Edward VIII of the United Kingdom

King Edward VIII
Reign 20 January 1936-11 December 1936
Predecessor George V
Successor George VI
Spouse Wallis, Duchess of Windsor
Royal House Windsor
Father George V
Mother Mary of Teck
Born 23 June 1894
Died 28 May 1972

Edward VIII (Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor), later The Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor (23 June 189428 May 1972), was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, and Emperor of India from the death of his father, George V (1910–36), on 20 January 1936 until his abdication on 11 December 1936. He was the second British monarch of the House of Windsor.

Prior to his accession to the throne Edward VIII 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, The Prince Edward, and was created Duke of Windsor on March 8, 1937. During World War II (1939–45) he was the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Bahamas after spending a great deal of time in Bermuda.

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

Early life

Edward VIII was born on 23 June 1894 at White Lodge, Richmond, Surrey.

He was the eldest son of The Duke of York (later King George V), who was the second son of The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII, who ruled 1901–10) and The Princess of Wales (formerly Princess Alexandra of Denmark). Edward VIII's mother, The Duchess of York (formerly Princess Victoria Mary of Teck), was the eldest daughter of The Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. As a great grandson of Queen Victoria in the male line, Edward VIII was styled His Highness Prince Edward of York at his birth. He was baptised in the Green Drawing Room of White Lodge on July 16, 1894 by Edward White Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury and his twelve godparents were Queen Victoria (1837–1901), the Prince and Princess of Wales, the King and Queen of Denmark, the King of Württemberg, the Queen of Greece, the Tsarevitch of Russia, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the Duke and Duchess of Teck and the Duke of Cambridge.

Edward VIII was named after his deceased uncle, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, who had always been known as Eddy. His last four names – George, Andrew, Patrick and David – came from the Patron Saints of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The Prince was nevertheless, for the rest of his life, known to his family and close friends, by his last name, David.

His paternal grandfather, future King Edward VII, was still the Prince of Wales at the time of his birth. His grandfather's eldest son, The Duke of Clarence and Avondale, had been second in line for the throne but he died, reportedly of pneumonia, on 14 January 1892, before Edward VIII's birth. His father, future King George V, was second in line for the throne and he was therefore third in line for the throne at birth.

Edward VIII's parents, The Duke and Duchess of York, were often removed from their children's upbringing. Edward VIII and his younger 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.

Four younger siblings of Edward VIII and Albert: Mary (1897–1965), Henry (1900–74), George (1902–42) and John (1905–19).

Prince of Wales

British Royalty
House of Windsor

George V
   Edward VIII
   George VI
   Mary, Princess Royal
   Henry, Duke of Gloucester
   George, Duke of Kent
   Prince John
   Elizabeth II
   Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
   William of Gloucester
   Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester
   Prince Edward, Duke of Kent
   Prince Michael of Kent
   Princess Alexandra of Kent
Edward VIII
George VI
   Elizabeth II
   Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
Elizabeth II
   Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
   Princess Anne, Princess Royal
   Prince Andrew, Duke of York
   Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
   Prince William of Wales
   Prince Henry of Wales
   Princess Beatrice of York
   Princess Eugenie of York
   Lady Louise Windsor

He automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland when his father, George V, 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.

Military service

When the First World War (1914–18) 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, leading to his award of the Military Cross in 1916. His role in the war, although limited, led to his great popularity among veterans of the conflict. As of 1911 he was also a Midshipman in the Royal Navy, making Lieutenant in 1913. He eventually became Admiral of the Fleet in the Navy, Field Marshal in the Army, and Marshal of the Royal Air Force in the Air Force.

Royal duties

HRH The Prince of Wales canoeing in Canada, 1919
HRH The Prince of Wales canoeing in Canada, 1919

Throughout the 1920s the Prince of Wales represented his father, King George V, at home and abroad on many occasions. He took a particular 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, American film actress Mildred Harris and Lady Furness (born Thelma Morgan) an American woman of part-Chilean ancestry, who introduced the Prince to 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. Edward, however, had now fallen in love with Wallis and the couple grew ever closer.

