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How ‘lonely’ Edward VIII shocked world with his explosive 1951 autobiography

How lonely Edward VIII shocked world with his explosive 1951


Published nearly 70 years ago, it was an explosive royal memoir which made headlines around the world.

Described at the time as a work that was ‘unique in the history of literature’, the former King Edward VIII’s autobiography was published in September 1951, just months before his brother King George VI’s death.

The Duke of Windsor had a lot to talk about: his unhappy and ‘lonely’ time as King; his ‘strict’ childhood, his terrible relationship with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin; and of course the inside story of the abdication crisis which saw him depart the throne in December 1936.

The saga centred around his desire to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and Baldwin’s refusal to allow the union to take place without Edward first stepping down from his position as King.

In his ghost-written book, A King’s Story: The Memoirs of HRH the Duke of Windsor, Edward spoke of how, in believing that his ‘birth and title’ should not ‘set me apart from other people’, he felt as though he was in ‘unconscious rebellion against my position’.

The closing words of the tome centred around his decision to give up the throne so he could marry Ms Simpson.

He spoke of how ‘love had triumphed over politics’ and that although it proved to be his ‘fate’ to ‘sacrifice my cherished British heritage’, he drew comfort that the decision had ‘long since sanctified a true and faithful union’.

Royal historian Robert Jobson told MailOnline that the work was ‘much more important’ than the memoir which Prince Harry is set to publish next year – because as an ex-King, the Duke ‘had more gravitas’ than the Duke of Sussex.

Harry revealed via publisher Penguin Random House yesterday that he was writing his book ‘not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become’.

The work is set to delve further into the breakdown in his relationship with his family and brother Prince William, which led to his and wife Meghan Markle’s decision to give up their royal duties and move to California at the start of last year.

Published nearly 70 years ago, it was an explosive royal memoir which made headlines around the world. Described at the time as a work that was 'unique in the history of literature', the former King Edward VIII's autobiography was published in September 1951, just months before his brother King George VI's death. Above: The Duke posing with the first edition of his memoirs

Published nearly 70 years ago, it was an explosive royal memoir which made headlines around the world. Described at the time as a work that was ‘unique in the history of literature’, the former King Edward VIII’s autobiography was published in September 1951, just months before his brother King George VI’s death. Above: The Duke posing with the first edition of his memoirs 

The couple on the day of their wedding in 1937

The Duke of Windsor had a lot to talk about: his unhappy time as King; his ‘strict’ childhood, his terrible relationship with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin; and of course the inside story of the abdication crisis which saw him depart the throne in December 1936. The saga centred around his desire to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and Baldwin’s refusal to allow the union to take place without Edward first stepping down from his position as King. Above: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor after their marriage in Monts, France, in June 1937 

News of the Duke of Windsor’s memoir was reported in the Daily Mail on September 27, 1951.

Reviewer George Murray said in the edition: ‘He had no need to keep an ear to the keyhole, or to hide under the table to learn what the kings and queens and princes were talking about.

Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII: A scandal that rocked a nation

January 1931 – Wallis meets Prince Edward in January 1931, after being introduced via her friend Lady Furness

1931- 1934 – The American divorcee and the heir to the throne see each other regularly at various parties 

August 1934 – Wallis admits she and Edward are no longer just friends, after joining him on a cruise 

January 1936 – King George V dies. Edward asks Wallis to watch the proclamation of his accession with him from St. James’s Palace

August 1936 – The pair enjoy a cruise around the Adriatic sea with friends. Details of their relationship appear in the American press

December 11, 1936 – Edward announces his abdication

June 3, 1937 – The couple get married in the south of France. Wallis was formally known as the Duchess of Windsor, but was not allowed to share her husband’s title of ‘Royal Highness.’   

‘He was inside the room and at the head of the table. He was on the throne.’

‘Were his book ill-constructed and ill-spelt, it would still be remarkable. But, in fact, it is brilliantly written. Time after time a situation or a personality is touched off in one illuminating phrase.’

