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Historical Happenings in May 2024

This month’s edition of Historical Happenings is here! Curious about monumental events that occurred in previous years in May? Well, this month, we are going to shed some light on some of the lesser-known facts about an event that shocked many people worldwide: the abdication of the throne from Edward VIII and the beginning reign of George VI. In this edition of Historical Happenings, learn about a few of the royal family members, some of the underlying factors that brought about the first British throne abdication, and how some royal family members never thought they would get to rule.

8 Things You May Not Have Known About the Royal Family: Edward VIII’s Abdication & His Brother’s, George VI, Coronation and Reign

Here’s some quick, general back story about Edward VIII’s short reign and George VI’s coronation day. On December 11, 1936, King Edward VIII of Great Britain shocked the world by announcing his decision to abdicate the throne of the United Kingdom after serving as king for less than a year. This momentous event was the first time in British history that a king had voluntarily stepped down from the throne. Edward's decision was met with a mixture of disbelief, outrage, and admiration from the public and political figures alike.

Edward's abdication was motivated by his desire to marry American Wallis Simpson, who was previously divorced from her first husband and seeking a divorce from her second at the time. As the head of the Church of England, which prohibited the marrying of people who were previously divorced, Edward had to choose between his duty as king or a life with Simpson. As history knows, he chose his scandalous marriage and was denounced to the title of the Duke of Windsor by his younger brother after he officially abdicated.

King George VI was coronated on May 12, 1937, six months after his brother’s abdication. George VI ascended to the throne and became the monarch of the United Kingdom and the British Empire. The coronation ceremony was grand and elaborate. It was held at Westminster Abbey in London and attended by dignitaries and royalty from around the world. The ceremony was steeped in tradition and pageantry, with the King being anointed with holy oil and blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But wait, there's more! We're about to embark on a journey into the uncharted territory of the throne's occupants. Brace yourself for some intriguing and lesser-known facts that might surprise you.

Before Edward VIII took his rightful place on the British throne, his father, George V, and George VI’s father was the ruling king. George V passed away in January 1936, leaving the throne to Edward. Before his father’s passing, Edward attempted to warn his father in 1934 that he had fallen in love and was planning to marry Willis Simpson, an American divorcée whom he was having an affair with while she was still married to her second husband. Edward knew she was in the process of getting her divorce finalized with her current husband at the time, and he was ready to step in as her new, third husband.

The British government was not fond of Edward’s situation with Simpson. Members of the British government and all of his advisors lectured and informed him that it would not be well-accepted by the public to have a twice-divorced American as their queen. The Church of England also did not believe in getting remarried after already being divorced, so it was made very clear that this marriage was not going to be accepted by many for the new king.

That was when Edward began to negotiate the terms of the marriage if the Cabinet Office were to allow it. Edward had made it clear to the government that he would abdicate if they disapproved of this marriage between him and Simpson. He proposed that the marriage would be morganatic, meaning he would still be the King, but Simpson would not be given the title of the Queen or the properties that went along with that title. They would be in a relationship of unequal rank, and she would be his consort. The Cabinet still didn’t budge.[1] That was when Edward knew what he wanted to do: he was ready to abdicate the throne officially.

King Edward VIII announced to the world on December 10 that he had officially abdicated the British throne, and he fully pledged his allegiance to the new king, his younger brother, Albert Fredrick Arthur George Windsor, or King George VI. Edward declared that he did not believe that he could live up to the expectations and responsibilities that the Crown entailed without the support of the woman he loved by his side.[2] He had made his choice and was ready to live with it.

Edward and Wallis married on June 3, 1937, at the Château de Candé in France. The couple officially moved to France shortly after because it was announced that the newlyweds were in exile. The now-called Duke of Windsor could not return home unless he had permission from his brother, the new king, to visit or was invited. Edward lived in exile for the rest of his life and lived in Paris for the majority of that time.

In order to make sure that he stayed away and wasn’t going to return to England, the new king’s advisors and the British government had expressed to George VI that he should threaten his older brother to ensure his distance. They proposed reaching out to Edward to let him know that if he returned to England unannounced or without permission from the king, he would have to deal with a suspension of his funds from the financial settlement after his abdication.[3] As expected, Edward was not happy. Edward and George agreed on a tax-free allowance that Edward would receive from the king.

After his marriage to Simpson in France, the new couple visited Germany towards the end of their honeymoon. Edward was very familiar with Germany as he traveled there many times as a student, spoke German fluently, and was reminded that there is German ancestry in the royal family bloodline. Because he was so casual about visiting Germany and meeting with Adolf Hitler, people were beginning to speculate that the real reason he abdicated the throne was because of his German Nazi sympathies. Even friends of Adolf Hitler were starting to believe it as well.

Edward made it clear that his intentions were to help create peace between England and Germany. He recorded himself pleading to the English to come to terms with the Germans, and he sent it out with the intention of it to be broadcasted. However, when it came across the desks of those at BBC, they immediately decided not to broadcast it even though it had already been heard by many around the world. BBC stored that file away and labeled it as material not to be aired to the public. The situation got to a point where it was being investigated if Edward VIII had something to do with the Buckingham Palace bombing on September 13, 1940.

