British History 2:
From the French Revolution to World War II
Topic: "Majesties and Royal Highnesses"

by Laura Cenicola & Mareike Aumann

7) The Abdication Crisis: Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson

Edward VIII was born on 23rd of June 1894 and he belonged to the House of Windsor.  His father, King George V, died on 20th of January 1936 and so Edward ascended to the throne. His reign didn't last a long time, because he abdicated already eleven month later on 11th of December 1936. Edward, who was then no longer named "King Edward VIII", but "Duke of Windsor" died on 28th of May 1972. But why did he abdicate? And why is this historical fact called "The Abdication Crisis"?


Edward's life:
Childhood - Reign - Abdication for love - Marriage

 

Edward's first years:

Edward was born in Richmond (England) on 23rd of June 1894. The title he was born into was "His Highness Prince Edward of York". Edward was the eldest son of King George V and Princess Victoria Mary of Teck. His full name was "Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David" - like this he was baptised.

When his father became King George V Edward automatically got the titles "Duke of Cornwall" and "Duke of Rothesay" and in addition to that, King George V gave him the titles "Prince of Wales" and "Earl of Chester" as well.


Edward in the forces:

When Edward was 18 years old the First World War broke out and Edward wanted to join the army and actively do something for his country. He even wanted to serve on the front lines, but he wasn't allowed to, because the life of the heir to the throne shouldn't be jeopardized.

Instead, Edward decided to remain active in the Royal Army in other ways and in addition to that he even joined the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, which made him very popular among the people and the veterans in particular.


Edward at the age of 35 - still a bachelor:

                                                               Fort Belvedere:

In 1930, Fort Belvedere, a royal residence near Sunningdale, Berkshire was given to Edward by his father King George V. There Edward began to have love affairs with women - mostly married women. Amongst them was Thelma Furness, born Thelma Morgan, who introduced Edward to her Amercian friend Mrs. Wallis Simpson, born Bessie Wallis Warfield, at a private party in 1931. Mrs. Simpson was already in her second marriage, because the marriage with her former man, Mr. Winfield Spencer, broke down and they got divorced. Mrs. Simpson and Edward then began to have a relationship with each other and the people accepted Mrs. Simpson as Edward's mistress for the time being, although Edward himself didn't want Mrs. Simpson to be called like that. Only Edward's father, King George V, was disgusted to see that his son, the heir to the throne, had that many relationships with married women and that he somehow wasn't able to find an 'appropriate' wife. King George V was even said to have liked it better, if his second son Albert would become King after him instead of Edward.

After some years Mrs. Simpson and Edward spent together having a love affair, they seriously fell in love with each other and it seemed as if nobody could part them ever again, although Mrs. Wallis Simpson was still married to Mr. Ernest Simpson.

 

Please have a look at the video below, showing Edward and Wallis Simpson talking about their first meeting:

 


1936: Ascendant to the throne - King Edward VIII:

On 20th of January 1936, King George V died and so his eldest son Edward began his reign as King Edward VIII.

During his reign King Edward travelled a lot - Mrs. Wallis Simpson with him on almost every single trip. In July Ernest Simpson moved out of the still married couple's home and it was found out that he had a love affair with another woman himself as well. The marriage was crumbling. Already a month later, in August, King Edward and Mrs. Wallis Simpson were seen on several journeys along the Turkish, Greek and Yugoslav coasts. Mrs. Simpson often joined King Edward on his trips, but as it became public that the marriage between Wallis and Ernest Simpson was about to be on the rocks, the people and the government in particular began to speculate about the kind of relationship between Edward and Mrs. Simpson. How was this about to go on?

 

Divorce of Mrs. Wallis Simpson:

In October King Edward rented a house for Wallis Simpson, in which she then settled down. The situation got more and more critical, because nobody knew what Edward and his mistress had planned for their future. A few days later, still in October, Stanley Baldwin confronted the King with his relationship to Mrs. Simpson, giving Edward his advice to deal with their relationship more discreetly, because the whole government didn't approve of their affair. Acting in defiance, Mrs. Simpson then declared in public that she planned to get divorced a second time. At the end of October the divorce case 'Simpson' was heard in court and for the time being a decree nisi was granted.

