If you were gifted the most honored, esteemed and influential position on Earth, would you pass it up? What if you had been trained for years—decades—for it? What if you had the chance to impact hundreds of millions of people and bring peace, order and culture into their lives? What if you knew that those people admired you, counted on you, and saw great potential in you? Would you allow anything to come between you and that opportunity? Well, this very thing has happened before, and unless we learn from history, we too can end up making the wrong choice.
On December 11, 1936, King Edward viii became the first British monarch ever to abdicate the throne. In the years leading up to his coronation, he had become close friends with a woman named Wallis Simpson. Soon after his father—King George V—died, he expressed to the prime minister and archbishop his intention to marry Simpson. There was more than one issue with this: Simpson was American and in no way a noble, she had already married and divorced, and she was still in a second marriage at the time Edward expressed his desire to wed her. This proposed marriage violated not only social norms, but also the laws of the Church of England.
Edward was forced to pick either the throne or Simpson. His mother and his advisers pleaded with him to prioritize his duty to the people, to be their king as he had prepared to do throughout his 42 years of life. Despite their counsel, Edward gave in to his feelings for Simpson. He claimed he was unable to bear the weight of ruling without her by his side, so he chose to forfeit the crown. This decision would forever stain his name. He became a pariah to his family, to his Parliament, and to his empire.
Edward’s unwise contact with Wallis Simpson seduced him away from the throne. What led him to that point? And when the choice had to be made—to rule or not to rule—what moved him to sacrifice so much for so little?
Throughout his life he had been weakened by an alarmingly nearsighted trait, which led to the worst decision he would ever make. That trait was indifference.
From Edward’s youth, he harbored a resentful attitude toward his position. At just 16 years old, he was dubbed the Prince of Wales. Expectation increased as he came into the public’s eye, but as it became more necessary for Edward to embrace his responsibilities and forge his mind and character, the young prince put it off. At naval college, he prioritized amusement and socializing over his studies. The immediate consequences were limited, but over time, this disregard for preparation would sap him of any enthusiasm toward his future as king.
Soon after attending college, he served in World War I, though not to the extent he had hoped. His limited participation agitated him; he wanted to be at the center of the action. He wished to be treated like every other soldier, not to be sheltered as the king’s firstborn son. He wasn’t afraid of sacrificing his life. Although this attitude seems noble, it actually exposes Edward’s disdain for the kingly responsibilities that awaited him. When Secretary of State for War Herbert Kitchener refused to allow the prince to join the front lines, Edward was recorded as complaining, “What difference is it if [I] am killed? The King has four other sons!”
Edward’s position provided him opportunity to serve his nation and the entire empire for a lifetime. Where was his passion to play his part? Instead, he preferred to have a little glory in the moment. And he figured that if anything went wrong, someone else was there to pick up the burden he would leave behind. This indifference sprang from a self-centered focus. When more was demanded of him, he began to pursue whatever comforted him. The more Edward obsessed over his own pursuits—partying, sports, fashion, etc—the more he became detached from his role. Over time, he began to think it acceptable to sidestep his obligation to rule over the greatest empire on Earth.
Contrast Prince Edward’s attitude with King Solomon’s. Growing up, Solomon was likely taught that he would inherit the throne from his father David, despite not being the firstborn son. Imagine how great of a responsibility that was for Solomon, to have to live up to his father’s reputation and rule from God’s own throne.
At the start of his rule, the young Solomon committed to his duty as king, and he did so with the right attitude. We can see just how much he esteemed his God-given role in 1 Kings 3:7-9: “And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?”
Solomon realized he wasn’t quite ready for this role, but he refused to flee from it. He didn’t petition God, “I have brothers who can fill this role. Let one of them rule instead of me.” At least in the early years of his reign, Solomon refused to cushion his reality by indulging in distractions. Instead of seeking power, luxury or women for himself, his main concern was whether or not he could properly serve his subjects. Sadly, he eventually succumbed to many of the same temptations that Prince Edward struggled with. But his attitude in assuming leadership truly is exemplary. Solomon’s selfless motivation to strengthen God’s empire reaped tremendous blessings for both him and the Kingdom of Israel.
Indifference is even more prevalent in the British royal family today. Young royals trade their titles for a chance to be just like the world around them. This history has practically repeated itself with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. They didn’t value the incredible position they were given and were consequently quick to give it up. In a world where future leaders disdain hard work and approach their responsibilities passively, we need to follow the example of Solomon and embrace duty.
You won’t be indifferent if you show gratitude for the opportunity you’ve been given and pay attention to the needs of others. You won’t become bitter over your actions going unnoticed if you recognize that service and sacrifice are not about gaining esteem in return. If you recognize the value of the royal future you are preparing for, you will never pass up that crown because you will know that your role makes a difference.