Who was Edward VIII? Why did he abdicate?

King Edward VIII with Wallis SImpson
Edward, formerly King Edward VIII, married Wallis Simpson. Credit: Chronicle / Alamy

King Edward VIII reigned for less than a year, abdicating so that he could marry American socialite and divorcee Wallis Simpson. He was on the throne in 1936

Edward VIII’s reign was Fleeting, fascinating and intensely romantic. It lasted only 326 days, yet it captured the attention of onlookers across the globe. Five years before his coronation, Edward met Wallis Simpson, a 34-year-old American socialite on her second marriage. Mixing in similar circles with her shipbroker husband, she spent weekends at the prince’s country retreat and love blossomed. When King George V, died on 20 January 1936, Edward took the throne from his disapproving father and continued his relationship with Mrs Simpson. He went on holiday with her on a Mediterranean cruise, attracting press attention.

The Simpsons’ decree nisi arrived on 27 October. Divorce was taboo and Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin warned that the public wouldn’t accept Wallis as queen. Edward forced a cabinet vote on the prospect of his marriage. It was rejected outright. The king had a stark choice: leave Wallis, marry her in defiance of Parliament or abdicate his throne. There was only one answer. Edward VIII is the only British sovereign to ever step down voluntarily – and he did it in the name of love.

Key dates

  • 1936 – The Spitfire takes its first test flight
  • 1936 – Crystal Palace, built for 1851’s Great Exhibition, burns down

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