This is the conclusion to the Uncrowned Kings two parter. Go read the first one if you haven’t already. Today we’re talking about…
Fortunately for you this one has a less elaborate backstory. Here’s George V:
I know that it’s all the rage for monarchs pretend to be relatable and just-like-us! by wearing several thousand dollar custom tailored clothes, rather than capes and swords, and such. But come on! If and when I become King of the Canadas you know I’m going to roll like this. Anyways, George was king from 1910 to 1936. Bonus fact: did you know that in a way the First World War was more or less a giant, murderous family feud? Check it out:
Three of major combatants – the King of England, the Tsar of all the Russias, and the Kaiser of Germany were cousins. Historical what if: what if they hadn’t run out of ribs before the Kaiser was served at the infamous 1907 Family Picnic? Imagine what a different world we might have had. Also, the King and Tsar were eerily clones of each other…
Anyways, King George did something that many kings before him did: he died. Thus in 1936 his son Edward VIII assumed the throne.
He wasn’t exactly suited for the job, however. See, he rather chafed under the burden of all that ceremony and protocol. A tiny, funny example: I didn’t know this, but apparently successive monarchs face alternating directions on coins.
Neat little tradition eh? However, our man Edward VIII decided that it wasn’t for him, and insisted that be shown facing left, because it would show the part in his hair. This are important matters. His successor George VI (our current Queen’s father) faced left, implying that the pattern had not been broken.
But Edward’s real undoing was his selection in ladies. You see, he fell for an American dame named Wallis Simpson.
But oh dear god, she was a divorcee! [ed. Note: this is one of my favourite little media tropes, wherein some person is forever known for something which becomes part of their name / starts to sound like an actual occupation; see: “black motorist Rodney King” or “disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson” – they always use those intros! Wallis Simpson became “American divorcee Wallis Simpson” forevermore]. Edward was intent on marrying Simpson, who was actually in the process of finalizing her second divorce, the hussy. However, the political class was not okay with this, on the grounds that the people would never accept a divorcee as queen or queen consort, and in addition Edward was the titular head of the Church of England, who may have had some trouble with divorces in the past.
This is hard to believe, but it came to the point that the government of the day would have resigned from power had the king gone ahead with his nuptials, the Prime Ministers of the various commonwealth countries (including us, signalled their official displeasure, as per the Statute of Westminster). The media of the day did such a good job of hiding this relationship from the public that the PM of New Zealand had never heard of her. So Edward was faced with the problem of provoking a constitutional crisis. If he went ahead, and if the government resigned, he would be seen to be implicitly, if not overtly, opposed to the ruling party, and as English monarchs learned long, long ago this is the sort of thing that gets you killed. Edward did not go quietly, and tried to make a broadcast to the world explaining his side, and asking that he be permitted to marry but renounce all titles for his wife. Prime Minister Baldwin refused (this would obviously have stirred up major significant discord), and they even had the King’s phone bugged (!). Faced with few options, and not willing to give up on his lady, the king decided to…
A shocked public awoke to find that their king had quit outright, to be with a woman they’d never even heard of. The crown passed to his brother, and thus 1936 became the Year of Three Kings. Edward had served for less than a year and was never crowned.
Did the stodgy powers-that-were force a hopeless romantic into exile? Maybe. But maybe we also dodged a bullet. See, Edward didn’t really want to be king, and probably wasn’t suited for it. Good judgment? Well, if you had abdicated the British throne what would you do next? I know! How about a little vacation with Hitler? Yup, that’s what they did.
The former king was infamous for calling Churchill a warmonger, advocating peace with Germany, and admiring Nazi achievements. The history here is murky, but he’s also suspected of unwittingly (at best) passing the Germans military information. This would be something like Prince Andrew hanging out with Osama Bin Laden after Lady Diana’s death. Edward would up hanging around in Spain and Portugal during the early war, and the Germans started hatching a plot to kidnap him so that they would have a readymade, sympathetic monarch to install on the throne after they conquered England. The now Duke of Windsor gave a defeatist interview which was widely popularized, and this was the last straw for Churchill. He threatened the Duke with a court martial (he was technically a member of the British Army at the time) unless he returned to British soil, and then had him installed as the Governor of the Bahamas, a place where he could do the least damage to the war effort, and generally would be out of everyone’s hair. Edward also said some really flattering things about the Bahamian locals, underscoring his worldliness and openminded nature.
After the war the two of them settled down in France, harbouring a permanent family grudge. They became features of cafe life. And really, who wouldn’t want to hang out with a rich, racist uncle-type, who’d lived one of the weirder lives of his era?