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Weekend marks 80th anniversary of abdication of Edward VIII

This weekend marks the 80th anniversary of one of the most turbulent times in the history of the British monarchy.

Edward VIII's abdication in 1936 rocked the nation when the King, who had been in the job for less than 11 months, gave up his throne in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

He left his brother, the Duke of York - the Queen's father - to take over as George VI.

Edward VIII signed the Instrument of Abdication on the morning of December 10 1936 in front of his three brothers and his lawyers, and the news was announced to the Commons by the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin.

The next day, December 11, the Act of Abdication came into effect when it was passed by Parliament and given royal assent in Edward's last act as king. He addressed the country in a radio broadcast.

Unsurprisingly, the Royal Family are not expected to mark the anniversary of this difficult period - which not only caused a constitutional crisis, but affected their relationships for years to come.

Princess Elizabeth, who was just 10 at the time, became the heiress presumptive on his abdication. Her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, never forgave Edward and Mrs Simpson for their actions, and the former king and his lover went into exile in France.

The Queen is expected to be staying, as she does most weekends, at Windsor Castle - from where her uncle, the former king, gave his historic address, declaring: "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love."

If Edward VIII had remained as sovereign and fathered children, it is unlikely Elizabeth II would ever have become monarch.

Had her uncle - who was always known to his family as David - stayed on the throne until his death in 1972 and not had children, then the Queen - whose father died in 1952 - would not have spent the formative years of her children's lives as head of state.

She would only have reigned so far for 44 years and be still some way off her record as the country's longest reigning monarch.

Historian Professor Richard Toye has said Edward VIII would have been a "useless king" had he stayed on the throne and that, rather than giving up the crown for love, he was actually looking for a way out from a role he "fundamentally couldn't stomach".

Prof Toye, of Exeter University, told the Press Association: " He had been, frankly, not very interested in doing the job.

"You have to ask yourself whether this whole episode was really about his most incredible, profound love for Mrs Simpson or whether he was perhaps subconsciously looking for a get-out."

He added: "He liked all the trappings and the luxury but actually being king is reasonably hard work and not very interesting work either and that was fundamentally what he couldn't stomach and couldn't stick to."

The historian said Edward VIII would have proved to be a terrible monarch in the long term, and his brother, the shy, stammering George VI, was much better.

"I think he would have been completely useless," he said.

"George VI fitted the bill very nicely.

"He didn't particularly want to do it...

"George VI lacked the charismatic personality of the kind that Edward undoubtedly did have, but in the circumstance that was really pretty perfect for what was required."

The womanising Prince of Wales, as Edward was styled before he became monarch, met Mrs Simpson when she was still married to her second husband, Ernest, at a house party given by his then mistress, Lady Thelma Furness, in 1931.

He acceded to the throne in January 1936 after George V died and seven months later Mrs Simpson filed for divorce from her husband. Neither the royal court, the government nor the church would accept a twice-divorced American as Queen.

Edward, who was never crowned, pushed for a morganatic marriage where his wife would have no claim on his rights, but the government would not accept this and he decided to abdicate.

He died in Paris in 1972 and is buried at Windsor.

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