On this day in 1936, After ruling for less than one year, King Edward VIII becomes the first English monarch to voluntarily abdicate the throne. He chose to abdicate after the British government, PM Stanley Baldwin, the public, and the Church of England condemned his decision to marry the American divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson; Edward had been openly courting her whilst she was still married.
In a sappy radio address delivered December 11, he bemoaned “I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” On December 12, his younger brother Albert, the Duke of York, was proclaimed King George VI.
Edward’s womanizing and reckless behavior during the 1920’s and 1930’s had long worried Baldwin, King George V, and those close to the Prince; the propensity to sidle with other men’s women seemed even more odd. George V was disappointed by his son’s failure to settle down in life, disgusted by his affairs with married women, and was reluctant to see him inherit the Crown. “After I am dead,” George said, “the boy will ruin himself in twelve months.” It turns out the old King was as right as rain.
After the “Year of the Three Kings,” Edward and Wallis took breaks from their languid stays in the French countryside to cavort with Hitler and other unsavory types, soak themselves in gin or wine, and generally act a pair of twits. After France fell to the Nazis, Edward and Wallis “fled” to Spain, a nation virtually under Nazi control, and it was during this period Churchill became aware of the Nazis’ intention to re-install Edward to the British throne as a puppet king. Conscious of Edward’s pre-war Nazi sympathies, Churchill hastily “offered” Edward the governorship of the Bahamas in the West Indies, and the duke and duchess were abruptly moved by the Royal Navy to Nassau without their own clear consent.
“Hitler was the right and logical leader of the German people” remarked Edward to a Liberty reporter in December 1940, suggesting the time was coming for President Franklin D. Roosevelt to mediate a peace settlement with Hitler.
Indeed. And here the lesson of hazardous nincompoopery endeth.