Edward’s most illuminating words were about his feelings about his royal status, where he also touched on his service in the British Army in the First World War.

He said: ‘The idea that my birth and title should somehow set me apart from and above other people struck me as wrong.

‘If the levelling process of Osborne, Dartmouth and oxford and the democracy of the battlefields taught me anything, it was, firstly, that my desires and interests were much the same as those of other people , and secondly, that, however hard I tried, my capacity was somehow not appreciably above the standards of the fiercely competitive world outside palace walls… I suppose that, without quite understanding why, I was in unconscious rebellion against my position. That is what comes, perhaps, of sending and impressionable prince to school and war’

He felt that his investiture as the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon in 1911 – a ceremony echoed by Prince Charles’s own investiture in 1969 – was a ‘preposterous rig’.

He said that, once the day was over, he made a ‘painful discovery’ about himself.

‘It was that, while I was prepared to fulfil my role in all this pomp and ritual, I recoiled from anything that tended to set me up as a person requiring homage,’ he said.

The Duke even claimed that, if the choice ‘had been left to me’ he may not have ‘consciously chosen the Throne as the next most desirable goal of my aspirations’.

He added: ‘But not to wish to be King was something else. I wanted to be a successful King, though a King in a modern way’. 

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45659945 9805665 image a 78 1626772348253

News of the Duke of Windsor's memoir was reported in the Daily Mail on September 27, 1951. Reviewer George Murray said in the edition: 'He had no need to keep an ear to the keyhole, or to hide under the table to learn what the kings and queens and princes were talking about. 'He was inside the room and at the head of the table. He was on the throne.' 'Were his book ill-constructed and ill-spelt, it would still be remarkable. But, in fact, it is brilliantly written. Time after time a situation or a personality is touched off in one illuminating phrase'

News of the Duke of Windsor’s memoir was reported in the Daily Mail on September 27, 1951. Reviewer George Murray said in the edition: ‘He had no need to keep an ear to the keyhole, or to hide under the table to learn what the kings and queens and princes were talking about. ‘He was inside the room and at the head of the table. He was on the throne.’ ‘Were his book ill-constructed and ill-spelt, it would still be remarkable. But, in fact, it is brilliantly written. Time after time a situation or a personality is touched off in one illuminating phrase’ 

His reference to his desire to update the monarchy and his feelings about his status as a royal were echoed nearly 20 years later by Wallis when she said in the couple’s joint televised interview with the BBC in 1970 that her husband had been ‘ahead of his time’ as King.

‘I think he had lots of pep and was ahead of his time. I think he wanted to establish things… not ready for them really perhaps,’ she said.

The edition which bore the coverage of the Duke's book also featured a news report about King George VI's ailing health

The edition which bore the coverage of the Duke’s book also featured a news report about King George VI’s ailing health

Edward’s relationship with Wallis, who had been twice married before her union with him, was a scandal when news first emerged of it.

His proposition to marry her – whilst divorce proceedings with her second husband were still ongoing – sparked a constitutional crisis which culminated in Edward’s decision to abdicate.

In his memoir, he described how Prime Minister Baldwin came to see him when Wallis filed for divorce from her husband, the shipbroker Ernest Aldrich Simpson.

He said he was ‘perturbed’ by the PM’s conversation with him, in which the Duke claimed Baldwin said: ‘I believe I know what the people would tolerate and what they would not’– a reference to his expressed wish to marry Wallis once her divorce was settled.

The Duke then tore into the Conservative politician as he expressed his despair at his lack of power in the situation.

‘Clear to the end, Mr Baldwin in his exchanges with me followed with scrupulous exactitude the constitutional rhetoric which preserves the fiction of kingly authority,’ he wrote.

‘It was always my ministers who would not let me do what I wished. It was always with his humble duty that he did what he wished.

‘The Prime minister controlled all the levers of power. He could bargain with the opposition. He could canvass members of Parliament.

