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Monarchy Rules: a look at Edward VIII

Edward in childhood

The Duke of Windsor was born to be king. He was called by destiny to the highest position in the State. As the eldest son of the eldest surviving son of the heir-apparent, he was in direct line of succession. His entire early life, every aspect of his education and training, was directed towards equipping him to undertake the massive responsibility that was destined to be his.

He witnessed, through his father, later George V, his long apprenticeship to the duties of kingship.

It was inevitable therefore that the young Prince should feel, at an early age, the impact of the particular circumstances of his life.

As was usual, for children born into the high heritage that he was, Edward did not go to school in a conventional sense. During his early formative years, he was under the care and instruction of private tutors. They gave him as liberal of an education as was compatible with study at home with consideration to the clearly marked views and values in the matter of education of his parents and grandparents.

When Edward was born, Queen Victoria was still reigning and very much a firm influence amongst many members of her family. It was also the end of an era that had brought unparalleled wealth and prosperity to Britain. It now seemed to solve once and for all most of the problems of foreign policy that had so preoccupied successive governments earlier in the century. It was accepted as inevitable that one section of the people should live in comfort and elegance whilst another could only achieve what would now be deemed as an intolerably low standard of living.

Queen Victoria was a very conservative person and so were all her courtiers. Her son, Edward VII, inherited from his mother the adamant preference for ‘things as they are’. In turn, his son, George V, found little reason to change Victorian Court life more than was necessary and sometimes, not even then. Victoria, Edward VII and George V had all complied exactly with the requirements of a constitutional monarchy. They were to be above political expression and action, something we see as one of the defining qualities of Queen Elizabeth II.

Edward was perhaps too young when Queen Victoria died to have absorbed very much from Queen Victoria herself. He would most certainly have had a lasting image of the pomp, pageantry and the destiny that was his as he moved closer and closer to kingship.

The Royal Family has a strong tradition of service in the Royal Navy and so, Edward was given the usual naval training. In 1907, he was sent to the Royal Naval College at Osborne, on the Isle of Wight. This was the first time in his life that he had come into contact with so may boys of his age and he adapted to this change seamlessly. The second part of his naval training was at Dartmouth, where he attended in 1909. He had just finished the standard curriculum and would shortly have gone to sea when the accession of his father to the throne made it impossible for what had become a real ambition for him to become to fruition.

It is unfortunate for Edward that his father’s accession came at this pivotal point in his training. He must have felt very inexperienced which were now expected of him as Prince of Wales as well as managing the personal disappointment of a career cut short.

Thus, his formal investiture as Prince of Wales became a clear dividing line between the years of training and the years of devoted service to follow.

Edward: Prince of Wales

The eldest son of the King first bore the title Prince of Wales when Edward, I offered his son to the people of Wales as their prince. A token of the spirit of mutual co-operation that it was hoped would link the two peoples. In 1911, When George V succeeded to the throne, Lloyd George was M.P for Caernarvon. This astute, keen and perceptive Welshman saw the elevation of Edward to Prince of Wales as an ideal opportunity to bond even further the loyalty of the Welsh people. It was at his suggestion that the full ceremonial of the induction of a new Prince of Wales was revived. And so it was that Prince Edward was invested with medieval pomp and circumstance amid the ruins of the castle of Caernarvon, beginning a career of service which continued without a break until his accession. The Investiture was Edward’s first significant public appearance. It was a jubilant occasion and he was commended for his use of the Welsh language. Throughout his life, Edward never forgot the compliment of speaking another language and he would often acknowledge a country he visited by learning some of their native languages.

Initially and indeed for the next two years the Prince was occupied in completing his education. In 1912, he was in France, in 1913, Germany. These early travels were preparation for the far-flung travels of the Prince immediately following the First World War. During his stay in France, he was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French President and took part in a short cruise with the French Mediterranean Fleet. The Prince must have been very glad to take up this offer and once again be doing something familiar to himself.

His educational visits to Germany were made during the Oxford University holidays. In the autumn term of 1912 the Prince took up residence at Magdalen College, where he remained as an under-graduate for almost the next two years. This broader education and exposure did a great deal to reverse the secluded character of his early years, tied by the constraints of Court life.

