Published on August 4th, 2015 | by Sarah Jubb
Edward VIII And An American Crisis
With the death of King George V in 1936, the crown passed on to his immediate heir and successor, Edward. He had been given the title Prince of Wales and during this time he served in the Army during the First World War. He had joined the Grenadier Guards in 1914 but was prevented from serving on the front lines due to the problems that would occur should he be captured.
As well as his military service, he also undertook plenty of foreign tours to represent his father throughout the Empire. He made sure to visit poverty stricken areas around Britain, which when combined with his war record and touring made him very popular in the United Kingdom.
Breaking with Tradition
After the death of his father he ascended to the throne as King Edward VIII and became the first monarch to fly in an aircraft after flying to his Accession Council. As well as this, he was the first monarch to be a qualified pilot.
Edward caused many stirs during his short reign, breaking with tradition and protocol numerous times such as insisting his image appear facing the left on coins. The tradition was that each monarch faced the opposite direction to the previous, and as King George V had faced left Edward should have faced right.
The most influential breaking with tradition though was his womanising and reckless behaviour throughout the 1920s and 1930s. As a result of this, George V was extremely reluctant for Edward to take the crown, feeling that he would ‘ruin himself in 12 months’, a statement that would turn out to be true.
The American Scandal
The biggest scandal though proved to be the romance between Edward and the American Wallis Simpson. Wallis was already divorced from her first husband and was in the process of divorcing her second husband when the affair with Edward began in the early 1930s. His parents greatly disapproved of this relationship and refused to meet her, further souring the relationship between Edward and his father.
In October of 1936 Wallis was granted her divorce from her second husband and it had become clear that Edward wished to marry her. This was scandalous at the time as he was the head of the Church of England, which did not permit the remarriage of divorced people who still have living ex-spouses until 2002. As well as this, it was clearly felt that people would not tolerate Wallis as queen.
To try and counter this Edward pronounced an alternative solution that would see him remain king but Wallis would not become queen. This would mean that any children they had might not inherit the throne. This was also rejected by both the British Cabinet and the Dominion governments and Edward faced with only three possibilities; not marry Wallis, marry her and cause a constitutional crisis as his government would resign or abdicate the throne.
A Surprise Abdication
Edward’s love of Wallis proved to be stronger than his wish to be king and he signed the instruments of abdication in December 1936, only months after he originally ascended to the throne. The throne went to his brother, Prince Albert, who became King George VI and saw Princess Elizabeth become the heiress presumptive.
King George made his brother the Duke of Windsor, resulting in Wallis becoming Duchess of Windsor. He was given the title of ‘His Royal Highness’ though it was explicitly stated that his wife and descendents were not allowed the title, something that would forever irritate Wallis. As well as this, the king forbid any members of the Royal Family to attend Edward’s wedding in France which further fuelled the resentment of both Edward and Wallis for the rest of their lives.