If you click the above video you will hear, complete and unedited, the voice of Britain’s King Edward VIII announcing on BBC radio his abdication from the throne of England 77 years ago today, on December 11, 1936. This event put an end to what has become known in modern British history as the Abdication Crisis, and is a curious commentary both on the mores of 1930s society and how they have changed today.

In a nutshell, what happened was this. Edward VIII came to the throne in January 1936 upon the death of his father, George V. Edward was a bit of a playboy. One of his many girlfriends–the one he wanted to settle down with, in fact–was an American woman, Wallis Simpson of Baltimore, who was divorced. The idea of a British king marrying a divorced woman was an anathema in 1936. The rest of the royal family and even the civil British government all begged their new king not to disgrace the monarchy by marrying Mrs. Simpson. They also made it clear they wouldn’t support him as king if he did. Torn between his crown and the woman he loved, Edward chose the woman. This speech is how he explained his decision to the nation.

On the one had you’ve got to admire him. He really did love Wallis Simpson, enough to throw away the British monarchy for her. He did marry her, after her divorce was final–its pending status in the fall of 1936 was one of the many issues in the crisis–and they remained together until he died in 1972. On the other hand, was it really that big a deal? By today’s standards, certainly not. The likely next King of England will do Edward one better; he will be divorced himself. If something like the Edward/Simpson affair happened today, nobody but the gossip magazines would care. But it was a huge national crisis in 1936.

Edward’s abdication resulted in his brother George coming to the throne as King George VI. I ran one of George’s famous speeches on my blog a few months back, so if you’re interested, check that out too.

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