The Royal Family is steeped with tradition. While royalty may have their own very unique personalities, there are social, cultural, and legal protocols that bind everyone together.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the lives of modern royalty often mirrors the lives of past royalty. And the clearest example of this comes from the way that Prince Harry’s life has mirrored King Edward VIII’s life before him. Edward VIII is the only British monarch to voluntarily give up the throne, and he did it all to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson.
You can already begin to see the parallels between Edward VIII and Harry, who stepped down as a senior royal to protect his marriage with Meghan Markle, but it goes deeper than that. In fact, there are many shocking parallels between both of their lives. Here are all the similarities between Prince Harry and King Edward VIII.
Popular with the British public
The parallels between Harry and Edward start on a very positive note. This is quite literally: public reception to both men was very positive, even before they had much in the way of genuine responsibility.
For example, Edward was quite popular because he had a great love of life. He seemingly enjoyed playing tennis or golf much more than he enjoyed playing politics.
Before “Megxit” was on anyone’s radar, Prince Harry was insanely popular with the British public. In fact, Vanity Fair reports that in a 2018 poll, he was liked by 77% of the people. Queen Elizabeth herself was only ranked 74% in that same poll!
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Notorious for partying in their youth
In addition to his love of sports, young Edward charmed people because he loved to party. In fact, he openly and honestly preferred partying to studying!
The New York Times reports that in his diaries, Edward recalled dancing until 4 o’clock in the morning. At one point, he wrote, “I have had not more than eight hours’ sleep in the last 72 hours!”
Of course, in Prince Harry’s youth he also notoriously loved to party. This sometimes landed him in hot water, such as when tabloids published photos of him playing strip poker in Las Vegas in 2012. He also caused a massive scandal when he dressed as a Nazi at a costume party in 2005. He’s since apologized for that one.
Neither wanted special treatment in the military
Neither Edward nor Harry remained party animals forever. As it turns out, the same thing helped each man shape up: their time in the military.
Edward trained for the Royal Navy and served in the army during World War I. He wanted to be put on the front lines, but was refused by the Secretary of State for War, Herbert Kitchener, who feared he would be taken as a prisoner. Later in life, Edward admitted he was “ashamed” to wear his military medals because he felt he was kept out of danger.
“I feel so ashamed to wear medals which I only have because of my position, where there are so many thousands of gallant officers, who lead a terrible existence in the trenches and who have been in battles of the fiercest kind (many severely wounded or sick as a result) who have not been decorated,” Edward revealed in a letter.
Despite his shame at being kept out of danger, Edward managed to get to the front lines for short periods of time and was under enemy fire on more than one occasion while serving in France.
Harry’s military career has notable similarities. Harry began Officer Cadet training at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2005 when he was 20. The next year, he was in the British Army and practically begging to be deployed to Afghanistan. Like Edward before him, he resented the idea that his fellow soldiers would risk their lives while he was kept safe.
Three years later, Harry got his wish. He completed two tours in Afghanistan and achieved the rank of Captain during his 10 years in the Army. In 2013, he told The Guardian how he enjoyed military service because it was a break from royal responsibilities. “It’s very easy to forget who I am when I am in the army. Everyone’s wearing the same uniform and doing the same kind of thing.”
Two royal ladies’ men
Relative to other royals, both Edward and Harry got married a little later in life. Harry was 33 when he married and Edward was 42. In contrast, Harry’s grandfather Philip got married when he was 25, and his brother William got married when he was 28.
Of course, waiting to get married didn’t keep these men from dating. Both Edward and Harry became somewhat notorious ladies’ men. Edward was famous for dating many different princesses. Notably, before marrying Simpson, he carried on an affair with socialite Thelma Furness, a viscountess who was married at the time.
Meanwhile, Harry dated celebrities including British singers Ellie Goulding and Mollie King before he finally committed to American television star Meghan Markle.
Falling in love with an American woman
Speaking of Meghan Markle, she is at the center of the most profound parallel between Edward and Harry. Specifically, both men fell in love with an American woman who would ultimately change their lives.
