And so we come to the last in our series of 5 Moments That Defined The British Monarchy. We hope you have enjoyed the series and found it informative – we certainly enjoyed writing it. This fifth and final moment we’ve chosen that we believe has defined the British Monarchy is the abdication and scandal of King Edward VIII.
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 [then known as Prince David] 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.
To start with, 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 is 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 and marry Wallis Simpson.
Pic: Edward VIII’s abdication document. Signed by Edward VIII at the top, then Albert, Duke Of York [after, George VI], Henry, Duke Of Gloucester and George, Duke Of Kent.
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 10th December 1936, King Edward VIII, accompanied by his three brothers next in line to the throne, 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 abdication, Edward was all but banished from the United Kingdom and 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 Wallis, Duchess Of Windsor – styled as a peer and not a Royal.
Elizabeth II is said to attribute her father, George VI’s early demise to stress caused by the sudden abdication of Edward and the shock of coming to power to George. She has still never spoken of Wallis publicly.
Then, King George VI acceded to the throne as King. If Edward hadn’t abdicated, 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 the British Monarchy.