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Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Lesser Sacrifice: Edward VIII and Mrs.Simpson by Frances Donaldson

Donaldson analyses Edward VIII's complicated character very well in this old, but definitive biography. Remarkably even-handed, she shows the charm, the sense of honour and the selfishness and irresponsibility of the handsome prince. You have to be very interested in the story to read this book, however, because it is rather detailed and long-winded. It's not dull but it's a little bit heavy-going at times.

The young prince was actually very likeable, according to Donaldson. His desire to fight in the First World War and his anxiety to help the veterans afterwards show him in his best light. He started clubs and charities to help the veterans and the unemployed and his mistress, Freda Dudley did this as well. He also, famously, wanted to help the Welsh miners but he made promises to them which were unkept.

Edward annoyed his strict and rather cold parents by drinking at nightclubs and associating with married women. He could fulfill his royal duties with great charm, and he was very much loved by the people, but when they bored him he tended to be petulant and show his disinterest.

He met his match in Mrs.Simpson, the twice-divorced American woman, with whom he quickly became obsessed. According to this book, he thought that he could stay King and marry her as well, which is very surprising. The Dominions and the government, let alone the church, could not accept this. Even a morganatic marriage would cause a constitutional crisis and wasn't acceptable. In his autobiography, the Duke of Windsor, blames Baldwin for being against the idea, but he apparently took a long time to make up his mind and the PM gave him every chance to change it. Mrs.Simpson was willing to give him up, to her credit perhaps, when he found that he couldn't have a morganatic marriage, but he insisted on abdicating. Even his mother's reminding him of the veterans and asking him to make 'a lesser sacrifice' for his country didn't move him.

It was just as well that he wasn't King, because he was rather pro-Nazi and wanted to set himself up as a mini-dictator, according to Donaldson. He doesn't come out well in the last half of the book. He associated with Nazi's and made the Nazi salute; demanded a lot of money from his brother; wouldn't let black people inside the front door when he was Governor of Bermuda; and generally blamed the royal family for his problems and acted in a spoiled and petulant manner.

The story of Edward and Mrs.Simpson is often regarded as a great love story now, but anyone who reads this book will probably disagree. I am usually a romantic but not in this case.

The Queen Mother was often regarded as vindictive towards them, but it is rumoured that the Duchess was nasty about her and Edward disregarded his brother and his wife when he left the throne, leaving them to deal with it the best way that they could. A cartoon at the time of the Adbication summed it up well - it showed a labourer downing his tools and saying that he couldn't go on without the woman he loved!

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