It was during these more liberal years that the Prince honed his interest in sports and other pursuits that his early days at Sandringham had kindled. He was fond of begging and boating; he became a superb shot. He gained proficiency in the saddle which led on to one of his favourite activities, that of riding, either to hounds or in the point-to-point meetings. Whilst in Oxford he began the military training that concluded during the long years of the First World War. He was a member of the Oxford University Officers’ Training Corps, in which he attained the rank of corporal. When war broke out in the late summer of 1914, the Prince was immediately commissioned in the Grenadier Guards and was stationed at Warley Barracks and then later in London.

The outbreak of war happened at a critical time in his career when he could have looked forward to a gradual initiation into the full round of kingly duties. Instead, once again he was to face unsettling change, beyond his control. The Prince found himself in the unhappy atmosphere of a nation at war and not simply a war but a war with a country whose people he had only recently had the opportunity of studying first-hand.

To make matters worse for him every obstacle was put in the way when he sought front-line service. It was seen as reckless by the government, his family and the British people to risk the life of the heir by placing him in such a dangerous position. Not to mention the danger of falling into the hands of the enemy as a prisoner of war.

In the end, the Prince did somewhat achieve part of his goal. In 1915, he became a Staff Officer attached to Lord Cavan’s headquarters and he was often on the front lines collecting material for reports or carrying dispatches.

During the war, he was on active service almost without a break. For most of the time, he was in France until 1917 when he moved with Lord Cavan to North Italy to strengthen the line against the Austrians. In 1918, he returned to England for a short time to tour the war factories and munition works.

Towards the end of the war, he was awarded the rank of major. He was posted to the Canadian Corps and later to the Australian Corps in Belgium. Finally, as the war ended, he visited the occupation troops in Germany, where he was the guest of the American General, Pershing.

The Great War, as it was known, had taken a devastating, global toll such that no one could have imagined. However, it is without a doubt that it had provided the Prince with personal and intimate contact with British troops from all ranks and walks of life as well as forces from across the dominions of the British allies. This experience would prove very valuable in the years which ensued.

Edward: Ambassador Extraordinary

The war years had brought the Dominions and Britain into the closest of ties of mutual loyalty and interest. The Prince of Wales had helped make those relationships throughout his service with the Canadian and Australian Corps and by his continuous and personal interest in the welfare of the Dominion troops fighting in the Allied cause. Once again Mr Lloyd George featured in the Prince’s life and was first to outline a master plan for strengthening the link still further using goodwill tours carried out by the Prince. In fact, so successful was the plan, the Prince’s journeys were not confined to the Commonwealth. He became the greatest ambassador of British ways since his grandfather when he was Prince of Wales.

The official nature of the tours was underlined by the Prince travelling in one of Britain’s famous battleships, the Renown. His first trip was after his post-war duties were completed in 1919 and took him to Canada’s mainland and Newfoundland. After this, he crossed over to the United States of America. He was present in Washington at the Armistice Day celebrations and he reviewed American midshipmen at the Naval Academy. He also travelled to New York where he was enthusiastically welcomed as he was driven up Broadway to the traditional accompaniment of showers of torn-up paper and ticker-tape.

The following year the Prince was in Australia and New Zealand. The Prince was once again enthusiastically received and the tour was a resounding success. He visited Melbourne and Sydney; he laid the foundation-stone of one of the buildings in Australia’s new capital, Canberra.

In 1921, the Prince undertook the most difficult of his foreign assignments, a tour of India. At this time, India was not a dominion, let alone a republic in the Commonwealth as it is now and, of course, there was no distinction between India and Pakistan. The entire sub- continent was under the immediate control of the British Government, administered by British civil servants. Edwards father was still King Emperor of India. All was not without criticism though and Gandhi, along with his followers, were active in their perseverance of civil disobedience. The Princely States were also at the very height of their power and prosperity.

