King Edward VIII Renounced the Throne for Love and the Royal Family Descended Into Chaos

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 14, 2024

The Royal Family of Great Britain has seen centuries of turmoil, drama, and chaos, but there was no situation in the modern era quite as shocking as that of King Edward VIII.

In 1936, Edward abdicated the throne in order to wed his beloved, Wallis Simpson, surprising the world and causing an incredible disruption for the monarchy itself.

Falling Madly in Love

Edward, then Prince of Wales and son of King George V, spent the first half of the 1930s falling madly in love with Wallis Simpson. 

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor at their country home in France

Source: Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Simpson was an American socialite who was already married to her second husband when she met Edward. And while dating a married woman would be taboo for most families in the ’30s, for the Royal Family, it was a complete and total disaster. 

Edward Was First in Line for the Throne

Edward’s scandalous love affair was kept under wraps by the British government for years. However, things got infinitely more complicated when Edward’s father, King George, died in 1936. 

The Royal Family in 1936 before King Edward VIII renounced the throne

Source: Quora

Edward Prince of Wales was suddenly King Edward VIII, and his role as the reigning monarch of the British Kingdom meant he certainly could not be involved in such a relationship. 

The Rules of the Royal Family

It’s important to understand it wasn’t just that Wallis Simpson was already married. Even if she divorced her husband, she would still be ineligible as a partner.

This was the first portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor after their marriage at the Chateau De Cande in Monts, France

Source: Getty Images

At that time, no member of the Royal Family could marry a person who had been divorced, and Wallis had been married not once but twice before. 

It Wasn’t Just the Royal Family Against the Pair

It’s important to understand that while the monarch is the head of the Church of England and, therefore, must follow their rules exactly, it wasn’t just the Church and his family who forbade the two lovebirds from being together. 

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Stanley Baldwin, at his desk in the 1930s

Source: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Prime Minister at the time, Stanley Baldwin, told the King that the British people could never accept a twice-divorced American as their new Queen.

A Verdict Edward Couldn’t Accept

But King Edward couldn’t accept leaving his beloved behind in order to ascend the throne, so he decided to do something else. 

King Edward in a car moments after abdicating the throne

Source: Historia Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Surprising the nation and the entire world, Edward decided to abdicate the throne and give up his title as the King of Great Britain to marry Wallis and live a quiet life together outside of the Royal Family. 


The Toughest Decision a Person Could Make

Edward wanted to tell his subjects himself exactly why he was leaving them. So, on December 11, 1936, he delivered a BBC radio broadcast that would change the Royal Family forever. 

King Edward renouncing his title on a radio broadcast, December 11, 1936


In his abdication speech, Edward explained, “I have found it impossible to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of King, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.”


Support and Disdain for the Once-King Edward

His speech was certainly spoken from the heart, and while many British citizens did agree that Edward could never have married Wallis and been King, as the Prime Minister suspected, others didn’t agree. 

Demonstrators protest against the abdication of King Edward VIII, threatened on account of hostility towards his proposed marriage

Source: Keystone/Getty Images

In fact, many of his former subjects took to the streets to support King Edward and his right to the throne, as well as his love for Wallis. 


This Wasn’t Edward’s Only Controversial Choice

While almost everyone remembers King Edward as the man who left the throne for love, it is not the only controversial decision he made in his life. 

Edward, the Duke of Windsor, meets Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1937

Source: Alamy

Edward also famously went to Germany in 1937 to meet Adolf Hitler and socialize with leaders of the Nazi party. Of course, Edward was technically a Nazi, but as this photograph circulated, the love many British citizens once had for him faded away. 


Without Edward, Who Would Be King?

Because Edward abdicated the throne, his younger brother became King George VI. That meant George’s firstborn would be the next reigning monarch, who, of course, was Princess Elizabeth, now known as Queen Elizabeth II.

Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II and Wallis Simpson stand outside

Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Since King George VI was only King for 16 years until his untimely death, it fell on Queen Elizabeth II to decide if her uncle Edward and his wife would be allowed back to the Royal Palace and be a part of the family after the wounds had healed. 


Edward and Wallis Became Outcasts

And whether from a place of resentment or loyalty, Queen Elizabeth II did not allow Edward and Wallis to remain as a part of the family. 

Edward and Wallis sitting on patio furniture at their home in France

Source: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images

They lived their lives in France, completely distanced from their families and all things British. But while this may seem like a sad end to a love story, Edward claims he had no regrets. 


A Love Story for the Ages

Edward told the press in 1970’s that the throne and life with the Royal Family were never his destiny, and even if he had never met Wallis, the love of his life, he likely would have found some other reason to leave. 

Wallis Simpson sitting inside her home looking out the window

Source: Wesley/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The pressures of being King are certainly not to be underestimated, but many say that while Wallis and Edward’s life together was beautiful and full of love, there was always a feeling of sadness for what they had both lost.