He was born into royal privilege, yet King Edward VIII’s reign ended in absolute infamy. Although he’s gone down in history as the man who sacrificed everything for love, the true story of his life reveals a much more complicated—and chilling—truth. For such a short-reigning king, Edward VIII left behind no shortage of controversy.
King Edward VIII Facts
1. His Name Was Completely Different
Edward’s name wasn’t what you think it was. Born on June 23, 1894 to the future King George V and Queen Mary, the royal family was a tight-knit brood. So although Edward’s official name was Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, his parents and close friends just lovingly called him “David.” Soon, though, those family dynamics would turn dark.
2. He Was Horribly Mistreated
Like all royals, a series of nannies brought up the children. Yet when it came to his own nanny, Edward was hiding a dark secret. His caretaker was so possessive, she would pinch him just before he saw his parents, making him cry and sending him right back to her. Of course, as soon as Edward confessed the horrific treatment, the nanny was fired. But some say the damage was done…
3. He Got A Strange Birthday Present
Edward got a strange gift for his 16th birthday: He officially became the Prince of Wales. In May 1910, his father ascended to the throne as George V, and he gave his son the title a little over a month later, along with the royal designation of the “Earl of Chester.” Sadly, all the official names in the world couldn’t hide one unsettling fact.
4. He Wasn’t Ready To Be King
Plain and simply, the new Prince of Wales was woefully unprepared for his responsibilities. Before he became the heir, Edward wanted to join the Navy. Once his father ascended as King, however, those plans turned to dust. Instead, his parents expected him to get an academic education at Oxford, and enroled him immediately. It did not go well.
5. He Had One Big Flaw
While at Magdalen College in Oxford, Edward became more of a party boy than a princeling. He loved playing polo with his friends on the university grounds instead of hitting the books, and when he left Oxford after just eight terms, he had almost no academic qualifications. Strap in, though: Edward’s hard-living ways only got worse.
6. He Was Blood-Thirsty
When WWI broke out in 1914, Edward was a virile, hot-blooded young man. Naturally, then, he wanted to fight for his country. Well, he got his wish. Although parliament kept England’s heir away from most of the fighting, Edward went regularly to the front lines to witness trench living. And then he picked up a more scandalous habit from the soldiering life….
7. He Had An Illicit Affair
Whenever Edward got leave, he bee-lined it right to Paris to party. His late-night actions would have shocked his parents. While in France, Edward’s friends introduced him to the high-class courtesan Marguerite Alibert, who he immediately fell into lust with and struck up a passionate affair. Before long, the connection came back to haunt him.
8. His Lover Was A Killer
Although Edward and Marguerite flamed out after year, she returned into the Prince’s life with a vengeance. In 1923, Marguerite shot and killed her husband at the swanky Savoy Hotel in London, and Edward’s PR department had to go into white-knuckle overtime to make sure his name never came up in the trial. It would be far from his last controversy.
9. He Was A Heartthrob
Around this time, the Prince of Wales became an international sensation. Good-looking and in love with a good-time, the bachelor prince was a heat-score for newspaper. As Men’s Wear magazine pointed out, “The average young man in America is more interested in the clothes of the Prince of Wales than in any other individual.” Behind closed doors, he wasn’t so picture perfect.
10. He Loved Dangerous Women
The young Edward had a type when it came to the ladies—and that type was ruinous. He soon developed a penchant for married women, and also seemed completely uninterested in settling down like a responsible member of the royal family. These disturbing traits led Edward’s own father to remark, “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself in twelve months.” He wasn’t wrong.
11. He Kept A “Harem”
In 1930, Prince Edward was posted up in Fort Belvedere in Windsor Great Park. It turned from a lavish palace into a den of sin. While there, Edward took up with a bevy of married women, from English socialite Freda Dudley Ward to the American beauty Thelma Furness. His dalliance with Furness would end in betrayal and infamy.
12. He Cheated On His Own Mistress
Through Lady Furness, Edward met the woman who would drag him kicking and screaming into the annals of history: Wallis Simpson. At the time, Wallis had already been divorced once and was still peskily married to the businessman Ernest Simpson. Meanwhile, Edward himself was still visiting Thelma Furness’s bedroom. Did any of that stop them? Nope.
