The Duchess of Windsor – When Edward became King

edward viii
King Edward VIII in his coronation robes - released to the public in 2011 to mark the 75th year since his abdication (public domain)

“It’s all over.”1

King George V’s health had been worsening since the autumn of 1935 after his return from Balmoral. He had been unable to lay his wreath on the Cenotaph on 11 November and had not gone out shooting at Sandringham. His favourite sister Princess Victoria died on 3 December and King George was devastated. He cancelled the State Opening of Parliament which had been set to take place that afternoon, and he would not appear in public again.

Four days before Christmas, King George and his wife Queen Mary travelled to Sandringham by train as usual. The family proceeded to have a normal Sandringham Christmas – presents on Christmas Eve and listening to the King’s Christmas message. On 31 December, they watched Monte Cristo. Although George went out riding on his white pony named Jock in those early January days, he was already seriously unwell. On 14 January 1936, George went outside for the last time. The following day, he ate dinner in his bedroom. Mary wrote, “Poor George, who had not been feeling well for some days, felt worse & had to go to bed before dinner.”2 The following day he “had a cold & stayed in his room all day, not in bed all the time – Most worrying.”3

On 17 January, the chief physician Lord Dawson of Penn was summoned, as was the Prince of Wales who was shooting at Windsor. Mary wrote to her eldest son, “I think you ought to know that Papa is not very well.”4 Wallis also happened to be there when the note was delivered. She later wrote, “I happened to be at the Fort that afternoon and was in the drawing-room when he came in with the note in his hand. Without a word, he gave it to me to read. He disappeared, and I heard him telephoning the pilot to have his aeroplane ready the next morning to fly him to Sandringham.”5

The Prince of Wales arrived at Sandringham the following day, and he wrote to Wallis, “My own sweetheart, just a line to say I love you more and more and need you so to be with me at this difficult time. There is no hope whatsoever for the King. It’s only a matter of how long and I won’t be able to get up to London if he’s worse. But I do long long (sic) to see you even for a few minutes my Wallis it would help so much. Please take care of yourself and don’t get a cold. You are all and everything I have in life and WE must hold each other so tight. It will all work out right for us. God bless WE.”6

King George would spend his final days in an old Tibetan dressing-gown in front of a fire, and slowly other members of the family began to arrive. The Prince of Wales drove to London on 19 January to inform the Prime Minister, Mr Baldwin, that the King was dying. Mary wrote, “G. about the same. Sat with him from time to time – Did not go to church as the place was surrounded by reporters & photographers, too heartless – Walked with Mary morning & afternoon – Wigram came with us – George (the Duke of Kent) arrived at 7 – also Archbishop of Canterbury – David (the Prince of Wales) & Bertie (the Duke of York) left but will return tomorrow.”7

Regular bulletins were issued regarding the King’s health, including perhaps the most famous one – issued on 20 January – “The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close.” King George V died just before midnight on 20 January 1936, helped along by “morphia gr 3/4 & shortly afterwards cocaine gr 1 into the distended jugular vein…”8 Mary took the hand of her eldest son, stooped and kissed it. The Prince of Wales was now King Edward VIII. Not much later, he called Wallis. She later wrote, “Shortly after midnight, as I was getting ready to leave, I was called to the telephone. It was David speaking from Sandringham. ‘It’s all over,’ he said. I could think of nothing better to say then, ‘I am so very sorry.’ Then he said, ‘I can’t tell you what my own plans are, everything here is so very upset. But I shall fly to London in the morning and will telephone you when I can.’ It was only as I hung up that I realised that David was now King.”9

In late January, Wallis wrote to her aunt Bessie “I have had to be at the new King’s beck and call, being the only person he has to really talk things over with normally, and it has all been a great strain. The ceremonies have been marvellous and impressive as only this country can produce and the proclamation of Edward XVIII (sic) the most picturesque things – such costumes from the Middle Ages, the heralds looking like a pack of cards.”10

On 22 January, Wallis watched from an unused apartment at St. James’s Palace onto Friary Court as the Garter King of Arms proclaimed the new King. Suddenly the King himself turned up against tradition and joked to his assistant private secretary, “Godfrey, this may strike you as somewhat unusual, but the thought came to me that I’d like to see myself proclaimed King.”11 Her presence was noticed by Lady Diana Cooper who mentioned it to her husband Duff Cooper, the Secretary of State for War, who wrote, “This is just the kind of thing that I hope so much he won’t do. It causes so much criticism and does so much harm.”12 They were also briefly caught on camera as they looked out the window.


Our book The Duchess of Windsor – A Collection of Articles is available now in the US and the UK.

  1. Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.169
  2. Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy p. 558
  3. Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy p. 558
  4. Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy p. 558
  5. Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.168
  6. Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.169
  7. Queen Mary by James Pope-Hennessy p. 559
  8. King George VI by Sarah Bradford p.200
  9. Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.169
  10. Wallis and Edward edited by Michael Bloch p.177
  11. The Heart has its Reasons by the Duchess of Windsor p.237
  12. King Edward VIII by Philip Ziegler p.212

About Moniek Bloks 2732 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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