Humanities › History & Culture King Edward VIII Abdicated for Love Share Flipboard Email Print Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) and the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972) outside Goverment House in Nassau, the Bahamas. (circa 1942). (Photo by Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images) History & Culture The 20th Century The 30s People & Events Fads & Fashions Early 20th Century The 20s The 40s The 50s The 60s The 80s The 90s American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History Women's History View More Table of Contents Expand Prince Edward Growing Up: The Struggle Between Royal and Common World War I Edward Likes Married Women Mrs. Wallis Simpson Becomes Edward's Only Mistress Who Was Mrs. Wallis Simpson? Wallis' First and Second Marriages Who Seduced Whom? Edward Becomes King Wallis Distracted the King King Edward VIII Abdicates The Duke and Duchess of Windsor Sources By Jennifer Rosenberg History Expert B.A., History, University of California at Davis Jennifer Rosenberg is a historian and writer who specializes in 20th-century history. our editorial process Jennifer Rosenberg Updated March 06, 2020 King Edward VIII did something that monarchs do not have the luxury of doing—he fell in love. King Edward was in love with Mrs. Wallis Simpson, not only an American but also a married woman already once divorced. However, in order to marry the woman he loved, King Edward was willing to give up the British throne—and he did, on Dec. 10, 1936. To some, this was the love story of the century. To others, it was a scandal that threatened to weaken the monarchy. In reality, the story of King Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson never fulfilled either of these notions; instead, the story is about a prince who wanted to be like everyone else. Prince Edward Growing Up: The Struggle Between Royal and Common King Edward VIII was born Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David on June 23, 1894, to the Duke and Duchess of York (the future King George V and Queen Mary). His brother Albert was born a year and a half later, soon followed by a sister, Mary, in April 1897. Three more brothers followed: Harry in 1900, George in 1902, and John in 1905 (died at age 14 from epilepsy). Though his parents surely loved Edward, he thought of them as cold and distant. Edward's father was very strict which caused Edward to fear every call to his father's library since it usually meant punishment. In May 1907, Edward, only 12 years old, was shipped off to the Naval College at Osborne. He was at first teased because of his royal identity but soon garnered acceptance because of his attempt to be treated like any other cadet. After Osborne, Edward continued on to Dartmouth in May 1909. Though Dartmouth was also strict, Edward's stay there was less harsh. During the night of May 6, 1910, King Edward VII, Edward's grandfather who had been outwardly loving to Edward, passed away. Thus, Edward's father became king and Edward became the heir to the throne. In 1911, Edward became the twentieth Prince of Wales. Besides having to learn some Welsh phrases, Edward was to wear a particular costume for the ceremony. [W]hen a tailor appeared to measure me for a fantastic costume . . . of white satin breeches and a mantle and surcoat of purple velvet edged with ermine, I decided things had gone too far. . . . [W]hat would my Navy friends say if they saw me in this preposterous rig? Though it is surely a natural feeling of teenagers to want to fit in, this feeling continued to grow in the prince. Prince Edward began to deplore being set on a pedestal or worshiped - anything that treated him as a "person requiring homage." As Prince Edward later wrote in his memoirs: And if my association with the village boys at Sandringham and the cadets of the Naval Colleges had done anything for me, it was to make me desperately anxious to be treated exactly like any other boy of my age. World War I In August 1914, when Europe became embroiled in World War I, Prince Edward asked for a commission. The request was granted and Edward was soon posted to the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. The prince. however, was soon to learn that he was not going to be sent to battle. Prince Edward, extremely disappointed, went to argue his case with Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War. In his argument, Prince Edward told Kitchener that he had four younger brothers who could become heir to the throne if he were killed in battle. While the prince had given a good argument, Kitchener stated that it was not Edward being killed that prevented him from being sent into battle, but rather, the possibility of the enemy taking the prince as prisoner. Though posted far from any battle (he was given a position with Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Sir John French), the prince did witness some of the horrors of the war. And while he wasn't fighting on the front, Prince Edward won the respect of the common soldier for wanting to be