11th December, 1936, King Edward VIII officially abdicated. 12th December he announced this to the nation via broadcast on the radio, and the next day his younger brother was proclaimed king.
Loyalty vs love
Edward was the first English monarch to abdicate voluntarily. And yes, his decision was significant then and still is now, despite things having changed a lot in society. He’d been a king awaiting coronation for a year. He was gregarious and fun loving, but unmarried. He was hitting forty. And he needed an heir. Falling in love with a married (on her second marriage) woman, who was not only American but also Catholic, was not an ideal choice in the eyes of the establishment. In fact, it’s hard to see what boxes it did tick. For starters, the fanciful vision of a princess in a white dress walking down the aisle was going to be stretched. But even if people could put that aside, with the British Monarch being the head of the Church of England, there was a sense of conflict looming with regard to any heirs, for they would need to follow religious suit. Things were far from straight forward.
Edward faced a stark choice, therefore. Give up the love of his life, or abdicate. It was a decision that had people holding their breath on both sides of the pond. And though things were kept quiet for a while, that kind of news can never remain hidden forever. The furore broke. Endless agonised discussions were had. And Edward eventually submitted his resignation to parliament on the 10th December. Parliament duly accepted it. And his abdication was announced the next day. Edward presented a tearful and heartfelt speech on the radio, which was broadcast live in the UK AND the USA. And his brother, George VI (aka. Bertie) succeeded him forthwith.
Duty and dedication
In contrast to Edward, Bertie was already leading a family life. He was happily married and had two daughters – Elizabeth and Margaret. With Edward’s decision they went from being third and fourth in line to the throne, to first and second.
Bertie certainly had some ‘housekeeping’ matters to attend to once he’d ascended the throne. His first task was to make his older brother the Duke of Windsor. He did this almost immediately, and Edward left England with Wallis titled such and they married in June 1937. Wallis thus became Duchess of Windsor, however she was never granted the honour of being referred to as HRH.
Roles for royalty
Once married, Edward and Wallis settled mainly in France. To keep himself out of mischief, he took on the role of liaison officer with the French. However this was an interesting post, for it also had him fraternising with many of the German elite officers of the time. And in October 1937, he and Wallis formally met Hitler. There will undoubtedly been very solid liberal ideals sitting behind the decision to do this, but when the Nazis occupied France in 1940, many back at home began to feel uncomfortable. The King and Churchill tackled the issue by offering Edward a new role; Governor and Commander in Chief of the Bahamas. Edward accepted it, though he may have felt unsure about doing so for it could well have felt like he was being side-lined; but the politics of the time were just too delicate to argue. And as it turned out, he and Wallace did spend five happy years out there before returning to Paris at the end of the posting.
When George VI died in 1952, his daughter, Elizabeth, ascended the throne and her mother adopted the newly created title of ‘Queen Mother’. Edward died several years later in 1972 in Paris, and it’s interesting to note that it had only been in 1967 – just a few years before – that Wallis had been officially invited back to Britain to attend an unveiling of a plaque dedicated to Queen Mary, Edwards’s mother. But though her position may have raised eyebrows throughout her life, when she died in 1986 she was buried next to him at Frogmore, on the grounds of Windsor Castle.
What would have happened if Edward had not abdicated? It’s an interesting question, because he and Wallis never had children; so Elizabeth would always have been set to take the throne. However, it should also be recognised that the Queen Mother insisted on remaining in England during WWII, which most definitely boosted morale through some very tough years. Would Wallace have done the same? Who knows. But we can at least say that our current queen has worked tirelessly all her life, such that her dedication to her country is without question. And maybe, just maybe, it’s been her uncle’s decision that has helped us to understand just how devoted she really is… so we can admire her all the more for it.