Izay Ayesha recollects an amazing historical development
The King who abdicated for love is generally known that at the end of the day, in all probability, five kings would remain in the annals of human discourse: four kings of cards and the British king! British monarchy is a classic tale of endurance and steadfastness having overcome tremendous odds. One of such turmoils it faced was the abdication of King Edward VIII known as the only example of a monarch abandoning the throne for the sake of love. His abandonment of the prestigious throne is still rated as an unprecedented act by a head of state so securely ensconced on the British throne considered a very safe monarchical position.
Edward, known to his family as David, was born in 1894 when his great-grandmother Queen Victoria was the reigning monarch and was in the 57th year of her reign. His father was the Duke of York who later became King George V and his mother was Princess Victoria Mary of Teck. As a prince David spent much of his childhood at Sandringham in Norfolk, in a household where his father insisted on stern discipline and lived the dour life of a typical naval officer insisting on a very simple life.
As was the tradition, David was enrolled in the Navy, the senior service of the British armed forces. He was not a model cadet and disliked the rigours of extremely rigid naval discipline. With the death of his grandfather, Edward VII, in 1910 and the ascension of his father as King George V, David became Prince of Wales, the heir apparent, an office whose traditions go back to the 14th century. In line with his higher position and important responsibilities he was sent to Magdalen College at Oxford for higher education and it was expected that the academic excellence of Oxford will be able to broaden his horizons. Like in Navy, David did not excel in academics but enjoyed college life and participated in many extracurricular activities such as dancing in which he excelled and playing banjo over which he developed an exceptional control.
He saw service in First World War but was never permitted on the front lines though he did come under fire on many occasions. After the end of war David undertook a series of royal tours throughout British dominions and other countries proving to be a resounding success. During the tours David came out to be a very charismatic personality well attuned to the public aspect of his presence. He was accorded a particularly thunderous welcome in New York in 1919 and newspapers carried headlines stressing his eligibility as a bachelor.
The Prince was lauded for his genuine friendliness which allowed him to mingle with people, combined with a somewhat shy, almost wistful manner, convincing those who saw him that he would be a popular king. Although very popular in any surrounding, David somehow showed an unusual interest in married women and kept Freda Dudley Ward, a married woman as his mistress.
During one of his social engagements, the Prince met Mrs. Wallis Ernest Simpson, wife of an American maritime broker. Simpson’s first marriage, to E. Winfield Spencer had ended in divorce. David was intensely taken in by her who he rated as the most independent woman he had ever come across and found this trait very appealing.
In his 11 months on the throne David made it clear that he intended to be an unorthodox monarch. He decided that he wanted to marry Mrs. Simpson immediately after ascending the throne after his father’s death in January 1936. Wallis Simpson obtained divorce from her husband but David’s position was untenable as he could not marry a twice divorced woman. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin tried to dissuade him on the ground that the King, as head of the Church of England, would be violating the church’s doctrines against divorce.
While Britain was in uproar over the King’s choice of consort, Wallis told David that she wanted out but he persuaded to stay with him. By some accounts he did so by threatening to kill himself if she left then shaming her into marriage by naming her as the reason for his abdication. In the absence of legislation that would permit the marriage, King Edward chose to abdicate. In his last radio address he told the stunned British public that they must believe him when he told them that he finds it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge his duties as King without the help and support of the woman he loved. With these words, delivered with sadness on 11 December, 1936, Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor became the first monarch in British history to voluntarily abdicate his throne. Their marriage took place 3 June, 1937, at the Chateau de Cande at Monts, near Tours, France.
But as a romantic gesture, abdication was a tough act to follow. The couple had to live in virtual self-exile since his abdication. The royal family remained estranged from him till 1965 when Queen Elizabeth II met him at his bedside while he was in London for eye operations. Two years later, the Duke and Duchess were formally received by the Queen at a memorial ceremony for Edward’s mother, Queen Mary.
After abdication, the Duke and Duchess attracted wide publicity as they traveled about attending charity balls and other events in New York. The Duke performed some official duties in World War II, when he was appointed governor and commander in chief of the Bahamas. Throughout his life he stayed loyal to Wallis Simpson although she often showed signs of growing out of the relationship but remained with him till he passed away at the age of 77. She followed him to the grave fourteen years later. TW