In 1945, American troops stationed in Germany accidentally came across some secret German files one day while doing their rounds. As some of the files caught their attention, they were asked to be transferred to Marburg Castle in Hesse, Germany, for further and more in-depth examination. That was when the Duke of Windsor’s name appeared in about 60 of the files found.

It was shown that Edward was in touch with highly-ranked German military personnel during World War II when the Germans were beginning to plan Operation Willi. The plan for this top-secret operation was to kidnap the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and push them back on the British throne as puppet monarchs. The Germans planned to blackmail the British government while having the Windsors be their pawns in the game.

When France fell to Germany in World War II, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor decided to relocate to Spain, which was where the Germans wanted them to be since Spain was a more neutral territory. The Germans got in touch with Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator who was pro-Nazi. They began to work together to try to get the Windsors to stay in Spain as long as possible without them knowing that the Germans were in the works of their big scheme. Spain was offering them all sorts of luxuries to make them stay longer, but Edward was persistent on leaving for Portugal as he was becoming skeptical. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, was making arrangements for Edward’s departure and offered him a position to govern the Bahamas. The Spanish continued to try to negotiate with the Windsors without them knowing the Germans were behind anything, but Edward decided to leave for the Bahamas in the end to serve the monarchy.[4]

Despite the controversy surrounding the Marburg Files, the true nature of Edward's relationship with Hitler and the Nazi regime remains somewhat murky. Some historians argue that Edward was simply naive and misguided in his interactions with the Germans, while others believe he was actively collaborating with the enemy. Whatever the reality may be, the Marburg Files continue to be a source of fascination and debate among historians and Royal watchers alike.

With no longer having the responsibility of ruling a nation, Edward VIII expressed a desire to find meaningful work in the United Kingdom even though he and his wife were in exile. Despite his controversial decision to abdicate, Edward VIII was determined to contribute to society through work so that he could stay occupied. He reportedly explored several career opportunities, including serving in the military or working in public service. However, his desire to maintain a low profile and avoid further controversy ultimately led him to seek a more private occupation.

During WWII, Edward briefly served as a liaison officer to the French until he and his wife left France after it fell to the Germans.[5] In 1937, just months after abdicating, Winston Churchill appointed Edward VIII as the Governor of the Bahamas to avoid more conflict involving the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s sympathies towards Nazi Germany and to keep them from attempting to return to England at the same time.[6] Once Edward accepted the position, he and Simpson left for Lisbon. While this role was far removed from his previous royal duties, Edward VIII embraced the opportunity to serve his country in a new capacity. He and Wallis dedicated themselves to their roles as representatives of the British government. Though his time in the Bahamas was marred by accusations of laziness and incompetence, Edward VIII remained committed to his duties until his resignation in 1945 after about five years of service. He and Simpson moved back to Paris to live out the rest of their lives together in France.[7]

The coronation of King George VI was held on May 12, 1937, which was the date originally chosen for his brother Edward VIII’s coronation ceremony.[8] There were many attendees from the general public to specific individuals being invited. Inside the Abbey were about 8,000 guests, including members of the royal family, members of parliament, and many others. Around 10,000 people watched the coronation, increasing the number of viewers than before due to the ceremony being able to be recorded and watched in cinemas all over the world.[9] 

Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt was invited to George VI’s coronation ceremony but did not attend. In fact, there has never been a U.S. president to attend a British monarch’s coronation ceremony. After George VI was Queen Elizabeth II, and she invited President Eisenhower to attend. He declined as well, but he sent American luminaries instead. Current U.S. President Joe Biden also did not attend King Charles III’s coronation last year due to the tradition. Instead, he sent First Lady Jill Biden and his granddaughter, Finnegan Biden, to attend in his place. This tradition exists to symbolize the fact that the United States won its independence from the United Kingdom, so the leaders of the nation will not attend the British monarchs’ coronation ceremonies. They do, however, plan formal visits and tours to each other’s nations. It is just a tradition that continues to be upheld by the U.S. presidents to respectfully not attend coronations, but the two nations still remain friendly and respectful.[10] 

As a child, George developed a stutter that made it difficult for him to communicate properly and clearly. Coming from a strict household, his father didn’t appreciate it, especially when George became old enough to speak in public settings. His older brother, Edward VIII, was much more comfortable in the public eye. This stutter sometimes prevented him from speaking at all.

George VI ascended to the throne in 1936 after his brother's abdication. His stammer had been a lifelong affliction, making public speaking particularly daunting for him. Despite this challenge, George VI knew that he had a duty to communicate with his people, especially during the tumultuous times of World War II.

With the support of his wife, Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother), George VI sought the help of speech therapists in an effort to overcome his stammer. His wife was the one who found Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who helped him improve his severe stutter.[11] Through hours of practice and sheer determination, he was able to improve his speaking abilities and deliver speeches clearly that inspired and reassured his subjects during the dark days of the war.

