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Edward VIII of the United Kingdom

King Edward VIIIKing of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, King of Ireland, Emperor of India
King Edward VIII
King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, King of Ireland, Emperor of India

Edward VIII, (Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David), later His Royal Highness The Duke of Windsor (23 June 189428 May 1972) was the second British monarch of the House of Windsor. He reigned as the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the British Dominions beyond the Seas, and Emperor of India for slightly less than a year, from his father's death on 20 January 1936 until his own abdication on 11 December 1936.

Prior to his accession to the throne, he held the titles of Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay and Prince of Wales with the style Royal Highness. After his abdication he reverted to the style of a son of the sovereign and was created Duke of Windsor. During World War II he was the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of The Bahamas.

Edward is the only British monarch to have voluntarily relinquished the throne. He signed the instrument of abdication on December 10, 1936. The British Parliament passed His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 the next day and on receiving the Royal Assent from Edward, he legally ceased to be King.


Early Life

Edward was born on June 23, 1894 at White Lodge , Richmond, Surrey. His father was His Royal Highness Prince George, Duke of York (later King George V), the eldest living son of King Edward VII. His mother was Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York (nee HSH Princess Victoria Mary of Teck, the eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Teck). As a great grandson of Queen Victoria in the male line, Edward was styled His Highness Prince Edward of York at his birth. He was known by his last name, David, to his family.

Edward's parents, the Duke and Duchess of York were often removed from their children's upbringing. Edward and his brother Albert received considerable abuse at the hands of the royal nanny. The nanny would pinch and scratch Edward before he was due to be presented to his parents. His subsequent crying and wailing would lead the Duke and Duchess to send Edward and the nanny away.

Prince of Wales

He automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew , Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland when his father ascended the throne on 6 May 1910. The new king created him Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 2 June, 1910 and officially invested him as such in a special ceremony at Caernarfon Castle in 1911. For the first time since the Middle Ages, this investiture took place in Wales; it occurred at the instigation of the Welsh politician, David Lloyd George, who at that time held the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Liberal government.

Army service

When World War I broke out, Edward had reached the minimum age for active service and expressed keenness to participate. He was allowed to join the army, serving with the Grenadier Guards, and although Edward expressed a willingness to serve on the front lines, the British government refused to allow it, citing the immense harm that the capture of the heir to the throne would cause. Despite this, Edward witnessed at first hand the horror of trench warfare, and attempted to visit the front line as often as he could. His role, although limited, in the war led to his great popularity among veterans of the conflict.

Royal duties

Throughout the 1920s, the Prince of Wales represented his father, King George V, at home and abroad on many occasions. He particularly took an interest in visiting the poverty stricken areas of the country. After the Great Depression, he visited many deprived areas of the UK and signed up 200,000 people to his back to work scheme. Abroad, the Prince of Wales toured the Empire, undertaking 13 tours between 1919 and 1935.

Love life

In 1928, King George V gave Edward a home, Fort Belvedere , near Sunningdale in Berkshire. There Edward conducted relationships with a series of married women including Anglo-American textile heiress Freda Dudley Ward and the Viscountess Furness. Lady Furness, née Thelma Morgan, an American beauty of part-Chilean ancestry, introduced the Prince to a fellow American, Wallis Simpson. Simpson had divorced her first husband in 1927 and subsequently married Ernest Simpson, an Anglo-American businessman. Mrs. Simpson and the Prince of Wales became lovers while his mistress Lady Furness travelled abroad.

Edward's relationship with Wallis Simpson further weakened his poor relationship with his father, King George V. The King and Queen refused to receive Mrs Simpson at court, and his brother, Prince Albert, urged Edward to seek a more suitable wife. However, Edward had now fallen in love with Wallis, and the couple grew ever closer.


King George V died on January 20, 1936, and Edward ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII. The next day, he broke royal protocol by watching the proclamation of his own accession to the throne from a window of St James's Palace, in the company of the still-married Mrs. Simpson. It was also at this time that Edward became the first British monarch to fly in an aeroplane, when he flew from Sandringham to London for his Accession Privy Council.

