Hear King Edward VIII Explain Why He Abdicated The Crown For Love, 77 Years Ago Today

Sev­en­ty-sev­en years ago, in a move unprece­dent­ed since the Glo­ri­ous Rev­o­lu­tion of 1688, King-Emper­or Edward VIII abdi­cat­ed the throne. Today’s audi­ences will rec­og­nize the episode from The King’s Speech: less than a year after hav­ing ascend­ed to the British king­ship in Jan­u­ary of 1936, Edward became roman­ti­cal­ly entan­gled with a yet-to-be-divorced Amer­i­can socialite named Wal­lis Simp­son. As long as the King’s liaisons remained dis­creet, the cou­ple was afford­ed a respectable amount of pri­va­cy by the roy­al fam­i­ly and the British media. Things grew more com­pli­cat­ed, how­ev­er, when Simp­son divorced her sec­ond hus­band in Octo­ber of 1936, and the pair decid­ed to mar­ry, come hell or high water.

A King of the Unit­ed King­dom of Great Britain and North­ern Ire­land being wed­ded to a twice-divorced Amer­i­can socialite would have caused a furor. As the head of the Church of Eng­land, Edward could not mar­ry a divorced woman whose for­mer hus­band (let alone hus­bands) remained alive. Simpson’s first divorce proved even more problematic—it was grant­ed based on “emo­tion­al incom­pat­i­bil­i­ty,” and may not have been rec­og­nized under both Church and Eng­lish law. The King’s mar­riage to Simp­son also raised the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an Amer­i­can Queen, a sac­ri­le­gious idea in the eyes of his sub­jects.

Faced with a choice between the crown and his love, Edward VIII chose to step down. On Decem­ber 10, 1936, the King signed the fol­low­ing dec­la­ra­tion of abdi­ca­tion:


In the audio clip at the top of the post, Edward VIII takes to the radio waves to declare his abdi­ca­tion on Decem­ber 11. Brim­ming with hard­ly-con­tained emo­tion, Edward attempts to explain his rea­sons to the British peo­ple (read the full tran­script here):

“You all know the rea­sons which have impelled me to renounce the Throne. But I want you to under­stand that in mak­ing up my mind I did not for­get the coun­try or the Empire which as Prince of Wales, and late­ly as King, I have for twen­ty-five years tried to serve. But you must believe me when I tell you that 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.”

For those who had doubts about Simpson’s true feel­ings for the King (some sus­pect­ed her of car­ing only about the king’s mon­ey), the next 35 years would pro­vide suf­fi­cient proof. The pair remained mar­ried until Edward’s death in 1972.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

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