King Edward's Keys
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 13 May 1910, p. 140-148
Robertson, Rev. Andrew, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A description of the ceremony of "the order of the night" at London Tower. Some history of "our late beloved Sovereign King Edward VII," who ascended the throne of Great Britain with more prejudices against him that any other. The closed doors on every hand. Now entered into the affection of his own subjects and the citizens of the world, having secured the confidence of the peoples on "the seven seas" and every nation under the sun. The speaker's submission that "we stand in the face of something marvellously like a miracle." How this man, in nine short years, was able to open these lockfast places. A discussion of the man and the King: his tact, his courage, his intelligence, his good humour, the sheer truthfulness of King Edward. The discipline of the late King. Never forgetting King Edward.
Date of Original
13 May 1910
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Full Text
Address by the Rev. ANDREW ROBERTSON, D.D., of Toronto, before the Empire Club of Canada, on May 13, 1910.

Mr. President and Gentlemen,

I suppose there is no quainter ceremony in all the Empire than that in connection with "the order of the night" at London Tower. In the dark the chief warder, accompanied by a yeoman carrying a lamp, passes from point to point, challenged at every step. When he returns to the door of the ward-house he receives the main challenge of the night. The challenge, as you know, is "Who goes there?" The response comes-"The Keys." Again he is challenged, "Whose Keys?" To which the answer is returned, "King Edward's Keys." The guard then salutes the chief officer, kisses the hilt of his sword and alone, the warder returns to the Lieutenant with whom he deposits the keys for the night. In darkness and silence the Tower of London stands--the symbol of all lockfast places in the Empire--every one of them subject to "King Edward's Keys."

I believe, sir, I am right in saying that scarcely any monarch ever ascended the throne of Great Britain with more prejudices against him than did our late beloved Sovereign King Edward VII. More doors were closed against Edward than were open to him. Some people had long, long memories and they were not able to forget the early seventies: a few were possessed of different political ideals and did not favour the monarchy: while many more sulked behind closed doors because they did not know what manner of man he was who had become their King. There were closed doors on every hand. Today, when he lies dead--I presume I am safe in saying-there is no door throughout the wide bounds of the Empire, or the larger and broader bounds of the world, that has not been opened to King Edward. He has entered into the affection, not only of his own subjects, but of the citizens of the world-secured not only the confidence of the peoples on "the seven seas," but every nation under the sun-he has entered into the judgment, strong and sane, not merely of his own people, but of the people of the wide, wide world around: and on the day when his remains must be carried to the last resting-place there will be gathered not only seven Sovereigns besides his own boy, but we believe that each of these alien Sovereigns will bring with him the affectionate remembrances of the country he represents.

I submit, Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Empire Club, that we stand in the face of something marvellously like a miracle. How has this man, in nine short years, been able to open these lockfast places? It seems to me that it would be well for every member of the Empire, not only members of the Empire Club, to look into this matter, learn how it was the King was able to unlock these closed doors, and master the secret of "King Edward's Keys."

First of all it does seem that the heart of the world, its confidence and judgment, have been' opened to "King Edward's Keys"-because of his tact. This we hear on all sides. But we must tell ourselves what we mean when we say that our King was a tactful man. We need to recognize tact for what it is and not for what it is not. You will hear it said, for instance, that tact on the part of King Edward was simply manner. You will hear men talk about "the incredible manner" of the King. They say that he assimilated the French mode of behaviour to an Anglo-Saxon environment. If I were to interpret this into common speech, it seems like saying that the King had carried the art of the dancing-master under a London bowler hat. That could not be the secret of King Edward. Not many doors would open to a King like that. Again we are told that tact means nimbleness of mind, sprightliness of wit, the ability to Guard an opponent's thrust and turn it against him. Tact saves the situation. I submit that is not tact. Tact does not juggle with words as the conjurer does with cards. It is not mere sleight of mind. It means more than that. Do you remember one occasion when King Edward was in Paris? He had stepped into his carriage amid the cheers of the crowd. Then some one called for three cheers for the Boers. We were then in the thick of that quarrel. Immediately Edward VII. lifted his hat, and thanked them for their interest in his subjects.

That is tact. Tact is not mere nimbleness of wit, mind or manner. Tact is contact. It is immediacy of touch. It is immediate relationship between a man and his surroundings. You can see how quietly the King touched the moment in the incident just told.

Not very long ago a man occupying high place in the Empire, speaking at a great public meeting, was met with an ironical "Hear! Hear!" Immediately he turned on the interrupter and remarked, "Yes; but you are not all there." Tact is the power of being all there, it is presence of mind, it is immediate contact with the situation, it is immediacy of contact with personality--nothing between! I am here to say to you, gentlemen of the Empire Club, if we remember King Edward for anything, it will be this--that his bare heart, his naked spirit and, soul came into contact with the spirit of his time and made response, royal response, such as has been made of few sovereigns besides. No wonder the doors of his time opened to him. It was mutual-a reciprocity of the highest kind-for he opened every avenue of his own being to the life of the time he sought to serve.