Edward met his future wife during a party at the home of Thelma Furness. Furness introduced him to her close friend Wallis Simpson, and Edward soon fell in love with her. Never mind that he was in a relationship with Furness at the time!
While Harry and Meghan’s relationship wasn’t nearly as scandalous in that regard, they did meet through a mutual friend. They were set up on a blind date by Violet von Westenholz in July 2016. And the rest is history.
Unfortunately, “history” doesn’t necessary mean “happily ever after.” Especially for British royals who fall in love with Americans!
Enduring a vicious British press
Edward VIII became king on January 20, 1936. But he faced backlash later that year when he revealed he wanted to marry Wallis Simpson. For one thing, she was American. But most importantly, she had already been married twice before. The Church of England did not allow divorced people to remarry while their ex-spouses were still alive.
Edward faced a terrible choice: if he wanted to remain king, he could never marry Wallis Simpson. Ultimately, he chose love over the monarchy. He caused a huge scandal, abdicating the throne in December 1936 after a mere 326-day reign in order to marry Simpson the following year. This action served to put Simpson in the crosshairs of the British press.
Simpson saw the press attention as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it helped make her very, very famous. But as Town & Country Magazine reports, she felt attacked. Her friend Herman Rogers tried to comfort her by saying, “Whether you like it or not, the world is discovering you.” To this, Simpson responded with, “Discovering me? You mean destroying me!”
The parallels between Wallis Simpson and Meghan Markle are undeniable. Like Simpson, she is an American divorcée. But as a biracial woman, Meghan seemed to face additional scrutiny from the British press, who attacked Meghan for everything from overlooking obscure royal protocols to holding her own baby bump.
For the sake of their own mental health, in January 2020 Meghan and Harry made the controversial decision to step down from their roles as senior royals and move overseas to escape the British press, eventually settling in the U.S.
One of the saddest parallels between Edward and Harry concerns their families. Both of them faced severe fallout with their families as part of the relationships they pursued.
When Edward finally married Simpson, it was in a private ceremony with an improvised altar in France. There were only seven witnesses and the entire thing took only five minutes. No members of the royal family attended the wedding.
In contrast, Harry and Meghan had a huge public wedding attended by Harry’s family. But there were reports that some family members didn’t entirely approve of Harry’s relationship with Meghan. Harry’s grandfather allegedly told him, “One steps out with actresses, one doesn’t marry them.” And Harry’s brother William reportedly told Harry he thought his relationship was moving too fast, sparking a feud.
Harry’s relationship with his royal family seems further damaged after he and Meghan gave a bombshell interview to Oprah in March 2021. The couple revealed a lack of support from the Royal Family when Meghan asked for help with her mental health struggles caused by the press, and even that someone in the family expressed “concerns” over how dark their son Archie’s skin color would be. Following the interview, according to Vanity Fair, there is now a “huge wedge” between Harry and his father Prince Charles.
Change in titles
The biggest similarity between Harry and Edward is something we already touched on: they both walked away from royal responsibilities out of love. But it had a lasting impact on the royal titles for themselves and their wives.
After he abdicated, Edward was given the lesser title of Duke of Windsor, but was still styled “His Royal Highness.” But while Simpson was titled Duchess of Windsor, she was denied a “Royal Highness” title by George VI.
In a somewhat similar move, Harry and Meghan can no longer use the title “Royal Highness” but still retain their Duke and Duchess of Sussex titles. And Harry is still sixth in line to the throne, though it’s doubtful he would ever want to accept the position.
Interestingly, the only reason why Harry is this close in line to the throne at all is because Edward VIII abdicated. When he did so, his brother Albert took the throne as King George VI. This, of course, is Queen Elizabeth’s father.
However, being close to the throne apparently isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Edward seemed much happier with his life after he left the throne behind. He remained married to Wallis Simpson until his death 35 years later. With any luck, Harry and Meghan will achieve that same level of happiness and inner peace.