King Edward and Wallis on holiday in 1936.
This trip revealed their relationship.
By the UK National Media Museum via Wikimedia Commons
When King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in December 1936, he wasn't sorry to say goodbye to the pomp and responsibility that went with it. He thought he could maintain the same extravagant lifestyle, marry the woman he loved, and be welcomed back to England in the near future where, he imagined, he would still be the much-adored, golden prince. He was very wrong.
The love of his life had fewer delusions, I think. Wallis Simpson even tried to get him to change course, but to no avail. Since the divorce proceedings had begun against her second husband months earlier, she had been living on the Continent and she had been receiving letters from family back home in the United States. She could read the news reports that weren't being printed in Britain. The relationship between the man who held the most revered crown in the world and a woman with two living husbands was not as acceptable as the easy, breezy, fast-minded society that surrounded the couple thought. They were living well ahead of their time.
Separated from her "Little Man" in France, Wallis could see that King Edward's plan was doomed to fail. She began to despair: could she live with being the woman he surrendered a throne for? Could their love be enough to sustain him? She doubted it.
He didn't. And, on one dreary December day, he signed away his birthright, more or less voluntarily standing against centuries of tradition by choosing not to be king.
Soon, he and Wallis were finally reunited. Her divorce final. His abdication irrevocable. Their walk to the altar was also now unstoppable. But it would not be regal. Edward thought his rank merited more attention than his embittered and injured Royal Family would grant him. No, his favorite brother The Duke of Kent would not attend. Even his brash and self-assured cousin, Louis Earl Mountbatten ultimately bowed to the family pressure. On the wedding day, the highest ranking guest was Lord Randolph Churchill, the future Prime Minister's only son. Winston Churchill had not stood against Wallis and Edward, although he would later realize the abdication had averted a catastrophic kingship.
Most of the photos from the day appear solemn. The newly created Duke of Windsor and his 40-year-old bride appear to lack the joy and playfulness that the couple often exhibited, They are both well-tailored as always. He in a perfect morning suit. She in a trim light blue dress with a giant brooch at her neck. They are the epitome of 1930s style.
From the chateau in France where they wed, they traveled to Italy and then on to Austria to honeymoon. Not long after, they visited with Hitler in Germany on the brink of World War II where they were welcomed (at last) with the manner they felt they merited. They were still smarting from a sort of anti-gift from his family: Wallis could be called Duchess of Windsor, but she would not be given the rank and style of a princess and she would never be called "Her Royal Highness."
The rift in the family would never be healed. It would last until The Duke's death in 1972 and his wife would remain outside of the royal fold until her own death in 1986.