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History

Moments that defined the British Monarchy – The abdication and scandal of Edward VIII


British Library/ Public Domain

On 20 January 1936, Britain’s King George V died. George V was a popular monarch with strong public morals, his son, the Prince of Wales acceded to the throne upon his father’s death. He became King Edward VIII, a name chosen as opposed to King David as there had been no British King David before.

At first, Edward VIII’s public popularity was promising. But this wasn’t to last, behind the scenes, Edward was locked in a battle with the Church Of England and the Government of the day. He wished to marry his lover, the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Some say her effect on the Monarchy is so that even mentioning her name in The Queen’s presence causes Her Majesty to shudder.

The problem wasn’t that King Edward wanted to marry an American, that was the least of the problems. The problem was that she was a twice-divorced American.

Because King Edward VIII was head of the Church Of England (just like all British Monarchs since Henry VIII), he could not marry Wallis Simpson because of her status as a divorcee.

Edward tried in so many different ways to have Wallis as his wife, but all he was told was that Wallis could remain as his mistress. This is not what Edward wanted; he wanted her as his Queen.

His battle continued, with the British public absolutely oblivious, until he, with the assistance of Parliament, decided that the only way he could be with Wallis was to abdicate the throne.

By October in 1936, there were rumours in high-society that King Edward planned to marry Wallis as soon as he was free to do so. And on 10 December 1936, King Edward VIII, accompanied by his three brothers, attended Fort Belvedere where the Act of Abdication was signed by all four parties. This meant that Edward renounced the right of Kingship from him and all of his descendants.

After the abdication, Edward was all but banished from the United Kingdom and he went to live in France with Wallis Simpson, whom he married. He wasn’t completely outcast, however. He was given the title of HRH The Duke Of Windsor, but his wife was denied the style of HRH and became just the Duchess Of Windsor – styled as a peer and not a Royal.

Queen Elizabeth II is said to attribute her father’s early demise to stress caused by the sudden abdication of Edward and the shock of coming to power. She has still never spoken of Wallis publicly.

Then, King George VI acceded to the throne as King. If Edward hadn’t abdicated, he may have married someone else and then we may not have the Queen we do now, the whole future of the Monarchy would have been different. This is why Edward’s abdication is a defining moment in British Monarchy.