At the time of the tour, Lord Reading was the Viceroy of India and did everything in his power to smooth the way for the royal visit. An important contributing factor to the success of the royal tour, however, came personally from the Prince. His disarming personality ensured that he was able to carry out the full programme of the tour. Neglecting the opposition of the Congress Party, the boycott by Gandhi and his supporters and by gracefully accepting the hospitality of the Princes.

From India, visits followed to Ceylon, (Sri Lanka) Malaya, (Malaysia) and Hong Kong and a brief tour of Japan where the Prince was greeted by the Prince Regent. The return trip included visits to North Borneo and Penang.

In 1922, the Prince was once again the United States of America. On the face of it, he went there to watch the international polo matches although his mission was a far more comprehensive on than that. He was in Chicago and Detroit, where he was a guest of Henry Ford, and then went on for a holiday to his Alberta ranch.

And so it goes on, with barely a year passing without its royal tour. In 1925, he visited Africa and South America; in 1927 he was in Spain, and later in Canada for the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Whilst there he was present at the opening of the Peace Bridge at Niagra, underlying the close ties between the Dominion and the United States of America. In 1928, he was in East Africa with the Duke of Gloucester, and again in 1930. In 1931, he went to South America with the Duke of Kent and was present at the opening of the British Empire Trade Exhibition in Buenos Aries, Argentina. Finally, in 1932, the Prince visited Scandinavia.

At this time, Britain was a place of extreme depression. The Great War had taken a devastating toll and in October 1929, with the Wall Street Crash, the American economy had collapsed and a major worldwide economic downturn ensued. Th Prince, bolstered by his goodwill tours abroad, became the ambassador of goodwill in Britain’s depressed areas.

He was indefatigable in his visits to the hardest-hit areas. He made visits to the men in their own clubs, talking to them individually and helping to carry across to them that they were not forgotten and that the government was actively engaged in plans to relieve their distress and indignity. One cannot help but feel, those years amongst the troops of the Great War had enabled the Prince to make the transition from Court life to these most desperate of areas. He had the ability to demonstrate to the people living there that he did understand what he was being told and that he had a genuine and sincere interest in furthering their cause and improving their situation.

Edward: King Emperor

“The King is dead, long live the King.” The monarchy is hereditary, the title and the very essence of kingship pass immediately from sovereign to the eldest child. So it came to pass that the proclamation of the accession of the new King was made by Garter King-of-Arms at St. James’s Palace and in accordance with tradition, by heralds in various other parts of London, such as the Royal Exchange, Temple Bar and Charing Cross.

No one could have forecast that the new King would have abdicated in a year even before he had even been crowned. There had always been the inevitable speculation about when he might marry and whom. With the number of monarchs across Europe diminishing over the previous 100 years, the traditional choice of consort for The Prince of Wales from those monarchs daughters of the royal blood had become increasingly difficult.

Now that he was King the lack of a queen to support him in his royal duties became a matter of practical importance which everyone hoped would be quickly resolved. The life of King can be very lonely and everyone wished that the King should have someone to share the royal burden.

The first six months of the reign passed quietly with all the duties of State attended to with efficiency and the general hand-over of control carried through more smoothly than could have been expected. The King visited various establishments of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. He attended the British Industries Fair; he was present at the Chelsea Flower Show and he presented new Colours to the Guards. The new sovereign held a traditional garden party on the grounds of Buckingham Palace in July. He attended numerous other functions and took part in all the ceremonies that were booked for royal patronage or attendance.

All seemed to be going well until the King decided to make a significant break with tradition, to take a summer holiday abroad. There was nothing inherently strange about the King taking a holiday outside of Britain, after all, air travel had brought the whole of Europe within a day’s journey from Britain. Edward was also very used to travelling, as we have learnt from the previous section. However, the choice was undoubtedly a surprise to many people.

