Edward VIII of England, Wallis Simpson, and a Morganatic Marriage.

Most of you on these boards (even the older ones;)) would be too young to remember. I know I certainly am. But in 1936, there was a constitutional crisis in Britain.

King Edward VIII wanted to marry his true love, American socialite Wallis Simpson. But people thought she would make an unfit queen. So he ultimately just abdicated, and married her anyways.

It all happened a very long time ago. And you have to wonder what relevance it has today, even. But, hey, it was history. And if you don’t learn from it, your doomed to face it again, they say.

Anyways, I just have one question. Why didn’t they just use the option of the “morganatic marriage”? (“Morganatic”, in case you don’t know, is Latin for “morning gift”. Because at one time, that was basically all the poor girl got. She was forever barred from sharing her husband’s title or wealth, as was her descendants [if any].)

He would be happy. They would be happy. So why not?

(BTW, quick side note. I don’t necessarily have any sympathy for the couple myself. Did you know, they were both Nazi sympathizers? What more can I say? Another interesting note. If he did remain king, his Nazi sympathies, as hers, might have effected Britain’s entry into World War II. Isn’t it weird, history sometimes has a way of working out just the right way? I digress.)


Because it wasn’t an option. English law has no such thing. Parliament could have created a lesser form of marriage (since it can do anything), but the government didn’t approve of the marriage, so it wasn’t going to create a whole special concept in the law just to make the marriage more likely. The King being married to a woman with two other husbands living was scandalous all by itself. The possibility of her being queen and bearing the future monarch was just icing on the cake.

As the character Winston Churchill in the Jane Seymour movie said “…especially with two husbands littered about!”

My own questions: 1) she became Duchess of Windsor all the same. Did they wait for her two ex-husbands to croak before giving her the title?
2) Is it true there was absolutely no newspaper inquiry on the whole matter by virtue of a gentleman’s agreement among the dailies?
3) Who today can style himself as the Duke of Windsor?

  1. She became Duchess of Windsor when she married the Duke of Windsor. Her living ex-husbands were irrelevant to this title.
  2. Yes.
  3. Since HRH the Duke of Windsor died without a son, there is no Duke of Windsor now.

My personal opinion is that the marriage wasn’t the real issue. Edward wanted to have more power as a monarch than Parliament wanted him to have. A direct confrontation between the King and Parliament would have been a major political battle dividing the country at a time when foreign threats were looming. So Edward’s marriage was used as a means of pushing him into abdicating while avoiding the political question.

I read a book about this, albeit maybe 30 years ago, and IIRC, this was suggested, but shot down immediately, because 1) England doesn’t do that, and 2) it would screw up the line of succession. When Edward died, even if he had 10 sons, the crown would still go to a brother or a nephew or something. Better to get ahead of the situation, and crown the brother who would be king, or whose children would be king.

There was a lot more to the situation than “Wallis was a divorcee.” Or even an American. She was perceived as having undue influence on Edward-- the Nazi sympathy is a case in point. The other things were technical reasons for keeping her off the throne. If she’d been popular, parliament probably could have figured out a way to make the marriage work, but it was dead-set against it. I’m not a UKer, so it’s not my business, but if it were, I’d side with parliament.

No. She was married to the Duke of Windsor which made her the Duchess of Windsor. She was never actually given a title, it was just a fact of her marriage. (This made more intuitive sense back when it was common for married women in all stations of life. In her previous marriage, she didn’t need to be “given” the title Mrs. Ernest Simpson, it was just what she was.)

I get the impression that it wasn’t so much that he wanted more power politically, as that he was vain enough to want to meddle without being disciplined enough to actually do so to any great effect, as well as not being disciplined enough to carry on doing the job he was expected to do. So the opportunity to take him at his word when he threatened to abdicate if he couldn’t marry her was too good to miss.

Whether or not she or he had any serious sense of sympathy for the Nazis is perhaps secondary to the perception that the Nazis would want to try to enlist them, he was vain and stupid enough to listen, and she would perceive it as her job to back him up whatever.

Her personal style and manner was such as to get the backs up of most of the kind of establishment figures she would have needed on her side to go ahead with any cooked-up scheme of a morganatic marriage. If the alternative was for the pair of them to bugger off to the south of France, so much the better, from the establishment’s point of view.

