Edward & Wallis, George & Elizabeth – Love, Honour, Duty and Destiny
On January 20, 1936, King George V, grandson of Queen Victoria, died and his eldest son, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David became that day, King Edward VIII.
It is hard to even imagine for most of us, what the life of a royal must be like. We, who are not of royal lineage, can go about our daily business making decisions, and sometimes mistakes, for that matter, with little or no input save, maybe, that from our family. But for all the other privileges that may accompany wearing the crown, this freedom to choose without the input of a government and national opinion, is not a luxury that is among them.
So when Prince Edward met and fell in love with a divorced woman, Wallis Simpson, who was about to be a twice divorced woman and a woman who was not only a commoner but an American no less, no one was happy for him, and everyone had an opinion. Wallis Simpson seemed to have a hold on Edward that was described by observers as her having him “completely under her thumb.” She had captured the handsome prince’s heart, and despite the nearly unanimous opinion from inside and outside his family that she was “unsuitable”, he pursued her anyway. They met in 1930 while she was still married and began an affair that ultimately resulted in a marriage that lasted until Edward’s death in 1972. There has been much written, and drama produced, about this couple. One such work is a mini-series outlining their story called Edward and Mrs. Simpson
Theirs was a relationship that was very costly to Edward. While his parents King George V and Queen Mary, were introduced to Wallis Simpson at Buckingham Palace in 1935, they later refused to receive her again and Edward’s affair with her put an even greater strain on the already difficult relationship he had with his father, the King.
Edward and his younger brother Albert, or Bertie as he was known, were very close growing up. Albert, born on December 14th, 1895, was the second son born to King George and Queen Mary, who at that time was still known by the titles, the Duke and Duchess of York. This was the anniversary of the death of his great-grandfather, Prince Albert. Uncertain of how Prince Albert’s widow, Queen Victoria, would take the news of the birth of her great-grandson born on the day of the anniversary of her beloved husband’s death, it was decided to suggest to her that the baby be called Albert after his great-grandfather. Upon hearing of the baby’s proposed name, Queen Victoria wrote to the Duchess of York: “I am all impatience to see the new one, born on such a sad day but rather more dear to me, especially as he will be called by that dear name which is a byword for all that is great and good.” So it was settled and the baby was baptized ”Albert Frederick Arthur George” three months later. As a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, he was known formally as “His Highness Prince Albert of York” from birth. Within the family, he was known informally as “Bertie”.
Though there were 5 brothers in all, it is believed that Edward and Bertie were close ‘allies’ having a common enemy, their father. King George V was reportedly cold and distant and very strict with his children, remarking to others that he wanted his sons to be afraid of him. “My father was afraid of his father, and I was afraid of my father, so it is only right that my sons should be afraid of me!” Not exactly what you might expect from the heirs of Queen Victoria, the emblem of hearth and home. But in spite of their close bond as children, Bertie, like many others, could not endorse the relationship between his older brother, Edward, and Wallis Simpson.
Edward ruled as King of England for a mere 11 months. From January 20th to December 11th, 1936. Realizing that there was to be no acceptance of his relationship or proposed marriage to Mrs. Simpson, Edward made the decision to abdicate the throne. This had to be an enormous sacrifice for him. He had been groomed since birth and grown up every day of his life with the knowledge that he would someday be King. Giving up the throne was not just walking away from a job or a title, it was an identity and a presumed destiny. Still, if being King meant he could not marry the woman he had fallen in love with, then he was willing to change that identity and that destiny. Following is the speech he made that was broadcast via public radio, after his abdication on December 11, 1936:
“At long last I am able to say a few words of my own. I have never wanted to withhold anything, but until now it has not been constitutionally possible for me to speak.
A few hours ago I discharged my last duty as King and Emperor, and now that I have been succeeded by my brother, The Duke of York, my first words must be to declare my allegiance to him. This I do with all my heart.
You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the Throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the Empire which as Prince of Wales, and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve. But you must believe me when I tell you that 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.
And I want you to know that the decision I have made has been mine and mine alone. This was a thing I had to judge entirely for myself. The other person most nearly concerned has tried up to the last to persuade me to take a different course. I have made this, the most serious decision of my life, only upon the single thought of what would in the end be best for all.
This decision has been made less difficult to me by the sure knowledge that my brother, with his long training in the public affairs of this country and with his fine qualities, will be able to take my place forthwith, without interruption or injury to the life and progress of the Empire. And he has one matchless blessing, enjoyed by so many of you and not bestowed on me – a happy home with his wife and children.
During these hard days I have been comforted by Her Majesty my mother and by my family. The Ministers of the Crown, and in particular Mr Baldwin, the Prime Minister, have always treated me with full consideration. There has never been any constitutional difference between me and them and between me and Parliament. Bred in the constitutional tradition by my father, I should never have allowed any such issue to arise.
Ever since I was Prince of Wales, and later on when I occupied the Throne, I have been treated with the greatest kindness by all classes of the people, wherever I have lived or journeyed throughout the Empire. For that I am very grateful.
I now quit altogether public affairs, and I lay down my burden. It may be some time before I return to my native land, but I shall always follow the fortunes of the British race and Empire with profound interest, and if at any time in the future I can be found of service to His Majesty in a private station I shall not fail.
And now we all have a new King. I wish him, and you, his people, happiness and prosperity with all my heart. God bless you all. God Save The King.”
When Edward married Simpson, in a private ceremony on June 3rd, 1937, Bertie, now the new king, who was called George VI, forbade members of the Royal Family to attend, and the rift between them grew wider. Queen Mary, Edward and Albert’s mother commented in reference to Edward leaving the throne and marrying Wallis Simpson, that she couldn’t believe that he had “given up this for that.” Edward was embittered towards his mother, writing to her in 1939 he said in regard to her last letter that she had destroyed “the last vestige of feeling I had left for you …” and that she had “made further normal correspondence between us impossible.” In the early days of George VI’s reign Edward telephoned him daily, requesting for money and urging that his now wife Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor be granted the title of Royal Highness. Finally so harassed, the king ordered that Edward’s calls no longer be put through.
The abdication was not only costly to Edward, but Albert, or King George VI, as he was now known, as well. As outgoing and socially flirtatious as Edward was, Albert was equally quiet and retiring. He had a terrible stammer when he spoke publicly which was emotionally devastating to him. But he had something Edward didn’t have…a warm and loving family, two beautiful daughters, Elizabeth (Lilibet) and Margaret, and a strong and loving wife, Elizabeth who stood by his side and supported him through the many trials he faced as King. To see more about the life and story of George VI and Elizabeth there are two good choices…Bertie and Elizabeth – The Reluctant Royals and the more recent and critically acclaimed The King’s Speech.
If ever there was a person who did NOT want to be king it would certainly have been Albert. But his sense of duty to his people and his family was greater by far than his fear of public speaking or his desire for a quiet family life. He is quoted as having said, ‘The highest of distinctions is service to others.” Destiny called and he responded and history as we know it was changed.
Now, instead of being a somewhat obscure and distant member of the royal family, a little girl called Lilibet, Bertie’s daughter, and the great great-granddaughter of Victoria, would one day grow up to become Queen Elizabeth II and occupy the throne for 60+ years as the ruler of the British Empire into the 21st century. The story continues…
Until next time I remain Your Chum,