Royal Romance

Good morning, it’s Monday, December 11, 2017. Eighty-one years ago today, a thin and handsome man known to his beloved as “David,” but to the British people as Edward VIII, became the first English monarch to voluntarily abdicate the throne.

He did so for love, which seems quaint today. As Tina Turner might say, what’s love got to do with it? What I mean is this: Just where in Britain’s Constitution does it even say that a king can’t marry a twice-divorced American?

The torrent of sexual misconduct by prominent men that has come to light in recent months has highlighted the fact that bad male behavior was tolerated for far too long. There are other ways to measure progress in the long march toward gender equality, however, and one of them is to compare society’s reaction to Meghan Markle with that accorded Wallis Simpson.

Like Simpson, Markle was married when she became involved with her prince. Although the word “commoner” isn’t used much anymore, Markle is also an American — African-American, actually — and an actress. When news broke of her betrothal to Prince Harry, those details weren’t used against her. Mostly, they were celebrated.

Watching from heaven, if that’s where she went, Wallis Simpson might have sighed with envy. Wallis Simpson divorced her second husband, Ernest, to be with Edward. And as the Prince of Wales, the future king had broken off things with his two favorite mistresses to be with Simpson. Although the British press largely covered up Edward’s love affair with her, the U.S. media wasn’t so accommodating.

But when Edward became king on January 20, 1936, things changed. Now the newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic, with tacit encouragement of palace antagonists (and anonymous critics in Parliament and 10 Downing Street) disparaged Simpson as a gold-digging temptress and a tactless rube. More ominously for the couple, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and others in the British government fomented the theory that Edward couldn’t legally marry Simpson. The constitutional basis for this claim is thin, even if the real reasons for concern about Edward were substantive. The king was considered too sympathetic to Nazi Germany, for one thing. Also, those who knew the 42-year-old monarch personally believed he possessed the emotional maturity of a teenager.

Perhaps his detractors were correct. Yet, only the most unromantic person could fail to be moved by the passion on display in the radio address Edward delivered to his subjects on this date in 1936.

“I have found it impossible,” he said that night, “to carry on the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge the duties of king, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.”

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

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