Playing the King
George Bernard Shaw influenced the Abdication Crisis with a short play that has been forgotten in the last seventy years.
In early December 1936, Britain was shaken by newspaper reports of Edward VIII’s affair with the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. ‘England promptly went mad,’ writer Hesketh Pearson recalled. ‘Archbishops, bishops, peers, cabinet ministers, debated the matter behind closed doors. Could an English king contract a morganatic marriage? Could British peeresses and royal highnesses walk behind an American commoner? Why could not this English king do as many previous English kings had done? The questions were endless. Nothing else was discussed ... Nearly everyone treated it as a matter of life and death. Nearly everyone suddenly became conscious of the Church of England, the British Constitution, Duty, Virtue, and the Ten Commandments. Even football was temporarily forgotten.’