Another of "King Edward's Keys" was his courage. I believe, gentlemen, there was no more courageous man in the Empire than King Edward. One remembers when within a few hours of his Coronation-terrible discipline was laid upon him-and he had to lay himself down under the knife of the surgeon. How patiently and bravely he stood the test! The last time I was present at this Club we heard a fine address about Sir Walter Scott. You will not forget how Scott tells the great story of Richard of the Lion Heart. The oriental physician had mixed a potion to check the fever from which the King was suffering, and his courtiers, fearing treachery, urged him to reject it. But Richard had determined to take the risk--refused the advice, and without a tremour drank the draught. No more trying test could be offered to a man. Alongside that action of Richard the Lion-Hearted we are not afraid to put the action of our late revered sovereign. It was a moment of highest concern to himself, and not to himself only but the farflung Empire. The eyes of the world were on him when the cup was struck from his lips. Like a hero, without murmur or tremour, he committed himself to the knife.

But not only in a physical sense did our late King evidence his courage. Call to mind the incident at Marienbad. At a public entertainment something was said or done which should not have been done or said, and King Edward rose from his seat, left the place, in protest against the thing that is impure. If King Edward discovers himself in such an action as that (and I, for one, will leave it to others to say that he does not) then, down in the heart of the man, deep in the royal heart there rooted' itself a high sense of principle purity. "My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure." I submit that it is much more difficult to make a protest of that kind than it is for a man to entrust himself in silence even to the surgeon's knife. Let it be remembered that our King stood for what is clean. And we must stand too for that. No more must we carry a stain on our hearts than we would stand for a stain upon "the flag that has braved the battle and the breeze." King Edward's courage reminds us that we must be strong. No real strength can remain when purity has passed.

Along with this characteristic of our King, I think, we ought to place his intelligence--for with that key Edward unlocked many a hard-fast door. The man who would make his life tell in the Empire knows how much intelligence is really worth, and how much it is required. A man is not an Englishman simply because English blood flows in his veins. There is in him the possibility of an Englishman. One of the foremost Canadians of the day has said--and said truly--"an Englishman is only an Englishman occasionally." The man who would be English must for himself discover England. He must have the tradition of England and set before himself all the high things for which England is supposed to stand. That can only be done through intelligence. I do not know whether you have thought it worth while to read the correspondence of King Edward's Mother. If you have-then I venture to say you have met with manifold surprise. When the volumes were first recommended to me I said, "I am not going to read these books of gossip about nobodies." I did not know. When I had closed the books I found them full of shrewd historic sense--welling over with the true British spirit, and figuring forth real British ideals as I have 'found in few other books besides. I believe this is the royal secret. Queen Victoria realized her English citizenship of sheer, hard work. The reading she undertook, the pains she went to in assimilating that reading, the evident effort she made to put herself in the place of all who went before her--that is the secret of Victoria and that is the secret of Victoria's son. If King Edward be truly represented he has helped the nation by his real intelligent good sense more perhaps than any other Englishman of his time. It is for us to emulate. No wonder he found his way into the affection and judgment of those over whom he ruled. He held the key. This is one of the many issues of honest and intelligent toil.

I did intend to say something about the good humour of our King. Many a door yielded to that key which otherwise had remained hard and fast. I do not myself know of any little story of our time which sets before us the true inwardness of King Edward's nature better than the story of what happened in a certain school-house. The scholars were going over the Sovereigns of the Empire, picking out this one and that, and in a sentence characterizing their greatness. Some one named Edward. Putting his hand on the scholar's head King Edward said, " Well, my boy, and what great thing did he ever do?" The little fellow hesitated a moment and then looked up into the King's face and said reluctantly, "Please, sir, I do not know." To which Edward responded intently, "I don't wonder at that, my boy. Neither do I." There is in that, surely, a window opening into the heart of the King betraying the good, honest nature of the man. There was a certain critic-Scotch by the way--who preferred Burns to Byron. Some one suggested one quality in which they were both tolerably alike. "Yes," said he, "but if I turn to Byron I get foreign filth, while in Burns there is only good, honest Scotch dirt." It is that "good" and "honest" that catches me. And it does seem that we have had in King Edward a man of good, honest, red-blooded human nature. It is because of the way he has carried himself-with unfailing good humour, sometimes in circumstances fitted to try the patience and temper of the best-that he has commanded an entrance into the heart of his people and the judgment of the world more than any other sovereign of his time,

