This is the text of an article I published today in the Yorkshire Post marking the eightieth anniversary of the abdication of King Edward VIII:

It is not every day that a Church of England bishop sparks a constitutional crisis. Especially not a Yorkshire bishop. But, that is exactly what happened eighty years ago on 1 December 1936.

The then Bishop of Bradford, Dr Alfred Blunt, delivered a carefully prepared speech to the Bradford Diocesan Conference (today it would be to the diocesan Synod) in which he referred rather pointedly to the rather deficient piety of the soon-to-be crowned King Edward VIII. However, to understand the speech, it is first necessary to know something about the context in which it was delivered.

Edward was not known to be a regular worshipper. Furthermore, his romantic interest in American divorcee Wallis Simpson was causing some scandal around the Commonwealth. The British press had decided not to report the disreputable stories, but the media around the wider Commonwealth did not feel bound to be so morally scrupulous. What was widely known and commented on around the world was largely muted in Britain itself. A self-imposed censorship – unimaginable in today's UK media world – created some space for waiting to see what would happen … at the same time as frustrating the gossips.

And this is where Bishop Blunt came in. In his speech to his Diocesan Conference he drew attention to the imminent coronation of the new monarch, but exhorted him to spend more time more consistently in church. In itself this was unremarkable – after all, the king would also become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and could, therefore, reasonably be expected to show a little more conviction. His speech was a defence of the coronation as a sacramental act.

But, the bishop then said this: “The benefit of the King’s coronation depends upon… the faith, prayer and self-dedication of the King himself; and on that it would be improper of me to say anything except to commend him to God’s grace, which he will so abundantly need, as we all need it – for the King is a man like ourselves – if he is to do his duty faithfully. We hope that he is aware of his need. Some of us wish that he gave more positive signs of such awareness.”

It is not clear whether he intended this to question Edward’s love life, but the ambiguity of his language allowed those so inclined to see it as a sanction to question his morality. Debate has continued through the years since Bishop Blunt gave this speech.

How do I know this? I have the original text of his speech, complete with pencil-written annotations, in my office. In fact, I have his entire set of speeches in a box in my filing room. Furthermore, I also have a box of the correspondence he then received as a result of his speech.

Coming from all around the world, many letters praised the bishop for having the courage to speak about a scandal that was being hushed up in the press. At last, they said, someone is telling the truth and upholding moral propriety in the face of such public scandal. Others, however, berated the bishop for being such a prig and for behaving in such a moralistic and vindictive manner.

These letters are mostly handwritten in beautiful English. One of the most striking is typewritten by a lawyer at Gray’s Inn in London and condemns the bishop for his “most contumacious and impudent pronouncement,” referring later to “the sole and arrogant opinion of the (for the time being) Bishop of Bradford.” One is addressed to “You worm…” Another complains about “gross interference in his private affairs by the traditionally stupid forces of orthodoxy and stagnation,” concluding “This is 1936, not the Dark Ages.”

If anyone tries to tell you that Internet trolling is a new phenomenon, point them to these letters. They are fewer, took longer to write and send, and are written mostly in excellent and elegant grammatical English. But, they are equally intended to challenge, belittle, ridicule or encourage the man at the centre, who probably had little clue what was going on.

The question is: did Bishop Blunt intend to say what he was taken to have said? In other words, did he intend to provoke the debate that led to Edward abdicating, George VI acceding and, eventually, Elizabeth II being crowned. Or was it a case of the bishop making a comment – almost as an aside – only to find that his words had become incendiary in the wider world, rather than merely mutedly critical for the benefit of a particular audience?

The rest is history. Edward married Wallis Simpson, they flirted with Adolf Hitler, and then lived the rest of their life away from the public glare of a prurient England. Elizabeth began what has become the longest reign of any monarch, serving both Church, nation and Commonwealth with a diligence and fidelity that commands the respect of even the most republican observers. And during her reign the world and the Church have changed. Modern media have changed the relationship between the Royals and the people, and the line between public and private has been blurred beyond recognition.

The world has changed. Human inconsistency and frailty have not changed. The public still love scandal, and elements of the media feed it. The Church is probably less moralistic.