Signature of King Edward VIIIThe 'R' and 'I' after his name indicate 'king' and 'emperor' in Latin ('Rex' and 'Imperator', respectively).
Signature of King Edward VIII
The 'R' and 'I' after his name indicate 'king' and 'emperor' in Latin ('Rex' and 'Imperator', respectively).

It was now becoming clear that the new King wished to marry Mrs Simpson, especially when divorce proceedings between Mr and Mrs Simpson were brought at Ipswich Crown Court. Powerful figures in the British government deemed marriage to Mrs Simpson impossible for Edward, even if Wallis obtained her second divorce, because he had become de jure head of the Church of England, which prohibited remarriage after divorce. Edward's alternative proposed solution of a morganatic marriage was rejected by the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin and the Dominion governments.

Edward also caused unease in government circles at what was interpreted as interference in political matters. His visit to the depressed coal mining villages in South Wales saw Edward call for "something to be done" for the unemployed and deprived coal miners. Government ministers were also reluctant to send confidential documents and state papers to Fort Belvedere in the event Mrs Simpson were to see them. The Prime Minister also sent detectives from Scotland Yard to follow both the King and Mrs Simpson and report on their whereabouts.


See main article at Abdication Crisis of Edward VIII

On November 16, 1936, Edward met with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, at Fort Belvedere, and expressed his desire to marry Wallis Simpson when she became free to do so. The Prime Minister responded by presenting the King with three choices: he could give up the idea of marriage; marry Wallis against his minister's wishes; or abdicate. It was clear that Edward was not prepared to give up Wallis. By marrying against the wishes of his ministers, it was likely that the government would resign, prompting a constitutional crisis. The Prime Ministers of the British dominions had also made clear their opposition to the King marrying a divorcée; only the Irish Free State did not oppose the idea of marriage. Faced with this opposition, Edward chose to abdicate.

Edward duly signed an instrument of abdication at Fort Belvedere on December 10, 1936 in the presence of his three brothers, The Duke of York, The Duke of Gloucester and The Duke of Kent. The next day, he performed his last act as King when he gave royal assent to His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 which applied to the United Kingdom and all the dominions, except the Irish Free State, which passed the equivalent External Relations Act the next day.

On the night of December 11th, Edward, now reverted to the title of His Royal Highness The Prince Edward, made a broadcast to the nation and the Empire, explaining his decision to abdicate. He famously said, "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."

After the broadcast, Edward departed the United Kingdom for France, where Wallis was waiting for him. His brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York succeeded to the throne as King George VI, with his eldest daughter, The Princess Elizabeth first in the line of succession, as the heir presumptive.

Duke of Windsor

On March 8, 1937, George VI created his brother, the former king, Duke of Windsor. George VI actually created his brother Duke of Windsor and re-created him a Knight of the Garter on December 12, 1936 at his Accession Privy Council because he wanted this to be the first act of his reign, but the formal documents were not signed until March 8 of the following year. During the interim, however, Edward was universally known as the Duke of Windsor after December 12. However, letters patent dated May 27, 1937, which re-conferred upon the Duke of Windsor the "title, style, or attribute of Royal Highness," specifically stated that "his wife and descendants, if any, shall not hold said title or attribute." Some British ministers suggested that Edward should no longer carry any royal title or style, as an abdicated King. However, George VI insisted that Edward should revert to his previous title of prince. The decision to create Edward a duke also ensured he could not sit in the House of Commons, lest he have the idea to stand for election, nor could he, by convention, speak or vote in the House of Lords.

The Duke of Windsor married Mrs. Simpson, then known as Wallis Warfield, in a private ceremony on 3 June 1937 at Chateau de Candé, Monts , France. None of the British royal family attended. The denial of the style "HRH" to the Duchess of Windsor, as well as the financial settlement, strained relations between the Duke of Windsor and the rest of the royal family for decades. The Duke had assumed that he would settle in Britain after a year or two of exile in France. However, King George VI (with the support of his mother Queen Mary and his wife Queen Elizabeth) threatened to cut off his allowance if he returned to Britain without an invitation. The new King and Queen were also forced to pay Edward for Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle. These properties were Edward's personal property, inherited from his father, King George V on his death, and thus did not automatically pass to George VI on abdication.

