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If Edward VIII hadn’t abdicated, who would be monarch today?

We all love a royal ‘what if’ and perhaps one of the most intriguing of recent times revolves around the question of the king who renounced his throne for love. On December 11th 1936, 86 years ago, Edward VIII announced to the world that he was ending his reign to marry the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. But what if Edward VIII hadn’t abdicated? Who would be Monarch now?

New questions raised

It’s a question with a fresh vigour about it as brand new research shows an intriguing possibility. It’s suggested that Wallis Simpson’s lawyers hinted that a large financial settlement might lead to her leaving the king before he left his throne. Extensive work on newly released government papers by Christopher Wilson, published in The Daily Telegraph, shows a fresh twist. Wallis Simpson’s lawyer, Theodore Goddard, visited Sir Horace Wilson who was heavily involved in the negotiations that led to the Abdication. The new research contains suggestions that this meeting involved a hint that Wallis Simpson might consider ending her romance for a fee.

What does that mean for the throne which Edward VIII did gave up?

There are two roads to go down here. The first is that Edward VIII and Wallis parted. Instead of abdicating, Edward was left alone and remained as Monarch. No marriage to Mrs Simpson would have left him free to wed someone else. Who is a matter of pure speculation. But a marriage might well have led to children meaning his direct line would rule. Possibly. However, given the strength of his feelings for her, it is possible that Edward would have remained an unmarried king, another potential crisis given the vital role of weddings and children in the royal story.

However, there was sufficient discontent within the ranks of his closest advisers about his approach to ruling to have caused concern even before his romance with Mrs Simpson became a constitutional issue. Reports of red boxes being left unread and of a king with a manner that veered between domineering and disinterested has led to debate about whether the House of Windsor could have survived under his tenure at a time of huge social change.

The king and politics

There are also his political views to consider. Edward was known to have shown sympathy to some elements of the Nazi regime, enough so to have again raised concern among politicians. Hitler was later said to have talked about making Edward king again if the UK fell to his forces. The question remains – had Edward been king would the Monarchy and the country as we know it have survived?

It’s another historical what if. The remaining option is that Edward had gone ahead and married Mrs Simpson while refusing to give up his throne. Even as the Abdication crisis approached, Edward remained convinced that he could wed Wallis and retain his throne. He had been a hugely popular Prince of Wales and remained a charismatic and well loved figure. Edward had even asked to broadcast to the nation, explaining his romance.

He was certain that public sentiment would fall behind him and within months, he would be preparing for his coronation with Wallis by his side. There might have been a right royal row about her title but she would have been his wife. However, we know that the couple never had children together and that both of them were in their forties by the time they wed. While the pressure for a family would have been greater had he remained as king, the chances are that they would have had no children together.

The reluctant heir destined to rule?

And without a child of his own, Edward’s heir remained his brother, Bertie, the man we know as George VI. At the time of the Abdication, discussion sprang up about passing the throne to another of their siblings given Bertie’s shyness and his stammer. But that was seen as too much of a change. Had Edward remained on the Throne then Bertie would have remained first in line. We also know that the younger of these two brothers died in 1952, twenty years before Edward, meaning the role of heir would have passed to Bertie’s daughter, Elizabeth.

Therefore, Elizabeth II would have still become Queen, even if Edward VIII hadn’t abdicated. Her reign might not have lasted so long. But she would have reigned and, in time, passed the throne to her own eldest son. Obviously, this isn’t an exact science. The Butterfly Effect comes to mind – who knows what might have happened if things had worked out differently for Edward and Wallis.

But the most likely answer to the question of who would rule had Edward never abdicated? Right now, the British Monarch would still be King Charles III.

Lydia Starbuck is a pen name of June Woolerton who has written extensively on royal history. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, is published by Pen and Sword on March 30th 2024. She is also the author of a popular cosy mystery, All Manner of Murder.

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About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.