13. He Kept A Dirty Little Secret
Wallis Simpson and Edward’s relationship began as a dirty little secret. In fact, after years of flirtation, they struck up their steamy liaison while Lady Furness was out travelling abroad. When they did finally get together, the couple tried to keep it hush-hush for as long as possible, but as we all know, the truth always comes out…
14. He Liked Bad Girls
Edward became smitten with Simpson because of her strong personality and the irreverence she showed toward his royal status. Within only a year of their relationship, Edward was already, in the words of his biographer, “slavishly dependent” on Simpson. The feeling was mutual, as Simpson had fallen in love with Edward by August of 1934.
15. He Told An Enormous Lie
To be fair, Edward tried incredibly hard to keep Wallis as a secret—even in the face of one very embarrassing encounter. When his father asked about his relationship to Wallis, he lied through his teeth…despite the fact that his father’s staff had caught the couple in bed together and saw “evidence of a physical sexual act.” Now that’s commitment to a lie.
16. He Caused A Family Feud
When Edward’s affair finally came out, he shoved it in his parents’ faces with a scandalous stunt. The Prince of Wales decided to introduce Wallis to his traditional mother in the middle of a formal Buckingham Palace function, even though the stuffy palace didn’t usually invite divorcees inside. His mother was utterly outraged, and she eventually got a revenge of her own.
17. His Family Snubbed Him
Apparently—surprise, surprise—Wallis Simpson didn’t make the best impression on the King and Queen during her visit to Buckingham Palace, because when Edward tried to bring her to another event soon after, the royal couple fully denied their son and refused to see the divorcee. Ice cold…but also maybe a little understandable.
18. His Mistress Was A Gold Digger
Wallis Simpson was certainly into Edward, but that doesn’t mean her reasons were completely pure. When she met the Prince of Wales, her marriage to Ernest Simpson was in tatters, largely because he didn’t make enough money to fund her extravagant tastes. Edward, however, had all the power and moolah of the monarchy behind him. And there was another red flag.
19. His Love Life Was Dark
Simpson was never the most faithful wife, but it must have really cut like a knife when she started straying from Edward, too. Rumors swirled that during their time together, Simpson was also “entertaining” an adventurous commoner named Guy Marcus Trundle. Thing is, he wasn’t even her most infamous conquest, but more on that later.
20. He Tried To Buy Love
Edward loved showering Wallis with clothes and jewels. Indeed, he was so indiscreet about his generosity that it helped expose their affair to their circle of friends. Moreover, Wallis apparently didn’t have taste when it came to the jewelry, and people often commented on how she ruined her elegant outfits by putting honking jewels on top of them.
21. He Had A Secret Government File
Even the British government was onto the affair, and the Metropolitan Special Branch actually followed Edward and Wallis in secret and took notes on the nature of their relationship. Central intelligence was likely not happy when one eye-witness reported that Wallis had Edward “right under her thumb.” But the worst was yet to come.
22. He Became King At The Worst Time
With Edward now fully head over heels for the scandalous Wallis Simpson, the government’s biggest nightmare happened. Edward’s father King George V passed on January 20, 1936, which meant that Edward—messy affair and all—was now King Edward VIII of England, and the head of the state. He wasted no time proving parliament’s worst fears.
23. He Flaunted His Sins
The very next day after his father’s passing, Edward threw egg right in parliament’s face by insisting on watching his own ascension announcement alongside his mistress Wallis Simpson. After all, he considered himself fundamentally non-traditional. From then on, the government knew they were in for a wild ride, they just didn’t know how wild it would get.
24. He Was A Speed Demon
Not content to just flaunt Wallis in front of parliament, Edward also had to flaunt his skills as a pilot when it came time to ascend as king. The new royal flew from Sandringham to London for his Accession Council, becoming the first monarch of the British Empire to do so. But no amount of smoke and mirrors could disguise the rot at the core of his reign.
25. He May Have Betrayed The Government
The government went to desperate measures to save themselves from Edward’s tyranny. Ministers avoided sending sensitive documents to his home at Fort Belvedere—and their reasons were chilling. Not only would the new King shirk his duty and barely look at them, many were afraid that Wallis Simpson and her fun-time friends would take a peek at them and expose government secrets.