‘He could exert party pressure for the support of the newspapers. He could even consult the Dominion Premiers in his own terms.’

The Duke added: ‘He could do all this and more…. I had to stand silent. How lonely is a Monarch in a struggle with a shrewd Prime Minister backed by all the apparatus of the modern State!’

Edward also touched on the role of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, in the 1936 crisis.

The churchman was widely condemned for a speech he made after Edward had stepped down as King, in which he said: ‘From God he received a high and sacred trust. Yet by his own will he has … surrendered the trust.’

Royal historian Robert Jobson told MailOnline that the work was 'much more important' than the memoir which Prince Harry is set to publish next year – because as an ex-King, the Duke 'had more gravitas' than the Duke of Sussex (pictured)

Royal historian Robert Jobson told MailOnline that the work was ‘much more important’ than the memoir which Prince Harry is set to publish next year – because as an ex-King, the Duke ‘had more gravitas’ than the Duke of Sussex (pictured)

Harry revealed via publisher Penguin Random House yesterday that he was writing his book 'not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become'. The work is set to delve further into the breakdown in his relationship with his family and brother Prince William, which led to his and wife Meghan Markle's decision to give up their royal duties and move to California at the start of last year

Harry revealed via publisher Penguin Random House yesterday that he was writing his book ‘not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become’. The work is set to delve further into the breakdown in his relationship with his family and brother Prince William, which led to his and wife Meghan Markle’s decision to give up their royal duties and move to California at the start of last year

He added that the King’s motive had been ‘a craving for private happiness’ that he had tried to get ‘in a manner inconsistent with the Christian principles of marriage.’

Touching on Lang’s role, Edward said that ‘behind’ the politicians’ decisions, ‘I suspected was a shadowy, hovering presence, the Archbishop of Canterbury.’

He added: ‘Curiously enough, I did not once see him throughout this period. He stood aside until the fateful fabric had been woven and the crisis was over.

‘Yet from beginning to end I had a disquieting feeling that he was invisibly and noiselessly about.’

The final passage in his book also centred around his relationship with Wallis, who he finally married in 1937.

‘Though it has proved my fate to sacrifice my cherished British heritage along with all the years in its service, I today draw comfort from the knowledge that time has long since sanctified a true and faithful union,’ he said.

Beyond the endless interest that there was for Edward to speak of the events that led to him giving up the throne, he also opened up about his childhood and his relationship with his father, King George V, and mother, Queen Mary, in his book.

The closing words of the Duke's memoir centred around his decision to give up the throne so he could marry Ms Simpson. He spoke of how 'love had triumphed over politics' and that although it proved to be his 'fate' to 'sacrifice my cherished British heritage', he drew comfort that the decision had 'long since sanctified a true and faithful union. Above: The Duke and Duchess featured on the cover of LIFE Magazine together in 1950, the year before his book came out. The Duke wore a smart striped suit whilst the Duchess donned glamorous jewellery for the photoshoot

The closing words of the Duke’s memoir centred around his decision to give up the throne so he could marry Ms Simpson. He spoke of how ‘love had triumphed over politics’ and that although it proved to be his ‘fate’ to ‘sacrifice my cherished British heritage’, he drew comfort that the decision had ‘long since sanctified a true and faithful union. Above: The Duke and Duchess featured on the cover of LIFE Magazine together in 1950, the year before his book came out. The Duke wore a smart striped suit whilst the Duchess donned glamorous jewellery for the photoshoot 

Edward's proposal to marry Wallis – whilst divorce proceedings with her second husband were still ongoing - sparked a constitutional crisis which culminated in Edward's decision to abdicate. Pictured: His letter of abdication

Edward’s proposal to marry Wallis – whilst divorce proceedings with her second husband were still ongoing – sparked a constitutional crisis which culminated in Edward’s decision to abdicate. Above: His letter announcing his abdication

The solemn King Edward VIII giving his abdication broadcast to the nation and the Empire, on December 11th, 1936

