Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David was born to rule the United Kingdom. Edward VIII, as he came to be known, is perhaps best remembered for his infamous abdication of the throne in 1936, which would effectually instate the current Queen Elizabeth as the monarch of the Kingdom. The root cause of this scandalous abdication was his love affair with Wallis Simpson. This couple enjoyed a spectacular romance, which was made material through extravagant gifts of jewelry. Read on to find out about this royal courtship.
Who was King Edward VIII
King Edward VIII was born in 1894 as the eldest son to Queen Mary and King George V, making him the heir apparent. Upon his sixteenth birthday, he assumed the title of Prince of Wales, and his future position as king was formalized. The Prince served in the First World War, which bolstered his popularity among veterans. During the 1920s, the Prince was an icon both at home and abroad. In particular, his sense of fashion captured the attention of young Americans, and he was viewed as a style icon. Known as the tastemaker of his age, the Duke of Windsor had an incredible collection of cufflinks, ties, socks and other fashionable accessories.
The Prince's love life was also subject to public scrutiny, as Edward was known for his numerous romances — particularly those involving married women. Edward’s taste for parties and women positioned him closer to a celebrity than a monarch, and his family and the English aristocracy criticized his behavior.
In 1930, Edward met Wallis Simpson, the wife of a mutual friend. The two immediately fell in love and began a secretive relationship. Simpson’s status as a married woman and a divorcée scandalized the affair, and the Royal Family refused to receive her. In fact, during their courtship, the Metropolitan Police Special Branch had a special force dedicated to following the couple to monitor their relationship.
King George V’s death in January 1936 instated Edward as King, and he ascended to the throne with Wallis by his side; however, King Edward VIII’s reign would be short-lived, and he would abdicate in less than a year.
King Edward VIII Abdication
The newly-minted king was almost immediately met with resistance. In November of his first year on the throne, he made his plans to marry clear, stipulating that he would wait until she finalized her ongoing divorce. Then-Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin rejected this proposal since, as king, Edward was the head of the Church of England. He could, therefore, not participate in such a morally-questionable marriage. At this time, it was considered inappropriate to remarry while one’s ex-spouse was still living, and Simpson had two living ex-husbands. In response, Edward suggested that he and Simpson engage in a morganatic marriage, in which he could remain king, but she would not inherit any title of royalty. Once again, this plan was rejected by the British Cabinet and Prime Minister. Clearly, Edward and his supporting government were at an impasse, and he threatened to abdicate if he could not marry his love. On October 27, 1936, Edward proposed to Wallis, giving her a 19.77-carat emerald ring with an interior engraved with the date. The emerald, cut from one owned by a Grand Mogul, was remounted in a stunning Cartier setting. To celebrate their twentieth anniversary, the couple had Cartier remount the stone once again, resulting in the beautiful composition we see today.
Despite his intention to marry Wallis, the king still had to choose between his duty and his desire. Ultimately, Edward chose the love in his heart over the crown on his head, and he abdicated on December 12, 1936. This commemorative cup memorializes the date of the King’s abdication, and it serves as a true testament to the sensationalism of the King’s love affair.
King Edward VIII Abdication Cup, dated 1936
The Marriage between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
For the six months following his abdication, Edward was unable to see Wallis. Simpson, finalizing her divorce, was in the south of France, trying to avoid scandal, and the couple had to correspond in secret. During this time, Edward continued to express his love for Wallis — particularly by gifting her with exquisite jewelry. For instance, in the months during their separation, Edward gave his beloved a Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond bracelet inscribed “Hold Tight.” These gifts were a physical reminder of the love between the couple, and Wallis accumulated an extensive collection of jewelry throughout their relationship.
The couple married in June 1937. Sadly, family relations were strained by the abdication, and King George VI forbade any members of the royal family to attend the wedding. Unable to give her the crown, Edward instead continued to lavish gifts upon Wallis. She had a distinctive taste for jewelry, and she particularly favored Cartier. In fact, she commissioned the jeweler to craft a three-dimensional panther bracelet, thus popularizing one of Cartier’s most iconic looks, the Panthère.
Another stunning example of Wallis’ eye for jewelry is this emerald and tourmaline brooch. An Uzbek artisan originally created the piece, and it showcases the region’s natural treasures. To make the piece truly her own, the Duchess commissioned Cartier to alter the brooch, making it even more elaborate. It features intricate goldwork and is adorned with an array of natural pearls. The brooch truly encapsulates Wallis’ impeccable and distinctive taste in jewelry.
Following the abdication, Wallis and Edward distanced themselves from the royal family, traveling or living abroad. While they remained somewhat separate from the royal family, they still retained their influence on pop culture both in England and elsewhere.
Today, the couple is remembered for their scandalous relationship and its effect on the Crown. More recently, however, Wallis Simpson’s collection of fine jewelry has been rediscovered, and many of these pieces have come up for sale. To see M.S. Rau’s entire collection of antique fine jewelry and rare gemstone jewelry, visit our website.