there. Edward Likes Married Women Prince Edward was a very good-looking man. He had blonde hair and blue eyes and a boyish look on his face that lasted his entire life. Yet, for some reason, Prince Edward preferred married women. In 1918, Prince Edward met Mrs. Winifred ("Freda"), Dudley Ward. Despite the fact that they were about the same age (23), Freda had been married for five years when they met. For 16 years, Freda was Prince Edward's mistress. Edward also had a long-time relationship with Viscountess Thelma Furness. On Jan. 10, 1931, Lady Furness hosted a party at her country house, Burrough Court, where, in addition to Prince Edward, Mrs. Wallis Simpson and her husband Ernest Simpson were invited. It was at this party the two first met. Although Mrs. Simpson didn't make a big impression on Edward at their first meeting, he was soon to become infatuated with her. Mrs. Wallis Simpson Becomes Edward's Only Mistress Four months later, Edward and Mrs. Simpson met again and seven months after that the prince had dinner over at the Simpson's house (staying until 4 a.m.). But though Wallis was a frequent guest of Prince Edward's for the next two years, she was not yet the only woman in Edward's life. In January 1934, Thelma Furness made a trip to the United States, entrusting Prince Edward to the care of Wallis in her absence. Upon Thelma's return, she found that she was no longer welcome in Prince Edward's life—even her phone calls were refused. Four months later, Mrs. Dudley Ward was similarly cut out of the prince's life. Mrs. Wallis Simpson was then the prince's single mistress. Who Was Mrs. Wallis Simpson? Mrs. Simpson has become an enigmatic figure in history. Many descriptions of her personality and motives for being with Edward have included extremely negative descriptions; the least harsh ones range from witch to seductress. So who really was Mrs. Wallis Simpson? Mrs. Wallis Simpson was born Wallis Warfield on June 19, 1896, in Maryland, United States. Though Wallis came from a distinguished family in the United States, in the United Kingdom being an American was not highly regarded. Unfortunately, Wallis's father died when she was only five months old and he left no money: his widow was forced to live off the charity given to her by her late husband's brother. As Wallis grew into a young woman, she was not necessarily considered pretty. However, Wallis had a sense of style and pose that made her distinguished and attractive. She had radiant eyes, good complexion and fine, smooth black hair which she kept parted down the middle for most of her life. Wallis' First and Second Marriages On Nov. 8, 1916, Wallis Warfield married Lieutenant Earl Winfield ("Win") Spencer, a pilot for the U.S. Navy. The marriage was reasonably good until the end of World War I: it was a common experience for many ex-soldiers to return bitter at the inconclusiveness of the war and find difficulty adapting back to civilian life. After the armistice, Win began to drink heavily and also became abusive. Wallis eventually left Win and lived six years by herself in Washington. Win and Wallis weren't yet divorced, and when Win begged her to rejoin him in China where he had been posted in 1922, she went. Things seemed to be working out until Win started drinking again. This time Wallis left him for good and sued for a divorce, which was granted in December 1927. In July 1928, only six months after her divorce, Wallis married Ernest Simpson, who worked in his family's shipping business. After their marriage, the couple settled down in London. It was with her second husband that Wallis was invited to social parties and invited to Lady Furness's house where she first met Prince Edward. Who Seduced Whom? While many blame Mrs. Wallis Simpson for seducing the prince, it seems rather more likely that she was herself seduced by the glamour and power of being close to the heir of Britain's throne. At first, Wallis was just happy to have become included in the prince's circle of friends. According to Wallis, it was in August 1934 that their relationship became more serious. During that month, the prince took a cruise on Irish politician and businessman Lord Moyne's yacht, the Rosaura. Although both Simpsons were invited, Ernest Simpson could not accompany his wife on the cruise because of a business trip to the United States. It was on this cruise, Wallis stated, that she and the prince "crossed the line that marks the indefinable boundary between friendship and love." Prince Edward became increasingly infatuated with Wallis. But did Wallis love Edward? Again, many people have said that she did not, that she was a calculating woman who either wanted to be a queen or who wanted money. It seems more probable that while she was not infatuated with Edward, she loved him. Edward Becomes King At five minutes to midnight on Jan. 20, 1936, Edward's father King George V passed away, and Prince Edward became King Edward VIII. To many, Edward's grief over his father's death seemed much greater than the grieving of his mother or his siblings. Though