The solemn King Edward VIII giving his abdication broadcast to the nation and the Empire, on December 11th, 1936

The Duke felt that his investiture as the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon in 1911 – a ceremony echoed by Prince Charles's own investiture in 1969 – was a 'preposterous rig'. He said that, once the day was over, he made a 'painful discovery' about himself. 'It was that, while I was prepared to fulfil my role in all this pomp and ritual, I recoiled from anything that tended to set me up as a person requiring homage,' he said

The Duke felt that his investiture as the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon in 1911 – a ceremony echoed by Prince Charles’s own investiture in 1969 – was a ‘preposterous rig’. He said that, once the day was over, he made a ‘painful discovery’ about himself. ‘It was that, while I was prepared to fulfil my role in all this pomp and ritual, I recoiled from anything that tended to set me up as a person requiring homage,’ he said

He described how his mother 'smoothed things over' after there was a 'family blow-up' following his investiture as Prince of Wales. He said she told him: 'Your friends will understand that as a prince you are obliged to do certain things that may seem a little silly'. Above: The then Prince of Wales at his investiture, walking hand in hand with his father

He described how his mother ‘smoothed things over’ after there was a ‘family blow-up’ following his investiture as Prince of Wales. He said she told him: ‘Your friends will understand that as a prince you are obliged to do certain things that may seem a little silly’. Above: The then Prince of Wales at his investiture, walking hand in hand with his father 

Speaking in his book of his childhood, he said: 'My boyhood was a strict one because my father was strict in his own life and habits… He had the Victorian's sense of probity, moral responsibility, and love of domesticity,' he said. 'He believed in God, in the invincibility of the Royal Navy, and the essential rightness of whatever was British… The concept of duty was drilled into me, and I never had the sense that the days belonged to me alone'. Above: A young Edward with the then Prince George and his wife Mary

Speaking in his book of his childhood, he said: ‘My boyhood was a strict one because my father was strict in his own life and habits… He had the Victorian’s sense of probity, moral responsibility, and love of domesticity,’ he said. ‘He believed in God, in the invincibility of the Royal Navy, and the essential rightness of whatever was British… The concept of duty was drilled into me, and I never had the sense that the days belonged to me alone’. Above: A young Edward with the then Prince George and his wife Mary 

Queen Mary is seen above playing hostess to her son when he visited her in 1945, eight years before her death at the age of 85

Queen Mary is seen above playing hostess to her son when he visited her in 1945, eight years before her death at the age of 85

In his memoir, the Duke (pictured above during the First World War) criticised Baldwin  when he expressed his despair at his own lack of power during the Abdication Crisis

He said: 'Clear to the end, Mr Baldwin [above] in his exchanges with me followed with scrupulous exactitude the constitutional rhetoric which preserves the fiction of kingly authority,' he wrote

In his memoir, the Duke (pictured left during the First World War) criticised Baldwin (right) when he expressed his despair at his own lack of power during the Abdication Crisis. He said: ‘Clear to the end, Mr Baldwin in his exchanges with me followed with scrupulous exactitude the constitutional rhetoric which preserves the fiction of kingly authority,’ he wrote. ‘It was always my ministers who would not let me do what I wished. It was always with his humble duty that he did what he wished. The Prime minister controlled all the levers of power. He could bargain with the opposition. He could canvass members of Parliament. He could exert party pressure for the support of the newspapers. He could even consult the Dominion Premiers in his own terms’

‘My boyhood was a strict one because my father was strict in his own life and habits… He had the Victorian’s sense of probity, moral responsibility, and love of domesticity,’ he said.

‘He believed in God, in the invincibility of the Royal Navy, and the essential rightness of whatever was British… The concept of duty was drilled into me, and I never had the sense that the days belonged to me alone.’

He added: ‘One theme that he inculcated into us was that we must never get the idea that we were different from or better than other people… and he literally pounded good manners into us… but with Mama life was less severe’.

