Who Was Edward VIII?
Edward VIII was a popular member of the British royal family and heir to the throne. In 1931, then known as the Prince of Wales, Edward met and fell in love with American socialite Wallis Simpson. After George V’s death, the prince became King Edward VIII. However, because his marriage to Simpson, an American divorcée, was forbidden, Edward abdicated the throne after ruling for less than a year. Thereafter, he took the title Duke of Windsor and embarked on a jet-setting life with his new wife.
Edward VIII, who ruled the United Kingdom from January to December 1936, was born on June 23, 1894, in Richmond, London, England. The eldest son of George V, Edward studied at Osborne Naval College, the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and the University of Oxford’s Magdalen College.
In 1911, after his father’s ascension, Edward became the Prince of Wales. He joined the Royal Navy and then, following the start of World War I, enlisted in the army. His assignments to safe positions on the Italian front troubled him, causing him to announce, “What difference does it make if I am killed? The king has three other sons!”
Upon his return to England, the young Prince Edward took up his official duties, and traveled throughout Britain and other parts of the world. Dashing and charming, he became known in the American press as the “arbiter of men’s fashions, a fearless horseman, tireless dancer, idol of bachelors, dream of spinsters.”
Involvement with Wallis Simpson
Prince Edward met the woman who would completely change his life in June 1931. At a party hosted by Lady Furness, the prince was introduced to Wallis Simpson, a sophisticated, charming and charismatic American woman who had recently moved to London with her husband. She immediately captured the king’s interest and later captured his heart. By 1934, the two had undoubtedly become lovers. The monarchy was not pleased with the pairing, however, and refused to allow a marriage between the future king and an American divorcee.
Abdication of Throne and Marriage
In 1936, the prince succeeded his father, George V, becoming King Edward VIII. He was a popular king, although those who worked around him found him irresponsible in regard to his official papers. On December 11, 1936, he abdicated the throne in the face of opposition to his proposed marriage to Simpson, proclaiming to the public, “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 was then given the title of Duke of Windsor, and in 1937, he married Simpson in a small private ceremony in France.
The couple lived in Paris, and spent most of their time shopping and partying with the international jet set. The duke made a couple of attempts to relinquish his political career, including a trip to Nazi Germany in October 1937, which only served to worsen his reputation as a supporter of Adolf Hitler. While taking refuge from Nazi forces in Lisbon in 1940, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor received word that the King had appointed the duke to be Governor and Commander of Chief of the Bahama Islands.
Although the post was considered a relatively unimportant job for a member of the royal family, the duke and duchess were pleased. The London Daily Express eventually said of the former king’s five-year post in the Bahamas, “He has faithfully upheld the British cause in his lonely outpost & shown wisdom in his decisions and great dignity in his bearing.”
He and Simpson then returned to Paris, France, where Edward, Duke of Windsor, died on May 28, 1972. He was buried at Windsor Castle, and 14 years later, Simpson was buried beside him. Their undying romance in the face of opposition is still regarded today as one of the greatest love stories of our time.