26. He Was Almost Assassinated
On July 16, 1936, less than half a year after he was crowned King, Edward’s life almost ended in one violent act. That day, an Irish ne’er-do-well named Jerome Bannigan tracked Edward down while he was riding horseback and pulled a gun on the young monarch before Edward’s security detail neutralized the would-be assassin. The attack left Edward shaken…but it didn’t help him make better decisions.
27. He Made A Controversial Demand
By the fall of 1936, it became clear that Edward was desperate to marry Wallis Simpson. In October, the Simpsons even brought forward divorce proceedings to the British courts, and on November 16, Edward formally told the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, that he intended to marry his mistress. This proposition couldn’t have gone worse.
28. He Was An Unholy Terror
See, as King, Edward was the head of the Church of England, which did not look well upon divorcees and saw it as nothing short of sacrilege that Edward wanted to make Simpson Queen. Even when Edward proposed a “morganatic marriage” that wouldn’t give her the title of “Queen,” parliament and the Church said no. In other words, Edward was now backed into a corner.
29. His Family Double-Crossed Him
Even as Edward was getting public pressure from the government about his love life, his mistress Wallis was getting that same pressure in secret from Edward’s own family. The king’s lord-in-waiting, Lord Brownlow, even approached her and pressured her into renouncing the king in a statement. The heartless act only made Edward all the more determined to marry her.
30. He Humiliated A Prime Minister
Even in the early days of his reign, Edward proved how flippant he could be. While the commonwealth was in a tizzy about his love life, the Prime Minister of New Zealand was completely lost, having never heard of Simpson before. In response, Edward apparently sniped that his opinion didn’t matter because “There were not many people in Australia.”
31. The Press Kept His Secrets
While all this was going on, King Edward and the government were pulling a fast one on the British people. Out of respect for the monarchy, no magazine or journalist printed a word of the royal crisis in the paper, even as American publications had a field day reporting on Edward and his controversial lover. So when the end came, it was an even bigger shock.
32. Parliament Forced Him To Make A Terrible Choice
In the end, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin gave the King of England three options, and none of them were good. First, he could give up his fantastic notion of marrying Wallis Simpson. Second, he could marry her against parliament’s wishes and start pandemonium. Third, he could give up his throne. They were excruciating options, and no one actually expected the choice he ended up making.
33. He Sacrificed Himself
Against all odds, Edward gave up his crown, officially signing the abdication papers on December 10, 1936. So just like his father King George V had predicted, Edward VIII hadn’t even made it a year as king. Nonetheless, it seemed like a heartwarming act of love for his soulmate Wallis—but Edward’s scandalous history was just getting started.
34. He Made A Public Confession
Edward’s first act after abdicating wasn’t triumphant, but rather grovelling. The next day, he announced to the world via radio that he had surrendered his title, saying, “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility…as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” For all these pretty words, it wasn’t smooth sailing from there.
35. He Didn’t Get A Happy Ending
Even after his grand gesture, Edward and Wallis couldn’t run into each other’s arms and be free and clear. Until her divorce officially went through they couldn’t even see each other, and Edward departed for Austria immediately after his announcement to wait for his lover. It would be several long months before they could reunite.
36. His Wedding Day Was Almost Ruined
On June 3, 1937, Edward made good on his promise and married Wallis Simpson in a quiet and private ceremony in France. Yet even this happy day started with bitterness. The Church of England still refused to have anything to do with their marriage, so they had to get a small-town clergyman to perform the ceremony. And that wasn’t the only drama…
37. His Brother Was Cruel To Him
Instead of celebrating his brother’s big day, King George VI banned all the royal family members from attending the ceremony, including Edward’s closest friends. Both Edward and Wallis felt this slight for the rest of their lives, and Edward never managed to forgive his brother for the cruelty. But as it turns out, he and Wallis were being pretty cruel themselves.
38. He Sent A Secret Message
Although Edward and Wallis loved to be the injured party in all things, they weren’t blameless when it came to their wedding day. As it happened, June 3 was also Edward’s father’s birthday, and the old king would have turned 72 that day if he was still alive to see it. Even Edward’s mother Queen Mary thought it was a deliberate and cruel choice, and Edward’s happily ever after only got more complicated from there.