He described how his mother ‘smoothed things over’ after there was a ‘family blow-up’ following his investiture as Prince of Wales.

He said she told him: ‘Your friends will understand that as a prince you are obliged to do certain things that may seem a little silly.’   

Speaking to MailOnline today about the Duke’s book, historian Mr Jobson said: ‘It was a bestseller at the time, it went around the world. Historically it is a very interesting memoir because it covers all sorts of period from his life as Prince of Wales and the whole period of the abdication. 

‘He was an interesting man and very erudite, and because he was an ex king he had more gravitas. Harry’s will be an interesting book but i don’t know if its comparable really to Duke of Windsor’s story,’ he added.  

After his abdication, Edward was made the Duke of Windsor by his brother – the new King George VI – and granted the style of His Royal Highness.

The Daily Mail's coverage on December 11, 1936, reported King Edward's speech announcing his decision to abdicate

The Daily Mail’s coverage on December 11, 1936, reported King Edward’s speech announcing his decision to abdicate

The newspaper reported how the former king had 'renounced the Throne and all his titles and will leave the country to-night'

The newspaper reported how the former king had ‘renounced the Throne and all his titles and will leave the country to-night’

However, after their 1937 marriage and decision to settle in France, Edward was upset by the King’s decision to issue Letters Patent which denied Wallis the style of Her Royal Highness.

Edward received a tax-free allowance from his brother which went some way to maintaining his and Wallis’s lavish lifestyle. He also made money from illegal currency trading.

The difficult relationship which Edward had with his family after his abdication was depicted extensively in Peter Morgan’s Netflix drama The Crown.

But when asked by Kenneth Harris in 1970 if she had any regrets, Wallis tactfully replied, ‘Oh about certain things yes. I wish it could have been different but I’m extremely happy.

‘Naturally you’ve have had some hard times but who hasn’t? You just have to learn to live with that.’

In 1940, Edward was appointed as Governor of the Bahamas – a role which he held until 1945.

In response to Harris’s question about whether he would have liked to have had another job afterwards, he said he ‘offered my services’ but was never handed a new role.

His words in his book about his feelings of ‘unconscious rebellion’ were echoed in the BBC interview, when he was asked what he meant by the ‘Establishment’.

He said: ‘The establishment was a new word to me until about 15 years ago, when I heard it and asked people to explain it to me.

‘It’s not an easy word to explain. It’s rather an obscure word. But it must have always existed. I think it means authority, authority of the law, of the church, the monarch to a certain extent.’

His reference to his desire to update the monarchy and his feelings about his status as a royal were echoed nearly 20 years later by Wallis when she said in the couple's joint televised interview with the BBC in 1970 (above)

Wallis Simpson in the interview

His reference to his desire to update the monarchy and his feelings about his status as a royal were echoed nearly 20 years later by Wallis (right) when she said in the couple’s joint televised interview with the BBC in 1970 (above) that her husband had been ‘ahead of his time’ as King 

He said that, whilst he was not part of the establishment, his father, King George V, ‘certainly was’, as was his brother.

Edward admitted that he ‘collided’ with the establishment, although ‘not very violently’.

And even if he had not fallen in love with Wallis and instead remained single, Edward added that his ‘collision’ would ‘definitely’ have been ‘inevitable’.

‘But not in a bad way,’ he said. ‘I think maybe, I don’t know, perhaps I’m being conceited but I think it might’ve helped the establishment too.

‘I think it might’ve revived the thinking of the Establishment.

‘The Establishment has a conservative aspect I think. I think it revivifies itself. But I think it probably does need a little lead from the Monarch.’

Netflix’s The Crown depicted how, in May 1972 – ten days before his death – Edward was visited by the Queen and Prince Philip.

She spoke to him alone before appearing with just the Duchess for a photograph. The Duke died on May 28, less than a month before his 78th birthday.

His body was returned to Britain, where it lay in state at Windsor Castle’s St George’s Chapel before his funeral.



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