1936 is known by many as the year of Abdication, but it is a year in which there were three kings on the throne of the United Kingdom. This extraordinary year in British history brought many changes within the Monarchy. It began in January when King George V (first Monarch of the House of Windsor), met his demise at his country retreat, Sandringham. His son and heir, Edward VIII ascended to the throne. King Edward VIII though was not destined to rule long. He was the reluctant King – his personal history had proved him uninterested in the position to which he was born to take. He was a playboy prince and very popular with the ladies, however scandal would erupt as he would seek to make his married American mistress Wallis Warfield Simpson Queen– who was in the process of divorcing her second husband. The King’s choice of consort would soon prove to be his downfall. The King persisted with his insistence and shocked the nation by publicising his intent to marry Mrs. Simpson soon after the King’s scandalous behavior of appearing in the society pages with her.
The British people and in turn the government would not have accepted Mrs. Simpson as their Queen, This was a known fact and a unwelcome problem that King Edward VIII would have to face in a very public manner. Divorced people were not accepted at court, especially ones with two living ex-husbands. Although the King was not forbidden to marry Mrs. Simpson, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin advised him, on religious and political grounds, that he must make a choice between the throne and marrying Mrs. Simpson, or the King’s government would resign. By December 1936, His Majesty had made his decision and used his power to expedite Wallis’ divorce from her second husband Ernest Simpson. Upon securing divorce for Mrs. Simpson, The King then took the task upon himself to inform his kingdom and territories beyond the seas that it was impossible for his to carry out his duties “without the help and support of the woman I love…”. This was a proclamation, an instrument of abdication which would see him give up the throne in favour of the woman he loved. King Edward VIII gave up his kingdom and his empire, where he chose personal satisfaction over duty and service to his people. King Edward VIII became the only monarch in the history of Great Britain to voluntarily abdicate his position. Edward VIII’s younger brother, His Royal Highness, Prince Albert, Duke of York would become the next King of the United Kingdom upon the abdication of his brother, who would become known as the Duke of Windsor. Edward VIII did marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson where they were symbolically exiled to France as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor until the dark days of WWII would see them sent to the Bahamas on official business on behalf King George VI’s government.
The abdication and the subsequent exile to France of the newly titled Duke and Duchess of Windsor turned out to be a blessing for both the Duke of Windsor and the UK in its entirety, due to the fact that the Duke of Windsor did not wish to be burdened by the position of King, and therefore knew that the people of Britain were in better hands under their new Sovereign King George VI. By September 1939, Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany where the steadfast and level-headed George VI and his Queen, Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) would be embraced by the people of Britain, as they led the British people through the worst of WWII. The King and Queen were a beacon of hope during the difficult times of despair throughout the Blitz, as well as the many other terrible bombings of Great Britain by the Nazis. King George VI began his reign as a reluctant King, a nervous man with a pronounced stammer who never wanted to reign, but took his duty to his people to his heart. He was a physically ill man, but with Queen Elizabeth by his side, they were a team that proved right for Britain and indeed the institution of Monarchy.
King George V knew his son Edward well. He knew that he would be the sole participant in the making of his own downfall, to which King Edward VIII proved his father right. Edward VIII was self-indulgent to the point of self-destruction as his father predicted. King Edward VIII’s reign as Monarch was one of the shortest in British history, lasting only 325 days, or about 11 months, one month less than his father had so sagely predicted. Edward VIII never did have a coronation ceremony, leaving him an uncrowned King of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the realms and territories beyond the seas.