The only British sovereign to abdicate voluntarily, Edward stepped down in 1936 to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. He was king for less than a year.
Edward was born on 23 June 1894 in Richmond, Surrey, the eldest child of the duke of York. He was always known in his family as David, one of many middle names. In 1910, Edward's father became George V and Edward, prince of Wales. He joined the Grenadier Guards in World War One, although he was not allowed to see active service. Throughout the 1920s, Edward undertook extensive foreign tours particularly in the empire, representing his father. These tours, together with Edward's visits to areas of high unemployment and deprivation in Britain during the economic depression of the early 1930s, made Edward very popular.
Edward had affairs with a number of married women in the 1920s, but then met and fell in love with Wallis Simpson, the wife of an American businessman. In January 1936, George V died and Edward became king. In October, Wallis Simpson was granted a divorce from her husband, and it became clear that the new king wished to marry her, against the advice of many of his advisors who did not believe that Edward, as head of the Church of England, should marry a divorced woman. All attempts to find a solution failed and so, on 10 December, Edward signed an instrument of abdication. The following day, after broadcasting to the nation and the empire to explain his actions, he left for Europe. Edward's brother became George VI.
In June 1937, Edward married Wallis Simpson and the couple were given the titles of duke and duchess of Windsor. For the next two years they lived mainly in France. On a visit to Germany in 1937, they had a controversial meeting with Adolf Hitler. After the outbreak of war, Edward was appointed governor of the Bahamas. He remained in this post until the end of the war, when he and the duchess returned to France.
In the remaining years of his life, the duke paid only short visits to England to attend the funerals of family members, and there continued to be much bitterness between the duke and his family. Edward died of throat cancer on 28 May 1972 in Paris, and was buried near Windsor.