On This Day

Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson, king edward viii, edward wallis simpson
Associated Press
Edward VIII, former King of England, and
his bride, Wallis Simpson, June 3, 1937.

On This Day: King Edward VIII Abdicates to Marry Wallis Simpson

December 11, 2010 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Dec. 11, 1936, King Edward VIII gave up the British throne to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American. Years later, the FBI investigated the couple’s links to Germany’s Nazi regime.

King Edward VIII Marries Wallis Simpson

Known as the Playboy Prince of Wales, the “good-looking, raffish and easy going” Edward earned a reputation in the 1920s for carrying on affairs with married women, writes the BBC. In the early 1930s, he began a relationship with Wallis Simpson, an American who lived in London with her British second husband.

Edward became king on Jan. 20, 1936, following the death of his father, George V. Over the course of the year, Mrs. Simpson appeared with Edward at state functions and on travels, and their relationship became apparent to government officials and the press. Mrs. Simpson divorced her husband on Oct. 27; weeks later, Edward informed Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that he intended to marry Simpson.

As king, Edward was titular head of the Church of England, which at that time did not allow divorced people to marry within the church while a former spouse was still alive. Baldwin and most members of Parliament rejected the idea that a two-time divorcée could become queen.

Edward suggested a morganatic marriage, in which he would marry Mrs. Simpson without making her queen, but Parliament rejected the idea. On Dec. 2, according to the BBC, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin told Edward that he had “three choices: to finish his relationship with Mrs. Simpson, to marry against the advice of his ministers who would then resign, or to abdicate.”

Edward decided to marry and abdicate. On Dec. 10, he submitted an Instrument of Abdication to Parliament, which approved it the following day. That night, Edward delivered a speech to the public on BBC radio.

You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the throne,” Edward said. “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.”

Edward, who was never crowned, was succeeded by his brother, George VI. Edward and Mrs. Simpson were given the titles of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, although Mrs. Simpson was never allowed the privilege of being called Royal Highness, much to Edward’s acute annoyance.

Exile to France and Nazi Ties

After his abdication, Edward was exiled to France, largely at the behest of George VI and his wife, Elizabeth, who became the Queen Mother after George died in 1952. News of their wishes became known in 2003, when papers were released by the British Public Records Office.

In 1941, the FBI began close surveillance of the duke and duchess after it was informed that the couple were being used by the Nazis to pass on secrets that could wreck the Allied war effort. A prime suspect, the FBI was told, was Joachim von Ribbentrop, then the Nazis’ foreign minister, who was said to have been the duchess' lover when he was ambassador to Britain in 1936.

Edward’s long-rumored ties to Nazi Germany became common knowledge after the release in 2003 of papers compiled by U.S. naval intelligence agents asserting that Hitler saw the former king as a friend, even in the middle of World War II. The papers had remained secret for fear they would upset the Queen Mother, who died in 2002 aged 101.

Reports of Mrs. Simpson’s own regard for Hitler gave rise to fears that she and the Duke would “flit” to Germany. Two British detectives guarding her retreat in the South of France in 1936 were told by Scotland Yard to stay with her in Cannes. The Web site also includes links to Scotland Yard letters about Simpson’s “other lover,” Guy Marcus Trundle, and other related sources.

Key Players: Edward, Simpson and George VI

Edward VIII
More than 30 years after the death of Edward, a BBC profile said in 2003, “His life continues to intrigue and tantalize historians.” To some he was seen as a raffish playboy, enjoying affairs with married women. To others he had a darker side, the profile says, that was fascinated with Nazism.

Wallis Simpson
Philip Ziegler, Edward VIII’s official biographer, says of the relationship between Edward and Simpson, “There must have been some sort of sadomasochistic relationship. He relished the contempt and bullying she bestowed on him.”

George VI
When Edward abdicated, the crown passed to his brother Albert, who became George VI. He had never expected to reign, and had never wanted to. This shy young man, who struggled all his life with a nervous stammer, was not at all popular when he set up home in Buckingham Palace. But his refusal to leave London after the palace was bombed in World War II slowly earned him the public’s esteem.

He died in 1952 and was succeeded by his daughter Elizabeth.

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