Philip Ziegler's biography of Edward VIII(1894-1972) was first published more than twenty years ago and, as the author comments in his preface to the latest edition of his biography, there have been more than twenty further books dealing with Edward VIII's life or certain aspects of it, in addition to a proliferation of newspaper articles, plays and television documentaries. Mr Ziegler's scrupulously researched biography, however, still stands the test of time and gives the reader a full and interesting account of the life of the king who chose to abdicate rather than live a life without the woman he loved as his consort. So in a chronological format we learn of Edward's early years and of his entry into the Royal Naval College in 1907 when he was almost thirteen years old; we read of his time at Oxford, (which he did not enjoy); of his involvement in the First World War, where although he spent time in the trenches, he was rarely, to his frustration, allowed close to the real action at the Front; we learn of his punishing schedule of royal tours after the war; of his years of heavy drinking and smoking and of his habit of staying up until the early hours, contrasted with his self-imposed regime of extreme exercise. We read of his relationships with married women, his dislike of the duties that came with his position as the Prince of Wales and of his parents' (and others') concern of his suitability as a future King. And, of course, we read of his relationship with the twice-married Wallis Simpson, a woman described by her detractors as hard-boiled, vain, shallow and grasping, but a woman for whom Edward developed an obsessive passion that resulted in him giving up his right to the throne.
Mr Ziegler has extensively researched his subject, drawing on Edward VIII's diaries, his private papers, his correspondence and love letters, and the private papers of certain prime ministers, and this scrupulous research has resulted in an authoritative, even-handed and elegantly written account of a man who seemed to never really grow up and who wanted all of the privileges but few of the responsibilities that came with being King. The author examines closely the events that led up to the abdication, but he also focuses carefully on Edward's post-abdication years: the haggling with his brother, King George VI, over his financial settlement; his refusal to accept the magnitude of his abdication and its aftermath; his naive expectation that his family would, in time, come to accept Wallis as a member of the royal family and to allow her to be addressed as Her Royal Highness (they didn't, of course, and had no intention of ever doing so); his unwise and indiscreet comments and behaviour at the beginning of the Second World War, which have since led to accusations of his being a traitor - an accusation that Mr Ziegler refutes by commenting that although Edward was often "silly, indiscreet and egotistical" the author is absolutely certain that "with all his faults, he was a patriot who would never have wished his country to be defeated or have contemplated returning to Britain as a puppet king." All of which makes for a very interesting, informative and compelling reading. Recommended.
I only read biographies, and am very selective with the subject matter. I was slightly daunted when I saw the size of this book, as I was not convinced that it would be interesting enough to warrant the time and effort necessary to read it. I could not have been more wrong. This is an excellent book, one of the best I have read. The author gives an extremely detailed and unbiased insight into the life and character of the man who is only really known as the king who abdicated for love. I found the whole book engrossing, which I had not expected, and was always reluctant to put it down. The impartial yet meticulous style of the author leaves the reader free to form their own opinions about this infamous royal, but provides a huge amount of information to help make this possible. You do not need any real interest in royalty to enjoy this book. It is a fascinating, well written look at a man who changed history. Well worth the effort !!
The history of the reign of Edward VIII - exceptionally short-lived as it was, and indeed one could question whether he ever 'reigned' at all, given that there was no Coronation - is known above all things for its ending. The traditional fairytale is that he gave up all for love, that he sacrificed his position, his family, his country, his throne, to be with the woman he loved. And of course, in the most superficial sense, all that is true.
However, as with all stories, there is more to it than that. Rarely can a Prince of Wales have approached the idea of his enthronement with less enthusiasm, and it does seem that temperamentally Edward, or David as he was actually known to family and friends, was utterly unsuited to be King. Edward, it seems, had the misfortune to be heir to the throne at a time when the country and the monarchy were changing rapidly - Edward was perhaps the first 'modern' Royal, at a time when the monarchy and the country were still to a very large extent stuck in the Victorian/Edwardian eras. And yet at the same time, he held the very traditional view that a monarch's private life remained private. Not for him the current sense that the Royal Family belong to the nation, that the private and public are intertwined. He simply could not see why whom he chose as friends, how he spent his time, and above all else, who he chose to love and marry, were any business of anyone else.
In this engaging and well-written biography, the Prince of Wales/Edward VIII/Duke of Windsor comes across as a man of arrested development, a man who never truly grew up. He was charming, cavalier, humorous, warm-hearted - but Ziegler depicts him as a immature man of superficial interests, easily distracted, irresponsible, self-pitying, restless and utterly lacking in the sense of duty that has been such a hallmark of the reigns of his brother George VI and his niece Elizabeth II. One cannot imagine either of those figures sacrificing the welfare of the country for their own personal happiness, as David chose to do.
David also comes across as utterly in thrall to Wallis Simpson, and whilst he was consumed with love for her and devoted to his dying day, the relationship never seems entirely healthy. She simultaneously mothered and managed, seduced and dominated him, and his devotion to her was never entirely or equally reciprocated. There was a great deal of self-abasement on his part, an almost cringing servility that comes across as truly pathetic. It leads one to be somewhat grateful that the Abdication Crisis did not resolve in his favour and that England was never faced with King Edward VIII and Queen Wallis. One cannot help thinking when reading this book that England dodged a bullet, so to speak, when Edward VIII abdicated his throne and became instead merely Duke of Windsor.
I could not put this book down! A marvellous insight into a royal crisis that rocked the world. Written in an easy to understand fashion that analysed the main characters fairly and honestly. A captivating read - if you want an honest assessment of what happened then this book is the one to consider. Written like a novel but with all the facts in place.