In 1937, the Duke and Duchess visited Germany as personal guests of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, a visit much publicized by the German media. The couple then settled in France. When the Germans invaded the north of France in May 1940, the Windsors fled south, first to Biarritz, then in June to Spain. In July the pair moved to Lisbon, Portugal, where they lived at first in the home of a banker with close German Embassy contacts. The British Foreign Office strenuously objected when the pair planned to tour aboard a yacht belonging to a Swedish magnate, Axel Wenner-Gren, whom American intelligence considered to be a close friend of Hermann Goering, one of Hitler's top lieutenants. A "defeatist" interview with the Duke that received wide distribution may have served as the last straw for the British government: in August a British warship dispatched the pair to the Bahamas. The Duke of Windsor was installed as Governor, and became the first British monarch to ever hold a civilian political office. He enjoyed the position and was praised for his efforts to combat poverty on the island nation. He held the post until the end of World War II in 1945. The couple then retired once again to France, where they spent much of the remainder of their lives.

In recent years, some have suggested that the Duke (and especially the Duchess) sympathised with Fascism before and during World War II, and had to remain in the Bahamas to minimize their opportunities to act on those feelings. These revised assessments of his career hinge on some wartime information released in 1996, and on further secret files released by the U.K. government in 2003. The files had remained closed for decades, as Whitehall judged that they would cause the Queen Mother substantial distress if released during her lifetime. U.S. naval intelligence revealed a confidential report of a conference of German foreign officials in October 1941, that judged the Duke "no enemy to Germany" and the only English representative with whom Hitler would negotiate any peace terms, "the logical director of England's destiny after the war". President Roosevelt had ordered covert surveillance of the Duke and Duchess when they visited Palm Beach, Florida, in April 1941. The former Duke of Wurttemberg (then a monk in an American monastery) convinced the FBI that the Duchess had been sleeping with the German ambassador in London, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had remained in constant contact with him, and continued to leak secrets.

In later years, the Duke of Windsor met with other members of the royal family on several occasions. The Duke and Duchess hosted parties and traveled extensively, and it was largely a prosperous (if lonely) existence of the two of them. The Duke died following a battle with throat cancer in 1972 at Paris, and his body was returned to Britain for burial at Frogmore, near Windsor Castle. The Duchess of Windsor, on her death a decade and a half later, was buried alongside her husband in Frogmore.

The Duke and Duchess had no children, though an Australian newspaper, the Australian Women's Weekly, published an article (with photographs depicting startling likenesses) purporting that the Duke, as Prince of Wales, had an affair with a young Australian woman named Mollee Little and produced a son, known as David Anthony Chisholm (1921-1987). Chisholm later had a daughter, Barbara, with an aborigine mistress; his grandson by this daughter, and presumably the Duke's great-grandson, is Australian footballer Scott Chisholm .

Titles from birth to death

In addition to his seven personal names, the specific styles and titles held by the future Duke of Windsor changed several times before his ascension to the throne. Under Queen Victoria's Letters Patent of 30 June 1864 and settled practice dating back to 1714, as a male-line great-grandchild of the Sovereign, Edward was a prince of Great Britain and Ireland with the qualification of Highness (not Royal Highness). Queen Victoria's Letters Patent of 27 May 1898 expressly granted the titles of prince and princess of Great Britain and qualification of Royal Highness to the children of the surviving son of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII). As a male-line great-grandson of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha he bore the titles Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke of Saxony (with the qualification of Highness). George V's Order in Council on 20 July 1917 relinquished for himself and all descendants of Queen Victoria who were British subjects the "use of the Degrees, Styles, Dignities, Titles and Honours of Dukes and Duchesses of Saxony and Princes and Princesses of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and all other German Degrees, Styles, Dignities, Titles, Honours and Appellations." From his father's ascension to the throne on 6 May 1910 until his own accession on 20 January 1936, he held the titles Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland. The Duke of Windsor's titles and styles were as follows:

External links


His autobiography A King's Story, appeared in 1951, his wife's book, The Heart has its Reasons, in 1956.

Last updated: 08-19-2005 09:37:57
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