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Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson

Edward VIII and the Abdication Crisis

Key points about the abdicationRenouncing the throne. Renouncing the throne. crisis

  • Edward VIII abdicated the throne in December 1936
  • He had been on the throne for less than a year
  • He fell in love with American divorcee Wallis Simpson and was determined to marry her
  • The British government, much of the press and many of the people felt it would be inappropriate for Edward to marry Mrs Simpson
  • Edward was not well-respected as a king and caused a number of problems

People you need to know

  • Stanley Baldwin – Conservative politician and prime minister during the abdication crisis
  • William 'Max' Aitkin, Lord Beaverbrook - Owner of the Daily Express and 'first baron of Fleet Street'
  • Neville Chamberlain - Conservative politician and Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the abdication crisis
  • Warren Fisher - Head of the home civil service
  • George V – Father of Edward and George VI, and king between 1910 and 1936.
  • George VI – Younger brother of Edward, who became king in 1936. Known to his family as Bertie.
  • Theodore Goddard - Mrs Simpson's divorce lawyer
  • Esmond Harmsworth - Son of the owner of the Daily Mail and chairman of Associated Newspapers
  • Ernest Simpson – Wallis Simpson's second husband, to whom she was married when she met Edward
  • Wallis Simpson – American divorcee and later, as Edward's wife, the Duchess of Windsor
  • Horace Wilson - Senior civil servantA government official - someone who works for the government., chief industrial adviser to the government and seconded to Stanley Baldwin during the crisis
  • Edward Windsor – Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, who became Edward VIII and then Duke of Windsor. Known to his family as David.

On 11 December 1936, Edward VIII abdicated after spending just 11 months on the throne. His reason for doing so was simple: he wanted to marry the socially-unacceptable love of his life, Wallis Simpson. If the reasons for his abdication were simple, the process had been anything but, leaving a trail of intrigue, rumour and recrimination that still lingers on today.

The Prince of Wales

Edward, known to his family as David, was the stereotypical wealthy playboy. Blessed with good looks, charm, and money, from his youth he had been considered a desirable bachelor and an amusing friend. Unlike his stern father (who nevertheless was loved by the country, if not beyond), Edward embraced modernity and everything that came with it. He was fashionable, an able sportsman, and a pilot who loved to throw parties, drink and dance. On his trip to America in 1919, he became an immediate hit, particularly with the ladies, becoming 'the first celebrity royal' Adrian Phillips, The King Who Had to Go: Edward VIII, Mrs Simpson and the Hidden Politics of the Abdication Crisis, London: Biteback Publishing (2016) p.3 and did much to further the idea of celebrity culture there.

Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1932
Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1932

Charming though he was, his behaviour was not considered proper for the heir to the throne. A member of the royal family was meant to be an example of all that was best in the modern monarchyThe king/queen and royal family of a country, or a form of government with a king/queen at the head. The king/queen and royal family of a country, or a form of government with a king/queen at the head. : religious, refined, responsible, someone who would uphold traditional values and customs, and someone who would be a role model for the rest of the country. But there was something emotionally backward about Edward. He could behave like a child, in turns stubborn and whimsicalGiven to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behaviour, or given to whimsy and fanciful notions. Given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behaviour, or given to whimsy and fanciful notions. , trying to push every boundary and get away with too much, and tantrumming when he couldn't. He wanted to keep his private life separate and saw no conflict between this and his duty as a royal. Even before Edward became king there were those in his family and beyond who had their doubts about him.  His own chief courtier, Lascelles, mentioned to the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, in 1924 that it would be better for the country if Edward broke his neck than become king. Baldwin agreed. Lascelles eventually quit in 1929, although he was to return to the royal household in 1935 shortly before George V's death.

Wallis Simpson in 1935.
Wallis Simpson in 1935.

