Monday, April 23, 2012

Monarch Profile: King Edward VIII of Great Britain

Of all the British monarchs of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha/Windsor none are probably so controversial, even among ardent monarchists, as King Edward VIII. Some paint him as the most terrible sort of villain possible in the Twentieth Century; a Nazi sympathizer. Others take the more realistic but still hostile view that he was a misunderstood monarch, a good man perhaps but someone not suited to royal status whose abdication was really a blessing for no matter how scandalous it was, his continued reign over the British Empire would have been far worse. Then there are still others, a minority no doubt, who view him as someone representing a great opportunity lost; a “people’s monarch” who would have been a great success if only he had been given a chance who was the victim of an unfair system and a romantic figure who gave up the throne of a King-Emperor for the sake of his true love. As is usually the case, the truth is that he was nowhere near as bad as some claim but neither was he as pure as the wind-driven snow. He was not really a bad man but was, on the whole, too self-centered for the life of duty and service expected of a monarch. Had his reign come just a bit later in history he might be viewed in an entirely different light, but that was not to be.

He was born HRH Prince Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David on June 23, 1894 at White Lodge to TRH the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary), the son and daughter-in-law of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Throughout his life he was known by his friends and family as David. His early life was normal for someone of his time and place in the world but not without difficulties. He had an abusive nanny who wanted to appear indispensable and so would pinch the baby boy cruelly before handing him over to anyone else so he would be seen to cry and wail whenever anyone else handled him. The vicious woman was discovered though and given her walking papers. His parents were both affectionate and attentive though the future King George V insisted on trying to instill discipline in his children and supposedly once remarked that he had been afraid of his own father and that he intended his children to be afraid of him. However, King Edward VII was likewise very affectionate to his grandchildren who often stayed with him and Queen Alexandra while their parents were engaged in royal duties around the British Empire.

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.

After the war he traveled frequently around the British Empire representing the King and became a huge celebrity. The handsome young (and single) prince cut a dashing figure and was reputedly the most widely photographed public figure of his day. The media attention that he inspired was not dissimilar to that which Prince William has been subjected to in recent times. However, when not undertaking royal duties, the Prince fell in with a rather bad crowd, the forerunners of the jet-set elite with more money than morals who went from one party to another, one nightclub to another, getting involved in all sorts of dalliances quite out of place with the respectable values King George V and Queen Mary tried always to embody. He became known as a womanizer and for viewing his royal status as a terrible burden rather than a sacred duty he had to make himself worthy of. His parents were often frustrated by his behavior which stood in marked contrast to that of his younger brother Albert who had settled down, married and had two daughters.

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.

Yet, the Prince began to think about exactly that. Some have commented that the only way Wallis could have been a worse choice was if she had been Catholic. However, that may have actually been a good thing as it would have left no ambiguity that marriage was out of the question. As it was, the Prince of Wales began to hope that he could, perhaps, keep things as they were and when he was King would be free to marry Simpson regardless of what anyone else thought. His commitment to Wallis Simpson was the most powerful constant in his life without question. In 1936, when his father passed away, Simpson was standing alongside the former Prince of Wales as he was proclaimed King of Great Britain and Ireland, Emperor of India and so on. From the day he inherited the throne, the new King Edward VIII exhibited behavior which served to reinforce both his admirers and his critics. He took an interest in helping the working class but and expressed his desire to be an innovative and more “hands-on” monarch which earned him high praise in some sectors. However, he was also determined to marry Wallis Simpson and his holiday with the woman, widely covered in the continental press but more subdued at home, caused a scandal.

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.

The political situation was discussed intensely but finally the British government as well as the representatives of the Commonwealth Realms agreed that the King would have to give up Simpson or abdicate. Edward VIII chose to abdicate and, probably feeling more relief than anything else, announced his abdication to the public by radio on December 11, 1936, passing the throne to his younger brother who became King George VI and calling on all Britons to rally to his support, ending his message with “God save the King”. The new monarch bestowed on his brother the title of HRH the Duke of Windsor and he left Britain for the continent. On June 3, 1937 he finally married Wallis Simpson who was thereafter known as the Duchess of Windsor. None of the British Royal Family attended the wedding. The Duke remained just as smitten with her for the rest of his life as he had at the very beginning. However, it was not to be the end of controversy for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, especially after making an ill-advised visit to Germany where they met with Adolf Hitler. Later on this was exaggerated in the press to spread stories that Edward VIII had actually been a Nazi sympathizer and that this had even been a consideration in forcing him to abdicate the throne.

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.

After the war the Duke and Duchess of Windsor retired to a glamorous private life in France. They had little to do with the rest of the Royal Family who were unwilling to accept the Duchess and because of the lingering view that the Duke had shrugged off his royal duties and obligations onto his unprepared younger brother in order to have his own way. Some believed that King George VI died fairly early because of the stress the Crown and the war placed on him and, in a way, blamed Edward VIII for that. The Duke of Windsor, the former King, died in Paris on May 28, 1972, his funeral and burial being held in Britain with the Royal Family and the Duchess of Windsor who, to the surprise of some, was invited to stay at Buckingham Palace during the difficult time. Opinion about King Edward VIII remains divided even today but he was neither extremely bad or a romantic hero. He was not a villain or a Nazi or an Axis sympathizer in any way. He did not favor Britain getting involved in another world war, plain and simple and, if one looks purely at the British Empire and British interests alone, involvement in World War II was certainly not beneficial, it cost Britain her empire and left the world solely to the United States and Soviet Union. Some will always see Edward VIII as a romantic figure, the man who gave up his throne for the woman he loved (a more popular view today than it was then) but the truth is that he never had truly accepted the fact that the life of royalty is a life of duty, sacrifice and obligation and ultimately he was unwilling to put his duty to the monarchy before his own personal desires.


