This instalment of Behind the Royal door will look at the life of The Queen’s uncle, Edward VIII, later The Duke of Windsor.
Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David was born in 1894 at Richmond Park to the future George V and his wife Mary (May) of Teck, at the time The Duke and Duchess of York. Edward was baptised a month later in the Green Drawing Room of White Lodge, a house in which his grandfather, Edward VII had spent his childhood.
His names came from his uncle, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, who was known as Edward, and the use of Albert at the instruction of Queen Victoria; Christian was used in honour of his great-grandfather Christian IX of Denmark and the final four names came from the Patron Saints of the United Kingdom. Edward’s 12 godparents were: Queen Victoria, the King and Queen of Denmark, the King of Württemberg, The Queen of Greece, The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Tsarevich (future Nicholas II), The Duke of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Teck (his mother’s parents).
George, Edward’s father, was a serious man, but showed his children affection, and his mother encouraged her children to confide in her, perhaps a little unusual for the time, as most children were brought up by nannies, and thus had a more distanced relationship with their parents.
Edward was tutored by Frederick Finch and Henry Hansell, and was taught, amongst other subjects, French and German. At 13 Edward applied, and was accepted into, Osborne Naval College, though his tutor had wanted him to apply the year before – George however, refused. The Prince did not enjoy his time at the college and after two years, in 1909, moved onto the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, when his father ascended the throne in 1910. On his 16th birthday, he was made The Prince of Wales, having automatically been created The Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay as heir apparent.
Now next-in-line, Edward withdrew from his naval course before he graduated and served as junior officer for three months aboard the Hindustan; following this service he entered Magdalen College, Oxford, which many conclude he was not intellectually ready for. After eight terms, The Prince of Wales left university with no qualifications, but learnt polo whilst there, as a keen horseman.
The Great War came just a few years later, and Edward had joined the Grenadier Guards in 1914, a month before war broke out. The Prince was willing to serve on the front lines, but Lord Kitchener refused as he was so close to the throne. Despite being kept away from fighting, Edward witnessed trench warfare first-hand visited the front line as often as he could; he was awarded the Military Cross in 1916. Many attribute Edward’s later friendliness to enemies of Britain during the Second World War to his experience of WWI.
Edward became popular amongst veterans of The Great War for this role and support. In 1918 Edward flew his first military flight, and took this further, gaining a pilot’s license. The first monarch to be a qualified pilot, Edward created The King’s Flight, now 32 (The Royal) Squadron, in 1936 to provide air transport for the Royal family’s official duties.
The Prince undertook a 16 tours representing his mother and father across the Commonwealth, and his good looks and charm soon made him something of a celebrity, photographs appearing in all the papers.
He was, however, something of a bigot, remarking upon indigenous Australians “they are the most revolting form of living creatures I’ve ever seen!! They are the lowest known form of human beings & are the nearest thing to monkeys.” Such comments were not much paid attention to at the time, but this has only degraded his personality for many modern historians.
Edward was also known for his womanising ways, beginning in the early 1920s. His secretary for a large part of this decade said of The Prince that “for some hereditary or physiological reason his normal mental development stopped dead when he reached adolescence”. His behaviour worried the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, and his father was not pleased with his ways, also repulsed by his affairs with married women, said of Edward “After I am dead the boy will ruin himself in 12 months” and was seemingly in favour of Albert (his second son and future George VI) taking the throne over Edward, according to a courtier.
The Prince of Wales was also known for his unusual fashion choices; he began to wear tweed outside of the country, what the material was intended for, and had a penchant for knitwear, which began at his golf club. Most thought that he wasn’t dressing as a Royal, and so he couldn’t possibly be acting as a Royal. Edward would wear certain types of clothes at inappropriate times, for example, once, to meet troops, he wore a double-breasted jacket with wide American-style trousers and a bowler hat, while those around him were in suits. In fact, Edward had his jackets made for him in London, but had his trousers flown over from America for their wide-leg style, in direct contradiction with his father’s proper style.
In 1930, George V gave Edward a house in Windsor Great Park. It was here that Edward conducted his illicit relationships, including with Freda Dudley Ward, a textile heiress, and Lady Furness, the American wife of a British peer, who introduced the Edward to Wallis Simpson. It was this introduction that sparked the beginning of a relationship that would see Edward reject the Crown for love….
Pictures: Library and archives Canada, pellethepoet, Boston Public Library,
To receive the latest Royal Central posts straight to your email inbox, enter your email address below and press subscribe.
Join 352 other subscribers