King Edward VIII: An American Life by Ted Powell – Book Review

New book by esteemed royal historian reveals how a young Prince’s love for America led to one of the 20th Century’s most seismic events in Britain.

Many of you I’m sure are a little young to remember King Edward VIII’s reign which he voluntarily abdicated in 1936. You have heard about it however since the engagement and marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

king edward viii ted powell

In 1936 Edward fell in love with an American socialite, Wallis Simpson, who (like Markle) who was a divorcee. Their relationship was not embraced like with Harry and Meghan however. And in an eerie twist, the car that transported Meghan to her Wedding was the same car that took Simpson to Edward’s funeral, 46 years earlier.

The path that followed Edward’s abdication led to Queen Elizabeth taking the throne. But what does history make of his reign?

The Abdication

King Edward VIII’s affair with Wallis Simpson was scandalous at the time. The Church of England rejected the couple’s engagement, to make matters worse, the monarch of the UK is head of this Church. This triggered a constitutional crisis in Britain.

Edward was forced to abdicate in December 1936 saying he could not be King “without the help and support of the woman I love”.

The couple married in 1937 in France, but no members of the Royal Family attended the wedding. They became the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Wallis was never given the title of Her Royal Highness, meaning lower members of the Royal Family (and members of the public), would not curtsy to her.

Edward died in 1972.

King Edward VIII: An American Life

Powell’s book puts a new spin on what we think we know about Edward, and helps explain more about the man.

What if the abdication of King Edward VIII had deeper roots than his affair with Wallis, originating with a young prince’s fascination with the USA?

Wallis simpson and edward viii

In his new book, King Edward VIII: An American Life, esteemed royal historian Ted Powell turns our view of King Edward VIII and his abdication on its head.

Powell reveals the prince’s first love: America. He argues that the irresistible freedom and modernity Edward tasted there shaped his intimate relationships and transformed his view of monarchy – setting him on a dangerous collision course with his rigid life of pomp and pageantry as King-in-waiting in interwar Britain. This laid the foundations for the explosive events to come.

Nazi sympathiser or royal revolutionary?

As controversial in death as in life, Edward is branded a Nazi sympathiser and embarrassment to the Royal Family.

But Powell argues that Edward was a peace-loving man and a progressive Prince, who, if he’d remained King, was set to modernise the monarchy beyond anything we’ve seen from a reigning monarch in the 80 years since his abdication.

The Author

Ted Powell is an esteemed royal historian and a lecturer at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education. Prior to this he was a Fellow and Director of Studies in History at Downing College, Cambridge.

He is a regular contributor to the media, including the Guardian, Observer and Metro. Ted has also appeared on radio and TV, such as BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show and London Live debate.

The Book

This is a very comprehensive, well-crafted book which weighs in at just over 300 pages. Powell will transport you to royal surfing trips, cowboy ranches and all-night jazz parties. I found the book entertaining and thought-provoking.

Powell lays out a fascinating glimpse at Edward’s life, bringing to life the greatest constitutional crisis of the 20th century.

I read the book knowing very little about Edward’s reign, and the drama that surrounded his affair. I finished the book with a much better understanding, and an appreciation, for the situation that surrounded the scandal. The chapters are well constructed and flow well to provide a fascinating view of Edward.

I would recommend this book. It is also essential reading if you have any interest in the Royal Family, British history or American culture.

You can buy the book direct from Amazon here.

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