The devil in the details

I never understood why King Edward abdicated, since marriage vows clearly never meant anything to the man. This excerpt from a book by one of his courtiers finally makes sense of his real reason for exiting the British throne.

My impression is that the Prince of Wales was caught napping by his father’s death; he expected the old man to last several years more, and he had, in all probability, already made up his mind to renounce his claim to the throne, and to marry Mrs S.

The comparatively sudden death of George V upset any such plans. But I believe that even then, he would have clung to them (he always hated changing any scheme he had evolved himself) but for the provisions of his father’s will.

The will was read, to the assembled family, in the hall at Sandringham. I, of course, was not present; but, coming out of my office, I ran into him striding down the passage with a face blacker than any thunderstorm. He went straight to his room, and for a long time was glued to the telephone.

Under the will, each of his brothers was left a very large sum — about three-quarters of a million in cash; he was left nothing, and was precluded from converting anything (such as the stamp collection, the racehorses, etc.) into ready money.

It was, doubtless, a well-intentioned will; but, as such wills often do, it provoked incalculable disaster; it was, in fact, directly responsible for the first voluntary abdication of an English King.

Money, and the things that money buys, were the principal desiderata in Mrs Simpson’s philosophy, if not in his, and, when they found that they had been left the Crown without the cash, I am convinced that they agreed, in that interminable telephone conversation, to renounce their plans for a joint existence as private individuals, and to see what they could make out of the Kingship, with the subsidiary prospect of the Queenship for her later on.

The events of the next ten months bear out this supposition; for, throughout them, he devoted two hours to schemes, great and small, by which he could produce money to every one that he devoted to the business of the State.

Indeed, his passion for ‘economy’ became something very near to mania, despite the fact that his private fortune, amassed while he was Prince of Wales, already amounted to nearly a million — which sum he took with him, of course, when he finally left the country.

It was substantially increased by the considerable sums which his brother paid him for his life interest in the Sandringham and Balmoral estates, so that, by the time he married, having no encumbrances, no overhead charges and no taxes to pay, he was one of the richest men in Europe — if not the richest.

But what worked out well enough for him, at least monetarily, doesn’t appear to be working out so well for his great-grandnephew. Another example of how tragedy is followed by farce. And it appears the people of England may owe a great debt to Mrs. Wallis Simpson for saving them from a longer rule by such a fundamentally dysfunctional man, not that Queen Elizabeth’s long reign hasn’t been a complete disaster for them.