How fights used to erupt between Edward VIII and George VI
5th January 2023

Royal brothers at war more than 100 years ago: How fights used to erupt between teenage siblings Edward VIII and George VI before their brotherly bond finally broke over the abdication

  • The future Kings Edward VIII and George VI quarreled growing up
  • Their tutor noted in 1907 how presence of one acted as a ‘red rag’ to the other
  • Edward’s abdication in 1936 was seen as ‘personal betrayal’ by younger brother

The now-fraught relationship between Princes William and Harry has echoes stretching back more than 100 years. 

The Duke of Sussex claims in his upcoming book that his brother attacked him after branding his wife Meghan Markle ‘difficult’.

But the pair are not the first royal siblings to spectacularly fall out. The future Kings Edward VIII and George VI quarrelled growing up, with their tutor telling in 1907 how the presence of one in the school room acted as a ‘red rag’ to the other.

And whilst the pair got on better in adulthood, Edward’s decision to abdicate in 1936 so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson was seen as a ‘personal betrayal’ by George, royal author Alexander Larman told MailOnline.  

The pair met on only a few occasions after the abdication, before their relationship broke down irretrievably after a ‘furious’ in-person row in 1949 over King George’s refusal to grant Wallis the title of Her Royal Highness. 

The future Kings Edward VIII and George VI quarreled growing up, with their tutor telling in 1907 how the presence of one in the school room acted as a ‘red rag’ to the other. Above: Edward (left) and Prince Albert – known as George as King – are seen together as teenagers

Whilst the pair got on better in adulthood, Edward’s decision to abdicate in 1936 so he could marry American divorcee Wallis was seen as a ‘personal betrayal’ by George. The future George VI, then Prince Albert, the Duke of York, is seen with his brother King Edward VIII at their father’s funeral in January 1936

The pair spent a lot of time together in early childhood, but, like with Prince William and Harry, it was said to be ‘clearly understood’ that Prince Edward was the heir to the throne.

Edward is said to have acted as a ‘head nurse’ to his other siblings, including George, who was known at the time by his first name, Prince Albert.

Writing years later, the Duke of Windsor said he could ‘always manage’ his brother.

In January 1907, the boys’ tutor, Peter Hansell, said he was finding it difficult to keep peace in the schoolroom. 

He reported: ‘It is extraordinary how the presence of one acts as a sort of “red rag” to the other’. 

However, due to the fact that George was lacking in confidence and had a stammer, he did later look up to his elder brother, who he saw as a ‘mentor’ figure. 

But further tensions began to emerge when, after becoming King following the death of his father George V, Edward did not hide his relationship with Wallis, who is believed to have become his mistress in 1934. 

Edward VIII abdicated in December 1936 so he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Above: The King giving his abdication broadcast

Like the tension between Prince Harry and Meghan and William and Kate, there was also significant friction between Edward and Wallis and George and his wife Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother. 

The famous diarist Chips Channon noted in July 1936: ‘The Simpson scandal is growing, and she, poor Wallis, looks unhappy. 

‘The world is closing around her, the flatterers, the sycophants, and the malice…’ 

Edward further upset courtiers and the press by sending Wallis to Royal Ascot in a royal car, even though she had no official status. 

Royal biographer Sarah Bradford writes in her book, George VI: The Dutiful King: ‘Tension between the Yorks and Wallis reached its highest point so far at Balmoral in late September [1936]. 

Edward’s proposal to marry Wallis – whilst divorce proceedings with her second husband were still ongoing – sparked a constitutional crisis which culminated in Edward’s decision to abdicate. Pictured: The couple on the day of their wedding in 1937

Prince Edward (top) and his brother Prince Albert (right) are seen with their father King George V

Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII: A scandal that rocked a nation

January 1931 – Wallis meets Prince Edward in January 1931, after being introduced via her friend Lady Furness

1931- 1934 – The American divorcee and the heir to the throne see each other regularly at various parties 

August 1934 – Wallis admits she and Edward are no longer just friends, after joining him on a cruise 

January 1936 – King George V dies. Edward asks Wallis to watch the proclamation of his accession with him from St. James’s Palace

August 1936 – The pair enjoy a cruise around the Adriatic sea with friends. Details of their relationship appear in the American press

December 11, 1936 – Edward announces his abdication

June 3, 1937 – The couple get married in the south of France. Wallis was formally known as the Duchess of Windsor, but was not allowed to share her husband’s title of ‘Royal Highness.’   

