Edward’s names were chosen in honour of his late uncle, Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, who was known as Eddy in the family, and his great-grandfather Christian IX of Denmark. The name Albert was included at the behest of Queen Victoria for her late husband Albert, Prince Consort, and the last four names – George, Andrew, Patrick and David – came from the Patron Saints of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. He was always known to his family and close friends by his last given name, David.
As with most aristocratic families, the royal children were raised by nannies and only presented to their parents at prescribed times of the day. One of Edward’s first nannies used to pinch him just before he was taking into his parents so he would cry during the visit and they would be sent away. She was dismissed as soon as the mistreatment was discovered. Edward was educated by a series of private tutors until his thirteenth year after which he was sent to the Royal Naval College, Osborne, which he did not enjoy. Edward moved on to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth with the intention of him entering the Royal Navy.
On 6 May 1910, Edward automatically inherited the titles of Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay when his father succeeded the throne as George V, however a month later, he was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. Since Edward was now heir to the throne, he was withdrawn from his naval course so he could concentrate on preparing for his future as a king. Edward entered Magdalen College, Oxford, for which he did not have the required intellect and he left without any academic qualifications.
When the First World War broke out, Edward was keen to participate and he joined the Grenadier Guards in June 1914, however he was forbidden to go on active service. Despite this, Edward found ways of getting to the front lines and was awarded the Military Cross in 1916 which made him popular amongst his peers and veterans.
After the war, Edward undertook many royal duties on his father’s behalf and he became very popular with the public since he was both handsome and charming. Edward also undertook a series of foreign tours to places like Canada, South America and Australia, however he was prejudiced against foreigners, especially those with darker skins, and was quoted as referring to the Australian Aborigines as “a revolting form of living creatures” and “the nearest thing to monkeys.”
As an unmarried heir to the throne, Edward attracted a lot of interest from the opposite sex and he had a series of high profile affairs with married women, including Freda Dudley Ward and Thelma Furness, who would later introduce him to Wallis Simpson. George V grew increasingly concerned by his son’s behaviour to the extent he was often heard to say he would rather have his second son, Albert, Duke of York, succeed him. The Prince of Wales’s own secretary, Alan Lascelles, likened his young charge’s behaviour to that of an adolescent and theorised the prince’s mental development had not matured past that point.
The relationship that caused the most concern though was Edward’s affair with Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who already had one failed marriage behind her, who had come to London with her second husband, Ernest Simpson, a shipping executive. When Edward and Wallis first met, he was still involved with Thelma Furness but when she travelled abroad, the affair with Wallis began. When Edward was challenged by his father over the father, he denied she was his mistress but his parents didn’t believe him and refused to receive Wallis when she visited Buckingham Palace in 1935.
When George V died on 20 January 1936, the prince succeeded as Edward VIII, however he immediately broke protocol by watching his own proclamation from a window of St. James’s Palace with Wallis. The government grew increasingly uneasy with Edward when he began interfering in political matters and it became clear he was not reading the confidential papers he was being sent. The government was also worried the papers were being read by Wallis which was a breach of national security. Although Edward’s affair with Wallis had been widely reported in the United States, the British press had remained tightlipped so the public were still oblivious to the scandal rocking the royal family.
On 16 November 1936, Edward declared his intention to marry Wallis once her divorce had been finalised, however Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, warned him the marriage would be viewed as immoral by the British public as divorce was opposed by the Church of England. Dismayed, Edward proposed a morganatic marriage which would mean Wallis would never be queen but this too was rejected. Baldwin told Edward marrying against the advice of his ministers would cause the government to resign, prompting a constitutional crisis, and the only way he could marry Wallis was by abdicating.
On 10 December 1936, David formally signed the instruments of abdication at Fort Belvedere in the presence of his younger brothers: Albert, Duke of York; Henry, Duke of Gloucester; and George, Duke of Kent. The following day, David explained his reasons for abdicating to a worldwide audience and he was succeeded by his brother, Albert, as George VI.
