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|The coins of King Edward VIII,
(the shortest reigning English monarch since the middle ages)
Quentin Christensen, WINS#920
I was initially interested in researching and writing on the 1937/8 Australian Crown (KM # 34), one of my favourite Australian coins. To do that, I thought it interesting to look back to the British monarch it was originally intended to commemorate.
Let's step back in time 82 years, to 1936. On the 4th of January, England celebrated their very first rugby union win over the All Blacks. Not long after, on the 20th of January, King George V died. George V had been King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India since 1910. During his reign, the British Empire had seen the sinking of the Titanic, The War to End All Wars, and the Great Depression. On his death, his eldest son became King Edward VIII.
Edward was not to follow in his father's footsteps. The day after being crowned king, he broke royal protocol. He watched the proclamation of his accession from a window at St James's Palace, in the company of Wallis Simpson. Wallis was an American socialite who had divorced her first husband. She was still married to her second husband at the time, even though she was spending time with the now king. This was a huge scandal in England.
Edward was not popular with the British parliament. His actions were seen as potentially interfering in political matters. During a tour of depressed villages in South Wales, he commented that "Something must be done" for the unemployed coal miners. This was seen as an attempt to guide government policy. Ministers were also reluctant to send confidential documents to Edward, concerned that he did not read correspondence sent to his residence at Fort Belvedere.
Edward's unorthodox behaviour also extended to his coinage. Since 1660, the time of Charles II, the profile of new English monarchs on coins always faced the opposite direction to their predecessor. King Edward VII had faced right, his son King George V had faced left, and so King Edward VIII was due to face right. Edward insisted, however, that he face left, as this showed the parting in his hair.
As Edward's reign was so short, no official coinage portrait was completed, however, several patterns were made. Other unofficial "retrospective" patterns have been made more recently. The majority of coins issued in 1936 used George V's portrait. British mintage figures for 1936 are not less than, and often more than, preceding years. The only official circulation coins issued in Edward's name were those featuring his name, but not his portrait. All dated 1936, these were:
From British West Africa:
From East Africa:
There is also a rare mule of an East Africa KM # 24 obverse and British West Africa KM # 16 reverse (KM # 17)
From India (No mintages available):
From New Guinea:
During his reign, Edward maintained that he wished to marry Simpson. Such a marriage was going to be problematic. As the head of the Church of England, the king was expected to follow the church's teachings. The Church of England opposed remarriage after divorce. Popular opinion also was against Wallis becoming queen. The leaders of the British Dominions and the British parliament were also against the marriage. The Prime Minister of the day, Stanley Baldwin, presented the King with three alternatives. These were: Give up the idea of marriage, marry anyway against all advice, or abdicate. Edward was aware that marrying anyway would prompt the entire government to resign, which would cause a constitutional crisis.
On the 11th December 1936, Edward abdicated. He is quoted as saying: "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." With his abdication, he seceded the throne to his brother who became King George VI. King George VI's eldest daughter is now Queen Elizabeth II. The only coins I have found minted in King George VI's name in 1936 were from Kutch in India (3 Dokda, Y # 71, and 5 Kori, Y # 75), which, like those for Edward, carry only the name, no profile. A coinage portrait for King George VI was completed early in 1937.
From 1910 to 1936, Australia had the halfpenny, penny, threepence, sixpence, shilling and florin (2 shillings) coins. These were very similar in size, composition and design to the British coins they were based on. Australia had been preparing to mint a new 5 Shilling "Crown" coin, to mark the ascension of King Edward VIII. With Edward's abdication, the coin was instead minted to commemorate the crowning of his brother, King George VI. It wasn't popular and while 1,008,000 coins were minted in 1937 (plus 100 proof), only 102,000 (plus 200 proof) were minted in 1938. The crown was not minted again in Australia.
In a time when the commonwealth has enjoyed the longest period in history with a single monarch on our currency, it seems hard to imagine having three monarchs in one year. It's also interesting to speculate that if Edward VII were to take the throne today, would such scandals as those noted above, and others, including alleged Nazi sympathies, be enough to force him from the throne?
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