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the only monarch in British history to voluntarily abdicate the throne
Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David was born in Richmond, Surrey, on June 23, 1894, the eldest child of the Duke of York. He was always called David by his family. His father became King George V upon the death of King Edward VII in 1910, and Edward was elevated to Prince of Wales.
Edward joined the Grenadier Guards upon outbreak of World War I, but was not allowed to see active service. Throughout the 1920's, Edward undertook extensive foreign tours particularly in the empire, representing his father. These tours, together with his visits to areas of high unemployment and deprivation in Britain during the economic depression of the early 1930's, made him very popular with the public. His playboy lifestyle, complete with numerous affairs with married women, made him unpopular with the Royal Family, however. And, one of those affairs ultimately led to his losing favor with most of Britain.
On January 20, 1936, King George V died, making Edward king. By then, however, Edward had fallen in love with Wallis Simpson, the wife of an American businessman. In October, Simpson was granted a divorce from her husband, and it became clear that the new king wished to marry her, against the advice of many of his advisors who did not believe that Edward, as head of the Church of England, should marry a divorced woman. All attempts to find a solution failed and so, on December 10, Edward signed an instrument of abdication, making him the only monarch in British history to voluntarily abdicate. The following day, after broadcasting to the nation and the empire to explain his actions, he left for Europe. Edward's brother became King George VI. Edward was never formally crowned, and his reign lasted only 325 days. The only royal action he took during his brief reign was to create The King's Flight (now known as 32 (The Royal) Squadron) to provide air transport for the Royal family's official duties.
On June 3, 1937, Edward married Wallis Simpson and the couple were given the titles of Duke and Duchess of Windsor. For the next two years they lived mainly in France. On a visit to Germany in 1937, they had a controversial meeting with Adolf Hitler. After the outbreak of World War II, Edward was appointed Governor of the Bahamas. He remained in this post until the end of the war, when he and the duchess returned to France.
In the remaining years of his life, the Duke paid only short visits to England to attend the funerals of family members, and there continued to be much bitterness between him and his family. Edward died of throat cancer on May 28, 1972, in Paris, and was buried at Frogmore, near Windsor.
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This page was last updated on May 11, 2017.