THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: DECEMBER 11, 1936

Edward VIII Abdicates

King-Edward-VIII-AbdicatesEdward was born in Richmond, Surrey on June 23, 1894, the first child of the duke and duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary). He was also known as Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, and in full, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

With the death of Edward VII (r. 1901–1910) and the accession of his father on May 6, 1910, Prince Edward (as he was officially known) became heir to the throne. On his sixteenth birthday, he was named Prince of Wales. After a stint as a midshipman with the Royal Navy, he matriculated in October 1912 at the University of Oxford. He left the university at the start of the war in 1914 and was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards on the Continent but did not see direct action. In civilian life, Prince Edward was noted for his charm, good looks, romantic liaisons, and unconventional wearing of hats. He became a leader of fashionable London society and something of a modern celebrity.

In January 1931, the prince met Wallis Simpson, an American citizen then living in London with her second husband. By 1934, the prince had cast aside his other lovers and saw in Mrs. Simpson his natural life partner.

George V died on January 20, 1936, and the Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Edward VIII on January 21. Once on the throne, Edward VIII showed a marked indifference toward public affairs and the intricacies of state business.

Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin belatedly learned of the king’s hopes to marry Mrs. Simpson, who had begun divorce proceedings against her second husband. By early November, Baldwin’s cabinet was discussing the constitutional problem of a king’s potential marriage to a divorcée. For many ministers, the Simpson affair illuminated wider uncertainties about Edward’s competency to be king. Public opinion was strongly hostile to the marriage, and he faced opposition from both the Church of England and Parliament.

On December 10, the king signed the instrument of abdication and left for Europe the next day. Edward VIII was the only British monarch ever to have resigned the crown. His reign lasted from January 20 to December 10— 327 days — the shortest of any recognized monarch since Edward V. George VI then titled him “his royal highness the duke of  Windsor.”

“Edward VIII (1894–1972).” Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. Ed. John Merriman and Jay Winter. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. 932-934. World History in Context. Web.


Learn more about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor »

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