A Paragon plate commemorating the coronation of Edward VIII

A Paragon plate commemorating the coronation of Edward VIII

The King had, for some years had a friendship with the American-born Mrs Wallis Simpson. Mrs Simpson had ben presented at court in 1931. In the years, two or three years that followed, the then Prince of Wales and Mrs Simpson frequently met at the homes of mutual friends. They formed a friendship that matured into mutual devotion, to the point of infatuation. It was natural, therefore, that Mrs Simpson should be a member of the party that accompanied the King on his tour of the Dalmatian coast on board the yacht Nahlin, which he chartered for the holiday. The King combined with his holiday cruise semi-official visits to the Balkans, including a meeting with Kemal Ataturk in Istanbul. When he returned to England, he duly carried out the State Opening of Parliament and was present at the Armistice Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, in November. However, by then there was the talk of a constitutional crisis, although events were managed such that there was never an actual crisis.

Mrs Simpson, who had changed her name by deed poll to Warfield, was petitioning for divorce, and it became known that it was the Kings wish to marry her when she was free to do so. It seemed to many at the time that there was no insurmountable problem. However, one of the main difficulties surrounded the Kings role as ‘Defender of the faith’, the titular head of the Church as well as the State. The Church of England didn’t recognise divorce despite it being well established by law and by custom. Mrs Simpson was set to divorce for a second time. Many attempts were made by the Government of the time, led by Mr Stanley Baldwin, and by the King himself, to ‘find a formula’ that would meet the position and find a way through. The King’s decision to marry Wallis was unyielding. Rather than permit a constitutional crisis to develop, he chose to resign the throne: to abdicate.

On the 11th December 1936, Edward made a BBC radio broadcast from Windsor Castle. Having abdicated he was introduced as ‘His Royal Highness Prince Edward’ Edwards reign had lasted 327 days, the shortest of any British monarch since the disputed reign of Lady Jane Grey over 380 years earlier. Immediately after the speech, Edward travelled to Portsmouth and in the early hours the following day he embarked on H.M.S. Fury for Boulogne.

Much has been written about this aspect of Edward’s life. People are often polarised and the purpose of this section is not to give an opinion, but to inform. Entire books, from all angles, have been written about this period exclusively and further, particular; open-minded reading is always a good choice.

Edward: Duke of Windsor

Whilst Edward was travelling across France to stay with Baron Eugene de Rothschild in Austria, George VI was proclaimed King with all the traditional ceremonial, heralds reading the proclamation across London, just as they had done for Edward VIII less than a year before. One of the first acts of the new King was to confer a Dukedom on his brother and so, Edward became Duke of Windsor.

Until the outbreak of the Second World War, the Duke made only a few visits to England. The great event of this part of his life was his marriage to Mrs Warfield (Simpson) in June 1937. The marriage was celebrated in Monts, where the service was conducted by the vicar of St. Paul’s, Darlington, without the authority of the ecclesiastical authorities.

The Duke and Duchess settled down to enjoy married life, which had come at such high cost. They travelled a good deal of Europe, making a few public appearances and taking an extended tour of Germany in October 1937. They spent some time in Austria, but chose to settle in France in early 1938 and remained there for most of the time until the outbreak of the war. The Duke was still devoted to the idea of service, although it was no longer practical or desirable for him to serve his country as he would have liked.

The Duke maintained contacts with Britain during this period through the Duke of Gloucester, Lord Halifax and Mr Chamberlain. When war finally broke out, he returned to England arriving on 12th September, followed by the Duchess the next day. Less than a week later, the War Office announced that the Duke would shortly take up Staff appointment. He had been permitted to relinquish temporarily the rank of Field-Marshal in the British Army and to assume that of Major-General. Before the end of October, he was with the Army in France.

So began another period in the service of Britain. The Duke remained in France for some time, touring the British front line and carrying out the routine duties of Staff Officer. When the German armies broke through the Duke was appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Bahama Islands, arriving in Nassau in the Bahamas on 17th August 1940. He held this office until the spring of 1945 and during this time he paid some visits to the United States of America and Canada.

In March 1945, the Colonial Office announced that the Duke had tendered his resignation as Governor, an appointment in which he would have completed the regular term of five years by August of that year.

For the rest of that year, the Duke travelled extensively. He was entertained in Washington, he was received by President Truman and came to England in October, when amongst other engagements he toured the bombed areas of London’s East End. He was in London again the following January when there was speculation in the media of a new appointment, but these, like so many other rumours about the Duke, proved to be unfounded.