In 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made history as the first reigning British monarchs to visit the United States. The visit was at the invitation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who extended the invitation as a gesture of goodwill between the two countries during a time of growing international tensions. The royal couple's visit was highly anticipated by both Americans and Brits alike, marking a significant moment in the historical relationship between the two nations.

The visit was highly successful, with the royal couple receiving a warm welcome from the American public. They were greeted by cheering crowds wherever they went, and the media covered the visit extensively. The royal couple's visit strengthened the bond between the United States and Britain, which would prove to be crucial in the years to come as the two countries joined forces during World War II.

During their visit, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made several historic stops, including a visit to the White House. The royal couple also traveled to New York City, where they were greeted by thousands lining the streets and cheering for their arrival.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's visit to the United States was a momentous occasion that strengthened the bond between the two nations. Their visit served as a powerful symbol of the friendship and alliance between the United States and Britain during a time of great uncertainty in world affairs.[12] 

On February 6, 1952, the world was shocked by the sudden death of King George VI of Great Britain. The beloved monarch passed away at the age of 56, leaving behind a grieving nation and two young daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. The older sister would later become Queen Elizabeth II. The official cause of death was reported as coronary thrombosis, but it was later revealed that he had also been battling lung cancer.

King George VI's lung cancer diagnosis came as a shock to many, as he had been an intense, lifelong smoker. In the 1950s, there was still a lack of awareness about the dangers of smoking and its link to cancer. It wasn't until much later that the harmful effects of smoking on lung health became widely known.

The severity of his illness was kept from him, his family, and the public by his doctors.[13] In 1951, he underwent a complete pneumonectomy, removing his left lung entirely. In reality, George was dealing with carcinoma and wasn’t informed of his official diagnosis. He was told that he would recover soon after his surgery, but the cancer had spread to his right lung at that point. The king had passed away in his sleep six months after the major surgery.[14]

Despite his illness, King George VI continued to fulfill his royal duties until his last days, showing strength and resilience after facing pain, surgery, and recovery when he was told he was to heal. His death marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter for the British monarchy with the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. The people of Great Britain and beyond deeply felt the loss of such a beloved and respected figure.


Want to read more about other events that occurred in May over the years? Check out our other May Historical Happenings blog posts!

Historical Happenings is taking a summer break! We’ll be back with a new blog in August, just in time for ‘Back-to-School’ season! In the meantime, check out previous Historical Happenings for June and July.

For more historical tidbits, lesson plan ideas, and free activities, follow us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram. Also, check out our other blogs for even more resources!


[1] Burke, Myles. “A Royal Crisis: The Shocking Moment King Edward VIII Announced His Abdication to the Nation.” BBC News, BBC, 11 Dec. 2023, Accessed 01 May 2024.

[2] Editors. “Edward VIII Biography.” Biography, A&E; Television Networks, 3 Apr. 2014, Accessed 02 May 2024.

[3] Bates, Stephen. “Edward Forced to Stay in Exile or Risk Income.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 Jan. 2003, Accessed 02 May 2024.

[4] Leer, Miranda. “Marburg Files: How the Duke of Windsor Was Exposed.” History Defined -, 17 Nov. 2023, Accessed 02 May 2024.

[5] Editors. “Edward VIII Abdicates | December 11, 1936.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 24 Nov. 2009, Accessed 07 May 2024.

[6] Brain, Jessica. “King Edward VIII.” Historic UK, 11 Mar. 2021, Accessed 07 May 2024.

[7] Editors. “Edward VIII Abdicates | December 11, 1936.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 24 Nov. 2009, Accessed 07 May 2024.

[8] Westminster Abbey. “George VI.” Westminster Abbey, Accessed 07 May 2024.

[9] Judd, Sarah, and Gwen Bourgon Gauvin. “King George VI Coronation: A Window to the World - Collections at Government House.” Governor of New South Wales. Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC,,as%20well%20as%20other%20representatives. Accessed 07 May 2024.

[10] Frazier, Kierra, and Maggie Miller. “Who’s Attending King Charles’ Coronation from the U.S. — and How It Compares with His Mother’s Crowning.” POLITICO, 5 May 2023, Accessed 07 May 2024.

[11] Hare, Breeanna. “Six Things to Know about King George VI, Who Saved a Monarchy after Scandal.” CNN, Cable News Network, 23 Feb. 2020, Accessed 07 May 2024.

[12] Creviston, Alice, and Seth Frost. “Roosevelts and British Monarchy.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 7 Apr. 2023, Accessed 07 May 2024.

[13] Barth, Rolf F., and L Maximillian Buja. “The Illness and Death of King George VI of England: The Pathologists’ Reassessment.” Cardiovascular Pathology : The Official Journal of the Society for Cardiovascular Pathology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8 June 2021, Accessed 07 May 2024.

[14] Smith, Alexandra. “King Charles’ Cancer Diagnosis Was a Rare Royal Health Revelation but Still Left Much Unsaid.” NBCNews.Com, NBCUniversal News Group, 6 Feb. 2024, Accessed 07 May 2024.


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