Childhood & Early Life
Edward VIII was born to Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) on June 23, 1894 at White Lodge. He was the eldest son and third in line to succession after his grandfather, Edward VII and his father George. He was baptized Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David on July 16, 1894.
Young Edward was initially homeschooled by tutor, Helen Bricka and later by Henry Hansell. Completing his preliminary studies, he entered Osborne Naval College and within two years shifted to Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.
King Edward VII’s death in 1910 stirred a chain of events, with Edward becoming Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay and later Prince of Wales in 1911. He served as a midshipman for three months aboard the battleship Hindustan before enrolling at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was at the Oxford for eight terms but left it without any academic qualifications.
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During World War I, Edward enlisted himself at the army. Though he was willing to serve on the front lines, he was assigned to safe positions. Nevertheless, he visited the front lines often, witnessing trench warfare first-hand, which earned him a reputation amongst the war veterans.
Following the end of World War I, he returned to England. Under the reign of his father, King George V, Edward travelled extensively across Britain and other parts of the world. He even visited poverty stricken and high unemployment areas during the economic depression. It were these visits that gained him much public attention.
Edward’s extensive travels, courteous mannerism, killer looks, fearless attitude and highly fashionable appearance gained him widespread attention especially from women. He soon followed the footsteps of his grandfather and turned into a womanizer, much to his father’s disgust.
He continued with his Casanova attitude well into the 1930s as well. His residence at Fort Belvedere was the birthplace of many of his romantic relationships with married women, particularly the one with American divorcee Wallis Simpson. His intimacy with Simpson soured his relationship with father and irked the monarchy as well.
Following the death of King George V on January 20, 1936, Edward, the heir apparent, ascended the throne. His rebellious nature became apparently visible as he broke the royal protocol by watching the proclamation of his own accession. Edward’s reign created unease in the parliament.
His defiance of the conventions and decorum was visible during the minting of the currency as well. Instead of facing right, direction opposite to his predecessor as was customary of the reigning monarchs, he faced on the same side as his father, i.e. left to show the parting of his hair.
King Edward’s romantic interest in Simpson did not dwindle after his accession. In fact, the two became increasingly inseparable, much to the discontent of his family, parliamentarians and his subjects.
King Edward VIII expressed his desire to marry Wallis Simpson to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in November 1936. Though Baldwin clearly pointed out that the marriage would be morally unacceptable as Church of England of which Edward was the titular head prohibited remarriage of divorcees, he was adamant.
King Edward had become so desperate to marry Wallis that he unremittingly looked for alternative solutions. Having left with three choices of either leaving Simpson, or marrying her against the ministerial advice or abdication, King Edward chose the third. On December 10, 1936, he signed an instrument of abdication which was consented by the Dominions, the following day.
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Following his abdication, his brother Prince Albert, Duke of York succeeded to the throne as King George VI. Edward meanwhile took over the title of Duke of Windsor. The royal title guaranteed that Edward was bereft of any political powers and could not stand for elections in the House of Commons or have a say in the House of Lords.
Financial issues became a major source of contention post marriage to Simpson. Since the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were removed from the Civil List by the government, Edward had to depend on his brother King George VI for financial assistance.
After marriage, Edward and his wife put up in France for two years. Their trip to Nazi Germany in October 1937 and the controversial meeting with Adolf Hitler further worsened their already diminished reputation in Britain.
After the outbreak of World War II, Edward was appointed Governor and Commander of Chief of Bahama Islands. Though the post was of relatively less prominence, both Duke and Duchess of Windsor gladly accepted the same. As the Governor, Edward made considerable efforts in combating poverty in the island.
At the end of the war, Duke and Duchess of Windsor returned to France for good. They took on the role of celebrities and became a vital part of the café society of the 1950s and 1960s France.
Edward penned a number of articles and books during the last phase of his life including a memoir, ‘A King’s Story’, ‘A Family Album’ that gave insight about fashion and habits of Royal family, a short book, ‘The Crown and the People’ and articles on coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in Sunday Express and Woman’s Home Companion .
Together with his wife, he appeared in a number of television shows and interviews. The two were guests of honor to a dinner at White House during President Richard Nixon’s premiership. They even attended several social gatherings of the Royal family including centenary of his mother, Queen Mary .
Personal Life & Legacy
Edward was a womanizer and a Casanova. He was highly self-indulgent and was involved in numerous love relationships with married women. It was this reckless behaviour of his that irked his father and soured the relationship between the two.
While Edward was involved in a series of love affairs with married women, it was Wallis Simpson, the wife of an American businessman, who stole his heart. She had divorced her first husband Win Spencer in 1927. Her second husband Ernest Simpson, was a British American businessman.
Following Edward’s accession to the throne, King Edward and Simpson’s love affair zoomed to greater heights. The two spent a great deal of time together and were almost inseparable.
Despite the opposition from the Church of England, his panels of ministers and his subjects, King Edward was adamant on marrying Simpson. He was quoted saying that “it was impossible for him to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and discharge his duties as a King without Simpson.”
With almost no alternative to bank on, King Edward chose to abdicate. On December 10, 1936, he gave up his title of King of United Kingdom to his brother, Prince Albert, for marrying Simpson. He, in turn, became Duke of Windsor.
On June 3, 1937, Edward married Simpson in a private ceremony, at Château de Candé, near Tours, France. His marriage wasn’t attended by the members of the Royal family. Despite being his wife, Simpson wasn’t given the stately title, Her Royal Highness. The couple remained in Paris, France for the better part of their married life, excepting during World War II when he served as the Commander in Chief of Bahama Island.
In 1960s, Edward’s health increasingly declined. He was operated twice, for an aneurysm of the abdominal aorta and a detached retina. A persistent smoker, he contracted throat cancer in 1971.
On May 28, 1972, he breathed his last at his home in Paris. His body was returned to Britain. After lying in state at St George’s Chapel at Windsor, he was buried in the Royal Burial Ground.