The future Edward VIII was born at Richmond, Surrey, the eldest son of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of York. The Duke of York, who later became King George V, was the second son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII and the eldest son of Queen Victoria). The Duchess of York, formerly Her Serene Highness Princess Mary of Teck, was a great-granddaughter of King George III and a first cousin once removed of Queen Victoria. At the time of his birth, the child stood third in line to the British throne behind his father and grandfather.
His immediate family always knew him as "David", using the last of his seven Christian names, four of which indicated his association with the four major nations of the United Kingdom; George for England, Andrew for Scotland, Patrick for Ireland and David for Wales. He automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland when his father ascended the throne on 6 May 1910. The new king created him Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 2 June, 1910 and officially invested him as such in a special ceremony at Caernarfon Castle in 1911. 2 For the first time since the Middle Ages, this investiture took place in Wales; it occurred at the instigation of the Welsh politician, David Lloyd George, who at that time held the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Liberal government.
When World War I broke out, David had reached the minimum age for active service and expressed keenness to participate. Although the authorities allowed him to join the army, they kept him well away from any action that might have threatened his safety.
After the war ended in 1918, his conduct began to give cause for concern to his ultra-conservative parents, particularly when he enjoyed relationships with a series of married women, including Anglo-American textile heiress Freda Dudley Ward (nee Winifred May Birkin, she married 1st William Dudley Ward and 2nd Pedro, marqués de Casa Maury) and the Viscountess Furness. Lady Furness, née Thelma Morgan, an American beauty of part-Chilean ancestry, introduced the Prince to a fellow American, Wallis Simpson. Simpson had divorced her first husband in 1927 and subsequently married Ernest Simpson, an Anglo-American businessman. Mrs. Simpson and the Prince of Wales became lovers while his mistress Lady Furness travelled abroad. Following his father's death on January 20, 1936, he scandalised society by watching the proclamation of his own accession to the throne from a window, in the company of the still-married Mrs Simpson.
Powerful figures deemed marriage to Mrs. Simpson impossible for the king, even after she obtained her second divorce, because he had become de jure head of the Church of England, which prohibited remarriage after divorce. Edward rejected several alternative proposed solutions, including a morganatic marriage: he maintained adamantly that he wished to marry Mrs. Simpson, and he eventually abdicated his throne on December 11, 1936. State papers released in 2003 revealed that during the abdication crisis, as well as King Edward, Mrs. Simpson reportedly had two other lovers, one a car salesman, the other Edward FitzGerald, 7th Duke of Leinster, a close friend of the King. The abdication crisis caused a constitutional upheaval, and the throne passed to the Heir Presumptive, the King's next oldest brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York, who became King George VI of the United Kingdom.
On March 8, 1937, George VI created his brother, the former king, Duke of Windsor (the title lapsed with the Duke's death). However, letters patent dated May 27, 1937, which reconferred upon the Duke of Windsor the "title, style, or attribute of Royal Highness," specifically stated that "his wife and descendants, if any, shall not hold said title or attribute."
The Duke of Windsor married Mrs. Simpson in a private ceremony on 3 June 1937 at Chateau de Candé, Monts, France. None of the British royal family attended. The denial of the style "HRH" to the Duchess of Windsor, as well as the financial settlement, strained relations between the Duke of Windsor and the rest of the royal family for decades. The Duke had assumed that he would settle in Britain after a year or two of exile in France. However, King George VI (with the support of his mother Queen Mary and his wife Queen Elizabeth) threatened to cut off his allowance if he returned to Britain without an invitation.
In 1937, the Duke and Duchess visited Germany as personal guests of Adolf Hitler, a visit much publicized by the Nazi media, then settled in France. When the Germans invaded the north of France in May 1940, the Windsors fled south, first to Biarritz, then in June to Spain. In July the pair moved to Lisbon, Portugal, where they lived at first in the home of a banker with close German Embassy contacts. The British Foreign Office strenuously objected when the pair planned to tour aboard a yacht belonging to a Swedish magnate, Axel Wenner-Gren, whom American intelligence considered to be a close friend of Hermann Goering, Hitler's second in command. A "defeatist" interview with the Duke that was widely republished may have been the last straw for the British government: in August a British warship dispatched them to the Bahamas, where the Duke of Windsor became Governor, a post he held until after the end of World War II in 1945, when the couple retired once again to France, where they spent much of the remainder of their lives.
In recent years, some have suggested that the Duke and especially the Duchess sympathised with Fascism before and during World War II, and had to remain in the Bahamas to minimize their opportunities to act on those feelings. These revised assessments of his career are based on some wartime information that was released in 1996, and further secret files released by the U.K. government in 2003. Files had been kept closed for decades, as Whitehall judged that they would cause the Queen Mother substantial distress if they were released while she was still alive. US naval intelligence documents a confidential report of a conference of German foreign officials in October 1941 that found the Duke "no enemy to Germany" and the only English representative with whom Hitler would negotiate any peace terms, "the logical director of England's destiny after the war." Roosevelt had ordered covert surveillance of the duke and duchess when they visited Palm Beach, Florida in April 1941. The former Duke of Wurttemberg (then a monk in an American monastery) convinced the FBI that the duchess had been sleeping with the German ambassador in London, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had remained in constant contact with him, and was leaking secrets.
In later years, the Duke of Windsor met with other members of the royal family on several occasions, but his wife never gained acceptance. He died in 1972 at Paris, and his body was returned to Britain for burial at Frogmore, near Windsor Castle. The Duchess of Windsor, on her death a decade and a half later, was buried alongside her husband in Frogmore. They had no children.
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1 At his time of birth, Edward's surname was Wettin and the Royal House name was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. In 1917, both the dynastic name and personal surname changed to Windsor to disguise their German origins (because the UK was at war with Germany).
2In addition to his seven personal names, the specific styles and titles held by the future Duke of Windsor changed several times before his ascension to the throne. Under Queen Victoria's Letters Patent of 30 June 1864 and settled practice dating back to 1714, as a male-line great-grandchild of the Sovereign, Edward was a prince of Great Britain and Ireland with the qualification of Highness (not Royal Highness). Queen Victoria's Letters Patent of 27 May 1898 expressly granted the titles of prince and princess of Great Britain and qualification of Royal Highness to the children of the surviving son of the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII). As a male-line great-grandson of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha he bore the titles Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Duke of Saxony (with the qualification of Highness). George V's Order in Council on 20 July 1917 relinquished for himself and all descendants of Queen Victoria who were British subjects the "use of the Degrees, Styles, Dignities, Titles and Honours of Dukes and Duchesses of Saxony and Princes and Princesses of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and all other German Degrees, Styles, Dignities, Titles, Honours and Appellations." From his father's ascension to the throne on 6 May 1910 until his own ascension on 20 January 1936, he held the titles Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland. The Duke of Windsor's titles and styles were as follows:
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