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.
King Edward VIII
Of the making of books about Edward VIII and the Abdication Crisis of 1936 there would seem to be no end. In the popular romantic memory, he will always be the man who gave up the throne of England for the woman he loved. In the minds of many, the romance of Edward VIII and Wallis Warfield Simpson ranks with those of Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, and Tristan and Iseult. The truth, as it usually is, is more mundane. Ziegler’s book is essentially a sad tale of misdirection, waste, and loneliness. No doubt if the archives, letters, and interviews of friends and family still existed from the days of those other famous lovers, we would have entirely different, more prosaic versions of their stories as well.
There is little romance in this story, which Ziegler tells with great fairness, with style, and even with elegance. This is an “official” biography; indeed, the British edition is subtitled “The Official Biography.” Ziegler, the author also of well-regarded books on Mountbatten and others, was given unrestricted access to the royal archives as well as privileged access to various groups of restricted papers elsewhere. The book under review, however, does not suffer from the stodginess and careful restraint that are the usual qualities of official biographies. While he is eminently fair to Edward VIII, Ziegler does not ignore or gloss over the facts of the life of his subject; he does not hide the weakness of character and judgment that the documents available all too clearly expose.
The book falls naturally into three convenient parts. The first and third parts, of about two hundred pages each,...
(The entire section is 2,377 words.)