As he saw Wally in de street
He couldn't control dat body heat
Love. Love alone
Made king Edward lose de t'trone1
The strangest thing about the developing friendship between Edward VIII and the American divorcee Wallis Simpson 2 was that the British public was entirely ignorant of the situation. At the time the British press was far more reticent than it has since become as regards the matter of printing stories relating to the private lives of the Royal Family. The foreign press however felt no such constraint and gleefully reported the gossip regarding Edward's amorous adventures. Naturally a select handful of people in Britain had access to the foreign, particularly American news reports and it was therefore inevitable that the news would eventually percolate back to Britain. However most of the British public remained in blissful ignorance and even the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin only became fully aware of the situation as a result of being sent foreign news clippings from abroad.
It was not until the Yorkshire Post published some remarks by Alfred Blunt the Bishop of Bradford, expressing his view that the king should show "more positive signs of ... awareness"3 that he stood in need of Divine Grace and rather enigmatically referred to "the great deal of rumour regarding the King"4, that the British public became aware that something was going on. This report reached wider circulation when it was reproduced in The Times on the 3rd December 1936. On the following day the Times expanded on the issue under the headline of 'The King and a Crisis' which explained that "The King has expressed his desire to contract such a marriage as would require a special act of Parliament; that he has himself taken the initiative in asking whether such a measure can be passed; and that Ministers, after full consideration and consultation, have replied that in their opinion it is impossible."5
It was in this manner that the British public became aware of the crisis that had developed between their king Edward VIII and the government regarding his relationship with Wallis Simpson.
Edward and his women
George V died on the 20th January 1936 at which point his eldest son, known as David to his immediate family, but Edward, Prince of Wales to the rest of us, became king Edward VIII. As Prince of Wales Edward had shown a disinclination to settle down and spent his time in the company of what was known as the 'fast set'. His father disapproved of this conduct and particularly expressed his disapproval of Edward's preference for liaisons with older married women. George somewhat prophetically confided to Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister that, "After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself within twelve months."6
Edward's first dalliance was with a Mrs Freda Dudley-Ward and she remained his principal obsession for fifteen years or so before he transferred his affections in 1930 to a Mrs Thelma Furness. Ironically it was Thelma Furness who first introduced the Prince of Wales to Wallis Simpson at a party held at Burrington Court, the Furness' country house at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire on the 10th January 1931. When Thelma Furness subsequently left England in March 1934 to visit her sister Mrs Gloria Vanderbilt, she found on her return, three months later, that she had been replaced in the king's affections by Wallis Simpson.
The relationship Wallis and Edward developed thereafter and it is fair to say that by the time he became king in January 1936, Edward had become obsessed with her and convinced that she was his only source of true happiness. Their meetings became increasingly public and on the
17th June 1936 Wallis accompanied Edward on the cruise of the Nahalin making it perfectly clear to everyone that something was going on. As Edward himself admitted as regards the cruise "Discretion is a quality which, although useful, I have never particularly admired".7
Somewhat unsurprisingly and despite Wallis' avowed aim of keeping 'both men', her marriage to Edward Simpson soon disintegrated and Wallis sued for a divorce with a decree nisi being granted at Ipswich on the 27th October 1936. The divorce was expected to be made final in the April of the following year, after which Wallis Simpson would in theory be free to marry Edward.
Edward and Wallis
Despite what was believed then and now there is "no absolute confirmation that the duke committed adultery with her"8 and Wallis Simpson herself confided to a friend at the time that "No man is ever allowed to touch me below the Mason-Dixon line"9. Thus the exact nature of their relationship at the time seems unclear, although it is certain that Edward was obsessed with Wallis and committed to the idea of marrying her.
A contemporary named Henry 'Chips' Channon recorded that she had "complete power over the Prince of Wales"10 and one of the king's equerries Bruce Ogilvy later explained that "What he liked was being mothered"11. Philip Ziegler, author of Edward VIII's 'official biography' went much further and stated that "He relished the contempt and bullying she bestowed on him" and that "There must have been some sort of sadomasochistic relationship". 12
However it remains a matter of dispute exactly who was the driving force behind the relationship and in particular the decision to marry.
