Abdication, Duchess of Windsor, Duke of Windsor, King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, King George VI of the United Kingdom, kings and queens of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Wallis Simpson
On December 11 1936, King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Emperor of India, abdicated the throne in favor of his brother, the Duke of York, who ascended the throne as King George VI. The next day, December 12, at the accession meeting of the Privy Council George VI announced he was creating his brother the “Duke of Windsor” with the style of Royal Highness. George VI’s decision to create Edward a royal duke ensured that he could neither stand for election to the House of Commons nor speak on political subjects in the House of Lords.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor
Letters Patent created May 27, 1937 re-conferred the “title, style, or attribute of Royal Highness” upon the Duke of Windsor, but specifically stated that “his wife and descendants, if any, shall not hold said title or attribute”. Some British ministers advised that the reconfirmation was unnecessary since Edward had retained the style of HRH and Prince automatically upon his abdication and further that Wallis Simpson would automatically obtain the rank of wife of a prince with the style Her Royal Highness. However, other ministers held the opinion that the Duke of Windsor had lost all royal rank and should no longer carry any royal title or style as an abdicated king, and be referred to simply as “Mr Edward Windsor”.
On April 14, 1937, Attorney General Sir Donald Somervell submitted to Home Secretary Sir John Simon a memorandum summarising the views of Lord Advocate T. M. Cooper, Parliamentary Counsel Sir Granville Ram, and himself:
1. We incline to the view that on his abdication the Duke of Windsor could not have claimed the right to be described as a Royal Highness. In other words, no reasonable objection could have been taken if the King had decided that his exclusion from the lineal succession excluded him from the right to this title as conferred by the existing Letters Patent.
2. The question however has to be considered on the basis of the fact that, for reasons which are readily understandable, he with the express approval of His Majesty enjoys this title and has been referred to as a Royal Highness on a formal occasion and in formal documents. In the light of precedent it seems clear that the wife of a Royal Highness enjoys the same title unless some appropriate express step can be and is taken to deprive her of it.
3. We came to the conclusion that the wife could not claim this right on any legal basis. The right to use this style or title, in our view, is within the prerogative of His Majesty and he has the power to regulate it by Letters Patent generally or in particular circumstances.
The creation of the 1937 Letters Patent by King George VI cleared any confusion and speculation to the status of the former King Edward VIII and his new wife.
The Duke of Windsor married Wallis Simpson in a private ceremony on June 3, 1937, at Château de Candé, near Tours, France. When the Church of England refused to sanction the union, a County Durham clergyman, the Reverend Robert Anderson Jardine (Vicar of St Paul’s, Darlington), offered to perform the ceremony, and the Duke accepted. King George VI, forbade members of the royal family to attend, to the lasting resentment of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Edward had particularly wanted his brothers the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent and his second cousin Louis Mountbatten to attend the ceremony.
The denial of the style Royal Highness to the Duchess of Windsor caused further conflict in the early days of George VI’s reign. The Duke of Windsor telephoned daily, importuning for money and urging that the Duchess be granted the style of Royal Highness, until the harassed king ordered that the calls not be put through.
Relations between the Duke of Windsor and the rest of the royal family were strained for decades. The Duke had assumed that he would settle in Britain after a year or two of exile in France. King George VI (with the support of Queen Mary and his wife Queen Elizabeth) threatened to cut off Edward’s allowance if he returned to Britain without an invitation. Edward became embittered against his mother, Queen Mary, writing to her in 1939: “[your last letter destroy[ed] the last vestige of feeling I had left for you … [and has] made further normal correspondence between us impossible.”
During the Second World War, Edward was at first stationed with the British Military Mission to France, but after private accusations that he held Nazisympathies he was appointed Governor of the Bahamas. After the war, Edward spent the rest of his life in retirement in France. Edward and Wallis remained married until his death in 1972.