The last key I venture to name is one of pure gold. I have kept it of set purpose to the last. I refer to the sheer truthfulness of King Edward. You remember what John Bright said of his Mother: "Queen Victoria is the most absolutely truthful human being I ever met." It was not only that she spoke the truth. She was true. It was an Irishman who said, "King Edward is a good man." To which his companion replied: "He is more than that: he is the son of his mother." So, indeed, he was, and in nothing more than in his loyalty to the truth. We can see, for instance, that he was true to his principles. When he stood in his Mother's place for the first time he said, "I am determined to become a constitutional sovereign." Never from the moment when he accepted that responsibility until he laid it down a week ago today did he fail in that. We have been told again and again that there never will be a British sovereign who will dare to interfere with the British constitution. We have been so long used to the rule of a woman like Victoria that so it seems to us. But if you put on your throne a strong man--a man of judgment, political sagacity and insight-a man of ambition-who is going to prophesy the result? You and I know that during the reign of Victoria there were things done that have not yet found explanation: we know of statesmen of Victoria's time whose memoirs have never yet been given to the world. There were "hidden things" even in Victoria's day. Now in spite of his opportunity, his ambition, the King kept his faith and truth. He laid his sceptre down a week ago today and passed unstained-true to himself and his station and his principles till the end.

It is not my design to say much concerning the discipline of the King, and the truth he maintained in relation to that. Discipline is just another name for the means by which life takes men in hand--trains, schools, educates them, teaches them the real nature and value of the precious things that never pass. That's what we mean by discipline. Now it is not for me to pry into such secrets as these. But there is one thing we do know, for we shared the discipline with him. We do know that there was immense significance in that marvellous interference which set back the hour of Edward's Coronation. The King does not seem to have forgotten it. And it was not that there were no temptations to put it into the background. Perhaps you have forgotten. But let me remind you that some of the foremost teachers of our time misunderstood that terrible discipline and gave to King and people counsel which was simply a menace to the country and to our time. They said this: "For the future we think, as well as hope, that the King will be judged by comparison with Kings as they have been rather than by comparison with the ideal which each man sets up in his own mind of Kings as they ought to be." Can you conceive anything more vicious than that? It meant that we were to let down the standard. If that were done, who was to say where the lowering would cease? Compare him with Kings as they have been! With whom; for instance? With "Napoleon the Little" and "Abdul the Damned?" So far as Edward was concerned, the standard remained. He did not lower his ideal. Dead today--but he died true to the discipline that was his.

It needs to be said that the King was true not only to his principles and his discipline but also to his vision. Edward saw things that touched him, moved him, transfigured him. One who saw him on his first public appearance as King cried, "Prince Hal is dead and no mistake!" Another who saw him emerge from the Abbey after--the Coronation said, "He looked to me like a man who had seen a vision." And surely he had. As he sat then in the chief place of Empire he must have seen such things as he had never seen before. There met in him "the magic cord of Kingship . . . the varied threads denoting the lines of Cedric and Alfred--of the Norman and the Plantagenet--of the Tudor and the Stuart and the Guelph." Every one of these great names is in itself a word of vision and of dream. How many of us remember, for instance, that Edward was of the Cedric line and that the descendants of Cedric had been independent princes for three hundred years when Charlemegne died. No wonder a man in such a position should have had upon him a vision whose power never lifted itself from his spirit. These high traditions held him. "He made good." We own the bare truth of his words long to be remembered. "I stand with my back to the wall. I will fight it out. I have done my duty."

Mr. President and gentlemen of the Empire Club, I thank you cordially for the way you have received what I had to say. There is just one word more. From beside the royal bier there comes to us today a voice full of tears. The Queen says! "Remember me!" I venture to say I am expressing the sentiment of every member of this Club when I reply--"Royal lady, can we ever forget thee?" We look back on the time when she came to us across the northern foam of which Tennyson sang long years back

For Saxon or Dane or Norman we, Tenton or Celt or whatever we be--We each are all Dane in our welcome of thee.

We are still "all Dane" in sympathy. Ian Maclaren tells of the sympathy which met Margaret Howe when she laid her boy under the sod in the Scottish glen. "There is only one heart in Drumtochty, and it is sair!" Our response to Alexandra today is like that. "There is but one heart throughout the Empire, and that, with thine, is sair."

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King Edward's Keys

A description of the ceremony of "the order of the night" at London Tower. Some history of "our late beloved Sovereign King Edward VII," who ascended the throne of Great Britain with more prejudices against him that any other. The closed doors on every hand. Now entered into the affection of his own subjects and the citizens of the world, having secured the confidence of the peoples on "the seven seas" and every nation under the sun. The speaker's submission that "we stand in the face of something marvellously like a miracle." How this man, in nine short years, was able to open these lockfast places. A discussion of the man and the King: his tact, his courage, his intelligence, his good humour, the sheer truthfulness of King Edward. The discipline of the late King. Never forgetting King Edward.