Edward's affair with the American divorcée led to such grave concern that the couple were followed by members of MI5, to examine in secret the nature of their relationship. A MI5 report detailed a visit by the couple to an antique shop, where the proprietor later noted that: "the lady seemed to have POW [Prince of Wales] completely under her thumb." The prospect of having an American divorcée with a questionable past having such sway over the Heir Apparent must have filled the Establishment with great misgiving.

Reign as King

Monarchical Styles of
King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom
Reference style: His Majesty
Spoken style: Your Majesty
Alternative style: Sire

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 VIII became the first British monarch to fly in an aeroplane, when he flew from Sandringham to London for his Accession Council.

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

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 the Supreme Governor 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 caused unease in government circles with actions that were 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. On the other hand, government ministers were also reluctant to send confidential documents and state papers to Fort Belvedere because it was clear that Edward was paying little attention to them and because of the perceived danger that Mrs. Simpson might see them. The Prime Minister also sent detectives from Scotland Yard to follow both the King and Mrs. Simpson and report on their whereabouts.

On July 16, 1936, an attempt was made on the King's life. Jerome Bannigan produced a loaded revolver as the King rode on horseback at Constitution Hill, near Buckingham Palace. Police spotted the gun and pounced on him, and he was quickly arrested. At Bannigan's trial, he alleged that "a foreign power" had paid him £150 to kill Edward, a claim the court rejected.


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 ministers' wishes; or abdicate. It was clear that Edward was not prepared to give up Wallis. By marrying against the advice of his ministers, it was likely that he would cause the government to 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 was not opposed to 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. The Free State passed the equivalent External Relations Act, which included the abdication in its schedule, the next day.

On the night of December 11, 1936, Edward, now reverted to the title of 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, though he was unable to join Wallis until her divorce became absolute, several months later. His brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York succeeded to the throne as King George VI, with his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth first in the line of succession, as the heir presumptive.

Duke of Windsor

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor with Adolf Hitler
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor with Adolf Hitler

George VI announced he was to create his brother Duke of Windsor, and also re-admit him to the highest degree of the various British Orders of Knighthood, on December 12, 1936 at his Accession Privy Council because he wanted this to be the first act of his reign, although 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. 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 royal duke also ensured he was eligible to sit in the House of Lords and as such, could not stand for election to the House of Commons, should he consider the idea.

The Duke of Windsor married Mrs. Simpson, who had changed her name by deed poll to 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 caused conflict, as did the financial settlement—the government declined to include the Duke or the Duchess on the Civil List and the Duke's allowance would have to be paid personally by the King; the Duke, however, had compromised his position with the King by concealing the extent of his financial worth at the time they informally entered into an agreement as to the amount of the sinecure the King would pay—leading to 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.

World War II

In 1937, the Duke and Duchess visited Germany as personal guests of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, a visit much publicised 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, 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 Nazi leader Hermann Göring. 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.

Many historians have suggested that Hitler was prepared to reinstate Edward and Wallis as King and Queen of Britain, if he conquered the country, and is apparently to have said to Wallis, "you would make a good Queen."

Some historians 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 minimise 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. This evidence supports a theory held by many of the top officers in the British Army, as well as more than a few members of the civilian population, that Edward had passed details of the movements of the British Expeditionary Force in France, leading to the disaster at Dunkirk.


