King Edward VIII
Philip Ziegler’s book is a sad tale of misdirection, waste, and loneliness; despite popular opinion, there is little romance in this official biography, which Ziegler narrates with fairness and style. Ziegler was given access to the Royal Archives and to other restricted papers, but the work does not suffer from the stodginess and careful restraint of most official biographies.
The setting out of the early years of Edward, to 1936, makes it clear that the decisions finally made at the time of his abdication could well have been predicted. Edward was unfortunate in his parents, his education (which was for the Navy, but could hardly be called an education), and his friends, who were mostly hangers-on. He could barely communicate with his father, George V; and his mother, Queen Mary, while he loved her deeply, was sententious and rigid in her views of duty and morality. He grew up shallow and conventional; he preferred to do rather than to think. He was independent-minded, disliking much of the trappings of royalty; he felt deeply his protected status during World War I. The word which recurs again and again, especially in the first part of the book, is “charm,” usually coupled with references to his boyishness and his smile. He was, in fact, a rather pleasant child who never really grew up.
Ziegler has no new evidence about the abdication, except to make it clear that there were no heroes or villains. Edward never seems to have regretted not being king, except for what it denied to Wallis, whom Edward deeply loved, but who probably didn’t love him. This is essentially a character study of a weak man, subjected to strains beyond his capacity to handle. Ziegler is rarely harsh, but does not compromise in his presentation of a man who was neither tragic hero nor shining prince.
Sources for Further Study
Chicago Tribune. February 17, 1991, XIV, p. 5.
The Economist. CCCXVI, September 29, 1990, p. 100.
Library Journal. CXVI, January, 1991, p. 114.
London Review of Books. XII, November 8, 1990, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 3, 1991, p. 2.
New Statesman and Society. III, September 28, 1990, p. 32.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, February 10, 1991, p. 14.
The New Yorker. LXVII, March 4, 1991, p. 95.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVII, November 30, 1990, p. 62.
The Times Literary Supplement. September 28, 1990, p. 1021.