When Edward VIII wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, the fact she had been divorced was a problem that ultimately led to his abdication.

Decades later, Charles, Prince of Wales married Camilla Parker Bowles, who had also been divorced. However, Charles's position as heir apparent seems secure.

Why is that one king marrying a woman who has had a divorce was such a problem he had to abdicate while another king (to be) doing the same thing isn't a problem at all?


1 Answer 1


The difference in this case is that Prince Charles already had two heirs from his first marriage with the deceased Princess Diana Spencer (Prince William and Prince Henry). Should he have another child with Camilla Parker Bowles (very unlikely, considering that she was 57 when they married), that child would have been 3rd in succession after Charles, but would have gotten pushed further back by future children and grandchildren of William and Henry (as of 2020, William has 3 children and Henry has 1). That means his marriage was of little concern for the throne succession. Also, Camilla Parker Bowles is the daughter of a 3rd baron, so she has at least a bit nobility.

Edward VIII, however, had no children yet when he wanted to marry Wallis Simpson. That means his heir would have come from a twice divorced woman (and an American and lowborn, to boot), which would have been the big scandal the prime ministers wanted to avoid.

Also, back then Edward VIII could not even have married her according to the Church of England. At that time the church did not allow divorced people to remarry as long as their ex-spouse is still alive. That means as far as the English Church was concerned, his children would have been born out of wedlock, which would have questioned their legitimacy. The church's opinion in this case is important, because the King of England is also the head of the Church of England. The head of the kingdom and head of the church living in a marriage not recognized by the church and expecting the children of said marriage to take the throne after them would have been difficult, to say the least*.

However, in 2002 the Church of England liberalized their stance and allows divorced to remarry at the discretion of the priest. The marriage between Charles and Camilla was in 2005, and the church gave permission to it.

*And no, using his power as head of church to change its rules might not have been a good idea. The last time an English monarch changed the state religion to accommodate their personal marriage plans, lots of people died

  • 15
    Also, I suspect the less tangible factor is that mores changed since then :)
    – user4012
    Oct 5, 2015 at 17:11
  • 3
    "the church did not allow divorced people to remarry as long as their ex-spouse is still alive" - I'm confused, wasn't the C of E founded so that Henry VIII could do exactly this? Apr 14, 2016 at 11:13
  • 7
    @user568458 Technically, Henry VIII didn't want a divorce from Catherine of Aragorn but wanted an annulment of the marriage. The difference is that an annulment meant they were never married in the first place. This was important because it meant that their daughter Mary Tudor was removed from throne succession (spoiler: it didn't work. She was crowned queen after the death of Henry VIII's successor Edward VI).
    – Philipp
    Apr 14, 2016 at 11:22
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    @user568458 Also, the Church of England changed a lot during its history. In the1930s it really wasn't the same religion it used to be in 1530s.
    – Philipp
    Apr 14, 2016 at 11:41
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    A somewhat more direct answer is that for centuries, members of the English royal family have required the monarch's approval for their marriages. Edward VIII illustrated that in this, as in all other matters of substance, the monarch's discretionary powers were to be exercised only on the advice and direction of parliament.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 17, 2020 at 3:26

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