In the year following, the Duke and the Duchess divided their time between the United States, Canada and France. The Duke began to compile his memoirs that were being serialised in an American magazine. The actual book was not published in New York until the spring of 1951 and not inLondon until the autumn of that same year. It was intended that the Duke should speak at a dinner in London given by the Book Publishers’ Representatives Association that autumn. However, the Duke arrived in London at a time of severe illness for his brother, the King. The arrangement of the speech cancelled and the Duke was not present at the dinner. The book was published however and it revealed for the first time a great deal that had not previously been known about the Duke’s life. His childhood days, his years as Prince of Wales and his attitude to the events leading up to the abdication.

The Duke and Duchess did not attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and instead watched it, like so many others on television, at home. The Duke said that it was contrary for any Sovereign or former sovereign to attend any coronation another. The Duke was however commissioned by a newspaper, the Sunday Express and Woman’s Home Companion to write articles on the ceremony as well as a short book, The Crown and the People, 1902 – 1953.

The Duke's short book: The Crown and the People 1902-1953

The Duke’s short book: The Crown and the People 1902-1953

The city of Paris provided the Duke and Duchess with a house at a nominal rent and they mainly entered retirement. Edward received an allowance from the British Government and the French government exempted him from paying income tax.

During this period of his life, the Duke, along with the Duchess effectively became celebrities and were very much seen as an integral part of ‘Cafe Society’ in the 1950’s and 1960’s. They hosted lavish parties in Paris with their liveried staff and were often to be found in New York amongst the cities’ glitterati.

Some members of the Royal Family never fully accepted the Duchess and this was a constant lament of the Duke, who regularly championed Wallis to his family. However despite the negative attitude of his mother and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) the Duke and Duchess returned to England in 1965. They were visited by the Queen (now Elizabeth II), Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, and Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood. A week later the Princess Royal died and they attended her memorial service together. In 1967, they joined the Royal Family for the centenary of Queen Mary’s birth. The last royal ceremony the Duke attended was Princess Marina’s funeral in 1968. He had been invited by Queen Elizabeth II to the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, but he cordially declined the invitation. By this time, the Duke’s health was in decline and maybe the association of Prince of Wales, a title he held so many years before, It was just too much for him.

During the 1960’s the Duke’s health had been declining and in December 1964 he was operated on for an aneurysm and in February 1965 he was treated for a detached retina in his left eye in London. The Duchess travelled with him and visited him every day. In late 1971, the Duke was diagnosed with throat cancer for which he underwent cobalt therapy. He, like so many of the royals at that time, was a heavy smoker.

Whilst on a state visit to France in 1972, Queen Elizabeth II visited the Windsors at their home in the Bois de Boulogne. The Duke was very sick by this time and only the Duchess appeared with the royal party in the photocall.

On 28th May 1972, the Duke of Windsor died at home in Paris less than one month before his 78th Birthday.

The Duke’s remains were flown back to England and lay in state at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

The catafalque of the Duke of Windsor, Britain’s never crowned King Edward VIII is carried by Welsh Guardsmen from St George’s Chapel, after a private funeral service in Windsor, Berkshire, 05 June 1972. The Duke, who died at his exiled home in France, was buried privately in the castle grounds at Frogmore.

The funeral was held on the 5th June, where The Queen and the Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother all attended along with the Duchess, who had been staying at Buckingham Palace.

The Duke’s body was buried in the Royal Burial Ground at Frogmore, behind the Royal Mausoleum built by Queen Victoria for herself and Albert.

The Dukedom of Windsor became extinct on 28th May 1972, upon the death of Edward, who had been the sole holder of the title since its inception on 8th March 1937.

The Duchess of Windsor, who had become frail and suffered from dementia died 14 years later at their home in Paris, on 24th April 1986 aged 89. Her body was reunited with the Duke and she is interred next to him as ‘Wallis, Duchess of Windsor.’

Featured photo credit: Library and Archives Canada via Flickr

Photo credit: Duncan Sowry-House