Saturday, December 11, 2021

Baffy on Edward’s abdication

‘King George VI came to the Throne. [. . .] At ten o’clock H.R.H. Prince Edward spoke on the wireless to the world. Fine and moving, ending on a firm harsh cry of ‘God Save the King.’ Nothing became him in his kingship like the leaving of it.’ This is Blanche Dugdale, niece and biographer of Arthur Balfour, writing in her diary exactly 85 years ago today.

Blanche was born in 1880 in Holland Park, London, the eldest child of Eustace Balfour, an architect and brother to the prime minister Arthur Balfour. She was educated at home, and from an early age was known as Baffy. She married Edgar Dugdale, a Lloyds of London underwriter in 1902. They had two children, and lived in South Kensington. Dugdale worked in the Naval Intelligence Department, and was associated with the League of Nations Union in various role from its founding in 1920. She was also one of the British delegates to the 1932 League Assembly. That year also saw her publish a two-volume biography on her uncle.

Dugdale was a committed Zionist and was constantly trying to influence those in power in favour of the Jewish cause in Palestine. She addressed public meetings, Zionist conferences, and even World Zionist Congresses; and she advised Chaim Weizmann in his political dealings with the British - see also How I saved the Balfour papers! She regularly published articles in the Zionist Review and authored a pamphlet The Balfour Declaration: Origins and Background. From 1940 until a few months before her death she worked daily in the political department of the Jewish Agency. She died in 1848, one day after being told that the State of Israel had come into being. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Jewish Virtual Library and

Dugdale’s diaries, political and gossipy, were first edited by N. A. Rose and published as Baffy: The Diaries of Blanche Dugdale, 1936-1947 (Valentine Mitchell, 1973). The publisher claimed: ‘Little of consequence escaped her discerning eye: the Abdication crisis; the Peel partition proposals; the Munich agreement; the May 1939 White Paper; the course of the war and the first news of the Holocaust; the post-war struggle for a Jewish state; and finally, and for Baffy triumphantly, the establishment of the State of Israel. These are some of the tumultuous events Baffy recorded in her detailed, pertinent, and often provocative style. Her diaries offer us a document of genuine historical interest, granting us an invaluable insider's glimpse into the controversial world of politics, domestic and international.’ The book can be virtually borrowed freely at Internet Archive.

Here are some choice extracts from Baffy’s diaries, including those written in the run-up to Edward VIII’s abdication.

7 December 1936
‘No! Not yet. Lunched at Club with Walter who explains the King’s one idea is Mrs Simpson. Nothing that stands between him and her will meet his approval. The Crown is only valuable if it would interest her. He must have marriage because then she can be with him always. Therefore he has no wish to form a ‘Party’ who would keep him on the Throne and let her be his mistress. Therefore he has no animosity against Ministers who are not opposing his abdication. On the contrary, he is very matey with Baldwin and asked his permission to see Winston, which was readily given and Winston dined with him on December 4th, though the Press has not got this. What really got him was Baldwin’s parting remark yesterday. ‘Well, Sir, I hope, whatever happens, that you will be happy.’ He is very upset by the newspapers, never having seen anything but fulsome adulation in all his forty years! Baldwin will be very careful not to press him. So the situation may remain as it is for some days, though this is bad, for unrest must grow. Nevertheless, I do not think, in light of this knowledge, that there is much danger of a King’s Party. It is impossible to be ‘plus royaliste que le roi’.’

8 December 1936
‘Rob Bernays drove me home. He says Winston was absolutely howled down yesterday, and is in a very chastened mood today, and told him (Rob) that when he put the question he really had not read Baldwin’s Statement!! I think he is done for. In three minutes his hopes of return to power and influence are shattered. But God is once more behind his servant Stanley Baldwin.’

10 December 1936
‘Went with Melchetts to House of Lords tea-room, also crowded. Speculations about where he will live and about money. Henry says Duchy of Cornwall revenues mortgaged for many years for her jewels. But above all, the difficulties about the divorce decree. He must be allowed to marry her!

As Henry said, we all make muddles of our lives, but none can make so great a muddle as that poor miserable creature!’

11 December 1936
‘King George VI came to the Throne.

Lunched at Ritz with Jack Wheeler-Bennett . . . [He] talked about Germany. He is convinced that Ribbentrop used Mrs Simpson, but proofs are hard to come by. But I think Government and Times have them. There must in that case be wailing and gnashing of teeth! Oswald told me on telephone, Beaverbrook had predicted two days of rioting all over the country. But the calm is unbroken.

Jack had heard what Mrs George Keppell said, ‘The King has shown neither decency, nor wisdom, nor regard for tradition.’! !

. . . At ten o’clock H.R.H. Prince Edward spoke on the wireless to the world. Fine and moving, ending on a firm harsh cry of ‘God Save the King.’ Nothing became him in his kingship like the leaving of it.’

13 December 1936
‘Stanley Baldwin is quite unmoved by his personal prestige. He says he was on a pinnacle before (at the time of the General Strike) and within six weeks all were abusing him. The House of Lords were such mugs that they went on with business after the King abdicated and a Special Act may have to be passed to indemnify them from treason!’

15 December 1936
‘Victor Cazalet drove me back to the House, where I had tea with Rob Hudson. Saw Winston for a second. He looked distraught. I hear he is very miserable. Hear also Sibyl Colefax wept at hearing Archbishop’s broadcast strictures on The Hostesses. Lady Cunard said ‘Ridiculous - I hardly know Mrs Simpson.’ Rat Week!’

18 September 1941
‘To Zionist Office. Lewis and Chaim both away. Had long talk with Locker and Ben-Gurion, who arrived from Palestine while I was away. Both of them deeply pessimistic about the chances of His Majesty’s Government agreeing to a Jewish Army now, after so many postponements. But they are as strong as ever that the claim to fight must not be abandoned. David Ben-Gurion feels that the pressure must come from Palestine now. There is no more political work to be done here he thinks, only publicity and propaganda. It may be that he is right. I shall believe him if the P.M.’s answer to a letter Chaim has written to him is evasive or discouraging. In that case the relations of the Agency with His Majesty’s Government would be altered, and it might be that we ought to publish all the records of the Army negotiations of the past two years . . .’

19 September 1941
‘Went to Zionist Office. Found old Lewis returned. A Yeshiva which convinced me that there is little hope of getting H.M.G.’s consent to the Jewish Division under present conditions. The P.M. has practically refused to answer Chaim’s letter on the subject. The question is - what next? I am personally in favour of asking H.M.G.’s permission to publish a documentary statement of the negotiations of the last two years. I think that the Jewish public has a right to demand it, and that for its own sake the Jewish Agency should do it. However, Chaim may not take that view, which is shared by Lewis. Ben-Gurion most tiresomely persists in harking back to his disagreements with the Yeshiva last time he was here and makes no constructive suggestions.’

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