King Edward VIII did something that monarchs do not have the luxury of doing - he fell in love. King Edward was in love with Mrs. Wallis Simpson, not only an American, but also a married woman already once divorced. Yet, in order to marry the woman he loved, King Edward was willing to give up the British throne - and he did.
To some, this was the love story of the century. To others, it was a scandal that threatened to weaken the monarchy. In reality, the story of King Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson never fulfilled either of these notions. Instead, the story is about a prince who wanted to be like everyone else.
Prince Edward's Struggle Between Royal and Common
King Edward VIII was born Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David on June 23, 1894 to the Duke and Duchess of York (the future King George V and Queen Mary). His brother Albert was born a year and a half later, soon followed by a sister, Mary, in April 1897. Three more brothers followed: Harry in 1900, George in 1902, and John in 1905 (died at age 14 from epilepsy).
Though his parents surely loved Edward, he thought of them as cold and distant. Edward's father was very strict which caused Edward to fear every call to his father's library, since it usually meant punishment.
In May 1907, Edward, only twelve years old, was shipped off to the Naval College at Osborne. He was at first teased because of his royal identity, but soon garnered acceptance because of his attempt to be treated like any other cadet.
After Osborne, Edward continued on to Dartmouth in May 1909. Though Dartmouth was also strict, Edward's stay there was less harsh. During the night on May 6, 1910, King Edward VII, Edward's grandfather who had been outwardly loving to Edward, passed away. Thus, Edward's father became king and Edward became the heir to the throne.
In 1911, Edward became the twentieth Prince of Wales. Besides having to learn some Welsh phrases, Edward was to wear a particular costume for the ceremony.
[W]hen a tailor appeared to measure me for a fantastic costume . . . of white satin breeches and a mantle and surcoat of purple velvet edged with ermine, I decided things had gone too far. . . . [W]hat would my Navy friends say if they saw me in this preposterous rig?1
Though it is surely a natural feeling of teenagers to want to fit in, this feeling continued to grow in the prince. Prince Edward began to deplore being set on a pedestal or worshipped - anything that treated him as a "person requiring homage."2
As Prince Edward later wrote in his memoirs:
And if my association with the village boys at Sandringham and the cadets of the Naval Colleges had done anything for me, it was to make me desperately anxious to be treated exactly like any other boy of my age.3
In August 1914, when Europe became embroiled in World War I, Prince Edward asked for a commission. The request was granted and Edward was soon posted to the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. Yet the Prince was soon to learn that he was not going to be sent to battle.
Prince Edward, extremely disappointed, went to argue his case with Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War. In his argument, Prince Edward told Kitchener that he had four younger brothers who could become heir to the throne if he were killed in battle. Though a good argument, Kitchener stated that it was not Edward being killed that prevented him from being sent into battle, but rather, the possibility of the enemy taking the prince as prisoner.4
Though posted far from any battle (he was given a position with Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Sir John French), the prince did witness some of the horrors of the war. Though he wasn't fighting on the front, Prince Edward won the respect of the common soldier for wanting to be there.