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by William H. Benson

December 10, 2009

     Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David was born in 1894, into the House of Windsor, the son of George V, King of the British Empire, and Queen Mary. Being the eldest son, David, as he was called, soon learned that he too was destined to become King, upon his father’s passing.

     His family and the people of England were anxious that he meet and marry someone appropriate, a girl with good breeding, royal blood, educated, and equipped to handle the demands of serving as Queen. At the age of 37, when at a party in London, and when still a bachelor, the Prince of Wales met Wallis Simpson, an American girl from Baltimore, and the prince fell in love.

     Wallis at that time was married to Ernest Simpson, a member of the Coldstream Guards, the Prince’s own regiment, and this was her second marriage. Her first marriage to Lt. E. Winfield Spencer, a flight instructor at Pensacola, Florida, had ended in divorce.

     From 1931 until 1936, Mrs. Simpson and the Prince of Wales were often seen together, cruising on the royal yacht, or dining and entertaining at house parties in the south of France or at the Prince’s own home in London, Belvedere Lodge. Indeed, Mrs. Wallis Simpson was considered then the most distinguished host in all of London, and the Prince frequently attended her dinner parties.

     Mrs. Simpson was neat, tidy, charming, witty, did not take herself too seriously, had blue eyes, and laugh lines about those eyes, and of course David was love struck.

     George V died on January 20, 1936, and David gained the throne, becoming King Edward VIII. Because of censorship, few British commoners knew of the king’s love for this married American woman, Mrs. Simpson, but when the news broke, the British public was more accepting of the match than either the church, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the government, headed by the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin.

     A constitutional crisis broke out when King Edward VIII indicated his intention to make Mrs. Wallis Simpson his Queen. In October of that year, Wallis divorced Ernest Simpson, but because the Church of England did not recognize divorce, no representative of the church would marry her and the King. If they married elsewhere, the Church would not recognize the marriage.

     In November, Mrs. Simpson fled to the south of France, and from Lyons, she telephoned Edward and told him, “Don’t abdicate! You fool!” He did it anyways. To the Prime Minister, Edward said, “I am determined to marry Mrs. Simpson, and I am ready to go.” Stanley Baldwin replied, “Sir. That is most grievous news.” On December 11, 1936, after 327 days on the throne, King Edward VIII abdicated, forfeiting his annual salary, estimated between nine and ten million in U.S. dollars at that time.

     Has any man ever given up more for the girl he loved? Perhaps two better rhetorical questions would be King Richard III’s: “Was ever woman in his humor woo’d? Was ever woman in this humor won?”

     Edward’s younger brother, now George VI, succeeded to the throne, and on June 3, 1937, David and Wallis married, and were quite happy together, until his passing in 1972.

      George VI died in his sleep on February 6, 1952 at the age of 56, and his eldest daughter became Queen Elizabeth II. Her son, Charles, the current Prince of Wales, had his own set of marital problems. He had married and then divorced Lady Diana, but then on April 8, 2005, in a civil service at Windsor castle, the Prince of Wales married his long-time love, Camilla Parker Bowles, who had divorced her husband.  

     Why do some men act so foolishly when in love? And why, for that matter, do some women act so foolishly when in love? I am reminded of Shakespeare’s sonnet, “Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight. Past reason hunted, and no sooner had; Past reason hated as a swallowed bait.” –Perhaps Tiger Woods’s thoughts these past few days.

     Thomas Jefferson fell in love with a married woman, Maria Cosway, when in France and upon their breakup, he wrote a dialogue between his heart and head. His head said to his heart, “Well, friend, you seem to be in a pretty trim.” And his heart replied, “I am indeed the most wretched of all earthly beings. Overwhelmed with grief.”

     The head said, “These are the eternal consequences of your warmth and precipitation. This is one of the scrapes into which you are ever leading us.” And the heart cried out, “O my friend! This is no moment to upbraid my foibles.”

     Indeed, for some, when love walks through the door, reason flies out the window.