Piers Brendon on Edward VIII

From playboy prince to troubled sovereign, Edward VIII had a tumultuous private and public life. At our Kings and Queens Weekend in March, Piers Brendon will examine Edward's abdication in 1936 and estimate its impact on the institution of monarchy in the 20th century...

Edward VIII, c1952. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

We caught up with Piers Brendon ahead of his talk, Edward VIII: The Uncrowned King, at our Kings and Queens Weekend in March…

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Q: What can audiences look forward to in your talk?

A: A fresh look at Edward VIII – whose resemblance to Prince Charles strikingly emerges – and an examination of the abdication crisis, which not only rocked the throne but continues to haunt the British monarchy.

Q: Why are you so interested in this particular monarch?

A: Despite fierce competition from other royals, Edward VIII is the best advertisement in recent British history for an elected head of state. He’s interesting to me because he makes republicanism relevant.

For more information about our Kings and Queens Weekend and Piers Brendon’s talk on Edward VIII, click here:

Piers Brendon will talk on Edward VIII.

Q: Tell us something that might surprise or shock us about this monarch’s life…

A: Years after the facts about the Holocaust became general knowledge, the Duke of Windsor could still say: “I never thought that Hitler was such a bad chap.”

Q: What is your favourite ‘little-known fact’ from history?

A: A vignette about the perennial commitment of the British authorities to official secrecy: when the American journalist John Gunther asked to see a copy of the propaganda leaflets being dropped over Germany by the RAF at beginning of the Second World War (in lieu of bombs), he was refused on the grounds that this might provide information to the enemy.

Q: Which three historical figures would you invite to a dinner party and why?

A: Dr Samuel Johnson, Lord Byron and Thomas Carlyle. It would be fascinating to meet them, though of course they would not get on with each other and either a furious row would break out, or conversation would deteriorate into monologue – Darwin recorded that Carlyle once silenced a dinner party with a prolonged disquisition on the virtue of… silence.

Q: If you had to live in any historical time period, which would you choose and why?

A: Despite romantic hankerings for the 18th century, I would plump for my own lucky lifetime. I was born in 1940 and I gratefully enjoyed the benefits of Labour’s post-war dispensation and the advantages (cultural as well as economic) of belonging to the European Union. They were both incomparably good while they lasted.

Dr Piers Brendon is the author of 16 books, three of them about the British monarchy. Formerly Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre, he is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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He will be speaking about Edward VIII at our Kings and Queens Weekend on Sunday 3 March 2019.

Click here to find out more about the event and buy tickets

BBC History Magazine Kings and Queens Weekend