Edward VIII

(1894—1972) king of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British dominions beyond the seas, and emperor of India

Show Summary Details

Quick Reference


king of Great Britain and Ireland, emperor of India (1936). Edward was the eldest son of George, duke of York, later King George V. A brief period at Oxford was followed by non‐combatant but arduous service in the British Expeditionary Force in France. As heir to the throne he was not permitted to serve in the front line, but none the less courted danger, visiting the troops, sharing their cigarettes, and listening to their stories. In 1919, he undertook a tour of Canada and the USA; in 1920 he visited Australia and New Zealand, and toured India and the Far East in 1921–2; in 1925 and 1931 he journeyed to South America. All these trips were resounding successes.

Edward was a notorious ‘ladies' man’, engaging in a succession of sexual liaisons with married women, one of whom, Lady Furness, introduced him to Mrs Wallis Simpson, with whom he became infatuated. He also revelled in his assumed role as the champion of the common man, making it his business to visit the depressed areas. Edward's infatuation with Mrs Simpson was not reported in the British press, but within ruling circles was a matter of common knowledge. Edward was determined to make her his wife. Mr Simpson acquiesced in a divorce, which was granted nisi, at Ipswich, at the end of October 1936.

By then Edward had been on the throne for nine months. His brief reign was dominated by ‘the King's matter’. Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister, advised that a marriage to Mrs Simpson would not be popular. It was not so much that Mrs Simpson was a commoner: rather, she was an American, twice‐divorced commoner. Rank‐and‐file Conservatives were reminded, too, of his embarrassing political interventions. During a visit to south Wales, in mid‐November 1936, the king fuelled this prejudice by remarking, in relation to the unemployed, that ‘something must be done to find them work’—an innocuous comment widely interpreted as an attack on Conservative economic policy. Baldwin was not prepared to countenance a morganatic marriage. On 10 December Edward signed the instrument of abdication, and ceased to be king the following day, when he and Wallis travelled to France, where they were married.

The new king, Edward's younger brother George, agreed to confer on him the title duke of Windsor, but Wallis was not permitted officially to call herself HRH. Relations between Edward and the royal family were, and remained, bitter. Edward's much publicized visit to Hitler (October 1937) was not so much sinister as naïve. None the less, when Edward and Wallis fled to fascist Spain after the fall of France, Churchill, now prime minister, packed them off to the Bahamas, of which Edward became governor. But when, following his death in Paris, he was buried in the royal mausoleum at Frogmore, Wallis was permitted to be present at the interment.

Subjects: British History.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.