Wallis had already left Britain and Edward was unable to join her in France until her divorce was finalised, so he settled in Austria. On 12 December 1936, George VI granted his brother the title of Duke of Windsor with the style of His Royal Highness, however he barred the style from passing to David’s future wife or children. George VI’s decision to create Edward a royal duke also ensured he could neither stand for election to the House of Commons nor speak on political subjects in the House of Lords.
On 3 June 1937, Edward and Wallis were married at Château de Candé, near Tours, France, however George VI prohibited the royal family from attending which hurt Edward greatly. Edward was also dismayed by his brother’s decision not to allow Wallis to be styled as Her Royal Highness and it would be a source of conflict between them for the rest of the king’s life. Edward was also not given an allowance by the British government and any money he received was paid personally by the king who had to buy Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle from him as they were considered Edward’s personal property. The Duke began to telephone his brother on a daily basis for an increase in his allowance and for Wallis to be given the style of HRH until the king grew so tired of it, he banned the calls from being put through to him.
The Duke assumed he would be exiled in France for a couple of years until everything calmed down, however the king informed him his allowance would be stopped if he ever set foot in Britain again and this upset Edward greatly. Edward also railed at his mother for not taking his side but she remained steadfastly loyal to her second son and refused to acknowledge her eldest son or his wife.
Duke of Windsor
In October 1937, the Duke and Duchess caused further embarrassment when they were photographed visiting Nazi Germany, against the advice of the British government, and met Adolf Hitler at his Berghof retreat in Bavaria. The Duke and Duchess were treated like royalty during their visit and the Duke was seen giving the Nazi salute while the Duchess was pictured having her hand kissed by Hitler. Hitler later lamented Edward would’ve been a great help to the Nazi cause had he chosen not to abdicate.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Edward and Wallis were brought back to Britain where the Duke was made a major-general attached to the British Military Mission in France, however he was later accused of passing secret plans to the Germans, something he categorically denied. When France was invaded by the Germans, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor fled south until they reached Portugal, however they were ordered to return to British soil when the government learned the Nazis planned to kidnap the Duke. David and Wallis were a liability in Europe but no one wanted them in Britain due to their pro-Nazi policies so the Duke was appointed as Governor of the Bahamas which resolved the problem nicely. Edward and Wallis resented being sent to the Bahamas, finding the place unpleasantly backward, but they were praised for trying to alleviate poverty despite the Duke’s prejudice towards non-whites.
Once the war was over, the Duke resigned from his position and the couple returned to France where they would live out the remainder of their lives. The Duke and Duchess were given a house in Paris on the Neuilly-sur-Seine side of the Bois de Boulogne, for a nominal rent, and they were exempted from paying tax. Edward and Wallis were determined to be treated as royals but it was an expensive business and they often had to rely on government favours. The Duke, having no real career to keep him occupied, began to write books on the royal family under a pseudonym. The Duke and Duchess lived a celebrity lifestyle in Paris, however those that met them often commented on the Duke’s childish behaviour and his inability to hold a real conversation.
When George VI died in 1952, Edward was refused permission to attend his brother’s funeral and he watched the coronation of his niece on television, although he was paid to write articles on the ceremony for the Sunday Express and Woman’s Home Companion. In 1965, the Duke returned to London for a small operation and was able to meet his sister, Mary, just a week prior to her death. The Duke was also visited by his sister-in-law, Marina, Duchess of Kent, and Elizabeth II.
The visits indicated a slight thaw in relations between the Duke and the royal family, and he was invited to attend the centenary of Queen Mary’s birth in 1967 and the funeral of Marina in 1968. Just like his brother, George VI, Edward was a heavy smoker throughout his life and he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1971. When Queen Elizabeth II visited the Windsors in May 1972, the Duke was too ill to speak with her for more than fifteen minutes and did not attend the photo call.
On 28 May 1972, the Duke of Windsor died at his home in Paris and his body was returned to Britain, lying in state at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The funeral service was held in the chapel in the presence of the Queen, the royal family, and the Duchess of Windsor who stayed at Buckingham Palace during her visit. Edward was buried in the Royal Burial Ground behind the Royal Mausoleum of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Frogmore.
The Duke and Duchess had planned for a burial in a cemetery plot they had purchased at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, where Wallis’s father was interred, however when she died in April 1986, she was buried alongside her husband.