Edward VIII abdicates
The 10th of December 1936 AD
At 10am on December 10 1936 Edward VIII , who had been king since the death of George V on January 20 that year, signed the official abdication papers before his three brothers, Albert (who succeeded him as George VI ), Henry and George. His reign was over, though Parliament had to endorse the document, as it did the following day.
So Edward gave up his kingdom "for the woman I love" as his broadcast to the nation put it. The story had been handled with enormous deference for years by the British Press, though the American and continental papers had regular field days reporting on the affair with Wallis Simpson, divorced once before she met the future king, and who engineered a second divorce from her British shipping executive husband to clear the way for marriage to Edward.
For many the whole affair was (and for some still is) a tale of romantic love enduring against political pressure, and there is the seed of truth in this view, though by the time Edward came to decide on abdication there was probably no other practical option. Stanley Baldwin 's government was threatening to resign should the king speak to the nation on the matter, and the dominions were almost of a mind with the British establishment that the marriage, either to make Wallis queen or just a consort, was impossible. But the whole matter was far more sordid than romantic.
Edward was at 40 a bachelor, who had carried on numerous affairs with married women but never seemed inclined to marry, a rather rusty knight in shining armour. He was also rumoured to be sexually inadequate or deviant. And Wallis was no pure maiden: not only was she twice divorced when the crisis reached its peak (her second divorce indeed bringing matters to a head), but she was according to police records still sleeping with another married man, Guy Trundle, while being maintained in a house Edward rented for her. And the FBI reported she was having a passionate affair with Nazi Germany's ambassador in London , von Ribbentrop, to whom it was thought by them she leaked secrets. Many feared she was taking the king for his money (he had spent lavishly on jewels for his mistress for several years), and would leave him once she had secured a share of his fortune.
In spite of all this colourful speculation their marriage lasted until Edward's death in 1972, and seemed to be founded on a deep love.
Britain may not regret the loss of Edward as king. His own father had hoped the line would pass through Albert and then his daughter, the future Elizabeth II . Edward showed himself before, during and after his reign to be injudicious - giving Nazi salutes while on a visit to Germany after his abdication (a visit the British government frowned on), expressing contempt for liberal politics, reputedly while Governor of the Bahamas making pro-Nazi comments, and even more worryingly expressing hope that he would return to Britain as its leader once the Nazis had overcome the Americans. He is even supposed to have indulged in illegal activities - illicit currency trading - to supplement his income post-abdication.
Edward is still the only British king to abdicate. It was an honourable act in a less than totally honourable life, but the one for which he will be remembered.
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