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Wednesday, 1 March, 2000, 13:35 GMT
Abdication: The story so far...

Edward abdicated in 1936 so he could marry a divorcee
What was the abdication crisis?

In January 1936 George V died and his son Edward VIII - the current Queen's uncle - acceded to the throne.


"I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love"

Extract from Edward's abdication speech
In November of that year Edward told the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, that he intended to marry Wallis Simpson.

She was an American socialite who had been divorced from her second husband only a month previously.

But marriage to her was constitutionally impossible. The Church of England, of which the monarch is the head, did not allow divorcees to remarry. There was no precedent for the monarch to marry a commoner.

The cabinet made it clear they would not accept it. Yet there was no provision in the British constitution for an abdication, either.

Edward broadcasting in 1935
In his abdication speech, Edward said the decision was "his alone"
For about a month the elite furiously debated the issue, although according to the mores of the day the press was virtually silent and the public thus unaware of the crisis.

Edward decided to go ahead with an abdication, which he did in December 1936. His brother, George VI - the current Queen's father - took over.

Who was Sir Walter Monckton?

Sir Walter, later Viscount Monckton, was Edward's lawyer and confidant throughout the crisis and in the years immediately afterward.


Lord Monckton: Lawyer and confidant
He drafted the Instrument of Abdication - the legal document which enabled Edward to stand down.

He also acted as go-between between Edward and other major players, including George VI, the Queen Mother, the Queen and Winston Churchill.

He gave his archive of documents of this time to his old college, Balliol at Oxford University, in 1950. They were given to the university's Bodleian library in 1974.

Most of it was immediately open to the public, but 11 boxes were, in line with Public Record Office policy, restricted for 50 years.

Lord Monckton died in 1965.

What happened after the abdication?

Upon abdication, Edward and Mrs Simpson were created the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and went to France in voluntary exile.

They married in June 1937 and had a whirlwind social life.

Queen Mother and George VI
The Queen Mother was furious that George VI had to become king
But the country and the Royal Family was deeply divided by the scandal - the biggest weathered by the monarchy this century.

It began a lengthy and bitter feud between Edward, and George and his wife, the current Queen Mother.

Shortly afterwards, Lord Monckton broke the news that the new King would no longer take the Duke's telephone calls.

The Queen Mother described the Duchess as the "lowest of the low", and reportedly blamed George's premature death in 1952 on the stresses of kingship.

The Duchess was not recognised by Buckingham Palace until 1963, when she and Edward returned for a brief visit to Britain.

The couple had no children. They both died in Paris - the Duke in 1972, and the Duchess in 1986.

What did it have to do with Hitler?

Edward is widely believed to have sympathised with Nazi Germany - but the extent of his involvement with the regime is still hotly debated.

Edward and Wallis Simpson
The couple are greeted by Hitler in 1937
It is known that the Duke and Duchess met Hitler in Munich in 1937 (while ostensibly on a tour to study housing and social policies).

It is also known that Edward sent Hitler at least one telegraph - on August 24, 1939, 10 days before the outbreak of WWII.

In that he wrote of "my entirely personal, simple though very earnest appeal for your utmost influence towards a peaceful solution of the present problems".

Hitler replied that it depended "upon England whether my wishes for the future development of Anglo-German relations materialises".

There has also been speculation about the circumstances in which the couple left France after it fell to Germany in 1940.

They lived in the Bahamas from 1940 to 1945, where Edward served as governor.

Edward and Mrs Simpson
Edward and Mrs Simpson on their wedding day
How much did it matter?

Opinions vary, though some argue that Edward could have committed treason. Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director of Burkes' Peerage, says the whole affair could have had a huge impact on British history.

"An association between Great Britain and Nazi Germany would have been disastrous," he said.

"I think Wallis saved the crown and to some extent saved Great Britain."

Are there more papers to come?

One box of the Monckton 11, which had been expected to be opened on Wednesday, was withdrawn until 2037.

The couple return to Britain in 1963
The couple visited Britain in 1963
It is thought that this may contain the most sensitive documents of all the correspondence, and in particular throw light on the Queen Mother's role in the crisis.

Other papers relating to the crisis are closed in various archives until January 2017, others for even longer.

The Royal Family remains deeply sensitive about the issue.

The Queen Mother has never spoken publicly about it - and Prince Edward did not interview her for his recent television biography, "Edward on Edward".

Buckingham Palace has made no comment on the Monckton archive.

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See also:

22 Feb 98 |  Americas
Abdication desk sold for $415,000
01 Dec 99 |  Background
Speeches of the century
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