The Windsors in France in the 1950s
THE 1936 ABDICATION CRISIS – PART NINE – GOODWILL & INFAMY
Beyond the supposed politics of Edward and Wallis no shortage of other aspersions were cast upon the couple. Of Wallis it was said variously that she was a foreign spy, a Nazi agent, a serial adulteress, a seductress trained by a Chinese prostitute, an adulteress, a lesbian, inter-gender and/or a man. Surely the very least than can be said of this litany of claims is that they can’t all be true! The most consistent feature of the official smear campaigns was that they generally appeared to aim at managing the level of public goodwill towards Edward by casting the Prince, in one way or another, as an unfortunate victim of Wallis, and Wallis as the real menace.
The Duke and Duchess at 71 and 69 respectively
In the preface to her autobiography the Duchess revealed that she well understood the widespread judgement of herself and the Duke. Its pages allow us a glimpse into what it may have meant to walk in their shoes; in the face of suspicion and in the aftermath of exclusion and vilification – a more than 50 year long thread within their story. The royal biographer Hugo Vickers referred to the Duchess as “the most maligned woman in the C20th!” Indeed the bitterness and intensely negative feeling towards both the Duke and Duchess persisting into the C21st is a phenomenon to be wondered at.
The Windsors’ Wedding in 1937
The Duchess made her one venture into print in the express hope that a generation born after her time might review the events of her life more dispassionately and arrive at a more generous conclusion than the one drawn by her contemporaries. The Duchess of Windsor suffered no illusions as to the byword her name had become in the C20th.
The Duchess of Windsor at 75 in her final official portrait. The portrait was taken during the Duke of Windsor’s final illness. He was to die 12 months later by cancer of the throat. In the video clip below the Duchess arrives in England for the Duke’s funeral. She is welcomed at the airport by the Duke’s friend since boyhood, the royal match-maker, Lord Louis Mountbatten.
The image below is of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Duchess of Windsor, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, leaving the Duke’s funeral.
Even at the time of the death of the Duke of Windsor in 1972 the bereavement of the now ailing 75 year old Duchess of Windsor was reported in Britain with something of a bitter note. Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper, reported the Duchess’ return to France, having buried her beloved. The headline read, with an unmistakable undertone of schadenfreude, “So now she is alone.”
When the Duchess died in her ninetieth year, after a decade of ill-health and poor care, her niece, Queen Elizabeth II, presided over the compilation of an order of service for her funeral. Conducted at Windsor Royal Chapel on April 29th 1986, it was a brief affair, no more than 28 minutes from start to finish. As per the Duchess’ wishes there was no funeral address.
Reporters for the New York Times and the L.A. Times were astonished by the ceremony that Her Majesty had approved for the occasion. The American reporters could scarcely conceal the shock with which they registered that throughout the entire duration of the short funeral service, not a single reference had been made to the life of the Duchess, nor even one mention made of her royal marriage. In fact, through the whole ceremony the Duchess’ name was never spoken. Only one solitary reference to the Duchess appeared in the course of the whole proceedings. That reference came in a prayer spoken by the officiant, Canon John White, in which the priest momentarily acknowledged the nameless deceased person as “our sister.”
As a minister of 35 years’ standing I have conducted and assisted in hundreds of funerals. The purpose of a funeral ceremony is fundamentally for mourners to honour the deceased person, to remember them and lay them to rest. For a funeral service to fail to mention the name of the deceased person even once, and to make no acknowledgment of their life would seem an omission of the very worst kind. In the end it would seem that even in death Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, was made to bear the brunt of half a century of royal resentment. The British papers were far too loyal to mention this fact. It fell to the L.A. Times and the New York Times to reveal this last royal twist.
Wallis and Edward
If the ins and outs of this story hold some interest for you, then you will enjoy the rare video/audio interviews I have collated in the next chapter.