One of the most sensational events ever to affect the British Royal Family was made public on 11th December 1936, when the King of England, Edward VIII announced in a BBC radio broadcast that he had abdicated the throne to marry the woman he loved – the American socialite Wallis Simpson.
The event produced a massive sensation, not only in Britain and other countries of the Commonwealth, but also in the United States where the unfolding events were followed closely.
Edward had been introduced to Wallis Simpson in 1931 and the two had become increasingly attached, becoming a couple in 1934. This raised eyebrows in the Royal Household for several reasons, particularly when the King announced he intended to marry Wallis Simpson. She was divorced from her first husband and in the process of divorcing her second, and this led to a widespread belief that she was a “gold digger” and was only interested in the relationship for wealth and power.
As King, Edward was also the head of the Church of England that did not permit divorcees to remarry if their previous spouses were still alive, and his stated intention to remarry was in direct conflict with this.
Considerable debate took place as to whether the King could legally remain on the throne if he did marry Simpson, and the proposed union was opposed, not only by the British Government but other countries of the Commonwealth. This created an impasse, where many were unwilling to accept Simpson as the Kings wife and the King was unwilling to separate from her.
This led to his abdication, and he formally resigned from the Monarchy, amid enormous press interest on 10th December 1936, the day before his radio announcement to the British people. He left for Austria the next day.
Edward’s reign had lasted less than a year, and was in fact the shortest since the nine-day rule of Lady Jane Grey in 1553.
“Of course I do have a slight advantage over the rest of you. It helps in a pinch to be able to remind your bride that you gave up a throne for her” – Edward VIII after his abdication.
Image: Edward VIII statement of Abdication, 10 December 1936, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.