The abdication of Edward VIII belongs to a class of events that can never be adequately treated by historians, since both the act and the actors transcend the conventional boundaries of the historian's craft. All the evidence suggests that Edward was a mediocre character of limited intelligence and scant scruple, remarkable only for his gigantic powers of self-deception. But no amount of academic documentation is likely to dissuade people a hundred years hence from seeing him as the very mirror of a tragic prince - an ikon of modern royalty as exemplified by Sickert's dazzling portrait painted, at the time of his accession, for the Welsh Guards. And, after a due lapse of time, nothing will stay historical novelists from elevating Wallis Simpson, née Warfield, to the fictional pantheon of romantic heroines. Like the tale of Tristan and Isolde, the shabby details of the Abdication may one day attract the magical and distilling art of some great maestro of human experience, a Shakespeare or a Wagner as yet unborn. It seems safe to predict that future generations will remember the King's great matter of the Thirties, long after they have forgotten Appeasement, hunger marches and the unemployed.
LRB 24 July 1986 | PDF Download