It’s often suggested the divorcee issue was just an excuse.

It really was not. Wallis Simpson’s being a divorcee was a very serious matter. 1936 was a different time than 2016, and the royals were held to a higher, if implausible and phony, standard. To people of both high and low status in 1936 this was a serious issue. Divorce and carrying on in public (remember that Simpson was still married when Edward started nailing her, and not in secret) was a matter of far more scandal now than it is today. People were really judgmental about that stuff.

Of course, it is also true that Edward was obviously going to be the worst king in a very long time, an opinion shared by anyone who knew him, including his own family; he was a man of breathtaking stupidity and shallowness of character. Had Edward been a smarter and more decent human being, perhaps the reaction would have been different. But there still would have been a hugely negative reaction and a serious Constitutional crisis.

Of course, he tried to suggest that he could do positive things, as though he wanted to be politically active - if you listen to his broadcast at the abdication, the lingering emphasis he puts on not being able to do the job “As I… would wish to do…” is a hint of that, and IIRC, the often-quoted “something must be done” when he visited unemployed miners came when he was at the height of the (semi-hidden) argument with Baldwin before it hit the papers. But it’s a measure of his stupidity that he couldn’t see that that sort of thing was precisely why he had to go.

Wait. What? I’m going to agree to marry a man and bear his children. In return, I will be relegated to a lower (read: non-existant) social status and will have no claims for me or my children for his title, lands, or money? And this lower social status is publicly acknowledged? I’m gonna need a judge’s ruling here: I can imagine any planet whereby this jacked-up situation would make me even remotely “happy”. No, I say.

Well, you could also argue if Edward were smarter, he wouldn’t have gotten in this mess in the first place. Chicken or egg?

His private secretary, Alan Lascelles, in a memorandum written for the record in 1943, recalled being present with Baldwin at a horse-jumping event in which the Prince of Wales was taking part. As they watched him set off, Lascelles remarked, “Sometimes I think that the best that could happen for him, and for his country, is that he should break his neck out there.” He half-expected the Prime Minister to give him an angry reply. Instead Baldwin said, “God forgive me, but I have often thought the same.”

It wasn’t just England, there were Commonwealth nations (particularly Canada, Australia and Ireland) that were also opposed to the marriage. Edward’s mother was supposedly also opposed to it. The Church of England (of which Edward was the titular head) opposed it.

Edward understood, or at least was led to understand, that his insistence on marrying Simpson could quite possibly tear the Empire apart and split the Royal family. Despite being something of a ninny, even he accepted that his duty was to either give up Simpson or the throne.

It all worked out for the better.
B-B-B-B-Bert Bert Bert. Bert is the word.

Anne Boleyn and a fes others might have found it preferable.

And that’s what made it the romance of the 20th century.

Archduke Ferdinand (he of the Sarajevo assassination) was the heir to the Austrian Empire and he married Countess Sophie Chotek, who was considered too low in rank to be married to the heir, morganatically. Their children were not given Imperial titles and were not considered in the line of inheritance.

Edward VIII’s own mother was the descendant of a morganatic marriage. Her father was Duke Francis of Teck, whose parents were morganatically married.

It was a thing in the German-speaking countries (and Russia). You got a higher social status and more wealth than you would have otherwise, and you got to be with the man you loved in a formal arrangement (rather than just the mistress).

For example, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir of Austria-Hungary, fell in love with a Bohemian countess named Sophie Chotek. She came of a noble family and had illustrious ancestors, but was not herself royal, and hence wasn’t “good enough” to become Empress. So, he married her morganatically. She was raised to the status of princess and later duchess, and various lands and other property, including several castles, were settled upon her, but she never enjoyed his status or title, and her children were princes (and one princess) of Hohenberg, not members of the Habsburg family. After their parents were assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, the kids went to live with maternal relatives.

IIRC the Irish government didn’t have much of a problem with Edward & Wallis, but that was mainly because Eamon de Valera was in the process of writing a new constitution that made Ireland a de facto republic.

Indeed George VI had to issue letters patent (which didn’t even refer to her by name) to specifically deny her the style “Her Royal Highness” to which she would have otherwise been automatically entitled.