‘It would be the last time they were to meet socially, and, when they did, the disapproval on their side and the dislike on hers were publicly noticeable.’ 

The Yorks were said to be unhappy at how Edward had invited Wallis to Balmoral for his first visit there as King, only six months after the death of his father.  

Issues were further exacerbated by the King’s decision to meet Wallis in Aberdeen on the same day that he had gotten his brother and the Duchess of York to take on an official engagement in the city, on the grounds that he was unable to attend. 

Later, at a dinner party in September, the Duchess of York ignored Wallis when the American defied convention by stepping forward to greet her before the King. 

Mr Larman told MailOnline: ‘Up to the abdication in 1936, Edward was the mentor figure. George looked up to him.

‘He relied on his elder brother, and that’s why the abdication was a personal betrayal to him.

‘After he became king, George always referred to the abdication as that dreadful day.

‘He felt he had been betrayed by his elder brother, but Edward felt he had been betrayed by George because he wouldn’t allow Wallis the title of Her Royal Highness.’

The brothers’ relationship became ‘very acrimonious very quickly’, to the point that, when Edward and Wallis married in 1937 after the former king’s abdication, ‘George was not only not there but he wouldn’t allow any other members of the family to attend,’ Mr Larman added. 

The new Duke of Windsor – granted his title by his brother – did not see George again until 1939, and when they did meet, the atmosphere was fraught with tension. 

After that, their next meeting came in 1945. 

‘What you can see is that the relationship between them was very tense. There was animosity in their letters. The Duke of Windsor felt his brother had betrayed him,’ Mr Larman said. 

‘I think George was horrified by the way that his brother had essentially not just betrayed his country but betrayed his family.’

Prince Edward and Prince Albert – the future King George VI – are seen with their mother, Queen Mary

Prince Edward is seen holding his baby brother Prince Albert in 1903

Prince Edward and Prince Albert are seen with their tutor Peter Hansell at Balmoral in 1911

Prince Albert, later King George VI (1895 – 1952) (left) and Edward VIII (1894 – 1972), as Prince Edward

Whilst the pair did come close to reconciling after the Second World War, the tensions re-emerged when Edward made another attempt to get Wallis HRH status. 

‘By 1949, he was demanding that his wife be given this title,’ Mr Larman said. 

‘Edward came to blame his brother for this and it culminated in this furious row in 1949 and that was essentially the end of the relationship between them.’

King George’s refusal to give Wallis HRH status was made clear in Letters Patent that said Edward’s ‘wife and descendants, if any shall not hold said title or attribute.’  

Edward’s relationship with Wallis, who had been twice married before her union with him, was a scandal when news first emerged of it.

His proposition to marry her – whilst divorce proceedings with her second husband were still ongoing – sparked a constitutional crisis which culminated in Edward’s decision to abdicate.

The Daily Mail’s coverage on December 11, 1936, reported King Edward’s speech in which he announced his decision to abdicate.

The newspaper reported how the former king had ‘renounced the Throne and all his titles and will leave the country to-night’

After a short period of exile, the Duke had hoped to return to live in Britain but was not allowed to do so, with the King threatening to cut off his allowance if he tried to come back without invitation.

Speaking in an interview with the BBC’s Kenneth Harris in 1970, Edward had said he offered his services to the King but was not given a new role after his time as Governor of the Bahamas in the war. 

Asked why that was, he replied, ‘You’d have to ask…. Most of the people, I’m afraid, are underground now who prevented me. Oh, I don’t know, it is hard to say.’

Edward and Wallis spent their married life living in France and travelling frequently to the United States. 

They enjoyed numerous holidays and hosted lavish parties, as well as travelling to meet Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in 1937. 

Edward was infamously photographed giving a Nazi salute and later also toured industrial facilities and even a concentration camp.

The Duke’s health deteriorated in the 1960s and towards the end of 1971 he was diagnosed with throat cancer smoker. 

Twenty years earlier, his brother died after suffering from lung cancer. 

Edward passed away in May 1972.  

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