Monday, April 23, 2012
Monarch Profile: King Edward VIII of Great Britain
As a youth Prince David was noticeably headstrong and something of a day dreamer. He was intelligent but often refused to apply himself and was never a great student. In public he became known for appearing constantly sullen or annoyed with royal pageantry and the duties that went with his status. In 1911 he was formally invested as Prince of Wales in an elaborate ceremony planned out by the Welsh Prime Minister Lloyd George who made sure the Prince was able to speak a few words to the crowd in the Welsh language. Only a few years later World War I broke out and the Prince of Wales was anxious to do his part, both out of his undoubted patriotism and for a chance to get away from the palace and be just like every other young man of his generation. In June of 1914 he joined the Grenadier Guards and was anxious for frontline service with the British Expeditionary Force but this was blocked by Lord Kitchener (the Secretary of War) for fear of what disasters might occur were he killed or, worse still, captured by the Germans. Deprived of a place at the front, he nonetheless visited the trenches very frequently and no one doubted his courage. He earned the Military Cross in 1916 and qualified as a pilot in 1918. Because of his service he would remain forever popular with his fellow veterans of the Great War.
Of course, the Prince of Wales was not the first to put off marriage and lead a rather colorful lifestyle but it was the type of people he surrounded himself with and the fact that several of his affairs were with married women that was considered beyond the pale. At times, the Prince would speak of certain new ideas and new approaches he would pursue when he was king but, for the most part, he expressed dislike for having been born into royalty at all and bristled at having to sacrifice his own wants and desires for the sake of duty to the monarchy. His relationship with his family, particularly the King, deteriorated because of all of this, especially after he began a relationship with a married American woman who already had one divorce under her belt named Wallis Simpson (who, it was learned later, was also having an affair with another man at the same time). The attachment of the two only grew over time and began to worry many people in the halls of power even after Mrs. Simpson divorced her husband and began seeing the Prince of Wales exclusively. The Church of England still took a hard line on the subject of marriage and this was still during the era when royals did not marry common people, so a common-born, twice divorced American woman was a combination of everything a British monarch was NOT supposed to look for in a wife.
Although not often remembered, there was also a great deal of concern over the political views of King Edward VIII and fear that he may have intended to be a monarch with an opinion and his opinions were ones that many elites in British government, particularly on the left, did not like. His insistence that “something be done” for the coal miners in Wales, his opposition to the sanctions imposed on Italy after the invasion of Ethiopia and his refusal to meet with the former emperor, Haile Selassie, who had fled into exile in England, and the fact that he saw no use for the League of Nations all aroused anger against Edward VIII. At the same time, many on the traditional right were put off by his private life and determination to marry a twice-divorced commoner. About the only place where his proposed marriage was popular was in the United States where the media went wild over the possibility of the British King-Emperor marrying an American.
Such stories are, of course, nonsense but do require some explanation. That the Duke met Hitler should not be of any concern. Many world leaders met with him and many people in the world, early on at least, had a high opinion of the man who later become the most reviled villain in history. Edward was, it is true, totally opposed to Britain being involved in another war on the continent of Europe. Like many, he was haunted by the horrors of the last one and saw no benefit for the British Empire in becoming involved in another. He also probably viewed Stalin and the Soviets as a greater menace than Hitler and the Nazis. In an interview long after the war he said that he had preferred that Britain hold back and let the Nazis and the Communists kill each other -which was far from an uncommon view at the time. When World War II did break out there is no doubting the patriotic loyalty of the Duke of Windsor at all. The Nazis actually tried to enlist their support and were firmly refused. Some gloomy remarks by the Duke, when things were indeed going very badly for the British, prompted the government to make him Governor of the Bahamas for the remainder of the conflict, a posting he endured rather than enjoyed but which he carried out with considerable ability.