Edward had already had a string of mistresses before he started an affair with Wallis Simpson in 1934. Yet to many, Edward was scraping the bottom of the barrel with his most recent choice. American by birth, Wallis gained British citizenship through her husband, Ernest Simpson, He, in turn, had renounced his own American citizenship when he fought for Britain in the First World War.  was of modest social and financial status and was already a divorcee. Her first husband had been Win Spencer, a US naval officer, whom she divorced on 10 December 1927. She was a socialite, seen as frivolous and grasping, who had no interest in charitable concerns or culture. As such, she might have been the perfect match for Edward personally, but was completely inappropriate as a wife, or even a mistress, of royalty. Her character was darkened further when the Metropolitan Police were asked to look into her past. They produced a report, seen by only a few top civil servants and politicians, that, while perhaps saying more about those investigating her than Wallis herself, was damning in the extreme. It recorded that she was a woman of loose morals, who had a string of extra marital affairs, One of whom, Guy Trundle, she allegedly passed money to, that she in turn had received from Edward kept a bad circle of friends, was dirty, lived beyond her means, and was a gold-digger. Her husband, meanwhile, expected to profit from her relationship with Edward, perhaps even thinking to gain a peerageA person with title or rank, or the aristocracy. Family and those politicians in the know were concerned, but did not act for the time being. After all, Mrs Simpson was not the first person the Prince had shown an interest in, and her social status was so low it was thought she couldn't possibly present a serious threat.

The King is dead, long live the King

George V died, after a short illness, on 20 January 1936. Technically he was the last monarchA king, queen, or emperor A king, queen, or emperor to be murdered: he was given a fatal dose of cocaine and morphine by his doctor, Lord Dawson, to hasten his death. This mercy killing was, however, not done in line with the patient's wishes – his last words were said to be 'God damn you' – and it was done with more of a thought about announcing the death in the respectable morning papers than on a consideration for the King's comfort. David the playboy was suddenly Edward VIII, and government and family held their breath to see if Edward changed accordingly. They were to be disappointed. Edward was as unsatisfactory a king as he had been a prince. From the first, he proved himself unwilling to stick to tradition, by watching the formal proclamationA public or official announcement dealing with a matter of great importance A public or official announcement dealing with a matter of great importance of himself as monarch, with the Simpsons in tow. No-one knows why the new monarch doesn't traditionally witness this, but his willingness to break with protocol from the start was not a good omen, and shocked many. Edward's aunt, Queen Marie of Romania summed him up well, saying 'David (as we call him in the family) kicks against traditions and restrictions'. Quoted in Karina Urbach, Go Betweens for Hitler, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2015) p.195 He was dilatory in his approach to his work: government documents sent to him to read and consider were sent back late, sometimes with cocktail glass rings on, suggesting a lack of care over security and confidentiality. He was also hit and miss with his royal visits. His charm, when he applied himself, still worked well but he offended others, such as Aberdeen Infirmary, by turning down appointments with the excuse that he was still in mourning only to be seen partying and entertaining elsewhere. His advisers, notably his father's old confidantA person with whom one shares a secret or private matter, trusting them not to repeat it to others A person with whom one shares a secret or private matter, trusting them not to repeat it to others , Wigram, resigned because 'It was almost impossible to appeal to reason or judgement', Quoted in Phillips, The King Who Had to Go p.45 or were asked to leave because they criticised either the King or his mistress.

Edward and Mrs Simpson on holiday in 1936
Edward and Mrs Simpson on holiday in 1936

Edward's fixation with Wallis Simpson didn't change either, and he became determined to make her his wife. The first step to making this a reality was introducing her (and her husband) at court, and at Derby Day in May 1936, Edward introduced Baldwin to his 'future wife'. Apparently this was the first time he had indicated his intentions to Wallis, who thought that 'The idea is impossible. They'll never let you.' To which he replied 'I'm well aware of all that but rest assured, I will manage it somehow.' Quoted in Phillips, The King Who Had to Go p.49 Mrs Simpson's presence at court raised awareness at the highest levels and rumours started to circulate. The couple made vague attempts at decorumProper and tasteful behaviour Proper and tasteful behaviour : when Edward chartered a yacht for a holiday around the eastern Mediterranean over the summer, and took Wallis with him, a number of friends were also invited along. The British press, aware of the damage the affair could do to the standing of the monarchy, maintained a voluntary silence on the whole thing, A lightweight magazine called Cavalcade mentioned Wallis was on board, but didn't mention the relationship. but the foreign press had no such reservations. The King and Wallis were photographed holding hands, him with his shirt off, and the affair suddenly became public worldwide. The British authorities tried to prevent British access to stories by cutting them out of newspapers as they arrived in Britain, but word still spread. Wallis, shaken by the press attention, made a half-hearted attempt to break up with Edward who in turn threatened to commit suicide.