A contemporary Downing Street adviser named Horace Wilson claimed that Wallis' sole motivation was "to feather her own nest and to save her own skin" and described her as "selfish, self-seeking, hard, calculating, ambitious, scheming and dangerous"13. He also claimed that she was the source of many of the stories that appeared in the American press. He obviously didn't like her very much.
On the other hand, 'Chips' Channon described her as "a woman of charm, sense, balance and great wit, with dignity and taste" adding that "She has always been an excellent influence on the King, who has loved her openly and honestly. I really consider that she would have been an excellent Queen."14 And Walter Monckton15 stated that he "was convinced that it was the King who was really the party anxious for the divorce" and stated that Wallis was "encouraged by the King to believe that he could marry her, and indeed there was nothing legal to prevent him doing so."16
Indeed Wallis wrote to Edward on the 14th October offering to "steal quietly away
" and said that "I can't help but feel you will have trouble in the House of Commons etc and may be forced to go. I can't put you in that position
. There also exists a declaration, signed by Mrs Simpson in the final days before the abdication, that "she has abandoned any interest in marrying His Majesty
Whereas Horace Wilson views on Wallis Simpson are likely both prejudiced and ill-informed it is also probably indicative of the generally held view of the British government. As is so often the case, the truth matters less than what people believe to be the truth.
How the crisis developed
On the 20th October 1936 the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin had a meeting with the king to discuss the question of his relationship with Wallis Simpson as a result of having received letters some letters critical of the king along with some newspaper clippings from the American press. During the course of their meeting it became clear that Baldwin was perfectly happy for Edward to retain Wallis Simpson as his mistress so long as the king was discrete about the matter. However the problem was that Edward was adamant in his intention of marrying Wallis once she was free to do so, whereas Baldwin was similarly insistent that such a marriage was not acceptable.
The only legal restraint on a British monarch marriage is that an intended spouse cannot be a Roman Catholic as laid down in the Act of Settlement 1701. However it is was a simple fact (certainly since the Glorious Revolution) that Parliament could make and unmake kings as it desired, and so for a British monarch to defy the will of Parliament was a dangerous course to take. It was also a problem as the Church of England was concerned as Edward was proposing to marry a twice divorced woman with both husbands still living, when the Church both then and now does not permit the remarriage of divorced persons. The idea of a king marrying against the rules of his own church was a shocking idea for many, particularly since divorce (in the modern sense of the word) was a comparatively recent development in 1936 and divorce was regarded as something rather shameful and disreputable. To put it bluntly, a twice divorced woman would have been regarded by many at the time as little better than a prostitute.
In view of these difficulties Edward seems to have decided upon a compromise and proposed awarding his bride the title of Duchess of Lancaster and requested that he be allowed to marry Wallis Simpson without her becoming Queen and offered to resign all claims to the throne by their issue. Technically known as a morganatic marriage this proposal raised a constitutional issue in that such a marriage would require approval not only by the British government, who would have to pass the necessary legislation permitting such a union, but also every other parliament in the British Commonwealth; since under the Statute of Westminster 1928 required that "any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom."
This was the proposal that Edward put to the Prime Minister on the 25th November, requesting also that Stanley Baldwin make contact with the various Dominion governments requesting their approval. This naturally put Edward at a disadvantage, since by proposing a morganatic marriage he was effectively asking the government for their permission.
The British cabinet met on the 26th November and formally rejected Edward's proposal. This decision was communicated to the various Dominion governments on the 27th November, when they were asked to select from the available alternatives of ordinary marriage, morganatic marriage, or abdication. The Dominion governments answered almost unanimously in the negative, they would not sanction a morganatic marriage, they did not approve of Wallis Simpson as consort for their king.18
As noted above it was the publication of story in The Times on the 3rd December 1936 that instituted what was known at the time as a 'Grave Constitutional Crisis'. Since it is now known (or at least alleged) that Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of The Times, was in "the pocket of Prime Minister Baldwin"19, it remains likely that the crisis was engineered by Baldwin to force Edward's hand with the expectation that he would abandon Wallis Simpson.
