On This Day: King Edward VIII abdicates

He signed papers that would end his reign the following day and allow his younger brother Bertie to ascend the throne as George VI

On This Day: King Edward VIII abdicates

DECEMBER 10, 1936: King Edward VIII abdicated on this day in 1936 after sparking a constitutional crisis over his desire to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

He signed papers that would end his reign the following day and allow his younger brother Bertie to ascend the throne as George VI.

A British Pathé newsreel showed then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin travel to the House of Commons to make the “most momentous statement of the century”.

It also shows a clip of the succeeding monarch with his family, including his then 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who became Britain’s current Queen only 16 years later.

The reporter assumed he would be crowned as King Albert I – using his first name, given him after his German great grandfather, Queen Victoria’s beloved consort.

However, Bertie, as his family called him, chose to rule as King George VI in the hope that a more traditional title would help calm a deeply shocked nation.

Effervescent Edward had been a well-liked member of the Royal Family until he met Mrs Simpson.

His insistence on marrying the American socialite triggered a constitutional crisis because the Government threatened to resign if he did.

This could have dragged Edward into a general election and would ruin his status as a politically neutral, constitutional monarch.

Mr Baldwin believed that people would not accept a divorced woman living with two living ex-husbands as queen consort.

Marrying Mrs Simpson would also have conflicted with Edward being head of the Church of England, which opposed the remarriages of divorced people with living  former spouses.

So, just 326 days into his short reign, he abdicated in order to marry the woman he loved.

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Six months later they finally wed in a private ceremony held at Chateau de Cande in Monts, central France.

Reporters outside the gates outnumbered guests at the thinly-attended wedding, which George VI had forbade any members of the Royal Family from going to.

Among the former monarch’s friends there were Herman Rogers and Major Edward ‘Fruity’ Metcalfe, who served as best man.

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In contrast to the small number of British attendees, the event attracted the attention of many local well-wishers, who – being French – admired his Edward’s romanticism.

But in spite of the global Press presence, the wedding was barely reported back in Britain – in accordance with the formidable deference of the time to the Royal Family, who were deeply embarrassed.

Nevertheless, the new king, who due to a stammer had long lived in his brother’s shadow, accorded Edward and his wife the titles of Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Later, due to rumours that the Duke was a Nazi sympathiser, the Duke was sent to the Bahamas during the Second World War to serve as its governor.

Edward was never given another official role and he and Wallis lived in France until their deaths in 1972 and 1986 respectively.

His brother would devote much of his time to restoring trust to the discredited monarchy.

So tattered was the Royal Family’s reputation that Labour MP George Hardie said the abdication crisis did “more for republicanism than 50 years of propaganda.

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But with war brewing, the new king had bigger problems ahead of him than the Windsor’s PR problem.

George, who continued to be called Bertie by his family, had to reassure the nation that it could stand up to German might and aggression.

Having battled his stammer with the help of speech therapy – as depicted in The King’s Speech movie – he gave the greatest radio address of any monarch.

He also won back the people’s trust by insisting on staying in London despite ministers advising him to leave.

Indeed, Buckingham Palace was palace was bombed a total of seven times, with his wife, the Queen Mother saying the damage let her to “look the East End in the face”.

After the war, George had to lead a Britain mired in austerity and with its empire in rapid terminal decline.

He weathered those trials too, but in the end they shortened his life.

The heavy smoker died from a coronary thrombosis at the age of 56 on February 6, 1952.