King Edward VIII: abdicator, hopeless romantic, royal outcast

Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David - better known as King Edward VIII to the public and David to friends and family - was born on 23rd June 1894 at White Lodge, Richmond Park. As the oldest of six children Edward was always first in line to succeed his father King George V upon his passing, but what he went on to do shocked the world.

When given an ultimatum by his government to stop seeing married socialite - and an American at that - Wallis Simpson, he became the only British monarch to voluntarily give up the crown. The abdicated king is a fascinating blip in the royal line of succession but by looking at his early life we can begin to understand how and why King Edward VIII ultimately chose Wallis Simpson over the crown.

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Prince Edward: frustrated war hero

In the medieval Caernarfon Castle on 13th July 1911, Edward was sworn in as Prince of Wales. Upon the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the newly anointed Prince signed up with the Grenadier Guards and was given the role of staff officer. However, as a royal, Edward was forbidden by Lord Kitchener to join the men he was training on the front line. Despite never firing a single shot in combat, Prince Edward was awarded the Military Cross in 1916. Royal Secrets: Edward and Mrs Simpson examines this period and Edward’s frustration at being unable to directly fight alongside his men in the trenches.

Britain’s beloved bachelor

In the aftermath of the war, Edward’s popularity was among the highest in the Royal Family. Popular among war veterans for his contribution to the war and having cemented himself as Britain’s most eligible bachelor, the Prince of Wales proved himself to be a worthy future monarch. This streak continued in the 1920s as he toured the British Empire, even becoming a fashion symbol for young men of the time. 1932 saw the Royal manage to enlist over 200,000 Britons in occupational schemes during a time of mass unemployment. Prince Edward had successfully and rapidly become the poster boy for the British Royal Family.

The American socialite

However, behind the scenes Edward’s turbulent romantic life was causing a great deal of concern. After womanising his way across Europe - including a brief affair with Marguerite Alibert who was later put on trial for shooting her husband - the government and Royal Family were attempting to contain the scandalous details from the public. This all changed in 1931 when Edward was introduced to American socialite Wallis Simpson.

Simpson, at this point on her second marriage to Ernest Aldrich Simpson, developed a close relationship with Edward which became the subject of much speculation within the Royal Family. Upon learning of the forbidden affair with the married American, King George V proclaimed - with unnerving accuracy - ‘after I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within twelve months’. While the exact timeframe of the affair between Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward is hazy, The Duchess of Windsor explores the beginning of this pivotal romance which ultimately changed the course of the British monarchy forever.

The crown or Wallis Simpson?

20th January 1936 saw the death of King George V and the ascension to the throne of King Edward VIII. Although he was a popular monarch throughout the country - with people lining the streets and braving the rain to see their new king on his first meeting with parliament - he was ruffling feathers in government. Upon seeing the disastrously high unemployment in Wales he condemned the lack of action taken among politicians to remedy this. Meanwhile his continuing affair with Simpson was on the precipice of becoming an international story.

Having showered Wallis with jewellery and cruised the Eastern Mediterranean with her, King Edward VIII was intent on making her his Queen. When he informed Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin of his plans, he was told - in no uncertain terms - that as the head of the Church of England he could not remarry Simpson after she had divorced. With an ultimatum from his government and word of his intentions to marry Simpson reaching the public in December, King Edward VIII had a decision to make: the crown or Wallis Simpson?

The monarch who chose abdication over duty

On 12th December 1936 - via a radio broadcast - King Edward VIII announced his abdication to the world, noting he had chosen to be with the woman he loved instead. The Duke of Windsor - as he was now known - lived to see two succeed him: his brother George VI followed by his niece Elizabeth II (mother to Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward). In The King Who Threw Away His Crown, we are offered a glimpse into what made the Duke of Windsor choose to turn his back on the crown and his country.

Post-Royal Family life as an outcast

After Wallis Simpson’s divorce was finalised the two were married on 3rd June 1937 - with a notable absence of any royals at the ceremony - and Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor. Shortly after their marriage, the Duke and Duchess accepted the personal invitation of Adolf Hitler to visit Germany in what was a highly controversial visit. While the exact nature of the meeting was unclear, supposedly a plot was discussed in the eventuality of Hitler successfully occupying Britain to put the former king back on the throne. This now infamous footage of the husband and wife meeting Hitler, and the Duke giving what resembled a Nazi salute, only further ostracised the couple from the Royal Family.

The Duke and Duchess lived out the remainder of their lives in France, frequently entertaining Hollywood celebrities and American presidents. As the Duke’s health deteriorated in later life, Queen Elizabeth II finally visited her uncle on 18th May 1972. After 36 years of feuding Edward was back in the fold but passed away just 10 days after the Queen’s visit.

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