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.
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, staff of her niece, Queen Elizabeth II, was tasked with putting together the funeral,. Conducted at Windsor Royal Chapel on April 29th 1986, it was a short service which lasted no more than 28 minutes. As per the Duchess’ wishes there was no funeral address.
Reporters for the New York Times and the L.A.Times were astonished that not a single mention of the life and the royal marriage of the Duchess was made in the short funeral service. Moreover the Duchess’ name was not spoken even once. In fact only one solitary reference was made to the Duchess at all throughout the entire proceedings. The reference came in a prayer spoken by the officiant Canon John White in which the priest momentarily acknowledged the deceased duchess as “our sister.”
Even in death Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, bore the brunt of half a century of royal resentments.
Wallis and Edward
If these questions hold some interest for you, then you will enjoy the rare video/audio interviews below. For a BBC interview of the period (it was recorded in October 1969 when the Duke was 75 and the Duchess 73) there is a surprising liberty in the the Duke and Duchess’ conversation with interviewer Kenneth Harris. Note that the first video is heavily edited and so gives a more stilted feeling. The unexpurgated interview in the second video (audio only) reveals the far more relaxed tone and content of the Duke and Duchess’ full conversation with Kenneth Harris.
The Duchess of Windsor at 74
Another surprisingly informal moment is captured in the brief impromptu conversation with the 78 year old Duchess – just two years after the Duke’s death, filmed during a visit to New York in 1974. Fourthly watch the current Prince Edward’s documentary on his Great Uncle. Enjoy…
PS If you think this is an incredible story you might like to follow the story of George VI ‘s married mistress – the Australian socialite Sheila Chisholm, who on her third marriage ended up as a Russian Princess – therefore related by marriage both to John William Friso and Wallis, Duchess of Windsor!!
Duke & Duchess in party mood in the 1960s (above top) and 1970 (above)