Abdication, David, Duke of York, King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, King George V of the United Kingdom, King George VI of the United Kingdom, kings and queens of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister, Prince Albert of the United Kingdom, Stanley Baldwin, Wallis Simpson, Winston Churchill
On November 16, 1936, King Edward VIII invited Prime Minister Baldwin to Buckingham Palace and expressed his desire to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson when she became free to remarry. Baldwin informed him that his subjects would deem the marriage morally unacceptable, largely because remarriage after divorce was opposed by the Church of England, and the people would not tolerate Simpson as queen. As king, Edward VIII was the titular head of the Church, and the clergy expected him to support the Church’s teachings. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, was vocal in insisting that Edward VIII must go.
Edward VIII proposed an alternative solution of a morganatic marriage, in which he would remain king but Simpson would not become queen consort. She would enjoy some lesser title instead, and any children they might have would not inherit the throne. This was supported by senior politician Winston Churchill in principle, and some historians suggest that he conceived the plan. In any event, it was ultimately rejected by the British Cabinet as well as other Dominion governments. Their views were sought pursuant to the Statute of Westminster 1931, which provided in part that “any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.”
The Prime Ministers of Australia (Joseph Lyons), Canada (Mackenzie King) and South Africa (J. B. M. Hertzog) made clear their opposition to the king marrying a divorcée; their Irish counterpart (Éamon de Valera) expressed indifference and detachment, while the Prime Minister of New Zealand (Michael Joseph Savage), having never heard of Simpson before, vacillated in disbelief. Faced with this opposition, Edward at first responded that there were “not many people in Australia” and their opinion did not matter.
Edward informed Baldwin that he would abdicate if he could not marry Simpson. Baldwin then presented Edward with three choices: give up the idea of marriage; marry against his ministers’ wishes; or abdicate. It was clear that Edward was not prepared to give up Simpson, and he knew that if he married against the advice of his ministers, he would cause the government to resign, prompting a constitutional crisis. He chose to abdicate.
Edward VIII duly signed the instruments of abdication at Fort Belvedere on December 10, 1936 in the presence of his younger brothers: Prince Albert, Duke of York, next in line for the throne; Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester; and Prince George, Duke of Kent. The document included these words: “declare my irrevocable determination to renounce the throne for myself and for my descendants and my desire that effect should be given to this instrument of abdication immediately”.