39. He Had A Sibling Rivalry
After that fateful day on December 1936, Edward’s brother Albert succeeded him to the throne as King George VI. For his first act as king, George wanted to grant his older brother the title of the Duke of Windsor. Only there was a selfish motive behind this act. The title of “Duke” specifically gave Edward zero political power, neutralizing him on the playing field. Ouch.
40. His Wife Got A Mean Slight
Another royal slight to Edward and his new wife came when the newly-minted George VI refused to let Wallis Simpson be styled “Her Highness the Duchess of Windsor” in society, even though she was now married to a duke. The former King was incensed at this personal vendetta against the woman he loved, and he sure let George know it…
41. He Harassed His Brother
While campaigning for his wife’s titles, Edward would telephone his brother nearly every day, needling him and begging him to reconsider. Then again, Edward also used these calls as an opportunity to ask His Royal Daddy Warbucks for more money for his allowance. It got so bad, George VI eventually ordered his people not to forward the ex-king’s calls.
42. He Made Strange Private Demands
When it became clear that George VI wasn’t going to move an inch on the “Her Royal Highness” business, Edward and Wallis took matters into their own hands. Reportedly, they just had all of their servants and household address Wallis as “Her Royal Highness” anyway, and even got some of their friends in on the, ahem, “joke.”
43. He Dealt His Mother A Brutal Insult
Around this time, Edward also began to treat his own mother, Queen Mary, in incredibly cruel ways. He expected mommy to step up for him, and lashed out when that didn’t happen. In 1939, he even wrote her to say that her last letter, “destroy[ed] the last vestige of feeling I had left for you … [and has] made further normal correspondence between us impossible.”
44. His Mother Despised His Wife
In truth, Queen Mary made no secret of her dislike for Wallis Simpson, lawfully-wedded wife or not, and she refused to meet the “false” Duchess for as long as she lived, at least in formal company. Her words were even more brutal. The Queen, positively indignant over her son’s abdication, once huffed, “To give up all this for that.”
45. He Gave His Niece A Bitter Nickname
Edward and Wallis could be very petty when they wanted, and they apparently extended their snark to innocent parties. They were always a little uppity with Edward’s niece Elizabeth, who they thought should help them more. Wallis even privately and snarkily nicknamed Elizabeth “Shirley Temple” for her stoutness and do-gooder ways.
46. He Was Incredibly Vain
By most accounts, the Duke and Duchess lived a bittersweet life in France, and their turn away from the monarchy and toward self-absorption only grew more pronounced. For example, Edward had a “Wallis Collection,” of images of Wallis on almost every surface of the house, most of them just heavily retouched photos. And that wasn’t all.
47. He Was An Exacting Man
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor kept an eerily immaculate house, and expected nothing less than perfection at any of the parties they attended. Wallis even had a golden notebook that the servants dubbed her “grumble book,” which she would set up next to her at dinners and write down the evening’s various successes and failures.
48. His Brother Controlled Him
Eventually, Edward must have realized that marrying Wallis put him in a gilded cage. For one, George VI paid his allowance out of his own pocket for a good long while. This meant that Edward had to please his brother, not himself, if he wanted to survive—which wasn’t something he was used to. One day, it came to a disturbing climax.
49. He Was Banned From England
In the aftermath of the abdication, Edward and Wallis lived in semi-exile on the continent. So when they wanted to return home, they got one rude awakening. George VI forbid them, even threatening to cut off their allowance if they cam over without an invite. That was the end of that. But it was also the beginning of the most infamous period of their lives…
50. He Had Dark Sympathies
In 1937, Edward and Wallis made their most controversial move yet, and it’s an act that is still looked on with horror today. They traveled to Nazi Germany—to the absolute shock of the British government—and actually had a meet and greet with none other than Adolf Hitler. Perhaps worst of all, they gave full Nazi salutes. And oh, the circus show was just getting started.
