Winston Churchill, the Last of the Great Edwardians to Hold the Office of Prime Minister, Puts a Finishing Stroke to the Edwardian Age

“I am commanded by the King to convey to you hereby His Majesty’s Thanks for the Loyal and Dutiful Resolution…on the occasion of the lamented death of His late Majesty King Edward the Seventh.”

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The Edwardian Age (1901-1910) will always conjure up romance and nostalgia. It was a halcyon era of human progress that experienced tremendous technological change. The wonders of the modern world, new inventions which had only just sprang into being, brought the first rewards of modern industrialization and mass-produced abundance. People could now...

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Winston Churchill, the Last of the Great Edwardians to Hold the Office of Prime Minister, Puts a Finishing Stroke to the Edwardian Age

“I am commanded by the King to convey to you hereby His Majesty’s Thanks for the Loyal and Dutiful Resolution…on the occasion of the lamented death of His late Majesty King Edward the Seventh.”

The Edwardian Age (1901-1910) will always conjure up romance and nostalgia. It was a halcyon era of human progress that experienced tremendous technological change. The wonders of the modern world, new inventions which had only just sprang into being, brought the first rewards of modern industrialization and mass-produced abundance. People could now experience real mobility, taking steam rail journeys to any part of the country. It was a time where Britain was at its imperial height and one in three of the world’s population were her subjects. To say Edwardian is to imagine opulence, luxuriance, balls, and lawn parties where the gents wore boaters, the ladies twirled parasols, and all of Britain basked in a long, sunlit afternoon, before the shattering reality of the First World War. On the other side of that war, after the trenches and millions of dead, it was seen as a Golden Age – perhaps, with its excesses, as a Gilded Age.

The Edwardian period is also noted as a time of great social and economic change. In politics, there was a growing political awareness of the working class, leading to a rise in trade unions, the Labor movement and demands for better working conditions. It was a critical time for the women’s suffrage campaign, with Suffragettes leading a high profile campaign for women to be given the vote. Real changes resulted, life was better, and ah the tranquil sunny afternoons on the lawn – before the terrible Guns of August 1914.

Presiding over this moment was King Edward VII. He succeeded to the throne following the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, on January 22, 1901, and was crowned on August 9, 1902. His reign did much to restore luster to a monarchy that had shone somewhat dimly during Victoria’s long seclusion as a widow. In 1902 he resumed his tours of Europe. His geniality and felicitously worded addresses during a state visit to Paris in 1903 helped pave the way, by winning popularity among French citizens of all ranks, for the Anglo-French Alliance that lasted through two world wars. Edward also played an active role in encouraging military and naval reforms, and British preparedness. He died on May 6, 1910, aged 68, and was succeeded by King George V. Edward lay in state at Westminster Hall, where a quarter of a million people filed past his body. Crowned heads from all over Europe attended his funeral; it was, for many, like the Kaiser, to be their last hurrah before the downfall of royalty in the wake of the oncoming war. Theodore Roosevelt attended for the United States.

Winston Churchill was born in 1874 and was by birth a Victorian. But his first leadership posts in government were as an Edwardian. He Undersecretary of State for the Colonies from 1906-08, President of the Board of Trade from 1908-February 1910, and then a major appointment as Home Secretary in February 1910. In this latter post he was a senior member of the Cabinet. Churchill had arrived. He would be the last powerful Edwardian to become Prime Minister.

The Bilston District Provident Society was formed in 1849, and its object was “to provide for its members medical attendance, and a sick and funeral allowance.” They paid disability and funeral expenses for miners and workingmen, thousands of them, until the National Insurance Act of 1911 created a system of national health insurance for industrial workers in Great Britain based on contributions from employers, the government, and the workers themselves.

It was Churchill’s responsibility as Home Secretary to issue the formal thanks on behalf of the Royal Family for condolences on Edward’s death. Printed letter signed, on his engraved Home Office letterhead, Whitehall, London, June 14, 1910, writing on behalf of King George V and Edward’s wife Queen Alexandra. “I am commanded by the King to convey to you hereby His Majesty’s Thanks for the Loyal and Dutiful Resolution of the Members of the Willenhall branch of the Bilston District Provident Society on the occasion of the lamented death of His late Majesty King Edward the Seventh. I am to say that the expression of sympathy with Queen Alexandra has been laid before Her Majesty, who desired to communicate to you Her Thanks.” It is signed by Churchill as Home Secretary. A search of public sale records shows it’s been almost a decade since one of Churchill’s condolence letters reached that marketplace.

Thus did the last of the great Edwardians to hold the office of Prime Minister put a quietus – a finishing stroke – to the Edwardian Age.

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