'Egotistical' Edward VIII 'would have been a useless king'

Updated: 

Edward VIII would have been a "useless king" had he stayed on the throne and his abdication saved the monarchy, a historian has said.

As the 80th anniversary of the constitutional crisis of 1936 approaches, Professor Richard Toye of Exeter University suggested that Edward, later the Duke of Windsor, has become a romanticised figure over his devotion to American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

But the academic argued that, rather than giving up the throne for love, Edward VIII was actually looking for a way out from a role he "fundamentally couldn't stomach".

Next weekend marks 80 years since the abdication - one of the most difficult periods in the history of the British monarchy.

The Queen's uncle renounced the throne in December 1936, after just 11 months as sovereign, in order to marry Mrs Simpson, leaving his brother the Duke of York - the Queen's father - to take over as George VI.

Prof Toye told the Press Association: "You can argue that it saved the monarchy and it was an important assertion of the primacy of the elected government over the monarchy, which was established, but Edward was trying to push the limits of that."

He added: "He had been frankly not very interested in doing the job. You have to ask yourself whether this whole episode was really about his most incredible, profound love for Mrs Simpson or whether he was perhaps subconsciously looking for a get-out.

"He was a very egotistical person who always wanted what he wanted."

The womanising Prince of Wales, as he was styled before he became monarch, met Mrs Simpson when she was still married to her second husband Ernest, at a house party given by his then mistress, Lady Thelma Furness, in 1931.

He acceded to the throne in January 1936 after George V died and seven months later Wallis Simpson filed for divorce from her husband. Neither the royal court, the government nor the church would accept a twice-divorced American as Queen.

Edward pushed for a morganatic marriage where his wife would have no claim on his rights, but the government would not accept this and the king decided to abdicate.

 "I'm sure he did love (Mrs Simpson), but he was, to a degree, looking for a way out from a role he didn't find very congenial," Prof Toye said.

"He liked all the trappings and the luxury but actually being king is reasonably hard work and not very interesting work either and that was fundamentally what he couldn't stomach and couldn't stick to."

He added: "Obviously it's a great story: The king who gave up his throne for love. There's been TV series and dramas over the years. Probably the romanticisation started pretty soon after he'd given up because he could be presented as having done the honourable thing for love. That was a way of glossing over some of the more reprehensible parts of his character."

The historian said Edward VIII would have proved to be a terrible monarch in the long term, and his brother, the shy, stammering George VI, was much better.

"I think he would have been completely useless. George VI fitted the bill very nicely. He didn't particularly want to do it.... George VI lacked the charismatic personality of the kind that Edward undoubtedly did have, but in the circumstance that was really pretty perfect for what was required," he said.

Edward VIII signed the Instrument of Abdication on the morning of December 10 1936 in front of his three brothers and his lawyers, and the news was announced to the Commons by the Prime Minister.

The next day on December 11, the Act of Abdication came into effect when it was passed by Parliament and given royal assent in Edward's last act as king. He addressed the nation in a radio broadcast.

Unsurprisingly, the royals are not expected to mark the anniversary of this turbulent time.

The Queen is likely to be at Windsor Castle next weekend - from where the former king gave his historic address, declaring: "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."

Princess Elizabeth, who was just 10 at the time, became the heiress presumptive. Her mother Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother never forgave Edward and Wallis Simpson for their actions.

If Edward VIII had remained king and fathered children, it is unlikely Elizabeth II would ever have become monarch.

Had her uncle - who was always known to his family as David - stayed on the throne until his death in 1972 and not had children, then the Queen - whose father died in 1952- would not have spent the formative years of her children's lives as head of state. 

She would only have reigned so far for 44 years and be still some way off her record as the country's longest reigning monarch.