The royals of the ages have long been regarded as elevated persons, superior in many ways to the common folk, and somehow nobler than the rest of society. 

During the Middle Ages, there was even a strongly held belief that kings and queens were divinely anointed, singled out as supremely special by the nature of their royal birth. 

Yet the kings, queens, princes and princesses of history are simple humans, just like the rest of mankind, and as such, they are subject to the character flaws and weaknesses that can bring down even the greatest men and women. 

There might even be truth to the idea that royals are closer to so many of the temptations that can lead to disgrace that it’s perhaps not surprising when we hear of the latest royal scandal or tales of misadventure from the highest echelons of society. 

What Causes Royal Scandals? 

Throughout history, there have been numerous stories of scandalous royals whose behavior was far from the preeminent example expected from those in high places. 

While the names and details of these stories have varied over the centuries, there are a few common themes that appear to be the biggest dangers when it comes to veering from the respectable path that kings, queens and their families are thought to be destined to follow. 

• Money

One of the greatest causes of scandalous behavior at all levels of society is also one of the most recurrent temptations in royal circles. Money, riches and the pursuit of even greater wealth are at the root of many regal downfalls. 

• Power

While it could be argued that those at the very top of the social hierarchy already occupy the most powerful positions, it seems that power can be addictive. Even those who appear to have it all can fall prey to an addiction to power, always wanting more, even when it leads to self-destruction. 

• Love

The romantics may delight in the stories of royals who sacrifice their prestigious positions in the pursuit of love, but some of the most scandalous behavior of members of royalty are less about charming love stories than they are about the salacious examples of human desires. 

• Envy

Even royals can become jealous of the lives or possessions of others – subject to that perennial sense that the grass is always greener elsewhere. Throughout history, tales of royal envy have led to the destruction of both status and relationships, as well as ruined reputations and falls from grace. 

• Weakness

Many of the other causes of royal misbehavior are common character flaws or basic human weakness, but it seems that the world is less forgiving of mental or emotional weakness when it comes to leadership. People expect their monarchs to be strong and fearless leaders, so whenever a royal ruler falls short, the backlash can be severe. 

The Most Famous Royal Fall From Grace

There may be many causes and temptations for members of royalty to risk their position and in some cases, their entire kingdom, and some of these may be more forgivable than others when it comes to public condemnation. 

Another factor that affects just how scandalous the royal behavior becomes is whatever is at stake by their actions. 

Perhaps the ultimate royal fall from grace is the abdication of a throne, as this represents a rejection of their sovereign duty in the pursuit of an alternative object of desire. 

This was the very public and hugely scandalous path chosen by King Edward VIII during the 1930s when he opted for abdication rather than giving up his relationship with the woman he loved. 

Worldwide News & Royal Scandal

The British monarch, King Edward VIII met and fell in love with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson in the years leading up to his succession to the throne, when he was then known as the Prince of Wales. 

Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson on their Mediterranean holiday.
Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson on their Mediterranean holiday, 1936 – National Media Museum from UK, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

During these years, the Prince of Wales was enormously popular, and his love affairs and mistresses were common knowledge. While these may have been frowned upon in the most devout and moral sectors of society, for many the idea of extra-marital royal affairs was nothing new. 

What made the Edward & Mrs Simpson affair such a global headline-grabbing scandal was the fact that he wanted to marry the love of his life, which went against the established constitution of the monarchy. 

It was deemed impossible for the new King of England to make a twice-divorced American woman his queen. Although the relationship had been ongoing for a number of years prior, the sudden death of the Prince of Wales’s father thrust the young Edward onto the throne and into the media spotlight. 

A Royal Dilemma & Abdication

As the Prince of Wales took on the mantle of his new title; King Edward VIII, his romantic partner suddenly became subject to much more public scrutiny. And while a discreet affair may have been forgiven, it was the new king’s determination to marry Wallis Simpson that caused the great scandal and his ultimate downfall. 

Advisors to the king desperately sought out options whereby the king could remain on the throne, but ultimately it became clear that the only way to protect the constitution of the British monarchy, which had been in place for centuries, was for Edward to abdicate his role as sovereign. 

After less than a year on the throne, the new king announced to the nation his decision to resign his post as their ruler in order to marry the woman he loved. The resulting outcry was not only a scandal in Britain, it made headlines and sparked gossip all around the world. 

Royals In Exile

In the aftermath of the abdication, the former king married his American sweetheart in a quiet ceremony in France where the couple had moved to escape the controversy. Although their escape to France was initially deemed to be a temporary measure, it became a kind of royal exile, as the couple were increasingly unwelcome in royal circles. They also faced a great deal of animosity from the British public. 

After a number of unspectacular roles of royal ambassadorship, the once-great King of England spent the majority of his married life in France, relinquishing his regal living for a more humble existence as the Duke of Windsor. The couple remained married until the Duke’s death, 35 years after the abdication. 

While the causes of royal scandals may be the simple human temptations faced by all members of society, the nature of royal life makes their errors and choices much more impactful and noteworthy. 

And even though the scandal of the British abdication in 1936 was rooted in a story of love and romance, the subsequent fallout resulted in one of the most famous royal falls from grace of all time, a world away from a fairytale ending.