Duke of Windsor


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Eldest son of George V. He became King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom on the death of his father (1936) but abdicated eleven months later in order to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson (1896–1986).

Born Prince Edward of York at White Lodge, Richmond Park (and known to his family and friends as David), he was tutored privately until he became a naval cadet at the age of thirteen. On his sixteenth birthday he was created Prince of Wales and a year later was invested at Caernarvon. In 1912 he went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he remained until the outbreak of World War I. During the war the prince served in the army and contrived to spend some time at the front, in spite of efforts to keep him away from danger. After the war he visited many towns and cities both in the UK and the Empire, acquiring an enormous popularity with his father's subjects, not only because of his personal charm but also as a consequence of his compassionate speeches during the Depression. During the latter part of this period he met, and fell in love with, Mrs Wallis Simpson, an American whose first marriage had ended in divorce and whose second marriage was still legally intact.

On 20 January 1936, George V died and the Prince of Wales was proclaimed king. However, by the autumn of that year the American and continental papers were carrying sensational articles about the king's relationship with Mrs Simpson, especially in view of her impending second divorce. Stanley Baldwin (the prime minister) made it clear to the king that Mrs Simpson would not be acceptable as a queen consort either to the British people or to the established church. On 11 December Edward VIII abdicated in favour of his brother, the Duke of York, who immediately became King George VI. The same evening the ex-king broadcast to his former Empire: ‘…you must believe me when I tell you’, he said in his address, ‘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 VIII was the only British monarch to have resigned the Crown of his own free will.

Immediately after the abdication George VI declared his brother Duke of Windsor, with the personal title of Royal Highness – a title that was not to apply to either his wife or his descendants. In May 1937 Mrs Simpson's divorce became absolute and in June the couple were married privately in France. Since the duke's death evidence has emerged of his pro-Nazi sympathies and of his indiscreet contacts with German officials in the early stages of World War II. Concern at this situation prompted Winston Churchill to appoint him governor of the Bahamas in 1940, an office he held for four and a half years. After World War II the duke and duchess returned to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.


Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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