After the war, the couple returned once again to France in Neuilly near Paris, where they spent much of the remainder of their lives essentially in retirement, as the Duke never occupied another professional role after his wartime governorship of the Bahamas. They hosted parties and travelled extensively, shuttling between Paris and New York; in 1951 the Duke produced a ghost-written memoir, A King's Story. Nine years later, he also penned a relatively unknown book chiefly about the fashion and habits of the Royal Family, and their evolution throughout his life, from the time of Queen Victoria through his grandfather, father, and his own tastes. The book is entitled, Windsor Revisited. The couple appeared on Edward R. Murrow's television interview show "Person to Person" and were invited to a state dinner at the White House by President Richard M. Nixon; otherwise they largely disappeared from public consciousness, their significance a matter of a long-past episode that was soon eclipsed by events of far greater substance. When the Duke and Duchess's correspondence was published after the Duchess's death the book failed to sell, with interest largely confined to the magnitude of the Duke's uxoriousness and his curious term of endearment for her: "Eanum Pig."

The Royal Family never accepted the Duchess and would not receive her formally, although the former King sometimes met his mother and his King brother after his abdication. It is believed that Queen Elizabeth, Edward’s sister-in-law, remained dubious about Wallis for her role in bringing her husband to the throne, and regarding her inappropriate and arrogant assumption of the role of consort to the king while still married to Ernest Simpson, and for her well-known scorn for both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. In 1965, the Duke and Duchess returned to London. They were visited by the Queen, Princess Marina and also the Princess Royal. They later attended a memorial service for the Princess Royal, who died the following week. In 1967 they joined the Royal Family for the centenary of Queen Mary's birth. The last occasion they were in the UK together was the funeral of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent in 1968.

The Duke died of throat cancer in 1972 in Paris, and his body was returned to Britain for burial at Frogmore, near Windsor Castle. The increasingly senile and frail Duchess travelled to England to attend his funeral, staying at Buckingham Palace during her visit. The Duchess, on her death a decade and a half later, was buried alongside her husband in Frogmore simply as "Wallis, Duchess of Windsor".

The Duke and Duchess had no children, though an Australian magazine, 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 and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland. His full title as king was "Edward VIII, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India". The Duke of Windsor's titles and styles were as follows:

Media references

  • The calypso song "Edward VIII" by the Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Caresser was the most popular calypso record in 1937.
  • Portrayed by Richard Chamberlain in the 1972 made for TV movie The Woman I Love - Focuses on the love between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
  • Portrayed by Edward Fox in the 1978 miniseries Edward and Mrs. Simpson - focus is again on the love story.
  • Guy Walters. The Leader. Headline Book Publishing Ltd. 2003. - A fictional alternative history of World War II: Edward VIII does not abdicate but reigns as king with Wallis Simpson as queen. They rule a fascist England after World War II and are allied with Hitler, but are opposed by the hero of the book, Captain James Armstrong.
  • In The Deptford Trilogy by Canadian author Robertson Davies, Boy Staunton is a great admirer of Edward VIII, having met him in person once and styled himself after him. His discontent upon reaching the position of Lieutenant Governor of Ontario mirrors Edward's decision to choose love over his title and position.


  • Ziegler, Philip, Edward VIII (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991). ISBN: 0394577302
  • His autobiography A King's Story, appeared in 1951, his wife's book, The Heart has its Reasons, in 1956.
  • Susan Williams, "The historical significance of the Abdication files," Public Records Office - New Document Releases - Abdication Papers, London: Public Records Office of the United Kingdom, 2003.

Preceded by:
George V
King of the United Kingdom and British dominions beyond the seas
Succeeded by:
George VI
Emperor of India
Preceded by:
New Creation
Duke of Windsor
1937 –1972
Succeeded by:
Title Extinct
Preceded by:
Grand Master of the Order of St Michael and St George
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Athlone
Preceded by:
new office
Grand Master of the Order of the British Empire
Succeeded by:
Queen Mary
Monarchs of the United Kingdom
 Kingdom of Great Britain Anne | George I† | George II† | George III
 United Kingdom  George III†/‡ | George IV‡ | William IV‡ | Victoria | Edward VII | George V** | Edward VIII** | George VI** | Elizabeth II**
* Also Monarchs of Ireland | ** Also Monarch of the Commonwealth Realms|† Also Elector of Hanover |‡ Also King of Hanover

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