Thus on the 4th December Stanley Baldwin made a statement in the House of Commons bringing the matter clearly into the public domain. Now a matter of public debate, people began to place themselves on one side or another of the argument. Although the Communist Party leader Henry Pollitt said "Let the King marry whom he likes"20, oddly enough the left in general was solidly opposed to Edward's marriage to Wallis mainly due to their reliance on the votes of the various Nonconformist denominations who tended to take a stricter line on issues of personal morality.
An influential group of MPs emerged who supported the king, most notable of whom were David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Duff Cooper. In early December, Lloyd George declared: "A nation has a right to choose its Queen, but the King also has a right to choose his wife; if Baldwin is against them, I am against Baldwin."21 Edward could also count on the support of Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Mail, and Lord Rothermore, with the London Evening Standard and the Daily Express. There was also considerable popular support in favour of Edward; the popular toast of the day was "God Save the King from Mr Baldwin", and crowds gathered at Downing Street chanting "we want our king".
There were also many who were against him; there were stories of people remaining seated when the National Anthem was played at theatres and of people hissing at cinemas when Edward appeared in newsreel footage. But the most prominent amongst those opposed to his marriage were of course the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin and the rest of the government, Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury as well a great number of his own royal officials.
However there remained considerable popular support for Edward and according to Philip Ziegler, Edward was aware of this support, but that "How much that support would have amounted to was never put to the test, because the King had no intention of giving it the encouragement it needed if it was to mobilize and multiply."21
In any event with the debate now the issue of the day, Baldwin made it clear to the king that given the views of his government and that of the Dominions that the king now faced the simple choice of either giving up Wallis Simpson or giving up the crown. At a meeting on the 7th December meeting Edward informed Baldwin of his decision to abdicate. It was apparently an emotional occasion for both of them as at the conclusion of the meeting both apparently broke into tears.
The general supposition is that Edward thus abdicated for the love of Wallis Simpson, but some have also suggested another reason, that Edward basically did not like the job of being king. Another author of a biography of Edward, Frances Donaldson, believed that Edward had an "instinctive and genuine dislike of so much of his job and the life he had led."21 There are suggestions that he even contemplated becoming a Roman Catholic in order to escape the throne and that he had a Canadian ranch lined up as his retirement home and thus "Edward desired to rid himself of the burdens and obligations of monarchy".22
At 3.55 pm on the 10th December 1936 Stanley Baldwin rose to his feet in the House of Commons and read out the Statement of Abdication which included the text of Edward's formal Instrument of Abdication. This took legal effect on the following day, when Edward gave his assent to the His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act whereby Edward disclaimed the throne both for himself and his future issue23. After a reign of 325 days Edward thus became the first King of Great Britain to abdicate his throne. 24
At 10pm on the 11th December Edward broadcast a farewell message on the radio (the text of which is here) and soon left the country for Austria where he stayed at Schloss Enzenfield which was lent to him by the Baron Rothschild. Wallis Simpson received her decree absolute and on the 3rd June 1937 the couple were married at the Château de Candé in France. Edward was granted the title of Duke of Windsor, and thus Wallis became known as the Duchess of Windsor but she was denied the right to style herself as 'HRH' a decision that apparently rankled with both. They both refused to return to England until this omission was rectified, which it never was, and so they lived in exile for the remainder of their lives.
Edward died in 1972 after which Wallis lived alone in their Paris villa until her death in 1986, at the age of eighty-nine when was buried alongside Edward in the Frogmore Royal Burial Ground, in the gardens of Frogmore House at Windsor.
Since the death of both Edward and Wallis there have been further revelations regarding their lives.
