|The Abdication of Edward VIII as a Defining Cultural Moment of Empire|
|The Abdication of Edward VIII in December 1936 caused a political and constitutional crisis in Britain and the Empire. It was not, however, only an important political moment in the history of Britain and the Empire, but was also a defining cultural moment with the decision of Edward VIII to marry Wallis Simpson illustrating the cultural divide between the world of Britain and the Dominions and that of the United States of America. The American press saw the relationship as sensational as well as a romantic fairytale. The British press, which began covering the relationship much later than its American counterpart, considered the relationship to be a disastrous union. The British Monarchy was ‘the last visible link of Empire’ and the idea that the King would consider marrying a twice-divorced American socialite was considered incomprehensible by many with some commentators describing the potential marriage as ‘a national calamity’.
The abdication crisis has been well-covered by popular historians who have emphasised the romantic aspect of the story with the King giving up his throne to marry the woman he loved. Professional historians, on the other hand, have paid far less attention to this important moment and little significance has been placed on the demonstration of Empire unity by Stanley Baldwin and the Dominion Prime Ministers in their unified opposition to the marriage. While the divorce rates had been increasing in the various Dominions, and the following year England extended the grounds for divorce, there was a still a connection in people’s minds that divorce was improper, immoral and American. While the King’s role as the Head of the Church of England made it extremely difficult for him to contemplate marrying a woman who had two previous husbands still living, the problem went deeper than this. Even if Simpson had not been twice-divorced, she was still an American socialite and was therefore not thought to be a suitable Consort for a King who had the public role of linking the various countries of the British Empire. The marriage of the King was considered to be a public act by the British and Dominion governments, and the need to preserve Empire Unity and a British way of life took precedence over Edward’s personal desires.|