death affects people differently, Edward's grief might have been greater for his father's death also signified his acquisition of the throne, complete with the responsibilities and eminence that he deplored. King Edward VIII didn't win many supporters at the beginning of his reign. His first act as the new king was to order the Sandringham clocks, which were always a half an hour fast, set to the correct time. This served to define Edward as a king who focused on the trivial and rejected his father's work. Still, the government and the people of Great Britain had high hopes for King Edward. He had seen war, traveled the world, been to every part of the British empire, seemed sincerely interested in social problems, and had a good memory. So what went wrong? Many things. First, Edward wanted to change many of the rules and become a modern monarch. Unfortunately, Edward distrusted many of his advisers, seeing them as symbols and perpetrators of the old order. He dismissed many of them. Also, in an effort to reform and curb monetary excesses, he cut the salaries of many royal staff employees to an extreme degree. Employees became unhappy. Over time, the king began to be late to appointments and events, or cancel them at the last minute. State papers sent to Edward were not properly protected, and some statesmen worried that German spies had access to these papers. At first, these papers were returned promptly, but soon it would be weeks before they were returned, some of which had obviously not even been looked at. Wallis Distracted the King One of the main reasons he was late or canceled events was because of Mrs. Wallis Simpson. His infatuation with her had grown so extreme that he was severely distracted from his State duties. Some thought she might be a German spy handing state papers over to the German government. The relationship between King Edward and Wallis Simpson came to an impasse when the king received a letter from Alexander Hardinge, the king's private secretary, warning him that the press would not remain silent much longer and that the government might resign en masse if this continued. King Edward was faced with three options: give up Wallis, keep Wallis and government would resign, or abdicate and give up the throne. Since King Edward had decided that he wanted to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson (he told his adviser politician Walter Monckton that he had decided to marry her as early as 1934), he had little choice but to abdicate.7 King Edward VIII Abdicates Whatever her original motives, until the end, Mrs. Wallis Simpson didn't mean for the king to abdicate. Yet the day soon came when King Edward VIII was to sign the papers that would end his rule. At 10 a.m. on Dec. 10, 1936, King Edward VIII, surrounded by his three surviving brothers, signed the six copies of the Instrument of Abdication: I, Edward the Eighth, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Emperor of India, do hereby declare My irrevocable determination to renounce the Throne for Myself and for My descendants, and My desire that effect should be given to this Instrument of Abdication immediately. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor At the moment of King Edward VIII's abdication, his brother Albert, the next in line for the throne, became King George VI (Albert was the father of Queen Elizabeth II). On the same day as the abdication, King George VI bestowed upon Edward the family name of Windsor. Thus, Edward became the Duke of Windsor and when he married, Wallis became the Duchess of Windsor. Mrs. Wallis Simpson sued for a divorce from Ernest Simpson, which was granted, and Wallis and Edward married in a small ceremony on June 3, 1937. To Edward's great sorrow, he received a letter on the eve of his wedding from King George VI stating that by abdicating, Edward was no longer entitled to the title "Royal Highness." But, out of generosity for Edward, King George was going to allow Edward the right to hold that title, but not his wife or any children. This greatly pained Edward for the rest of his life, for it was a slight to his new wife. After the abdication, the Duke and Duchess were exiled from Great Britain. Although a number of years had not been established for the exile, many believed it would only last a few years; instead, it lasted their entire lives. Royal family members shunned the couple. The Duke and Duchess lived out most of their lives in France with the exception of a short term in the Bahamas when Edward served as governor. Edward passed away on May 28, 1972, a month shy of his 78th birthday. Wallis lived for 14 more years, many of which were spent in bed, secluded from the world. She passed away on April 24, 1986, two months before her 90th birthday. Sources Bloch, Michael (ed). "Wallis & Edward: Letters 1931-1937." London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986.Warwick, Christopher. "Abdication." London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1986.Ziegler, Paul. "King Edward VIII: The Official Biography." London: Collins, 1990.