustration 1871-2022', Chris Beetles Gallery, London, November-December 2022, no 122

On 11 December 1936, the day that this cartoon appeared in the Evening Standard, King Edward VIII officially abdicated the throne, ending a reign that had lasted just 327 days. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin had announced the abdication in the Commons the day before. Edward had relinquished the throne in order to marry the American socialite Wallis Simpson, who was in the process of divorcing her second husband. Though it is generally accepted that Edward and Simpson had been lovers since 1934, the affair did not become public through the British press until 2 December 1936, a little over a week before Edward’s abdication. Even when the couple spent the summer of 1936 together holidaying in the Mediterranean, an event widely covered in the American and European press, the British press remained silent. On 16 November, Edward met with Stanley Baldwin at Buckingham Palace to inform him of his decision to marry Simpson and was told by the Prime Minister that his marriage to a twice divorcee would be rejected by the government, the country and the Empire, and that the King’s public standing would be irrevocably damaged.

When the story broke in the press on 2 December, the King did receive some support for his wishes, not least from Winston Churchill and the press barons, Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere, who believed Edward had a right to marry whomever he wished. Churchill and Beaverbrook even tried to rally support in Parliament, though only 40 MPs sided with the King. Both the Labour leader, Clement Attlee, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, supported Baldwin’s opposition to the marriage. As David Low’s cartoon suggests, there was a belief that the King’s sudden abdication was driven by the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who had so strongly opposed the union and, as was thought, had pressured the King to abdicate. Low’s cartoon also suggests that the silence of the British press on the matter until just eight days before the abdication was announced meant that Baldwin was able to press his perceived desire for abdication unencumbered by public opinion, which may have been more sympathetic to the King than the government would have hoped.

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