In France, the Duke of Windsor – formerly King Edward VIII of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – married Wallis Warfield, a divorced American socialite for whom he abdicated the British throne in December 1936.
Edward, born in 1896, was the eldest son of King George V, who became British sovereign in 1910. He served as a staff officer during the First World War and, in the 1920s, performed numerous goodwill travels abroad as Prince of Wales, title bestowed on male heirs to the British throne. During the depression, he helped organize work programs for the unemployed in the country and was highly regarded by the public in the years before his father died.
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Edward, still single as he neared his 40th birthday, socialized with London’s fashionable society of the time and often enjoyed himself at Fort Belvedere, his country home. In 1934, he fell deeply in love with the American socialite Wallis Warfield Simpson, who was married to Ernest Simpson, an Anglo-American businessman who lived with Mrs. Simpson near London. Wallis, born in Pennsylvania in 1896 and raised in Maryland, had previously married and divorced a US Navy pilot. The royal family disapproved of Edward’s married mistress, but in 1936 the prince intended to marry Mrs. Simpson. Before he could discuss this intention with his father, George V died on January 20, 1936 and Edward was proclaimed king.
The new king proved popular with his subjects, and his coronation was scheduled for May 1937. His affair with Mrs. Simpson was reported in American and continental European newspapers, but because of a gentlemen’s agreement between the British press and the government, the case was kept out of British newspapers. On October 27, 1936, Mrs. Simpson obtained a preliminary divorce judgment, presumably with the intention of marrying the king, setting off a major scandal. For the Church of England and most British politicians, an American woman who was divorced twice was unacceptable as a future British queen. Winston Churchill, then a Conservative backbencher, was the only notable politician to support Edward.
Despite the seemingly united front against him, Edward could not be deterred. He proposed a morganatic marriage, in which Wallis would not be granted any rank or property rights, but Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin rejected this as impractical on December 2. The following day, the scandal made headlines in the British newspapers and was discussed openly. in Parliament. Without possible resolution, the king renounced the throne on December 10. The following day, Parliament approved the instrument of abdication and the 325-day reign of Edward VIII ended. That evening, the former king gave a radio program in which he explained: “I found it impossible to take on the heavy burden of responsibility and carry out the functions of king, as I would like. , without the help and support of the woman I love. “On December 12, his younger brother, the Duke of York, was proclaimed King George VI. On that day, the new king made his brother elder the Duke of Windsor.
At that time Edward had already left for Austria, where he lived with friends outside of Mrs. Simpson as his divorce proceedings progressed. His divorce became final in May 1937 and his name was legally changed to Wallis Warfield. On June 3, 1937, the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Warfield were married at Cande Castle in the Loire Valley in France. A member of the Church of England clergy organized the service, which was attended by approximately 16 guests. Wallis was now the Duchess of Windsor, but King George, under pressure from his ministers, denied her the title of “Royal Highness” enjoyed by her husband.
For the next two years, the Duke and Duchess lived mainly in France but visited other European countries, including Germany, where the Duke was honored by Nazi officials in October 1937 and met Adolf Hitler. After the outbreak of the Second World War, the duke accepted a post of liaison officer with the French. In June 1940, France fell to the Nazis, and Edward and Wallis went to Spain. During this period, the Nazis concocted a plan to kidnap Edward with the intention of returning him to the British throne as a puppet king. George VI, like his Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was firmly opposed to any peace with Nazi Germany. Ignoring the Nazi kidnapping plot, but aware of Edward’s Nazi sympathies before the war, Churchill hastily offered Edward the post of governor of the Bahamas in the West Indies. The Duke and Duchess left Lisbon on August 1, 1940, narrowly escaping from a Nazi SS team sent to seize them.
In 1945, the duke resigned from his post and the couple returned to France. They lived mainly in Paris, and Edward made a few visits to England, as if to attend the funeral of King George VI in 1952 and his mother, Queen Mary, in 1953. It was not until 1967 that the Duke and the Duchess were invited by the royal family to attend an official public ceremony, the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to Queen Mary. Edward died in Paris in 1972 but was buried in Frogmore, on the grounds of Windsor Castle. In 1986 Wallis died and was buried by his side.