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October 24, 2021

King Edward VIII Changed British History by Abdicating the Throne to Marry Wallis Simpson

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Before Prince Harry abdicated his royal duties, Edward VIII was the first king in British history to step down in the name of love. However, there's a history behind his decision, which might have saved England during WWII.

The fairytale-like stories of royal families have been capturing the hearts of many for centuries. The most talked-about family is undoubtedly the House of Windsor, reigning the throne since 1917.

The Windsors are also no strangers to widely covered-up scandals and secrets. One of the stories is linked with a man most considered the most romantic royal, Edward VIII.

The Duke (1894 - 1972) and Duchess (1896 - 1986) of Windsor in England after an absence of nearly three years, in the garden of Major Edward Dudley Metcalfe's country house, Coleman's Hatch, Ashdown Forest, Sussex. | Source: Getty Images

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EDWARD MEETS WALLIS

Edward VIII was the Prince of Wales and the first heir in the line to be named king. His father, King George V, passed away, and 12 months later, Edward became King of England in January 1936.

Five years earlier, the then Prince of Wales met Wallis Simpson, who was still married to her second husband, Ernest Simpson. The couple became friends with Edward and often dined at Simpson's London flat or spent weekends together at Berkshire.

Soon, Ernest didn't join their meetings, and in August 1934, the Prince of Wales took Wallis on vacation to Portugal and Spain. Wallis kept attending royal events after their trip, which didn't please King George V.

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Wallis, Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) and the Duke of Windsor (1894-1972) outside Goverment House in Nassau, the Bahamas, circa 1942. | Source: Getty Images

A few months later, Ernest left the couple's home, and Wallis's relationship with Edward became less covert. The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, advised Edward to be more discreet with his relationship with Wallis.

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The minister reminded him that the government and the Church of England forbade divorce. The abovementioned meant they'd never allow a twice-divorce American to be queen. 

When Wallis filed for divorce, Edward asked the Prime Minister if they could get married. He made his request by presenting a condition that Wallis wouldn't be named queen but a consort instead. 

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor seated under an open sky. | Source: Getty Images

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WHEN LOVE REIGNS

The proposal was rejected altogether, and in December 1936, Edward VIII signed the abdication and stepped down as king of England. In his abdication speech, the former king shared:

“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.”

Wallis and Edward VIII wed in June 1937, and his younger brother, George VI, was crowned as king. The King of Hearts and his beloved wife were exiled, moved to France, and named the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor. 

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Duke and Duchess of Windsor at 3rd Annual Springs Festival, circa 1950. | Source: Getty Images

INSIDE THE SCANDAL

Edward's devotion to the woman he loved is often romanticized. However, some story pieces can't be romanticized, like the Duke of Windsor's connection with the Fuhrer and Nazi Germany. 

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According to Biographer Frances Donaldson's book "Edward VIII," and as depicted in an episode of Netflix's "The Crown," in October 1937, the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor visited Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian region in Germany.

In both the book and series' episode, the former king gave Hitler a full Nazi salute during his visit — a trip that the royal family did not support. 

Realm leader Adolf Hitler (R) with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor on the recent occasion when they visited the Bavarian alpine retreat of the German dictator. | Source: Getty Images

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Right after the war was over, American diplomats found an abandoned truck covered with soaked and burnt papers that, later upon investigation, were found to be governmental documents near Meisdorf, Germany. 

Among these documents was a Nazi-devised plan to turn Edward into a puppet king. Essentially, the Germans would gain control of Britain and make the Duke return to the throne. 

The Nazi Germans considered the ambivalent Edward VIII a better ally than his brother, King George VI. It is unknown whether the former king collaborated with the Nazis, but as per 600 pieces of documents found, it seems that they planned to manipulate the Duke of Windsor.

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The Duke of Windsor (1894 - 1972) visits a stock factory in Berlin, 11th October 1937. On the left is Dr Robert Ley (1890 - 1945), head of the German Labour Front. | Source: Getty Images

Both the British monarchy and government were particularly aware of Edward's pro-nazi sentiments. Consequently, they knew his affiliation wasn't good news for the country's image, especially during a war. 

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Wallis and Edward's visit to Hitler in Berchtesgaden didn't make him a Nazi, but certainly "sympathetic," as Royal Biographer Andrew Morton explains in "17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History."

At the funeral of King George VI in London are (from left to right) Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Windsor and the Duke of Kent, in 1935. | Source: Getty Images

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To keep the couple out of trouble, the prime minister named Edward the governor of the Bahamas. The Bahamas is a British colony and became part of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The Duke and the Duchess of Windsor lived there in a luxurious home in Nassau for a while. Later, the duo moved to France to live in a 14 bedroom house in the Parisian park Bois de Boulogne.

Edward VIII published his memoir, "A King's Story: The Memoirs of HRH the Duke of Windsor," where he spoke about his childhood. He expressed how his royal title shouldn't keep him from experiencing love like everyone else in the book.

Prince William and Prince Harry at an Anzac Day Service of Commemoration and Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey on April 25, 2018, in London, England. | Source: Getty Images

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Harry, the Duch of Sussex, who also surrendered his royal duties in the name of love, is releasing a memoir next year. In a statement, Harry wrote

“I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to share what I've learned over the course of my life so far and excited for people to read a firsthand account of my life that's accurate and wholly truthful.”

According to the Daily Mail, Harry will talk about his breakdown with the royal family, his relationship with Prince William, and how everything contributed to his decision to step down. In July 2020, Meghan and Harry moved to California.

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