Divorce proceedings

Mrs Simpson began divorce proceedings against Ernest in late spring 1936. The government, and particularly a group of hardliners centred around Neville Chamberlain and top-level civil servants Horace Wilson and Warren Fisher, were concerned what this meant for the King and therefore the country. Various options were discussed, and dropped, to intervene in the case and have it thrown out. English divorce law was tricky in 1936. It was generally accepted that only adultery justified divorce. A mutually agreed divorce was not only discouraged but illegal and the injured party was expected to be entirely innocent themselves. Mrs Simpson's divorce did not meet either requirement. True, Ernest had been caught with another lady but, out of chivalryA knightly code of correct social, religious and moral behaviour. A knightly code of correct social, religious and moral behaviour. , her name was kept out of the case. The lady in question was an old friend of Wallis', Mary Raffray, whom Ernest later married. However, the existence of an unnamed lady was a red flag to those charged with investigating the truth of the suit as this was often the course couples who both wanted a divorce would take. Not only was this suspect in and of itself, but Wallis was also paying her husband's costs, a sure sign of collusionSecret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy in order to deceive others Secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy in order to deceive others . Nor could Mrs Simpson be considered innocent. Even excluding her affair with the King, It was a matter of debate whether Edward could be involved or mentioned in the case, as the monarch cannot be tried in his/her own courts. there was still the tricky question of her first husband, whom she'd divorced in America on the grounds of mutual consent, and stories of other infidelities.More infoIn addition to the Metropolitan Police dossier, which contained much that could have at least delayed the divorce, there was the alleged China Dossier, which supposedly listed all her illegal and immoral exploits when she was staying there in the 1920s. However, the China Dossier is probably no more than a rumour, and its existence is denied by most historians.

Eventually the hardliners decided that Mrs Simpson's lawyer, Theodore Goddard, should be approached. Showing a preference for intrigue over legal ethics, Goddard made his own negative feelings about Mrs Simpson clear to the government, and agreed to ask her to drop the case. Wallis turned the application down: she was divorcing her husband to leave him, rather than to marry anyone else, and gave the impression that she never really believed the King would marry her.

Despite the potential pitfalls, Mrs Simpson was granted her decree nisiAn order by a court of law stating the date on which a marriage will end unless a good reason not to grant a divorce is produced. An order by a court of law stating the date on which a marriage will end unless a good reason not to grant a divorce is produced. on 27 October 1936. The press covered the proceedings but, as the case did not involve Edward, it was reported as any other divorce would be. Mrs Simpson would have to wait six months before she could apply for her decree absoluteA court of law's final order officially ending a marriage, enabling either party to remarry. A court of law's final order officially ending a marriage, enabling either party to remarry. , and have the divorce finalised. One interesting side effect of the abdication crisis is the role it played in softening English divorce law, which it showed to be deeply flawed.

Something must be done

Wallis Simpson's decree nisi brought the prospect of the King's marriage to her ever closer, positively panicking some in government. Baldwin sought the advice of the attorney general, Sir Donald Somervell, who reported that although the only thing expressly forbidden was the king marrying a Catholic, 'the marriage of a King was of such concern to the State that it would be an unconstitutional act for a King to marry contrary to the advice of his ministers'. So, should Baldwin give such advice? The answer, according to the senior parliamentary counsel, Sir Maurice Gwyer, was that: 'It would be the constitutional right and duty of Ministers to advise the King to abandon a course of conduct which, though it fell exclusively within the sphere of his private life…lowered the Monarch in the estimation of his people…Ministers have to act as interpreters of public opinion; and if they are satisfied that public opinion generally is strongly behind the advice which they think that they ought to give, I cannot doubt that constitutional principle not only empowers, but requires, them to tender it.' 'Put simply, the politicians could sack the monarch if he or she disagreed with them.' NA PREM 1/449 Note by Attorney General, 4 Nov, and Gwyer memorandum, 5 Nov, quoted in Phillips, The King Who Had to Go pp.91-92

Lord Beaverbrook, the 'first baron of Fleet Street'
Lord Beaverbrook, the 'first baron of Fleet Street'

