11 December

In 1936, a constitutional crisis in the British Empire arose when King-Emperor Edward VIII proposed to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who was divorced from her first husband and was pursuing a divorce of her second.

The marriage was opposed by the governments of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth. Religious, legal, political and moral objections were raised. As British monarch, Edward was the nominal head of the Church of England, which did not then allow divorced people to remarry if their ex-spouses were still alive, so it was widely believed that Edward could not marry Simpson and remain on the throne. Simpson was perceived to be politically and socially unsuitable as a consort because of her two failed marriages. It was widely assumed by the Establishment that she was driven by love of money or position rather than love for the King. Despite the opposition, Edward declared that he loved Simpson and intended to marry her whether his governments approved or not.

The widespread unwillingness to accept Simpson as the King’s consort, and Edward’s refusal to give her up, led to his abdication in December 1936. He remains the only British monarch to have voluntarily renounced the throne since the Anglo-Saxon period. He was succeeded by his brother Albert, who took the regnal name of George VI. Edward was given the title His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor following his abdication, and he married Simpson the following year. They remained married until his death 35 years later.