51. His Friends Were Evil
Hitler liked Edward VIII, and thought that if his infamous abdication hadn’t happened, things could have been much different. To quote Hitler directly: “I am certain through him permanent friendly relations could have been achieved…His abdication was a severe loss for us.” This is not the guy you want in your corner. But if you think that’s bad, hold on to your hats.
52. He Made A Sinister Ally
Whatever Edward was thinking in public during this time, his private comments were much darker. Apparently, he once confided to a friend years after his little visit that, “I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap.” Yes, this is completely gross and reprehensible, but somehow it gets even grosser and even more reprehensible.
53. He Tried To Take Back His Throne
The Duke’s letters from around this time reveal a disturbing truth: He wanted to take back his crown. In the late 1940s, George VI’s health was ailing, and the Duke of Windsor took full advantage. In his correspondence, there’s evidence he planned to sneak back into England and set himself up as a regent for his sick brother. Thing is, it came closer to happening than most people know.
54. He Might Have Become King Again
In 1940, there was Nazi plot—called Operation Willi—to persuade or kidnap the Duke of Windsor and make him work for Adolf Hitler. It didn’t work, but people obviously knew what side he was really on during WWII. Today, many scholars agree that the German state was fully prepared to reinstate Edward as a fascist ally king.
55. He Insulted Queen Elizabeth II
In 1953, Edward received a crushing blow. That summer, his brother King George VI passed, turning his niece Elizabeth officially into Queen Elizabeth II, a title that must have rankled Edward to the bone. He didn’t even attend the coronation, claiming that it wasn’t proper for a foreign sovereign to be there. But since when did Edward care about propriety?
56. He Suffered A Mysterious Ailment
Throughout all their years together, the great love story of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII had one glaring problem: They never had children, and not necessarily for lack of trying. The reason behind this was tragic. Many historians believe that a spell of mumps in Edward’s youth rendered the Duke of Windsor royally infertile. Many of Wallis Simpson’s biographers have postulated that she was infertile as well as the result of a botched abortion before she knew Edward VIII.
57. His Wife Had Bizarre Tastes
Edward apparently liked them freaky. Throughout her life, Wallis Simpson was infamous for her love of pug dogs, and it wasn’t a normal kind of love. Besides owning multiple pugs—with names like Davey Crockett, Black Diamond, and Ginseng—Edward and Simpson also slept with 11 pillows shaped like the breed at the foot of their bed.
58. He Was An Exile
In 1940, the British government was so appalled with Edward and Wallis, they sent the Duke of Windsor over to Nassau to be the “Governor of the Bahamas,” a position that he hated and a populace he disdained with a vicious contempt. The couple reportedly called Nassau “our St. Helena,” referring to the French Emperor Napoleon’s place of exile.
59. He Got A Merciless Revenge
Many people in England felt that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s anti-British leanings had partly to do with revenge. Bitter that Wallis had never become queen and that he hadn’t remained King, Edward turned on the country he once ruled and ran straight into the arms of her enemies. Yeah, somebody had mommy issues. And, well, daddy issues…
60. His Father Hated Him
Edward’s father George V not only preferred Edward’s younger brother, he even preferred George VI’s own daughter, the future Elizabeth II. This distaste was personal as well as professional: George once said he hoped Edward would never have children so “nothing will come between…Lilibet and the throne.” No wonder Edward turned out how he did.
61. His Wife Received A Rare Tribute
Ever the fashion-plates, Edward’s wedding to Wallis turned into legend for another reason besides scandal. When Wallis wore a pale blue Mainbocher dress on her big day, the designer created the pale cerulean color especially for her, and later dubbed it “Wallis Blue.” Hey, if you can’t have a kingdom, at least your wife can have her own color.
62. He Broke A Huge Tradition
Edward’s vanity about his hair destroyed a centuries-long tradition about royal coinage. When new coins are struck in the monarch’s honor, the tradition is that they face the opposite direction of their predecessor. George V was facing left, but Edward insisted that his face also face left…all because it showed off the fetching part of his hair.
63. He Left An Odd Memento
In 1997, Sotheby’s auctioned Edward and Wallis’ personal belongings, and one peculiar item made headlines for all the wrong reasons. A slice of cake from their wedding went for whopping $2,900 after a heated auction. The couple who won said of it, “It is almost unimaginable to have such an item exist…It represents the epitome of a great romance.”