As the crisis deepened, the two opposing views split into camps. On the one side were the hardliners in the government and civil service, centred around Chamberlain, Wilson and Fisher. On the other were the 'King's Party' Deliberately so-called by the hardliners, drawing parallels with the English Civil Wars. which included Winston Churchill, and the press barons Lord Beaverbrook and Esmond Harmsworth. Beaverbrook was not acting entirely altruistically. His main aim was to bring down Stanley Baldwin, who had cut him out of politics because he exercised 'power without responsibility'. Churchill likewise was hoping for a route back in from the political wilderness. Former prime minister Lloyd George would also have supported the King, but when the crisis broke he was holidaying in Jamaica with his mistress. Baldwin tried to sit in the middle. His dislike of Mrs Simpson was clear and he knew the King should never be allowed to marry her, but he had more patience and less of an inclination towards drama than some other politicians. This in turn infuriated the hardliners, who used fair means and foul to push Baldwin towards their stance, and whose actions exacerbated rather than helped the situation. Letters, barely short of an ultimatumA final, uncompromising demand or set of terms, the rejection of which could lead to a severance of relations or to the use of force. A final, uncompromising demand or set of terms, the rejection of which could lead to a severance of relations or to the use of force. , were sent to the King through hapless intermediaries, such as the King's private secretary Alec Hardinge. MI5 were tasked by the civil service to keep tabs on the King, effectively treating him as a potential enemy of the state. With each step, the two sides became more entrenchedTo be fixed in an idea or unlikely to change To be fixed in an idea or unlikely to change . Edward, pushed into a corner and certain that his popularity with the people would carry him through, declared his determination to marry Mrs Simpson before his coronationThe ceremony of crowning a king or queen (and their consort). The ceremony of crowning a king or queen (and their consort). , so that she could become his queen.

It is unlikely at this point whether Mrs Simpson wanted to be queen. Certainly when Harmsworth suggested the idea of a morganatic marriageA marriage between people of unequal social rank, which prevents the passage of the husband's titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage. A marriage between people of unequal social rank, which prevents the passage of the husband's titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage. , where the couple would marry but Mrs Simpson would not become queen, Morganatic marriages, although not used in Britain at the time, were occasionally used in Europe. Mrs Simpson saw enough promise in it to talk Edward around to her way of thinking. The idea was aired with Baldwin who, doubting it himself, promised to take it to the next cabinet meeting. Almost immediately, the idea was dismissed: after all, a morganatic marriage would require approval from an unfriendly Parliament. The final negative was issued by the Dominions, who were even more opposed to the idea than the British politicians. Australia suggested that Edward's behaviour was justification enough for demanding his abdication, with or without Mrs Simpson. Baldwin, in the final days of the crisis, agreed saying he 'had the gravest doubts as to whether in any circumstances, even if the King threw the lady over and whatever steps were taken, such as an interval for a rest-cure to restore his perspective on this matter, the King could recover his position or whether his own successor as Prime Minister would not later be confronted with equally difficult situations.' NA CAB 23/68, quoted in Phillips, The King Who Had to Go p.287

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor meeting Hitler in 1937.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor meeting Hitler in 1937.

Perhaps if Edward had proven himself to be a better king, he could have carried his point with the politicians. But even outside his relationship he was considered a liability, and had shown an ignorance of, or disregard for, the constitutionA body of fundamental principles and established precedents by which a state governs itself; or the composition of something. A body of fundamental principles and established precedents by which a state governs itself; or the composition of something. . On his visit to South Wales, an area that had suffered economically, he had seen the poverty and the misery and said that 'something must be done'. Whether or not he was intending to overstep his bounds and overrule government policy in providing help to the area is unknown, but it certainly concerned the government enough to warn him off any further expressions of sympathy. He did, however, inspire a popular appeal which collected toys for the children of the Welsh miners. Nor was he careful in the international arena, and is remembered as a Nazi sympathiser. Edward's concern to have peace with Germany on the one hand and to fight communismA theory of system of government and social organisation where property is owned collectively and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs. A theory of system of government and social organisation where property is owned collectively and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.  on the other led to a number of indiscretions. His praise of Nazi Germany during a speech to the British Legion in 1935 not only led to a reprimand from his father, but also gave rise to the hope that Britain would look favourably on Hitler's policies.

