Friday, November 23, 2018

Ted Powell's "King Edward VIII: An American Life"

Ted Powell spent the early part of his career as Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Downing College, Cambridge. Later he qualified as a solicitor, and spent many years as a partner of national law firm Mills & Reeve. He is now a full-time writer and lecturer, and lives in Cambridge.

Powell applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, King Edward VIII: An American Life, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford was not wrong. Page ninety-nine captures an important moment in Edward VIII’s American life. It finds him, as Prince of Wales, crossing the Atlantic aboard the Cunard liner SS Berengaria in the summer of 1924 for a vacation in the USA and Canada. Edward had already visited the USA twice before: once on an official trip in 1919 at the end of a tour of Canada, and again in 1920, when the battleship HMS Renown, taking the Prince to Australia, stopped off to refuel in the Panama Canal Zone, San Diego California and Hawaii. On a holiday trip it was inappropriate for the Prince to make use of a Royal Navy battleship, as he did on his official tours. Instead Edward and his entourage booked a scheduled passage. As soon as the Prince’s reservations were announced there was a frantic scramble for tickets on the same crossing. Cunard’s office in London was besieged by American tourists trying to secure tickets for the homeward trip aboard the Berengaria.

Here is a paragraph from page 99:
The Berengaria sailed on 23 August, “filled with women and marriageable daughters”, and with a sizeable contingent of American reporters. Cunard provided the Prince and his staff with a large suite of rooms, and it would have been easy for Edward to stay in seclusion for the whole of the six-day voyage to New York. But he was in holiday mood, and eager for diversion. He threw himself into life on board, taking walks on deck and appearing frequently in the public rooms. He took his meals in the first class dining room, and characteristically rejected the high table in favour of an inconspicuous side table. There were other friends on board, including Lord Louis Mountbatten and the politician Duff Cooper and his wife Lady Diana Cooper. They became his main companions on the voyage, walking, chatting, and listening to jazz records on his portable gramophone. Mountbatten organized a tug-o’-war team from amongst the Prince’s staff, but it was soundly beaten by a beefy squad of American college boys. Duff Cooper, who took part, recorded in his diary that the Americans pulled them over so easily that they thought the rope must have broken. Edward was no more successful in the individual sports, losing to another American in the pillow-fight and suffering disqualification in the potato race. His run of bad form continued when he was awarded the booby prize in the fancy dress contest for his Apache dancer costume.
The voyage on the Berengaria saw the Prince in a relaxed holiday mood. It was the prelude to a wildly enjoyable American vacation for Edward, during which his reputation as the party-loving playboy Prince was truly sealed. There was no shortage of entertainment – the elite of Long Island’s ‘Gold Coast’ fought for the honour of inviting him to their mansions. He regularly attended several parties in one night, prompting headlines in the US Press such as ‘Prince Gets In With The Milkman’. He even found time for a whirlwind holiday romance with a Hollywood star, the silent movie actress Pinna Nesbit Cruger.

The summer of 1924 was a crucial stage in the development of Edward’s deep cultural and personal affinity with all things American. In America he caught a tantalising taste of a life of freedom, opportunity and modernity which was denied to him by the accident of his birth. As he wrote in his memoirs, “America meant to me a country in which nothing is impossible”. By contrast, Britain was a place where many things were impossible for Edward VIII not least his wish to marry the woman he loved. His encounter with America was one of the formative experiences of his life, shaped his destiny and ultimately led to his Abdication.
Learn more about King Edward VIII at the Oxford University Press website and follow Ted Powell on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue