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Edward, Prince of Wales was destined to become the exiled Duke of Windsor

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Thursday, 29 August 2013

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This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 388 published on 21 June 1969.

HRH Edward Prince of Wales, picture, image, illustration

HRH Prince of Wales wearing the Investiture Robes

Not many people know that our last Prince of Wales was “executed”. Luckily it was only a mock execution, carried out by the Prince’s fellow naval cadets – to remind him of what happened to his ancestor, Charles I!

The prince was born in 1894 and was christened Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, the last four names being those of the patron saints of the British Isles. At this time his grandfather was Prince of Wales (he later became Edward VII) and his father was the Duke of York (George V).

Prince Edward is still alive today, and his lifetime spans six reigns. Queen Victoria was 75 when he was born, and he was carried at his christening wrapped in a cloak made from her own wedding veil by the old queen herself.

Prince Edward enjoyed a happy childhood with his sister and four brothers. Becoming king seemed only a remote possibility because both his grandfather and his father stood between him and the throne.

Edward VII died when Prince Edward was 16. Edward became Prince of Wales, and did homage at his father’s coronation, wearing his Garter robes.

The next great ceremony in his life was his investiture as Prince of Wales at Caernarvon Castle. Although Prince Edward was the twentieth Prince of Wales, he was only the second to be presented to the Welsh people. This happened on a hot July day in 1911, before 10,000 people; the ceremony took place in the ruins of Caernarvon Castle, where the tradition began.

Soon after this, the prince went on a cruise as a midshipman. “Not the smallest exception has been made in his favour,” wrote his naval superior at the end of the cruise, and this was just what the prince wanted, for he was much more modest than princes usually are. In his book A King’s Story he wrote, “I was desperately anxious to be treated like any other boy of my age.” This “treatment” included being a victim in the traditional shaving ceremony when his ship crossed the Equator.

Prince Edward disliked pomp and ceremony, and showed the great concern for ordinary people which was the guiding principle of his life as Prince of Wales. He was shy by nature, but the interest he took in people and his concern for their welfare helped him to overcome this.

In the following year, the prince travelled in Europe to improve his languages, then went up to Oxford. He was not a scholar, but he attended lectures and made many friends.

In June, 1914, he joined the Grenadier Guards, and when the First World War broke out in the August of that year, he was keen to go to France with his regiment. The Commander-in-Chief, Lord Kitchener, refused to let him go. The prince protested saying that he was a soldier, and that it would not matter if he was killed because he had four brothers. But Kitchener was more worried about the possibility of the prince’s being taken prisoner, which would have put the enemy in a strong bargaining position.

The prince did eventually go to France, and although his superior officers tried to keep him out of the front line, he took every opportunity to get there. His brother officers used to say, “A bad shelling will always produce the Prince of Wales or the Padre.”

During the unrest and depression following the war, the prince tirelessly visited the areas where unemployment was worst, trying to cheer the people up and wishing that he could help more.

Then, in the early thirties, he fell in love. But the woman of his choice was, he knew, not going to be easily accepted as the wife of a future king, for she was not only American; she had been married before, and had divorced her husband. The Church of England did not recognise divorce, and a king who was Head of the Church could not go against the Church’s laws.

Because of these difficulties, the Prince of Wales kept his love for Mrs. Wallis Simpson secret. He wanted to discuss the matter with his father, King George V, but in 1935 the King became ill and the Prince, not wishing to worry him, put off the matter. The king died before the Prince was able to talk to him about it.

King Edward VIII was never crowned. He became king in 1936, and his coronation was set for May, 1937, but during that year he realised that he could not deny his love for Mrs. Simpson, while the Church and the Government became determined they would not have a divorced woman for their Queen. The King wrestled with the problem, and finally came to the decision that he could not ascend the throne. In December, 1936, he signed an Instrument of Abdication, a document declaring that he renounced the throne.

His brother, the Duke of York, then became George VI, and one of the first acts of the new king’s reign was to create the ex-king Duke of Windsor.

The next day, the Duke of Windsor left England for France, where he was later married to Mrs. Simpson, who became the Duchess of Windsor. Since then, the Duke and his duchess have lived part of the time in France and partly in America.

The Duke now comes occasionally to England as a private person. As Prince of Wales, he was much loved and admired, and his people sympathised with him deeply when he had to choose between his duty and his love.

Would he have been a great king? His history up to his abdication suggests that he would. His brother George VI who had kingship thrust upon him certainly was a good king, and was greatly loved.

The Duke, for his part, achieved his heart’s desire by marrying the woman he loved.

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