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In a story that will be regarded as one of the most romantic in history, King Edward VIII chose love over power on December 11, 1936. After several months facing the scrutiny of the English public and anger from all corners of the political arena, the monarch gave the crown to his brother so he could marry Wallis Simpson and spend the rest of his life with her.
Then-prince Edward met Simpson at a party in the country home of Viscountess Thelma Furness in January 1931. Though married to her second husband, Edward found himself drawn to the enchanting American woman as the months passed. Handsome and charming, the prince maintained dalliances with other women for almost three years before focusing his affection on Simpson by mid-1934. Disregarding her wedding vows, the two engaged in a passionate affair.
Upon the death of his father, King George V, in early 1936, the prince assumed the throne of England and received the title of King Edward VIII. Forced to take on a leadership role, he soon alienated many within the upper echelons of the British government by attempting to push a modern view of the monarchy. He made drastic changes, cut salaries for staff and disregarded appointments, leading to widespread anger amongst those who dealt with him directly, but Edward was still adored by the public for his attention to social issues.
The American press, free of the need for access to British authorities, provided breathless coverage of the relationship between Edward and Simpson. By November, rumors circulated the king was determined to marry his lover just days after her second divorce. From a social perspective, Edward soon faced the ire of the Church of England -- as king, he was technically the head of a religious organization which did not allow someone to remarry unless the previous spouse had died. Even worse, some began circulating stories of Simpson’s control over Edward and desire for his power or fame more than the man himself.
Determined to marry the woman he chose, Edward attempted to work with Members of Parliament to maintain his responsibilities to the Crown with Simpson as his bride. With the exception of a young Conservative named Winston Churchill and a handful of other politicians, he found no support for his ideas. And, when the story broke in British newspapers, the court of public opinion turned on the king for considering an American fit for the role of queen. (The relationship between the two nations had deteriorated somewhat after World War I.)
His mind made up, Edward sent an instrument of abdication to Parliament on December 11, 1936. The night before, he signed the official letter in the presence of his three younger brothers, elevating Prince Albert to the throne. Now conferred with the position of Duke of Windsor, Edward and Simpson left for France, where they married in June 1937 and lived for much of the rest of their lives.
Also On This Day:
1282 - The last native Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, is killed at Cilmeri in southern Wales
1792 - King Louis XVI of France is put on trial for treason during the French Revolution
1927 - An uprising in the city of Guangzhou, China leads to the formation of a Guangzhou Soviet
1946 - The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is established
1972 - Apollo 17 lands on the moon, the last manned mission to do so