 

Marriage announced - Government in shock:

In November King Edward VIII wanted to talk to his favourite adviser and Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and so he invited him to Buckingham Palace. There Edward announced that he intended to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson. Baldwin, having already expected something like that, told Edward that the people and the members of government in particular wouldn't accept that marriage because of the fact that Mrs. Simpson would automatically become queen of the country. According to Baldwin, the people wouldn't be happy with that woman as their queen and their voice should be heard. Nevertheless Baldwin suggested three options for King Edward VIII:

  1. Royal Marriage: Edward and Mrs. Simpson marry each other and she becomes Queen, although everybody seemed to oppose that kind of option. It would have been likely that Edward's ministers resigned if the option of a royal marriage had been chosen.
  2. Morganatic Marriage: Edward and Mrs. Simpson marry each other, but Mrs. Simpson does not become Queen and receives another courtesy title instead.
  3. Abdication: Edward abdicates and is no longer King. He would then be able to marry Mrs. Simpson without having to think of the opinion of the people and the government anymore.

Since Edward was not only the King of England, but also of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, the Prime Ministers of these countries had to agree to the possible marriage as well. However, the majority said that they do not see any alternative to option no 3. Edward prepared for exactly that option.

 

Finding the right option:

King Edward VIII met with Stanley Baldwin again, in order to tell him his decision: Edward suddenly wanted a morganatic marriage, option no 2. This would have been a great compromise in Edward's eyes: He is able to remain King, but Wallis Simpson would not be Queen - the people and the govenment should feel happy with that option as well. Baldwin then raised the proposal in the Cabinet, but the other Commonwealth countries didn't approve of that idea and so, on 9th of December 1936, King Edward VIII informed the government of his irrevocable decision to abdicate. The next day Edward signed the Instrument of Abdication.

                                                                                                      King Edward's signature:    

                                             

Mrs. Wallis Simpson and the press:

At the beginning of the affair of Edward and Mrs. Simpson the British press remained silent. All over the world photographs and articles about the relationship were published, but in Britain the silence of the press was maintained. When Edward and Mrs. Simpson announced their plans for a marriage, the newspapers exploded. Mrs. Simpson then left Britain for France as an attempt to escape the sudden attention on her. The general opinion that was spread by the press was that Mrs. Simpson only wanted to marry the King for the love of money or position in society and not for the love of the King as a person.

While Edward was quite popular in the overall opinion of his country's people, Mrs. Simpson has always been the 'baddie' who has somehow reached to have complete control over the King. Nobody could really understand why Edward loved that woman - who was not only twice divorced, but also an American!

At the beginning of the year 1937 the press published the photo you can see on the right. Edward and Mrs. Simpson visited Germany and were personal guests of Adolf Hitler, who is said to have uttered a sentence like "Mrs. Simpson would have made a good Queen". She was then accused by the press, the government and finally the British people as well to be a German agent, delivering information to Joachim von Ribbentrop. Furthermore she was even portrayed as a possible Nazi sympathiser.

 

Abdication for love in public:

On 11th of December Edward broadcasts his decision on the BBC via radio not only to the British people, but to a worldwide audience.

Find the written version of his speech here.

Find the spoken version of his speech below.

 

Edward was the first and the only British Monarch so far who abdicated voluntarily. His brother was proclaimed King George VI on 12th of December 1937. Edward's new title then was "Duke of Windsor". He was now able to do whatever he wanted to do as a 'normal Briton'.

 

Marriage - Finally:

In May 1937 Mrs. Simpson's decree absolute finally came through. She was then legally understood as a divorced woman who is free to remarry another man.

One month later, on 3rd of June 1937, Edward and Wallis marry each other in France. After such a to and fro, they finally were able to show the whole world their love to each other. Wallis' new title was 'Duchess of Windsor' or just Wallis Warfield, her maiden name. The happy couple spent the rest of their lives living in France.

Edward and Wallis remained a married couple until Edward died on 28th of May 1972. Against the gossip of nearly the whole world, the marriage proved to have been a happy one, although even the Royal Family never fully accepted Wallis, who died 14 years later on 24th April 1986. The bodies of Edward and Wallis were returned to Britain and they were buried alongside to each other in the Royal Burial Ground, which is behind the Royal Mausoleum of Queen Victoria at Frogmore.

 

 

One day after Edward's death, this newspaper article was published. Please download the article of the "Chronicle Telegram" (May 29th, 1972) and read it. It is called "Duke of Windsor: Never regretted trading his throne for a divorcee", putting the whole abdication crisis in a nutshell.