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?
There are two roads to go down here. The first is that Edward VIII did give up the woman he loved. Instead of abdicating, the king followed the demands to end his relationship with Wallis and remain 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, 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, of 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.
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, and the most likely of all the suppositions, is that Edward had gone ahead and married Mrs Simpson while refusing to give up his throne. 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.
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, there was some discussion 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. 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 & 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 book, A History of Royal Jubilees, is available now. She is also the author of a popular cosy mystery, All Manner of Murder.