64. He Was Hateful
Though it may come as zero surprise to you, Edward’s opinions on race were controversial even for their time, and near-universally reviled. To call a spade a spade, he was a white supremacist to his core and spent much of his royal life dropping incredibly hateful sound bites about people who didn’t look like him, causing several well-earned royal scandals in the process.
65. He Developed Sinister Ailments
In the 1960s, Edward’s once-glamorous life slowed to a near halt. His health started deteriorating, and beginning in 1964, he had a series of surgeries for various ailments, including his an aneurysm abdomen and a detached retina. In late 1971, he then found out that he had throat cancer after a lifetime as a smoker. The end was near, and it was tragic.
66. He Became Frail
In the final days of his life, Edward was too weak even to hold onto the last vestiges of his royal dignity. When his niece Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1972 while she was on state business in France, she managed to speak to her uncle for 15 minutes, but only Wallis was feeling well enough to accompany Elizabeth for a photo opportunity while the ailing Edward stayed inside.
67. He Lived In Style
For all that the royal family weren’t so hot on them, Edward and Wallis made famous friends wherever they went, and were prominent members of Paris’s café society at the time. In endless glittering evenings, they rubbed elbows with the likes of Gore Vidal and socialite Gloria Guinness. Of course, we now know that some of their other friends were less than savory.
68. He Has A Dubious Claim To Fame
At 326 days, Edward’s reign is the shortest for any monarch of the United Kingdom. There are shorter reigns if you’re thinking about just the English throne, but even then, Edward’s is still one of the briefest tenures in the crown’s history. In fact, like Edward V and Jane Grey, Edward VIII never even had an official coronation.
69. He Made A “Triumphant” Return
Just 10 days after Queen Elizabeth II visited him, the former King Edward VIII passed from throat cancer in his home in France, just a few weeks away from his 78th birthday. In death, he did what he could never do in life: returned to Britain for good. To this day, his body lies in Windsor castle. And as for his beloved Wallis? Well…
70. His Love Never Forgot Him
The former Mrs. Wallis Simpson outlived her infamous royal lover by over a decade, but she chose to be with him when the end of her life came, too. After living out the remainder of her years as a recluse, she passed at the age of 89 in 1986. As per her last wishes, attendants buried her next to Edward on the Royal Burial Grounds at Windsor Castle.
71. His Wife Two-Timed Him With A Villain
While Edward and Wallis were getting friendly with Germany, Simpson’s penchant for infidelity reared its ugly head. According to FBI reports from the 1930s, Wallis started an affair with German officer Joachim von Ribbentrop. If we’re to believe the whispers, she also kept his signed photograph on her bedside table. But that wasn’t the only way Ribbentrop humiliated Edward…
72. He Was A Cuckold
Apparently, Ribbentrop also sent Wallis a disturbing “gift.” Reportedly, after their tryst was over, he would send 17 carnations to Simpson’s home each day. Why 17? It was the number of times that the two had slept together during their affair. Yep, the gesture was a creepy way for Ribbentrop to remind Simpson—and Edward—about their time together.
73. His Wife Loved Someone Else
Despite their dark pasts and infidelities, we still tend to see King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson as a love story for the ages. Well, even that has holes in it. According to the man who ghost-wrote her memoirs, Wallis actually admitted that a childhood friend, Herman Rogers, was the true love of her life, though she made the writer swear never to print the confession.
74. He Made An Unforgivable Comment
Edward’s reaction to the death of his youngest brother, Prince John, put a rank taste in people’s mouths. John, who was 11 years younger, passed in January 1919 from a severe seizure at just 13 years old. Edward’s response was so disturbing, it’s impossible to forget. He referred to John’s passing as “little more than a regrettable nuisance.” And that wasn’t all.
75. He Didn’t Know How To Deal With Grief
When Edward heard of John’s tragic fate, one of his first responses was to complain about John to his mistress at the time. As he wrote to her, “This poor boy had become more of an animal than anything else.” Edward was also so savage to his mother about her loss that he later apologized for being “a cold-hearted and unsympathetic swine.”