Edward VIII (1894–1972)

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EDWARD VIII (1894–1972)


King of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British dominions, and emperor of India.

Edward was born in Richmond, Surrey on 23 June 1894, the first child of the duke and duchess of York (later King George V [r. 1910–1936] and Queen Mary [1867–1953]). He was also known as Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, and in full, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

With the death of Edward VII (r. 1901–1910) and the accession of his father on 6 May 1910, Prince Edward (as he was officially known) became heir to the throne. On his sixteenth birthday he was created Prince of Wales. After a stint as midshipman with the Royal Navy, he matriculated in October 1912 at the University of Oxford. He left university at the start of the war in 1914 and was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards on the Continent but did not see direct action. In civilian life, Prince Edward was noted for his charm, good looks, romantic liaisons, and unconventional wearing of hats. He became a leader of fashionable London society and something of a modern celebrity.

In January 1931 the prince met Wallis Simpson (1896–1986), an American citizen then living in London with her second husband. By 1934 the prince had cast aside his other lovers and saw in Mrs. Simpson his natural life partner.

George V died on 20 January 1936, and the Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Edward VIII on 21 January. Once on the throne, Edward VIII showed a marked indifference toward public affairs and the intricacies of state business.

Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (1867–1947) belatedly learned of the king's hopes to marry Mrs. Simpson, who had begun divorce proceedings against her second husband. By early November, Baldwin's cabinet was discussing the constitutional problem of a king's potential marriage to a divorcée. For many ministers, the Simpson affair illuminated wider uncertainties about Edward's competency to be king. Public opinion was strongly hostile to the marriage, and he faced opposition from both the Church of England and Parliament.

On 10 December, the king signed the instrument of abdication and left for Europe the next day. Edward VIII is the only British monarch ever to have resigned the crown. His reign lasted from 20 January to 10 December 1936—327 days—the shortest of any recognized monarch since Edward V (r. 1483). George VI (r. 1936–1952) then titled him "his royal highness the duke of Windsor."

The Windsors married in France on 3 June 1937. No member of the duke's family attended. Though a duchess, his wife was denied the prefix Her Royal Highness, to the duke's great disappointment.

In October 1937 they visited Germany. The Windsors were honored by Nazi officials and met Adolf Hitler (1889–1945); the duke reportedly made a modified Nazi salute and on two other occasions a full Nazi salute. As a Nazi sympathizer, the Duke of Windsor may have entertained thoughts of becoming an alternative monarch should Britain be defeated by Hitler. Evidence suggests the Germans expected that the duke would inaugurate an "English form of Fascism and alliance with Germany." He was doubtful about Britain's ability to withstand a German attack in 1940 and favored a negotiated peace with Hitler.

When war began, the Windsors were returned to Britain from France. George VI did not appreciate the duke's presence in the United Kingdom. The duke shortly afterward became a member of the British military mission in France and served as a major-general for the duration of the war.

Upon the fall of France in June 1940, the Windsors escaped to Madrid, where Edward was part of a fanciful plan of the Nazis to remake him king and to use him against the established government in England. He moved to Lisbon at the start of July. From his friend Winston Churchill (1874–1965), now prime minister, the duke was offered the governorship of the Bahamas.

He and his wife arrived in Nassau on 17 August 1940. The duke worked on policies for agricultural improvement, to diminish black unemployment, and helped quell riots in June 1942. Unsatisfied with his lot, he resigned as governor of the Bahamas on 16 March 1945. The couple henceforth divided their time between the United States and France until the duke's death.

In February 1952 the duke attended the funeral of George VI, though the two had scarcely met since the latter's accession. He was not invited to Queen Elizabeth II's coronation. In 1966, however, the duke and duchess were invited by Elizabeth II (r. 1953–) to attend the unveiling of a plaque to Queen Mary, the duchess being presented to the queen for the first time.

The duke's health faded fast in the late 1960s. In 1972 he suffered cancer of the throat. In these final days, he was visited by Elizabeth II during her state visit to France. On 28 May 1972 the duke of Windsor died at his home in Paris. His body lay in state in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and was buried in a plot beside the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, where the duchess was also interred in 1986.

See alsoAristocracy; United Kingdom.


Bloch, Michael. The Duke of Windsor's War: From Europe to the Bahamas, 1939–1945. New York, 1982.

Donaldson, Frances Lonsdale. Edward VIII. London, 1974.

McLeod, Kirsty. Battle Royal: Edward VIII & George VI, Brother against Brother. London, 1999.

Ziegler, Philip. King Edward VIII: The Official Biography. London, 1990.

Stephen Vella

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Edward VIII (1894–1972)

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