The King of England who abdicated in 1936 was King Edward VIII. His reign was one of the shortest in British history, lasting only 326 days, but the circumstances surrounding his abdication have made him one of the most memorable monarchs.
Born on June 23, 1894, Edward was the eldest son of King George V and Queen Mary. Throughout his youth and early adulthood, he was known for his charm and charisma, and as Prince of Wales, he undertook many royal duties and tours, gaining immense popularity both at home and abroad.
However, Edward’s personal life often clashed with the traditional expectations of a royal heir. He had a series of relationships with married women, but it was his relationship with Wallis Simpson, an American socialite and twice-divorced woman, that led to a constitutional crisis.
By the time Edward ascended the throne in January 1936, following the death of his father, King George V, he had already fallen deeply in love with Simpson. He expressed a strong desire to marry her, but such a union was unacceptable to the Church of England, of which the King was the Supreme Governor, and to the British government. A marriage to a twice-divorced woman was not only against the church’s teachings but was also viewed with skepticism by the public and political elite.
Edward was presented with a series of potential solutions, including a morganatic marriage, where Wallis would not become queen and any children they might have would not inherit the throne. However, none of these were deemed satisfactory. Faced with an impasse and unwilling to give up his relationship with Wallis, Edward decided to abdicate.
On December 11, 1936, in a radio broadcast to the nation and the empire, Edward declared his intention to abdicate, stating: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” This profound decision made Edward the first monarch in British history to voluntarily relinquish the throne.
Following his abdication, Edward’s younger brother, Albert, Duke of York, ascended the throne as King George VI. Edward was given the title “Duke of Windsor” and married Wallis Simpson on June 3, 1937. The couple lived the remainder of their lives outside of England, residing in various countries and leading a life largely away from the intense scrutiny they once faced. Edward passed away on May 28, 1972, but the story of his abdication and love affair with Wallis Simpson remains an iconic moment in British royal history.