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How Prince William and Harry’s feud echoes the splits between King George VI and Edward VIII



The ongoing rift between Princes William and Harry has garnered significant public attention due to the level of acrimony it has generated. Fueled by a series of complaints from Montecito, most recently in the form of Prince Harry’s memoir “Spare,” this feud has undoubtedly resulted in a deluge of negative publicity for the British royal family. However, this is not an unprecedented occurrence within the monarchy. Ninety years ago, a bitter falling out occurred between two prominent members of the Royal Family – brothers who, by the outbreak of war, could barely tolerate each other’s presence. This historical context highlights that such rifts among royal siblings are not entirely novel, although the current situation has undoubtedly amplified due to the intense media scrutiny and public interest.

The unveiling of a statue honoring the late Princess Diana in July 2021 marked a significant occasion where Prince Harry and Prince William stood side by side. However, the tension between the brothers was palpable, reflecting an unprecedented level of public acrimony within the Royal Family.

This situation draws parallels to a bitter rift that occurred nearly 90 years ago between two prominent members of the Royal Family – brothers King George VI and the Duke of Windsor, who had abdicated the throne to marry the woman he loved. The ingredients for conflict were explosive, as the two brothers could barely tolerate each other’s presence by the outbreak of war.

These instances highlight the potential for strained relationships and deep-rooted tensions within the Royal Family, even among close relatives. Such rifts can have far-reaching consequences and garner significant public attention, underscoring the scrutiny and pressure faced by members of the monarchy.

The ingredients for this historical event were explosive: it was a standoff between King George VI and his older brother, the Duke of Windsor, who had abdicated the throne to marry the woman he loved. The Duke was rumored to have pro-Nazi sympathies that escalated from merely embarrassing to potentially treacherous with the onset of World War II. While Prince Harry’s Nazi costume incident in 2005 was controversial, rumors suggested that the Duke had wished to be restored as King by Adolf Hitler if Germany had won the war.

The warring brothers, George VI (known as Bertie) and his older sibling David (who briefly reigned as Edward VIII), were not many generations removed from the current British royal family. In fact, George VI was the great-grandfather of Prince William and Prince Harry, while Edward VIII was their great-great-uncle. The parallels between these generations of royal siblings are evident.

These parallels include the high level of emotion that is always present in any sibling rift, the devastating loss of status brought about by a departure from royal life, the influence of fiercely intelligent divorcees on their husbands, and, underlying everything, the ever-present question of money.

In the month following Edward’s abdication, relations between the brothers appeared cordial. The former monarch wrote to George VI on January 17, 1937, stating, “The events of December are past history, and you and I have now only the future to look forward to. You have your life as King, and you know how hard I have tried to make your succession as easy as possible.” He also promised, “I will, throughout your reign (which I hope will be a long and a grand one) and for the rest of my life, do all in my power to help and support you to the best of my ability.”

The letter sent by the Duke of Windsor soon led to a heated argument between the brothers, primarily due to financial disagreements. The initial cause of dissent was the annual allowance of £25,000 that the Duke was supposed to receive from the King’s personal funds. This arrangement was meant to keep the matter private and prevent taxpayers from subsidizing the controversial Wallis Simpson. However, the details were leaked to the newspapers, likely by Edward himself, which greatly disturbed King George VI.

Another point of contention was the revelation that the former King had amassed a substantial fortune, estimated to be around a million pounds, from the Duchy of Cornwall. This contradicted his earlier claims of being financially strained. George VI expressed his disappointment, stating that he had signed the agreement under the impression that Edward was in dire financial circumstances.

Winston Churchill, then a backbencher, estimated Edward’s savings to be between £800,000 and £950,000. The Duke responded angrily, defending his position by citing the lavish lifestyle he would need to maintain and the sacrifices he had made in abdicating the throne.

The situation surrounding Edward VIII’s abdication from the British throne in 1936 was a complex and contentious affair. When King Edward refused to disclose certain information requested by his brother, the new monarch George VI, he went so far as to offer to rent back the royal residences of Balmoral and Sandringham, which were technically his private property, for an annual fee of £25,000. This deliberate insult enraged the new King.

Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee for whom Edward abdicated, played a significant role in shaping his attitudes. In letters exchanged between the couple during the six-month period before Wallis’s divorce was finalized, she openly referred to “your wretched brother” and suggested that if George VI continued to treat Edward as an outcast and take advice from those who disliked him, Edward’s only recourse would be to publicly reveal the mistreatment he was receiving from the family he had placed in their current position.

This episode highlights the tensions and resentments that existed within the royal family during this tumultuous period, exacerbated by Edward’s controversial relationship with Wallis Simpson and his eventual decision to abdicate the throne.

The Royal Family’s decision not to attend or acknowledge the wedding of the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII) and Wallis Simpson on June 3, 1937, in France, caused significant tension and frustration. The Duke was deeply insulted when informed that Wallis would not receive the title of Her Royal Highness, a decision influenced by the socially conservative dominions of Canada and Australia, despite the King’s lack of opposition. This prompted an angry outburst from the Duke, who exclaimed, “This is a nice wedding present!”

Expressing his discontent, the Duke wrote angrily to his mother, Queen Mary, criticizing her for treating him like a young man learning a language abroad, despite his self-description as “definitely disgusted” with his brother’s behavior. The only royal acknowledgment of the nuptials was a telegram from “Elizabeth and Bertie” (the future Queen Elizabeth and King George VI), expressing affection and well-wishes for their future happiness.

This incident highlights the tensions and complexities surrounding the Duke’s abdication and subsequent marriage, as well as the Royal Family’s efforts to navigate the delicate situation while adhering to societal norms and expectations.

The Duke of Windsor’s abdication from the British throne in 1936 was a pivotal event that sparked significant tensions within the royal family. After the ceremony, Edward VIII expressed his deep disappointment and hurt towards Queen Mary, accusing her of virtually ignoring the most important event of his life. This led to his declaration of complete estrangement from the royal family, though this did not ultimately materialize.

King George VI, who ascended to the throne after Edward’s abdication, shared his brother’s frustration. He had never desired the responsibility of the monarchy and confided in a letter that trying to steady the “rocking throne” was an unpleasant job that was far from finished.

The strained relationship between the two brothers continued throughout 1937, exacerbated by Edward and Wallis Simpson’s controversial visit to Germany, where they were received by Adolf Hitler. This visit deeply disturbed King George VI, who described it as a “bombshell.”

Despite the tensions, King George VI agreed to provide Edward with an annual payment of £25,000, equivalent to over £1.3 million in today’s money. This episode highlights the complex dynamics and challenges faced by the royal family during a tumultuous period in British history.

The statement conveys that while there were differing accounts of what transpired during the Abdication, the King acknowledged discussions about an assurance that the former monarch would not return to the country. The King emphasized that the return of an ex-monarch would be a public matter of constitutional significance, requiring consultation with advisers. Consequently, the King felt, and his Ministers concurred, that the voluntary allowance could not be continued if the constitutional position regarding the former monarch’s non-return was not upheld.

The abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 was a pivotal event that came with conditions. His decision to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee, led to a deal where he had to relinquish the throne and remain in exile. Edward reluctantly accepted these terms. When Nazi Germany invaded France, the couple initially fled to Spain and then Portugal. However, in 1940, they were effectively sent into exile when Edward was appointed Governor-General of the Bahamas. This move was an attempt to distance them from the Nazi influence they had encountered while in Europe, as both Edward and Wallis had been exposed to it during their time there.

The strained relationship between the Duke of Windsor and his brother King George VI serves as a poignant reminder of the consequences of unresolved conflicts within royal families. Despite their shared upbringing, the two brothers harbored deep resentment towards each other, with the Duke and his wife privately mocking the King and Queen using derogatory nicknames. This rift, fueled by power struggles, financial disputes, and lingering grievances, remained unresolved until George VI’s untimely death in 1952.

This historical episode stands as a cautionary tale for the current generation of royal siblings, Prince William and Prince Harry. It underscores how a potent combination of power, wealth, and unaddressed grievances can breed a toxic environment, potentially leading to irreparable damage within familial bonds. The lessons from this past conflict serve as a poignant reminder for the present-day princes to exercise wisdom, empathy, and a willingness to reconcile their differences. Failing to heed the lessons of their ancestors could result in a repetition of history, marred by egregious and destructive consequences for the royal family and its public image.

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