Review published on September 13, 2017.
I was perusing the shelving of a second-hand bookshop in Lincoln three or four years ago, and amongst all the books I coveted there was one which caught my eye – King Edward VIII written by Philip Ziegler. Because of my age, I knew of King Edward VIII and his near coronation, his abdication, and subsequent marriage to Wallis Simpson, but that was all in its most basic form.
The book itself is quite a tome, over 600 pages, with a smattering of photographs showing him throughout his life. It was hardback, so substantial in weight as well. I am not a royalist by any stretch of the imagination, so someone who gave it all up, almost in living memory, was a decent read I hoped. The cover has a photograph of Edward staring out at the reader, the expression on his face almost looks as though he is daring the reader to make up their own minds as to whether or not he would have made a good king. The author set out to at least show all the available evidence. Ziegler apparently has unrestricted access to archival material, far beyond the norm. He has consulted memoirs, biographies, private letters, private recollections, personal correspondence and the like. I accept it may have a bias, but it is hard to dispute the similarity in each person’s commentaries.
Wallis Simpson, married twice before, was an American socialite, from rather humble parentage compared to her later husband. Her first marriage to Win Spencer ended in separation, then divorce. Her second husband, Ernest Simpson, was altogether a different chap. It was during this marriage that, allegedly, Wallis became Edward’s mistress. Ernest Simpson seemed to concede to the throne; perhaps he was secretly relieved. After Edward became King, his philandering ways as the Prince of Wales became one of history, and he became almost a pariah to the royal family, virtually overnight, simply because of his ‘the woman I love’ abdication speech. He of course abdicated the throne in December 1936. The constitutional dilemma was that both her husbands were still alive, her nationality, her rather forceful nature and the sheer number of people who disapproved of her, plus Edward was serving as the titular head of the Church of England as king.
It has taken me quite a time to read this book; I have dipped into it every so often, and enjoyed every page. More recently, I have come to grips with the last half of the narrative, and found myself reluctant to put it down. It is stirring stuff that legends are made of, intriguing, first hand accounts of their wanderings, his arrogant manner, but most of all, the rather difficult positions they put various political people into because of constitutional ineptitude. For example, all through their life together, they wanted Wallis to be called ‘Her Royal Highness’. This was dragged up throughout their lives together, but consent never given. After the abdication, Edward became the Duke of Windsor, Wallis became the Duchess of Windsor only, and that rankled bitterly.
Yes, a fantastic book, which certainly exposes how sneakily things are done in higher places, sometimes for the better of course, sometimes to cover up, but ultimately, excellently written. The book itself was published in 1990, by the time I had read it, some 27 years have elapsed, but it is still a brilliantly constructed history lesson that is as true as can be found. Superb detail throughout, it would have made a splendid novel. Even in death, although side by side at Frogmore, they are still slightly shunned by royalty in terms of their graves placement. A quite sad, but eventful life for Edward VIII, who reigned for only 326 days, or rather less than a year.
Reginald Seward 5/3
King Edward VIII by Philip Ziegler
HarperPress 9780007481019 pbk Feb 2012
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