The crisis arose from the expressed desire of King Edward VIII of England to marry a twice-divorced American woman. While his father George V was ill, struggling through the last years of a longish reign, the Prince of Wales (Edward) had enjoyed a series of affairs with married women. Queen Mary thought this was a youthful phase that her son would grow out of, but Elizabeth, the very young wife of Edward’s younger brother Bertie Duke of York thought otherwise.
Precedent suggested rather forcefully that it was in the spirit of the (unwritten) British Constitution for the sovereign to seek the advice of Ministers before marriage. In order to marry a divorced and foreign woman, a special sanction would have require passing by the British Parliament, and the governing bodies of all the Dominions.
The Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, a staunch conservative, could only advise the as yet uncrowned king (George V had died) that such a marriage would be unacceptable to the country at large, not because Mrs Simpson was a commoner of American birth, but because her two previous marriages had ended in divorce – not in that epoch considered a good or traditional thing – as it is now.
Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang told the new king that it would be impossible to reconcile his proposed marriage with his position as ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church of England. Two press barons advised the king against doing any such thing, while another, Lord Beaverbrook, backed by Winston Churchill, told him he should go ahead and to hell with everything. The British people on the whole were against the idea. High representatives from the Dominions – notably Canada, Australia and New Zealand produced negative views.
Edward had not yet been crowned when he made his decision. He spoke to the world on the radio, saying that he would not be separated from ‘the woman I love’, and abdicated his throne. Britain and the Dominions were shocked. The newspapers swept everything else aside (including the growing menace from Adolf Hitler) and filled the front pages with the abdication crisis for nearly a month. Many Americans wrongly thought that Britain (in the form of the government) had snubbed America. King Edward VIII left England shortly afterwards, to live on the continent with the woman he rapidly married. He became the Duke of Windsor, and Wallis Simpson became the Duchess, though she was never allowed the courtesy title of HRH.
Edward’s unknown younger brother Bertie (George VI) became king, helped, encouraged and supported by his splendid wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who after the death of George VI and the crowning of his daughter Elizabeth as the second of that name, was known throughout the world as ‘The Queen Mother’. It is now an undisputed historical fact that Queen Elizabeth never liked or forgave Wallis Simpson for snaring Edward when he was Prince of Wales. Ernest Simpson had put up with the playhousing of his wife Wallis for years; he divorced her at last and happily set about marrying again. Edward went off to govern some British islands in the Caribbean, and finally died, almost forgotten (and never forgiven), in Paris. He was not long survived by the Duchess from Baltimore.