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Edward VIII
1894 - 1986

Edward VIII and the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson)

after his abdication of the throne

 

 


"I, Edward, do hereby declare my irrevocable determination to renounce the throne for myself and my descendants." These words were spoken by Edward VIII, the only British monarch to voluntarily abdicate the throne.

Edward VIII, later known as Edward, duke of Windsor, was the eldest child of George, duke of York and Princess Mary of Teck. He was born June 23, 1894 in Richmond, Surrey, England. With his father's accession on May 6, 1910, Edward became heir to the throne.

From ages 13 to 17, Edward trained at the naval preparatory college at Osborne, then attended the Royal Navy College. In addition, he was schooled at Magdalen College, University of Oxford. During World War I, Edward served as a staff officer in the Army?s Grenadier Guards. After the war, Edward traveled extensively throughout the British empire as a goodwill ambassador, and his popularity was great. In 1932, Edward instituted several occupational policies to battle growing unemployment, which also increased his popularity.

Edward lived in an 18th century home called Fort Belvoir, which was given to him by his father, King George V. He enjoyed the privacy of "the Fort" and became an expert on gardening, especially roses. Through his small, private circle of friends who visited him at the Fort, Edward met Wallis Warfield Simpson. At the time, she was married to Ernest Simpson, but by 1934, Edward considered himself "deeply in love."

Soon after, on January 20, 1936, George V died, and Edward was proclaimed king. Edward was determined to marry the now-separated Mrs. Simpson, and he attempted to gain the royal family's acceptance of the relationship. However, Edward's family, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and British political leaders were opposed to a marriage. Through government pressure of the press, the relationship was kept secret from the British public until December 2, when the entire matter was revealed. Cries for abdication began the next day.

Edward submitted his abdication on December 10, and announced it to the public during a radio address the next evening, saying "I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love." On December 12, after Edward had already departed for Austria to stay with friends, his brother, now King George VI, named him the duke of Windsor.

Mrs. Simpson's divorce became final several months later, and the two were married on June 3, 1937. They lived in France until the outbreak of World War II, at which time Edward accepted the governorship of the Bahamas offered to him by Winston Churchill. Edward remained in the Bahamas until the end of the war. Still, the division between he and his family was not yet remedied.

While living in Paris after the war, Edward returned only twice to Great Britain; in 1952, after the death of his brother, George VI, and in 1953, after the death of his mother, Queen Mary. He was not formally invited to an official public ceremony until 1967, when he and Simpson, now the duchess of Windsor, were invited to the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to his mother, Queen Mary.

For the rest of his life, Edward lived with Wallis in both Paris and the United States. He died in Paris on May 28, 1972. She died in Paris nearly 14 years later on April 24, 1986. The duke and duchess were buried side by side within the grounds of Windsor Castle.
 


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Edward VIII (1894-1972) was King of England for only one year, 1936, abdicating the throne to marry the "woman I love," the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. He was Duke of Windsor after his abdication.

The eldest son of George, Duke of York, and his wife, Princess Mary of Tech, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David was born on June 23, 1894, at Richmond Park, Surrey. Upon the death of the gregarious Edward VII in May 1910, the young Prince's father became George V and Prince Edward became the heir to the throne. The new king and queen were strict, serious, and self-disciplined parents who sought to imbue their children with a strong sense of duty.

In order to prepare Prince Edward for his future responsibilities, his parents decided to have him trained for the Royal Navy. Accordingly, he was sent to Osborne in 1907 and from 1909 to 1911 attended the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. There he was treated like the other cadets, a novel situation which he much enjoyed. In 1911 he was invested as Prince of Wales in an impressive ceremony at Caernarvon Castle, Wales. To complete his education he was sent to Oxford in 1912, where he studied - not very strenuously - until the outbreak of World War I.

During the war the prince served as an aide-de-camp to the commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France, Gen. Sir John French. Although he was in a position of considerable trust, he was gravely disappointed that he was not allowed to be sent to the front. "What difference does it make if I am killed?" he asked. "The King has three other sons." His observation of the conduct of the war and the death and devastation which it caused affected him deeply, as it did many other members of his generation, making him loathe war and desire constructive social change.


Conduct as Prince

After the war the prince began his true career as prince of Wales, participating in many royal ceremonial duties and, by touring the dominions and other countries, serving as a goodwill ambassador. Prince Edward filled the role admirably: he was probably history's most popular prince of Wales up to that time - a handsome, sociable, debonair young man with considerable charm and a skilled conversationalist endowed with a natural and spontaneous, if rather superficial, sympathy. His activities were recorded enthusiastically in the press, and he was accorded a status very like that of a rock idol of the 1980s, complete with a sycophantic entourage and groupies. As the heir apparent to the world's most prestigious constitutional monarchy, he was expected to be both discreet and wise. As he was naturally neither, his activities sometimes caused friction between him and his parents. His expression of compassion for the wretched unemployed miners of Wales ("Something must be done") for example, earned his father's disapproval because of its possible political implications. His parents also strongly disapproved of the rather "fast" and trendy company he kept and of his unfortunate tendency to fall in love with married women.