Press ganged

On 1 December, the Bishop of Bradford implied at a diocesan conference that Edward was not a committed member of the Christian religion. The comment was picked up by a local reporter, and published on the Press Association's national newswire. The story had broken. By the 2 December, it was news in almost every local and national newspaper. Mrs Simpson, hating the negative publicity, fled to a friend's villa in Cannes, pursued all the way by the press.More infoUnwilling to fly or use the train, she was driven to Cannes in a Buick that was very rare in France, with the number plate CUL 547. Unfortunately, in French cul is a rude word for backside, and is also slang for an affair. Disguise was therefore impossible, particularly when journalists were being tipped off by the French police, and her secret destination didn’t remain so for long.

By and large, the press supported the government's position. In particular Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, worked with the hardliners to direct public opinion against the couple. Recently discovered papers from Lambeth Palace suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, encouraged him in this. There is no doubt that the King and Lang despised each other, but exactly how much sway the Archbishop had in the crisis as a whole remains to be seen. Those papers which were sympathetic to the relationship – those owned or managed by Beaverbrook and Harmsworth – were hampered by Mrs Simpson's desire to avoid publicity. Unknown to the government, the job of the press barons in the King's Party was to keep the affair as quiet as possible, rather than to sway opinion in favour of the couple. Beaverbrook commented after the crisis that 'We were indeed a King's Party. Unfortunately the King was not a member of it.' (Quoted in Phillips, The King Who Had to Go p.215) Furthermore, Lord Rothermere, Harmsworth's father, supported the government and prevented sympathetic editorials being written.

Not everyone supported the government's position that Edward VIII should abdicate
Not everyone supported the government's position that Edward VIII should abdicate

Some messages of support did make it through. George Bernard Shaw wrote a playlet for Beaverbrook's Evening Standard entitled The King, the Constitution and the Lady. In it, the king, faced with a choice between marriage and the throne, successfully answered all the problems thrown at him by the prime minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury. 'Shaw was advising Edward VIII indirectly, and the British public directly, through the newspaper that with the support of the people the King could do as he pleased.'More infoStanley Weintraub, ‘Playing the King’, History Today 56 (2006)

With the papers unable to help their king, Edward latched on an idea initially proposed by Mrs Simpson: to use the radio to reach the public. Permission was sought from Baldwin, who said he would present the idea to the cabinet. Unsurprisingly the answer was a firm 'no'. Worried that the King would try to provoke a constitutional crisis and force the government to resign, they were furious that the King would go over their heads to the people. Even Edward's friend, the minister for war, Duff Cooper, thought that 'There was no doubt…in the mind of any member of the cabinet that this broadcast could not be allowed. So long as the king is king, every utterance that he makes must be on the advice of ministers who must take full responsibility for every word. If, therefore, we could not advise him to make a speech, we could not allow him to.'More infoDuff Cooper diaries, quoted in Phillips, The King Who Had to Go p.186


The government and civil servants had blocked every move Edward had made and, on 5 December Edward opened channels with Downing Street to negotiate his abdication. His main concern was that, having renounced the throne, he would still not be able to marry Mrs Simpson, who was not guaranteed her divorce. His stipulationA condition or requirement that is demanded as part of an agreement. A condition or requirement that is demanded as part of an agreement. was that he would go so long as the divorce was finalised straight away. The government couldn't intervene in the courts, so two separate but linked bills were suggested: one would become the act of Parliament necessary for the King to abdicate. A second bill, introduced at the same time, would grant Mrs Simpson's divorce.More infoUp until 1857, an act of Parliament was required for each divorce. Once again, cabinet blocked the idea, claiming that it would be 'a Special Act to allow the King to commit adultery'.Quoted in Phillips, The King Who Had to Go p.248

At almost the last moment, the hardliners came to the conclusion that their actions to date could be seen as putting undue pressure on the King, and that it was 'more of a deposition than an abdication.' Anne Sebba, 'Edward VIII: Backing the Wrong Duke' History Today 61 (2011) They determined that a final attempt should be made, again through Mrs Simpson's lawyer, to break off the match. Mrs Simpson beat them to it. On 6 December, she asked for the King's permission to release a statement to the press:

Mrs Simpson throughout the last few weeks, has invariably wished to avoid any action or proposal which would hurt or damage His Majesty or the Throne.

