Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1936, Edward VIII abdicated.

Edward VIII was a king who said that he could 'not carry the burdens of kingship without the help and support of the woman I love', and was obliged to abdicate, as society could not tolerate the prospect of the king marrying a divorcee.

Prince Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David was born on 23rd June 1894, at Richmond Surrey, the son of George, duke of York, later King George V and Princess Mary of Teck, later Queen Mary. He was known to his family and friends by the last of his given names, David, but his princely and regnal name was Edward. He became heir to the throne on the accession of his father in 1910. Although trained for the Royal Navy, he was commissioned in the Army's Grenadier Guards, after the outbreak of the First World War, and served as a staff officer. He was not allowed to serve at the front line, for fear of the propaganda value to the enemy if he were captured.

After the war and through the 1920s, he undertook extensive goodwill tours of the Empire and, after George V became ill in 1928, took an increasing interest in national affairs. In 1932, during the Great Depression, he toured the country enlisting over 200,000 unemployed men and women in his back-to-work scheme. His popularity was immense. He became the major celebrity of the age, a 1920s version of a movie star, and was the most photographed celebrity of his time. His style of dress was emulated by fashionable personages. He was especially known for his eccentric large-knotted ties and Fair Isle pattern cardigans. The Windsor tie-knot, remains as his legacy to fashion.

In 1930, King George V gave him Fort Belvedere, which he called The Fort, an 18th-century house, near Sunningdale. He regarded the Fort as a refuge from the official world of duty and there entertained a small circle of friends. In 1930, he was introduced to Mrs. Wallis Simpson, an American, was then married to an American businessman, after being divorced from her first husband. He began a long courtship of Mrs. Simpson, and by all accounts, was deeply in love with her when, in 1936, George V died and he was proclaimed king as Edward VIII.

As king, Edward continued his policy of touring distressed areas, particularly South Wales, where unemployed miners and their families faced grievous poverty. This caused friction between the king and Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who felt that the king has socialist leanings, and was interfering in government matters. Meanwhile Edward attempted to obtain his family's acceptance of Mrs. Simpson, who had obtained a nisi decree of divorce in October 1936. He was met with unrelenting opposition, not only from his family, but by the Church of England, the government and politicians in both Britain and the Empire, who could not tolerate the idea of a divorced woman becoming queen. The public were unaware of the situation as government pressure on the press kept the affair out of the newspapers. Baldwin attempted to persuade the king to drop Mrs. Simpson, but when Edward declared that he wanted to marry her, Baldwin clearly stated that his only option was abdication.

Faced with the dilemma of losing either the woman he loved, or the throne, Edward chose to abdicate. On 11th December 1946, he made a radio broadcast to the nation stating "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." That night he left for France, where he married Mrs. Simpson, when her decree of divorce became final.

The new king, George VI, created his brother, ‘Duke of Windsor’ but refused to grant to the new duchess, the rank of ‘Royal Highness’. This decision wounded Edward’s pride and he decided to have no further dealings with his family. The royal family in turn, decided to cut him off. For two years, Edward and Wallis lived in seclusion in France and, on one occasion visited Germany for an interview with Hitler. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Edward accepted a position as governor of the Bahamas, a purely nominal role. After the war, Edward and Wallis returned to France, visiting Britain only for the funerals of King George VI and Queen Mary. It was not until 1967 that Edward and Wallis were invited to attend an official public ceremony, the unveiling of a plaque to Queen Mary.

Edward died on 28th May 1972, at his home in Paris, and was buried at Frogmore. Wallis died on 24th April 1986, and was buried alongside her husband. Her coffin bore the simple epitaph ‘Wallis, Duchess of Windsor. [Frogmore House, Frogmore, Windsor, SL4 2JG. Occasionally open to the public. Admission fee]

Recommended reading.

Bolitho, Hector. Edward VIII - His Life and His Reign. Paperback.
Thorpe, Andrew. Britain in the 1930s. Historical Association Studies.
Cavendish, Marshall. Edward VIII & Wallis Simpson. Royal Romances - The Love Affairs That Shaped History.

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