What will happen next time we await a coronation? Who knows? Perhaps there will be a less blunt questioning of morals and motives. We shall see.

 

Today in Roanoke, having presented the new Bishop of Southwestern Virginia with gifts from Bradford, we said goodbye to a group of teenagers who are by now on a flight to London where they will spend a few days before heading north for some real culture in Bradford and the Yorkshire Dales. I warned them that they might just encounter some celebrity fever in the capital as “something is happening in London today”.

Well, it has happened indeed. The baby is born, the continuation of the monarchy is assured, the media have something to feed on for the next eight decades, and a family is rejoicing.

I bet there is some trepidation, too.

Massive congratulations to William and Kate and welcome to the unique and precious person who is the baby. I hope the entire extended family is rejoicing over the inexpressible hope that any new baby brings into the world: hope that this baby will grow up safe and well; hope that this baby will thrive and bring something wonderful to family and society; hope that this baby will not make the same mistakes made by earlier generations.

And there's the rub. The baby is barely six hours old and yet, reading some of the reportage and response, already he is expected to bear a weight of expectation that is inhuman.

How about a moratorium on reporting, snooping and comment for the next few years? How about giving them the space to become a family in peace? Otherwise, the parents won't be able to turn up exhausted for public duties without the lazy commentariat passing judgement on appearance, demeanour and performance. They won't be able to yawn in public or hide the marital rows that come when two wiped out parents are trying to work out how to handle this new person in their life. Even positive comment imposes expectations and encourages game-playing.

I think this is a wonderful event and really good news. But, they are people, not celebrities or Canon fodder (see what I did there?).

And I am clearly the same sort of unrealistic dreamer as John Lennon who “imagine(d) no possessions” while playing a Bechstein grand piano in a vast house on a multi-million pound estate. Why? Because here I am commenting on the birth of the baby whilst calling on everyone else to desist.

Oh dear…

 

Have I missed something?

Here I am in the heart of Virginia in the USA for a week. En route last Thursday I read EL Doctorow's novel The March about the destructive sweep from Georgia through the Carolinas made by General Sherman during the closing months of the American Civil War (or 'the recent unpleasantness', as it is known locally). It is clearly still a very touchy subject – only four generations ago and with people able to speak of conversations with a grandfather who fought.

Further north and the hard memory is of the War of Independence. Blood was shed in order to shed the oppressive burden of English regal imperialism/colonialism. There are places here where it is somewhat uncomfortable to be a Brit.

Yet, having escaped the monarchy and fought for an independent, secular democracy, this country is obsessed with the Duchess of Cambridge's womb. It is amazing.

I have never met the Duchess or her husband. I think they have inherited the mantle of hope that the monarchy might have found a future after all. William has credibility – he got his degree all by himself and has proved himself in the Armed Forces. He works hard and defends his wife. Perhaps, fired by the memories of what happened to his mother, he seems rightly and appropriately wary of exposing her to inappropriate attention. I like them too much (from a distance) to want to see them subject to all that is about to hit them.

So, now the press have been camped for weeks outside the hospital where William and Kate's child is to be born – presumably some time today. Every headline screams in expectation of 'a child is born'. Uninformed and speculative comment, observation and opinion have been pouring out for months on every detail of Kate's pregnancy and her physical condition. And it all smacks of the déjà-vu intrusiveness that we recall with horror from the days of William's mother.

OK, Kate knew that she, her body and her family would be public property. But, the reality will be shockingly different from anything imagined.

Having given birth and given a name to the baby, she and William should be left alone to begin the amazing journey of being parents to a demanding and wonderful baby. They should be given privacy and the hospitality of space and time. The media can't bring up this child – but they can deny themselves out of the sheer humanitarian generosity of allowing this family the best shot at being a family.

I will rejoice with them at the birth of their baby and the shaping of their family. And I will pray for them, that amid all the frenzy of intrusion and opinion and commentary and cameras, they will get some space to enjoy their new life with all the demands and stresses (as well as joys) it will undoubtedly bring.

And I will continue to be amazed at the incredible (literally) obsession of independent Americans with the minutiae of the British royals.

(Oh, and didn't 'we' do well in the Ashes, the Tour de France, Wimbledon and, er… OK, maybe not the golf?)