Today her attitude is unchanged and she is willing, if such action would solve the problem, to withdraw forthwith from a situation that has been rendered both unhappy and untenable. Quoted in Phillips, The King Who Had to Go p.264
The Instrument of Abdication, signed by Edward VIII and his three brothers on 10th December 1936
The Instrument of Abdication, signed by Edward VIII and his three brothers on 10th December 1936

The King consented to the press release, knowing that such a statement took all responsibility for the crisis off her, and placed it on him. There is some evidence, tarnished by contemporaries' views of her, that she would not have been particularly distraught if the King had abandoned her. As a gold-digging socialite, the role of the king's mistress would have been infinitely preferable to an unknown future without connections or status, where she was hounded by the press and considered as little better than a woman of loose morals.  Despite her offer, Mrs Simpson never followed through, knowing perhaps that the King would never let her.

On 10 December 1936, Edward signed his written abdication notices, witnessed by his three brothers, including Prince Albert who was to become George VI, and at 1.52pm the following day, he performed his last act as king when he gave royal assent to the Declaration of Abdication Act.

At last, free from the constraints placed on the monarch, Edward was able to address his former public on the radio.

At long last I am able to say a few words of my own. I have never wanted to withhold anything, but until now it has not been constitutionally possible for me to speak.

A few hours ago I discharged my last duty as King and Emperor, and now that I have been succeeded by my brother, the Duke of York, my first words must be to declare my allegiance to him. This I do with all my heart.

You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the empire, which, as Prince of Wales and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve.

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.

And I want you to know that the decision I have made has been mine and mine alone. This was a thing I had to judge entirely for myself. The other person most nearly concerned has tried up to the last to persuade me to take a different course.

I have made this, the most serious decision of my life, only upon the single thought of what would, in the end, be best for all.

This decision has been made less difficult to me by the sure knowledge that my brother, with his long training in the public affairs of this country and with his fine qualities, will be able to take my place forthwith without interruption or injury to the life and progress of the empire. And he has one matchless blessing, enjoyed by so many of you, and not bestowed on me -- a happy home with his wife and children.

During these hard days I have been comforted by her majesty my mother and by my family. The ministers of the crown, and in particular, Mr. Baldwin, the Prime Minister, have always treated me with full consideration. There has never been any constitutional difference between me and them, and between me and Parliament. Bred in the constitutional tradition by my father, I should never have allowed any such issue to arise.

Ever since I was Prince of Wales, and later on when I occupied the throne, I have been treated with the greatest kindness by all classes of the people wherever I have lived or journeyed throughout the empire. For that I am very grateful.

I now quit altogether public affairs and I lay down my burden. It may be some time before I return to my native land, but I shall always follow the fortunes of the British race and empire with profound interest, and if at any time in the future I can be found of service to his majesty in a private station, I shall not fail.

And now, we all have a new King. I wish him and you, his people, happiness and prosperity with all my heart. God bless you all! God save the King! Taken from Wikisource, accessed at… on 8/12/2016
The Year of the Three Kings postcard, showing George V, George VI and Edward VIII
The Year of the Three Kings postcard, showing George V, George VI and Edward VIII

Even this wasn't without controversy, as the BBC's director general, Sir John Reith, needed to know how to introduce him. He suggested 'Mr Edward Windsor', but George VI, in one of his first acts as king, insisted Edward keep the HRH title. On the face of it, this would seem a sign of respect and brotherly love, but there were ulterior motives. The concern was, as George put it, that 'If he ever comes back to this country, he can stand and be elected to the House of Commons.' Weintraub, 'Playing the King' The idea wasn't wholly new. In 1929, George Bernard Shaw wrote a play called The Apple Cart, in which a king dissolves parliament and then abdicates to be with his mistress, before standing for parliament. The Times journalist and Conservative MP Edward Grigg also proposed this step to Edward, suggesting that if he used Lloyd George's domestic policies and Churchill's foreign policies he would become a force to be reckoned with. Government and George VI would take no chances. When the former king, now the Duke of Windsor, left for exile aboard HMS Fury bound for Boulogne and ultimately Austria, the threat of no pension from the government, and intervention in Mrs Simpson's divorce, still hung over his head: he was not to cohabitTo live together without being married. To live together without being married. with Mrs Simpson, nor would he do anything that could undermine the new king.