  1. The Duke of Windsor ( as he is always refered to by me ) betrayed his own birthright, then betrayed his own country. The full extent of his treachery during WW2 is of course only known by a small number of people, King George VI and his wife among them, and this surely is the REAL reason for the British royal family`s continual hostitlity towards the Duke and Duchess, in the post-war period.

    1. "Betrayed"? "Treachery"? As in giving aid and comfort to the enemy, as in plotting or effecting the death of the King or the King's legitimate governments? I think you're overreacting -just a tad. Call him petulant, call him self-absorbed, selfish or maybe even dumb for thinking he could be a king who expressed political views but treacherous or treasonous he was not. If he wanted to be deceptive he could have kept the throne and had Mrs Simpson as his 'woman on the side' but he never tried to deceive anyone. He let down a lot of people but, even then, if he was such a bad character then abdication was the best thing he could have done for the country.

    2. The Duke put his own personal interests ahead of the Institution to which he had been born to serve, ultimately abandoning it. If this does not constitute a betrayal of his birthright and of his country, then what does?

    3. Becoming a republican or joining forces with the enemy of his country. That would be my answer. He didn't do that though. I'm trying to understand your position here but I remain at a loss. I fail to see what he gained at the expense of his country or the monarchy. I fail to see how the British Empire was hurt by the abdication of one who was unwilling to play the game by the established rules. As it happened Britain got shed of a reluctant monarch and obtained one instead who led an upstanding life, was devoted to duty, took advice and kept quiet on controversial issues.

    4. Sorry MM, we`re not going to agree on this subject. I believe that Kingship should be a gut feeling and a Monarch must put aside all personal wants and desires, in order to serve the institution ( The Duke`s niece clearly has such an instinct ) The Duke could not or would not make such sacrifices and willingly gave up his own birthright, in order to pursue his own wants. This to me is a dereliction of duty and a betrayal. Of course i understand that this opinion is a little archaic, but i cant help the way i feel.

    5. "Should" -yes. But I see no point in someone who views the Duke as unfit being upset that he stepped aside in favor of someone who was fit. A dereliction of duty -yes. A betrayal -no. There are enought actual betrayers around without adding unduly to their number.

  2. I personally think that Edward was God Sent as an object lesson. One thing we as Monarchists have heard from Republicans as a complaint is, "What if you get a bad King?" It's a rather silly argument as it presumes that elected office holders won't be bad because they are elected, and yet in every Republic about half the population is ever complaining about how rotten tot he core their President or Prime Minister is. Look at the 8 Years of Vitriol against Bush and he 4 years thusfar of Obama.

    The fact is, Elections don't lead to good leaders. But I digress.

    Edward is an example of how a Monarchy can be established that is in the benefit of the Nation it serves. He was unfit to be King, but he also did not remain King for Long. He is an example of how well the System works and how, precisely because of the High Moral Standards and demand for observation of Duty, those that are unfit, those who are not supposed to be on the Throne, will be weeded out.

    Is this a flawless failsafe that always works? No. But it does work far better than elected safeguards. When was the last Time you had an Elected Official Resign because he wanted to marry someone? Or Resign at all of his own volition? There have been Elected Officials who have Resigned, like Kevin Rudd the Dudd, or Richard Nixon, but those Resignations were done mainly because they had to, they were effectively ordered to. Nixon was to be impeached and knew full well he would loose, and wished to avoid a full investigation into his affairs, and Rudd was simply a failure and his own Party wanted him to step down. The vast majority of the Time, a Politician will only resign if he is compelled to by outside agents, and will tenaciously attempt to cling to the power he has achieved. This is because Politicians came into office seeking power as their sole aim. On the whole we tend to get bad leaders in Republics. Maybe not totally horrific but never particularly respectable or good in the full.

    Edward on the other hand highlights a point about Kings. We hold them to a Higher Standard. They don’t just win popularity contests and we aren’t; as Jaded, they are picked by God himself and are to uphold Moral Traditions. They do not seek power for themselves, but are thrust into Power. Not all want such Power, and those who don’t often make the best Kings. When they don’t, the expectations are so high that they usually end up confined to a curse of Action dictated by Tradition that keeps the Nation at least Stable. Yes some Kings have done Tremendous Damage, but for every Henry the 8th there have been 10 Mousolini’s or Hitlers. On the whole, we have had 200 Years of the rise and supremacy of Republics and in that Time more Nations have fallen into poverty and oppression than in the previous thousand Years of Monarchical supremacy.

    When a King dos not wish to put the Institution of the Crown ahead of his own desires, and when a King wishes to pursue a course outside of that is permitted him as a King, he does not simply change the Rules, he Abdicates, and this, while not entirely flawless and not always working, usually ensures that a man who is King at least doesn’t damage the Nation and stays within the Parameters of what is expected at last Publicly, and when he does not, or can not, he leaves.

    That is the Safety of the Crown, and Edward Highlights this.

    I say then that he was a bad King, but a necessary one, and the System worked.

    Thus, Rather than say God Save the King, here I shall simply say God Save the Crown.

  3. As far as I can tell, George VI turned out to be a very good king, so it was a mercy for Britain to have him, rather than Edward, on the throne during the war.

    1. King George VI did set the standard for modern British monarchs and the Queen has very much followed in his footsteps. That means being totally impartial, accepting what advice the ministers give and never giving the slightest hint as to what the monarch's own opinion might be. Had it been otherwise there might not be a monarchy at all.


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