In 1939 an FBI report stated that Wallis Simpson was "exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections and there is strong reason to believe that this is the reason why she was considered so obnoxious to the British government that they refused to permit Edward to marry her and maintain the throne.25" It has also since become known that the British Government had put Wallis Simpson under police surveillance and thus knew that she was also involved with a "married car mechanic and salesman named Guy Trundle26" as well as Edward Fitzgerald, Duke of Leinster.
This may well explain why the British Government of the time was so opposed to the idea of the king marrying Wallis Simpson.
There have also been additional revelations regarding the subsequent conduct of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, particularly regarding their alleged pro-Nazi Sympathies. It is known that the German Government had plans to kidnap the Duke of Windsor which is why he was appointed Governor of the Bahamas to keep him out of harm's way. There are also allegations that he agreed to return to Britain and resume the throne at the head of Nazi puppet regime. None of these revelations however have any direct relevance to the king's abdication since they did not emerge until well after the abdication crisis had passed into the realms of recent history.
1 From a contemporary calypso, quoted in The Companion to British History see below. Wallis Simpson was much annoyed when she heard the song and instructed her lawyers to sue, but nothing seems to have come of this.
2 Born Bessie Wallis Warfield in Baltimore, Maryland, she discarded her first name because "so many cows are called Bessie", later became Wallis Spencer after her marriage to a US Navy airman called Earl Winfield Spencer but is best known as Wallis Simpson as a result of her second marriage to a British-American businessman Ernest Simpson in 1928. She briefly reverted to Wallis Warfield when her divorce was finalised in 1937 before her marriage to Edward after which she became 'Wallis Windsor' one imagines.
3 Quoted in the The Long Week-End
4 Quoted by Donald H.J. Hermann
5 Quoted by Brandi McCary
6 Quoted by Donald H.J. Hermann
7 From the The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes see below
8 According to 'The Secret Files on Wallis Simpson'
9 Quoted in 'Wallis Simpson: The Demonised Duchess'
10 Henry 'Chips' Channon, diary entry (5th April 1935) see the spartacus.schoolnet source
11 Quoted in Wallis Simpson: The Demonised Duchess'
12 Quoted in 'Profile: Wallis Simpson'
13 Quoted in 'Wallis Simpson: The Demonised Duchess'
14 Henry 'Chips' Channon, Mrs Simpson (1936) see the spartacus.schoolnet source
15 Walter Monckton was the Attorney General for the Duchy of Cornwall and served as the king's legal advisor and acted as his intermediary with the government and press during the crisis period.
16 Walter Monckton's unpublished memoirs see the spartacus.schoolnet source
17 From the The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes
18 It has been argued that Baldwin framed his questions in a form designed to give a negative response and that had Edward contacted the Dominion governments himself might have had a more favourable response. Evidence has since emerged that makes it quite clear that the Commonwealth governments simply followed the British government's advice in this regard.
19 According to Lord Beaverbrook anyway quoted by Brandi McCary
20 Quoted in the The Long Week-End
21 Quoted by Donald H.J. Hermann
22 According to Donald H.J. Hermann
23 As it happens Edward never had any issue.
24 Both Richard II and Edward II also abdicated but they were Kings of England and only abdicated when forced to so; both were probably murdered by their successors shortly afterwards.
25 According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation Report on Wallis Simpson sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 see the spartacus.schoolnet source
26 According to the spartacus.schoolnet source
- Ed. Elizabeth Longford The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes (OUP 1989)
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- Robert Graves and Alan Hodge The Long Week-End: A social History of Great Britain 1918-1939 2nd Ed (W.W. Norton and Co, 1994)
- Donald H.J. Hermann Having The Crown And Marrying Too: Alternatives Available To Edward VIII During The Abdication Crisis
- Brandi McCary Press, Politics and the Abdication of Edward VIII The Student Historical Journal 1995-1996
- Wallis Simpson: The Demonised Duchess at
- The Secret Files on Wallis Simpson at
- Profile: Wallis Simpson Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 18:06 GMT
from BBC News at news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2699035.stm
- Edward VIII on the the official web site of the British Monarchy
- Wallis Simpson at
- How our Bishop helped the King's fall from grace at