In June 1931 Prince Edward met Wallis Warfield Simpson, the 33-year-old wife of a well-to-do American-born British subject, Ernest Simpson. Wallis Simpson herself was American-born and bred and grew up in a wealthy Maryland family. She was sent to private schools and made her debut in Baltimore in 1914. In 1916 she married a Navy pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Earl Spenser Junior. The marriage was not a success, and after separations and attempts at reconciliation it ended in divorce in 1927. While touring Europe with her aunt, Wallis met London resident Ernest Simpson and they were married in 1928. Wallis adjusted quickly to life as a wealthy wife in London and became a fashionable hostess. As they moved in the same social circles, it was inevitable that she and the Prince of Wales should meet, and when they did, an immediate friendship sprang up between them which rapidly became a love affair of great intensity. Although their relationship was an open secret in royal and fashionable upper class circles and was the subject of some comment in the foreign press, the British press maintained a decorous and self-imposed silence on the subject.


The Abdication Crisis

When George V died on January 20, 1936, Prince Edward became King Edward VIII. Despite his family's disapproval (because the monarch is the head of the Church of England and also is seen to serve as the exemplar of the British way of life, with an emphasis on domesticity and morality), King Edward continued his liaison with Mrs. Simpson. Their vacation together aboard a yacht in the summer of 1936 was sensationally reported in the foreign press and caused considerable anxiety in British royal and governmental circles. The crisis began in October 1936, when Wallis Simpson was granted a decree nisi - a divorce which would become final in six months - from Ernest Simpson. A few weeks later the king told the prime minister, the staid Conservative Stanley Baldwin, that he wanted to marry Wallis Simpson and that if he could not do so and remain king, he was "prepared to go."

The prime minister, with the support of the cabinet, the hierarchy of the Church of England, the rest of the royal family, and the bulk of public opinion at home and in the dominions, told the king he could not, as King of England, marry a woman who was twice divorced. The king, with some support from a "King's Party" consisting of Winston Churchill and press magnates Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere, hoped he could, and desparately sought a solution. The idea of a morganatic marriage, in which the king would legally marry a woman who would not be raised to his royal rank, was suggested but ultimately rejected as being a concept alien to the English constitution. Finally, on December 10, 1936, after days of wild newspaper speculation about the constitutional crisis, the king abdicated. He could not, as he said in his famous radio speech on December 11, 1936, continue to perform his duties without the support of the "woman I love," and he left the throne to his brother, who became George VI. Throughout the crisis Edward, separated, if only temporarily, from his beloved Wallis, plagued by the controversies reported in the press, unable to find (or unwilling to listen to) wise advisers, and under great stress, acted inconsistently and unwisely. And if no other vindication for the views and actions of Baldwin and his party existed, it would be enough that the abdication of a popular king was accepted by the public so calmly and the succession of a new monarch occurred so smoothly.

Edward lived for another 35 years, but the rest of his life, though far from uneventful, served as an epilogue to the abdication crisis. He left England for Europe immediately after the abdication and, as soon as her divorce became final, married Wallis on June 3, 1937. Edward was created duke of Windsor upon his brother's succession; several months later he - but not his wife - was granted the title of "Royal Highness," a slight which hurt the duke deeply and which he continued to feel for the rest of his life.

After their marriage the duke and duchess lived in considerable style in France, where they bought a villa on the Riviera. In 1937 they made a much-publicized trip to Hitler's Germany. Although the duke's purpose - to view German labor conditions, a topic in which he had been much interested since his Prince of Wales days - was blameless, and although he was not the only prominent Englishman to visit and even to express admiration for German efficiency in the mid-1930s, he was at the time and thereafter blamed for being sympathetic to the Nazi cause.


Service in World War II

Upon the outbreak of World War II the duke hurried to England to offer his services to the government. Then, as later, the government did not quite know what to do with him. He had left the throne under something of a cloud, and he was estranged from his family. After some hesitation he was given the job of liaison officer between the British and French high commands in France. He retained this position until shortly before the fall of France, when he fled with his wife first to Spain and then to Portugal. While in the Iberian Peninsula in the summer of 1940 he was the subject of much Nazi interest. A shadowy plot was hatched through which the Nazis hoped to use the duke, whom they felt was a friend of Germany, to overthrow the British government. The details of the plot and the duke's part in it - or even his awareness of it - remain obscure, and on August 1, 1940, the duke and duchess sailed for the Bahamas, of which the duke had been appointed governor and where they remained until 1945.

After the war the Windsors returned to Europe and lived as international jet-setters. They were, by all accounts, a devoted couple. They had a home in Paris, a country house outside Paris, wintered in Biarritz, and spent several months every year in New York. The duke had much leisure to pursue his interests, which included golf and gardening, and the duchess, whose interests were mainly social, entertained and was entertained frequently. In 1951 he published A King's Story, his version of the abdication crisis. Her autobiography, The Heart Has Its Reasons, appeared in 1956.

In 1972, while dying from throat cancer, the duke was reconciled with his family at last. His niece, Queen Elizabeth II, with her husband and oldest son, came to visit the duke and duchess in Paris. He died a few days later, on May 28, 1972, and was buried at Windsor. At the funeral his wife was scrupulously accorded the respect appropriate to her rank. The duchess returned to France immediately after the funeral, where she, increasingly infirm, retired from all active life. She died April 24, 1986.

 

 

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