The King Who Gave Up His Throne For Love: The Abdication of King Edward VIII of Great Britain

King Edward VIII in uniform main

From King Henry VIII’s dramatic break with the Catholic Church to his unprecedented abdication for love, the history of the British monarchy is rife with scandal, passion, and power struggles. Discover how this royal love story shaped the destiny of England, preventing a Nazi-sympathizing king from staying in power and accelerating the rise of Queen Elizabeth. The captivating tale of Edward’s forbidden romance with American socialite Wallis Simpson had a seismic impact on history. Prepare to be enthralled by the untold secrets of the British throne!

King George V Doubts His Son 

Queen Victoria had a long reign. She was on the British throne for over sixty years and gave her name to the Victorian Era of the 19th Century. Her grandson became King George V in 1910.

George was a good and upright king as the nation dealt with world war, economic conflict, and other problems. He doted on his second son (George, nicknamed “Bertie”) and Elizabeth, his young granddaughter. The king found his heir apparent, Edward, more of a problem.

Edward (1894-1972) was young and popular with the British people. He was acceptable in the role of playboy. His many sexual affairs, including with a married American divorcee, were politely ignored by the press.  Unfortunately, Edward was also next in line to the throne

King George told one court insider that Edward would “wreck the monarchy and the Empire” within the year. Edward did not strongly disagree. He liked playing the prince but did not think he would do well as a king. Edward believed his younger brother George was better suited.

Who was Wallis Simpson? 

Bessie Wallis Warfield was born in 1896. She grew up among the elite of Baltimore society. Wallis married (1916) Earl Spencer, a naval pilot, but the life of a military wife did not go well. 

Wallis divorced (1927), which was still frowned upon, resulting in her uncle writing her out of the will. She married (1928) Edward Simpson, also divorced, a British-American shipbroker. They lived in London and eventually became part of Prince Edward’s social circle.

Edward later discussed the first meeting (1931). She was not feeling well. They made uncomfortable small talk. Nonetheless, they socialized some more, and Edward fell in love with her. He was “struck by the grace of her carriage and the dignity of her movements.”

She also fell in love with him. They started to travel openly with each other. Wallis also accompanied him to royal events. This violation of court protocol especially upset the king and queen. Wallis was “that woman,” just a passing fancy. A divorced American was not a suitable consort to a future king. Let’s not even get into the fact she was still married! 

Prince Edward did not plan to break up with Wallis. He planned to marry her. 

King Edward VIII  on the Throne

George V died on January 20, 1936. Edward broke with tradition and watched the formal announcement of the new monarch. Wallis Simpson was there at his side. 

He was now King Edward VIII. The new king was not that concerned with dull aspects of governing. He was popular with the people. Governmental insiders were less supportive.  

Edward’s new responsibilities did not mean he suddenly was much more careful. He left secret papers in the open, including when German and Italian diplomats were nearby. He was also sharing sensitive documents with Wallis who he very much still wanted to marry.

Pesky Rules Blocking True Love 

King Edward was the head of the Church of England. 

When King Henry VIII wanted an annulment, a declaration his marriage was not valid, the church denied him. He broke with the Catholic Church. Henry established a new religion with the monarch as its head. He received his annulment. However, many limits remained.  

Edward and Wallis could not marry under church rules. A divorced person could not remarry while their ex-spouse was still alive. Wallis obtained a divorce from her second husband, but even that was a problem. The grounds of her first divorce did not meet church rules either.

The British people supported King Edward, even if he did not act like a good king in various ways. An American as a queen, a divorcee at that, was unacceptable.

The 1930s was still a conservative time. A two-time divorcee was a problem. An American was even worse. The British queen is the symbol of the nation. An American just would not do.  

Edward tried to find a way. He proposed a morganatic marriage in which Simpson would not receive a royal title. There is some evidence that even Wallis was hesitant to marry, especially when she saw how much opposition there was. Edward convinced her.

Edward did not convince anyone in the government except Winston Churchill. Churchill would later be prime minister. He was now an unimportant backbencher.

The current prime minister opposed the marriage. He told Edward that the government, the people, and the Church of England were opposed. It simply would not work. 

The King Abdicates 

The king realized that he had no choice. He either gave up the idea of marrying the woman he loved or would have to resign. Edward abdicated and renounced his throne. His brother became George VI on December 12, 1936. Edward gave a radio address in part noting:

But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.

Edward was a hesitant king. The decision to end his short reign was not hard for him. Edward and Wallis married in June 1937. They would not have any children.  

George, the Nazi Sympathizer 

King George VI, the new king, made Edward the Duke of Windsor. The couple was now the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They lived mainly in France but traveled to other countries.

Edward had racist views, including sharing his offensive sentiments about indigenous Australians when traveling there in the 1920s. More troubling, Edward expressed pro-Nazi beliefs, including giving Adolf Hitler a Nazi salute when visiting Germany in 1937.  

When France fell to the Germans in 1940, Edward and Wallis fled to Spain. The Nazis plotted to kidnap Edward and make him the puppet king of England. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Winston Churchill offered him the governorship of the Bahamas. Churchill did not know about the Nazi’s plans but worried about Edward’s pro-Nazi leanings. Edward agreed though he still thought the Nazis would win the war.  

After World War II

Edward resigned from his post as governor of the Bahamas in 1945.

Edward and Wallis lived in France. King George was in poor health in the late 1940s. His daughter Elizabeth was still a teenager. Royal insiders reportedly planned to have Edward return to be Elizabeth’s regent. He would rule until she became an adult.  

He didn’t want the job. Edward returned to England for the funeral of his brother (1952) and mother (1953) but only watched his niece be crowned Queen Elizabeth II on television. 

Since Edward had no children, Elizabeth would have been next in line if Edward was still the king. But, she would only have become Queen Elizabeth years later, when Edward himself died.   

The couple stayed away. The duke and duchess had to wait over a decade to be invited to another royal ceremony, the unveiling of a plaque honoring Queen Mary, his mother. 

Edward died in Paris in 1972. He was buried on the grounds of Windsor Castle, the royal residence. Wallis died in 1986 and was buried by his side.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.