Today it is not seen as a problem when a commoner marries a member of the Royal British family. But that wasn`t always the case! Not even a century before Prince William married Catherine Middleton King Edward VIII had to abdicate to be able to marry Wallis Simpson.
But why was king Edward VIII not allowed to marry Wallis Simpson and stay on the throne?
Kind Edward VIII was not allowed to marry Wallis Simpson because she was American and a commoner but mostly because she was previously divorced and also still legally married. The Church of England, of which Edward was the worldly leader, prohibited the re-marrying of divorcees.
Before we dive into the individual reasons why Wallis Simpson was not accepted it is also important to take a look at the significance of the king and his duties.
Let`s find out more!
- 1 The significance of the king in the 1930s
- 2 Why was Wallis Simpson not accepted?
- 3 Who took the throne after Edward VIII abdicated?
- 4 What happened to King Edward VIII after he abdicated?
- 5 Sources
The significance of the king in the 1930s
Before we take a look at why Wallis Simpson was not accepted and Edward basically had to choose between her and his throne we have to take a look at what was expected of the king.
During the 1930s the king was seen as an indispensable institution in Great Britain. Although he didn`t have real power he was seen as essential for mediating between the political parties and representing the entire nation.
But that kind of responsibility also came with a moral code the king had to live by.
Especially since King Edward was also the head of the Church of England. And the church of England still had a big authority in both state and society.
It was expected of the king to live according to Christian-conservative morals and to be a role model as a family man.
The problem was that in 1936 the 41-year-old king Edward was still not married. And that damaged his authority and his political influence.
The political influence of the king was solely based on the public appearances of the king and his meetings with the prime minister and individual ministers.
Apart from that it was kind of expected that the monarch would not publicly voice his opinion. Queen Elisabeth is a prime example of not voicing her opinion publically while regularly meeting the prime minister for personal conversations.
Kind Edward VIII on the other hand was known for publically interfering in state politics even though he was not overly competent.
That in return prompted Neville Chamberlain to write a memorandum in which he recommended king Edward to show more reluctance and a focus on serious work.
Due to prime minister Stanley Baldwin, that memorandum never made its way to the king or the public.
As already mentioned:
Being a bachelor damaged king Edwards’s authority and political influence. Because of that Edward planned to marry his current partner Wallis Simpson as fast as possible.
There was only one slight problem. Wallis Simpson was not accepted. Let`s find out why!
Why was Wallis Simpson not accepted?
The 4 main reasons why Wallis Simpson was not accepted were…
- She was American
- She was a commoner
- She was already divorced once
- She was currently still married with a looming second divorce
The stigmatization of divorce during the 1930s
The main reason why Wallis Simpson was not accepted can be found in the values that British society had at that time.
Although the laws regarding divorces had been loosened several times during the 1920s and 1930s divorces were still extremely stigmatized.
Getting a divorce was basically a guarantee to end a political career. If the king would be connected to a divorce or even marry a divorced woman his authority would inevitably be damaged!
And that kind of social stigma was especially true for the king who was also the worldly leader of the Church of England. And the church of England had a clear stance on divorces.
The church of England prohibited its members from marrying divorced partners as long as the first partner was still alive!
But Edward VIII still believed that his private life and his inherited office as the king could be separated from each other. Because of that he and Wallis Simpson continued to publically appear together.
On October 27, 1936, the second marriage of Wallis Simpson was officially divorced which theoretically opened the way for the marriage with King Edward VIII.
And that immediately mobilized opposing forces…
Political forces opposing the marriage between Edward and Wallis Simpson
The first to speak against the plans for the marriage behind closed doors was Edwards private secretary, Sir Alexander Hardinge.
After that Prime minister, Stanley Baldwin was pressured by Geoffry Dawson, the publisher of The Times, to comment on the subject.
Prime minister Stanley Baldwin made it clear that King Edward VIII either had to abdicate or waive the marriage with Wallis Simpson.
To present a compromise King Edward came up with the idea of a morganatic marriage. That would have meant that Edward would marry Wallis Simpson without her getting the title of Queen.
Prime minister Stanley Balwin discussed that idea with the heads of government of the Dominions. Do you wonder what the main differences between a Dominion and a Colony are? Find out the answer in my article here.
Edwards’s proposal of a morganatic marriage with Wallis Simpson was categorically rejected within the British commonwealth.
On December 1 1936 the bishop of Bradford Alfred Blunt casually mentioned that the king depended on God’s mercy for practicing his office. After that, the press started to report about the whole case.
While the opinion of the different newspapers was split the majority of the conservative tories (Winston Churchill being the exception) had a clearly negative stance on the matter.
Both Labour and the British public shared the opinion that the king should do his duty and that he was bound to the instructions of the government.
So it is safe to say that a majority rejected the idea of a morganatic marriage between King Edward and Wallis Simpson!
But Edwards and Wallis Simpson’s request to marry was supported by two unlikely allies!
Political forces supporting Edward and Wallis Simpson
Both the communist party and the fascist party with its leader Oswald Mosley were showing their support by demonstrating in front of Buckingham Palace.
If that kind of illustrious support group helped Edwards cause can be debated…
Due to the rejection of his idea of a morganatic marriage king Edward VIII had accepted his fate and was ready to renounce his kingship.
On December 11 1936 king Edward VIII officially abdicated.
Who took the throne after Edward VIII abdicated?
After Edward VIII had abdicated a new king had to be found. Albert, Duke of York was chosen to succeed his brother Edward VIII.
After the abdication of Edward VIII Albert, Duke of York was crowned on May 12, 1937, and took the name George VI.
In the following years, King George VI would try to follow in his fathers’ footsteps. His father king George V had not only been one of the most popular kings in British history, but he had also been a prime example of a parliamentary monarch.
So George VI clearly had his work cut out.
And even though George VI was lacking experience, was stuttering, and had a weak constitution he was able to meet the expectations.
Now you might ask yourself what happened to King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
What happened to King Edward VIII after he abdicated?
After Edward VIII abdicated on December 11, 1936, he got the title of „Duke of Windsor“, left Great Britain, and married Wallis Simpson on June 3, 1937, in the USA. Both would later ingratiate to Adolf Hitler.
As the wife of the duke of Windsor Wallis Simpson would have had a claim to the salutation „Royal Highness“. But the British government refused that kind of honor.
During World War II Edward was compulsorily made governor of the Bahamas by the British government. Mostly to make sure that he and his endorsement of Adolf Hitler could not do any damage.
But the British involvement in World War Two is a story for another time. If you are interested in why the British military was so weak during the 1930s I would like to recommend you my article here.
And for further information on why Great Britain and France did not invade the weakly defended western part of Germany during early World War Two, I would recommend you my article here.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
P. Clarke: Hope and Glory, Britain 1900-1990 (London 1996).
A. Marwick: A History of the Modern British Isles, 1914-1999 Circumstances, Events and Outcomes (Oxford/Malden 2000).
P. Dewey: War and Progress, Britain 1914-1945 (London/New York 1997).