Despite investigation, Mrs Simpson's decree absolute was granted on 3 May 1937, and the couple married on 3 June 1937. Only 11 guests attended, and none were from Edward's family. The only one of the political set attending was Edward's former adviser and lawyer Walter Monckton, with a message for Wallis. Asking for five minutes alone with her, he warned her that 'plenty of people would be ready to knock her on the head if after all this she failed to make her husband happy, and he (M[onckton]) would be glad to do so also.' The official version was 'Most people in England dislike her very much because the Duke had married her and given up his throne, but if she made him and kept him happy, all that would change, but that if he were unhappy nothing would be too bad for her.' The former version is from an account by Baldwin's son in 1950 (quoted in Phillips, The King Who Had to Go p.342). Edward did not receive money from the government, despite both Churchill and Lloyd George campaigning for it. He had pleaded that without it he would be nearly penniless, surviving on just £5,000. Although it was later revealed that he had squirrelled away at least £1million, the interest of which alone would bring in £30,000 a year. Nor was his other request that Wallis be granted a royal title granted. She was simply too low socially, and had been the root of too much trouble, to be recognised as such.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 1967, by Lord Litchfield
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 1967, by Lord Litchfield

After the Second World WarA global war that lasted from 1939 until 1945., most of which the Duke and Duchess spent in the Bahamas to keep them out of trouble, the couple lived together in elegant retirement in France, where they became close friends with their neighbours, Oswald and Diana Mosley.

Many of the things that made Edward unsuitable for the role of king in 1936 seem rather trivial now. He was something of a revolutionary: he wanted to break with tradition, found many of the old snobbish 'worthies' dull, was concerned for society's welfare, and wanted to follow his heart. These are all relatable for a modern audience. Was Edward then simply a product of the times, which had changed considerably since the First World War? There was a new spirit in the air, a new questioning of norms, and new social structures, all of which would have appealed to someone like Edward. As his aunt realised in 1935 Edward would struggle 'to find the right balance between today, yesterday and tomorrow. Not easy.'More infoQuoted in Urbach, Go Betweens for Hitler p.195

Things to think about

  • Was Edward a suitable king?
  • Was it more of a deposition than an abdication?
  • What does the abdication crisis tell us about the roles and power of the monarchy compared with the government? How has it changed over the centuries?
  • Is there any way Edward could have married Mrs Simpson and remained on the throne?
  • What does the abdication crisis reveal about the machinations of the civil service and the press?
  • Were the hardliners correct to push the situation so hard?
  • Would the public have supported Edward, given the chance?
  • What does it show about the changes in society over the last 80 years?

Things to do

  • Many contemporarySomeone or something living or occurring at the same time. Someone or something living or occurring at the same time. newspaper articles are available online, including George Bernard Shaw's The King, the Constitution and the Lady. Read through some to decide what the press thought of the abdication crisis, and which way the public would have voted.
  • Compare this crisis with others throughout history, including the Civil Wars and the Glorious RevolutionNow more commonly referred to as the Williamite Revolution or the Revolution of 1688, it refers to the deposition of James II by his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William, prince of Orange. This in turn led to the Bill of Rights, which limited the monarch's powers.. How has power shifted over time?

Further reading

Philip Ziegler's King Edward VIII, first written 20 years ago, is still considered the best biography of Edward, although the more recent Penguin Monarchs and Piers Brendon's Edward VIII: the Uncrowned King provides an accessible and short introduction to his life. A very detailed and well-researched account of the abdication crisis is Adrian Phillips' The King Who Had to Go: Edward VIII, Mrs Simpson and the Hidden Politics of the Abdication Crisis.

Author Info

Debbie Kilroy

Having read history at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate, where I won the Kenrick Prize, I worked as a trouble-shooter in the public sector until I took a career break in 2009. Thereafter, I was able to pursue my love of history and turn it into a career, founding Get History in 2014 with the aim of bringing accessible yet high quality history-telling and debate to a wide audience. Since then, I have completed a Masters in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford, from which I received a distinction and the Kellogg College Community Engagement and Impact Award. As well as continuing to write for and expand Get History, I am now a freelance writer and historian. I have worked with Histories of the Unexpected and Inside History, and my article for Parliaments, Estates and Representation won the ICHRPI Emile Lousse essay prize (2019).