The 1936 Abdication Crisis

  December 11, 2011 at 12:00 am by

The day is December 11th, 1936. Great Britain begins its day with an Edward VIII, and ends the day with a George VI.  His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 had passed through parliament.

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Sparking what was dubbed ‘The Abdication Crisis’, His Majesty King Edward VIII’s request to marry his lover, Mrs Wallis Simpson, was debated by parliamentarians, religious leaders, the press and the public during the month leading up to December 10 and 11. The Conservative government of the day, led by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, refused to grant permission for King Edward to marry. This refusal was also seconded by the Australian and Canadian governments.

The marriage between King Edward and Mrs Simpson was opposed for a number of reasons. One of the strongest was Mrs Simpson’s status as a divorced woman, with living ex-husbands. This posed an issue for the King as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, because the Church disallowed marriages of divorced persons whose former spouses were still alive. Divorce in England was also only considered valid at the time on the grounds of adultery, which was not the case for either of Mrs Simpson’s two divorces (firstly from Earl Winfield Spencer Jr., secondly from Ernest Simpson), so there was the possibility of a court challenge declaring the divorces void. There was also the rumour that Mrs Simpson was a Nazi agent/sympathiser. This did not sit well with the British Government, which was already concerned with the King’s interference in political matters. Opposition also came from the Royal Family and courtiers, who deemed Mrs Simpson ‘unfit’ to be Queen, based on her background and ‘activities’.

View the full image at RBA

Three options were surmised by the government as to what the outcome of the situation could be: marriage with full royal allowances (ie. Mrs Simpson becomes Queen), a morganatic marriage (ie. Mrs Simpson receives a secondary title, and does not become Queen), or abdication of the King and his future heirs. A meeting between the British government and representatives of the four British Dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa (along with a representative of Ireland) found that only option three was acceptable. If the King truly wanted to marry Mrs Simpson, he had to give up the throne – which Edward VIII did shortly thereafter, decreeing in a speech following the official announcement that he could not perform his duties “without the help and support of the woman I love.”

View the full-size image at the National Archives Flickr

The ‘Instrument of Abdication’ was signed by Edward VIII on December 10 at his Fort Belvedere residence, in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke of York, The Duke of Gloucester and The Duke of Kent, the King’s three younger brothers, who also signed the abdication document as witnesses. The document was then given to parliament, who gave their consent to the abdication, as did the Dominions (as was required at the time). King Edward VIII performed his final act as King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions, Emperor of India by giving his royal assent to the Act of Parliament which allowed him to abdicate. His brother, The Duke of York, was now King (he was officially proclaimed His Majesty King George VI the following day).

That same day, December 12, George VI gave his elder brother the title Duke of Windsor. When Edward married Mrs Simpson in June 1937, she became the Duchess of Windsor. Mrs Simpson for her part disagreed with the King’s abdication, trying to convince him several times to let her go and keep his crown.

Edward VIII has the distinction of being the only British monarch to abdicate the throne since prior to the twelfth century. He is also one of the shortest reigning monarchs, having reigned for only 327 days (discounting the disputed nine-day reign of Lady Jane Grey in July 1553 – King Edward V reigned in 1483 for only seventy-eight days).

Click here to read more about the Abdication Crisis in the British Forum.

Filed under British Royals, Historical Royals
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7 Responses to The 1936 Abdication Crisis

  1. Elizabeth Pease says:

    Just as December 7 will live as a ‘day of infamy’ in US history, so shall the period of Dec 10-12 in British history. Not to take anything away from Prince Albert, who became George VI, but I think Edward would have been a good King if he had been allowed to continue his reign after he married ‘that woman’.

  2. mercadee says:

    The painting of the king, who gave up his crown to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson, was commissioned for a special coronation issue of Illustrated London News which never made it to the news stands.

  3. Steve Andrews says:

    Edward VIII was weak and self-absorbed; the Brits were fortunate (to say the least) the government had the excuse of Wallis Simpson to remove him from the throne. He would’ve sold the country down the river to Hitler (even tried after abdication) and the course of the 20th c. could’ve been so much worse.

  4. Chuck Wolfram says:

    The end of the article is wrong. Edward VIII had the second shortest reign, excluding that of Jane Grey. Edward V had a much shorter reign (9 April 1483 to 26 June 1483, less than three months). A good thing that he did abdicate—he was unfit to be king. He had as his mistress, and was willing to marry her, a woman who was thought to have been von Ribbentrop’s lover, and at the same time she when she was the king’s lover.

  5. JessRulz says:

    @Chuck Wolfram,

    Thanks for picking that up. I missed Edward V in my count when researching the piece. There were also several other monarchs in the 1000-era who reigned for less than a year as well (Edgar II, Matilda, Harold II).

  6. Mavis Fraser says:

    How time has changed, ironicly the very incident that put Queen Elizabeth on the throne after her father’s death, is a similar thing her son did and “she looked the other way” (blood is thicker than water”

  7. Donald Hogland says:

    The charge that Wallis was a lover of Ribbentrop is not only unproven but based on one source, a dubious source at that. It is from an FBI file of an interview with Father Odo. Odo was a former Duke of Wurttemburg and a distant cousin of Queen Mary. In his deposition he makes the claim that Wallis and Ribbentrop were lovers ["he sent her seventeen roses, one rose for each time they made love."] Odo has no personal knowledge of this. He bases his claim on hearsay and gossip that so and so supposedly said that this and so and so was told that.

    The British government had Wallis under watch. In the whole time not once did her watchers catch her out in an affair with Ribbentrop. If this had happened it would have been recorded in full. The release of the government reports indicate she supposedly had one lover, an auto salesman. And if one reads the reports the claim is based soley on the salesman’s boast that he was Wallis’ lover. It has no other basis, and in a court of law it would have been shredded as a false claim. Even the salesman’s own family regarded his claim as just boasting on his part.

    When the archives released the documents on the abdication a few years ago there was nothing that in any way showed the Duke or Duchess to have been Nazi puppets or that Edward would have sold his country out to Hitler. He may have had some faults but traitor was not one of them.

    As for him being unfit to rule, millions of Britons, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and others, including Americans disagreed with that supposition. Edward was one of the most popular Princes of that day. During the abdication crisis a government official in Australia urged caution in acting as Edward was so very popular in the country “far more so than the Duke of York.” The same claims had been made about his grandfather, Edward VII, but when the time came Albert Edward become not only a successful king but one who was widely admired by his subjects. Who knows how it would have turned out with Edward VIII.

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