The Abdication of King Edward VIII of England and the Effect on the British Royal Family
Created | Updated Mar 31, 2014
In January 1936 King George V died. The throne passed to his first-born son, Prince Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, who assumed the title of King Edward VIII. Still single at this time, he found himself under pressure to marry a 'suitable' woman who would become Queen, and hopefully, provide an heir. King Edward was having an affair with Bessie Wallis Simpson, (née Warfield), an American divorcée who was married to her second husband. Considering the attitudes of the day, it is hard to imagine a more unsuitable prospect for Queen of England, as she was also a Catholic1, and the British Monarch is the head of the Church of England.
The issue of the King's loyalty to his country was of extreme importance. After much deliberation between Parliament and the King, he was left with three options: give up Wallis; keep Wallis and the government would resign; or keep Wallis and abdicate. That Edward chose to abdicate rather than live without his beloved Wallis, was to change the course of British history. On the 12 December, 1936, Edward tearfully broadcast his decision to renounce his throne. Americans were almost as caught up in the drama of the King's abdication speech as the British people, which was broadcast live by radio on both sides of the Atlantic.
King George VI and the Duke of Windsor
The King's younger brother, Albert George (Bertie), the Duke of York, (who was married to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and had two young daughters), succeeded the throne and they were crowned King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on 12 May, 1937. They were to be the last Emperor and Empress of India, which gained independence in 1947.
Upon their ascension, their daughter Princess Elizabeth became Heir Presumptive2. She was just eight years old. The young Elizabeth and her sister Margaret Rose had been born into the royal family as Princesses of York, third and fourth in line to the throne. Now they were first and second.
One of King George's first tasks was to make his older brother Duke of Windsor. The Duke left England with Wallis and they married on 3 June, 1937, in Monts, France. Although she became Duchess of Windsor upon her marriage, she was never granted the honour of being called 'HRH'3. Wallis was apparently very friendly with the German ambassador von Ribbentrop (which could hardly have been very reassuring to the British cabinet, given the kind of state papers that Edward was entitled to see). The Duke and Duchess made a formal visit to meet Hitler in October, 1937. Like many liberal-minded people, they believed that Germany had been harshly treated after The Great War and were keen to encourage Germany's growth and expansion as a great nation again. Unfortunately this only worsened the Duke's reputation as a supporter of Hitler.
Edward and Wallis were in Lisbon when they heard that the King had a job for them. The post of Governor and Commander in Chief of the Bahama Islands (1940-45) seems to have been Prime Minister Churchill's way of keeping the Duke out of mischief, but it made him look very unheroic compared to his dutiful brother. However, they were pleased with the post and fulfilled their duties. When the five-year term was up, they retired and returned to Paris.
When George VI died from lung cancer in 1952, his widow Elizabeth, lost not only her husband but also her job. After a brief period of deep mourning, she took the unique title of 'Queen Mother' and spent the rest of her life aiding and assisting her daughter, the new Queen Elizabeth II. She also revelled in the role of grandmother, practically helping in the care of Prince Charles and Princess Anne when duty called their parents away.
Wallis was not officially invited back to Britain until 1967. She attended Edward's funeral in England in 1972, and was buried next to him after her death in 1986.
What would the Royal Family tree look like today, had the abdication not happened? Edward and Wallis were childless, so the throne would have passed to Elizabeth anyway. The fact that King George and Queen Elizabeth ruled during WWII, the Queen insisting on remaining in England with her husband and children, no doubt gave a huge boost to morale and resistance in this country. If King Edward VIII had been Head of State, things might have been rather different.
The Abdication Speech
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 25 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 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!