The King’s Speech: Fact, fiction, and the real history behind it
So, I finally saw The King’s Speech. The snow had cleared up a bit and there was less ice on the roads so it was finally safe to go out. For now, I’m not going to go into my opinion of the movie as a whole. Since it’s still fresh in my mind, instead I’ll go into the historical details behind it. I’m going to write about the inaccuracies a bit, as well as expanding upon some of the things mentioned in the movie that were true, and the general history behind it. I’m even going to try to mention some things that weren’t in the movie, but that were part of the true story that people watching the movie might be interested in. Spoilers ahead, but I’m kind of assuming everyone saw the movie so I’m not going to go into everything from the movie I write about in too much detail.
Overall, I would consider the accuracy level typical of a Hollywood movie. There were several things that bothered me. A few things from a factual perspective, which from my point of view means “this is not what happened, here’s what happened and I can prove it” and other things are more from a logical perspective “I really don’t think that’s how it happened because it doesn’t make sense with what we know”. Some people said this movie was really accurate, or abnormally accurate for a Hollywood film. I would disagree. But what did stand out is that there were some details in there that proved that they did do their research. But on the other hand, there were other things that seemed to be purposefully changed from the historical fact to create a narrative that was much simpler and more melodramatic than what actually happened. Because if they did the research to get some of those quotes and to know about Paulette, “kinging” and the psychonanny, they probably would have known about some of the things they misrepresented. The accuracy level was, I felt, similar to that of The Young Victoria. Most of the issues I noticed were in regards to Edward VIII and the Abdication Crisis.
Now, I am not an expert on Lionel Logue. Well, perhaps I’m not an expert on anything, but especially Logue. I actually don’t know too much about him. I have read three books on George VI, which may not seem like a lot but there aren’t really that many biographies of him that are easy to find. Of the three, I have to say I wasn’t entirely happy with any of them. Perhaps the movie will get more attention for his story and lead to a better biography. I have also read several books on the Queen Mother, and a ridiculous amount of books on Edward VIII and the Abdication Crisis. Not to mention books on Queen Mary, George V, and the House of Windsor in general. What is interesting to me about Lionel Logue is that doesn’t make much of an appearance in any of those books. I definitely think Logue’s role has been ignored by a lot of writers. Originally, the royal family didn’t want to talk about Bertie’s stutter at all. Logue, for his part, did a damn good job not bragging about his royal connections or trying to profit off of them. I mean, there were people who knew he treated the King, but he didn’t write a tell all or advertise himself as the King’s therapist. At least not from what I can find out. So his lack of famewhoring also worked to keep him out of the history books. His role in Bertie’s life was definitely important, though perhaps not as important as portrayed in the movie, but for that time period the idea that the King had problems speaking that he needed help for was considered just a little bit scandalous.
I will focus more on what I do know about, which is Bertie’s life and family. I’ve taken on some of the issues mentioned in the film in parts.
Here’s a cute picture of Bertie and his girls, Lilibet and Margaret Rose.
Part one: Churchill and Edward VIII
I’m dealing with this first, because this was to me the worst inaccuracy in the whole movie. There was very little in this movie that I felt could genuinely increase the ignorance of the average royal fangirl. Except for this.
In the movie, Churchill is shown being concerned about Edward VIII being King. One scene in particular has him telling Bertie he should be on the throne, and should be thinking about what he will call himself. To be clear, the “what will he call himself” discussion didn’t happen until after David had finalized his decision to give up the throne, and the person who suggested he be George VI was Queen Mary, not Churchill.
But the main inaccuracy was that Churchill’s beliefs about the Abdication Crisis were portrayed as the exact opposite of what they were in real life. To put it simply, Winston Churchill was Team Edward. No, not that Team Edward.
“He honored me with his personal kindness and, I may even say, friendship. In this Prince there were discerned qualities of courage, of simplicity, of sympathy, and, above all, of sincerity, qualities rare and precious.”
“Your Majesty’s name will shine in history as the bravest and best beloved of the sovereigns who have worn the island crown.”
“No one has been more victimized by gossip and scandal.”
“What has impressed me most during this crisis has been the King’s virtues of courage, manliness, and honour; and of his loyalty to his Ministers and respect for the Constitution.”
“Poor little lamb, he was treated worse than any air mechanic and he took it lying down.”
Guess who all of those quotes were about? Hint: it wasn’t George VI. All of them, except for the one about being “victimized by gossip and scandal” (which was about Wallis Simpson) are about Edward VIII.
And this wasn’t just the usual ass kissing politicians usually give the royals. Churchill genuinely believed David was entitled to be with Wallis and that he would make a wonderful King. He argued about it in Parliament, and criticized Stanley Baldwin (the Prime Minister at the time) for “pressuring” David to abdicate. The general consensus among his political rivals was that Churchill was planning, if the situation arose, to form a “King’s Party” in support of Edward VIII staying on the throne. David was not interested in any of that happening, so it didn’t. So it seems that not only was Churchill Team Edward, but he came pretty close to being the captain of Team Edward.
Not only that, he even liked Wallis. He wasn’t sure whether she would be accepted as Queen, but he was one of the main proponents of the morganatic marriage proposal brought up that suggested David could marry her but she wouldn’t become Queen. Privately, Churchill and his wife referred to her as “Cutie” and defended her against criticism. Winston was partial to her because she reminded him of his mother, Jennie Jerome, who like Wallis was an American and had had a relationship with Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales.
Part two: The Timeline
The other major inaccuracy in the film was something the director himself admitted to. The timeline was all wrong. Bertie was undergoing most of his treatments with Logue in the late ‘20’s. In the film Bertie starts seeing him in 1934. In real life, it was about nine years earlier in the immediate aftermath of his speech at the British Empire Exhibition. Of course, in the film, events were changed so Bertie’s speech therapy would take place to the back-drop of George V’s death and the Abdication Crisis. Not to say that Lionel Logue wouldn’t have been working with Bertie during that time period; Bertie did consult with him to prepare for speeches for the rest of his life. But in real life, unlike in the film, Bertie’s stutter was much better controlled by the time he took the throne. Of course, in real life his stutter wasn’t as bad as is depicted in the film anyhow. This was another intentional choice on the director’s part so people would be able to understand his situation better.
Part three: Psychonanny
One of the more shocking parts of Bertie’s back story both in the film and real life was psychonanny, real name Mary Peters. Yes, she was real, and is a fairly important part of the story of the House of Windsor. I’ve gotten inquiries about her, and when I saw the movie people in the theater actually gasped when she was mentioned.
Of the royal children, David and Bertie were the only ones who got to be “cared for” by psychonanny. Unlike portrayed in the movie, Bertie probably didn’t have any memories of psychonanny. He was only two when she was dismissed in fall of 1897. But she left her mark. Psychonanny had first been hired to care for David after his birth in 1894. She also took charge of Bertie once he was born.
What Bertie had described about the “pinching him before she took him to see his parents” was actually her standard treatment for David. And she liked him. You see, psychonanny believed David was actually her son, and she didn’t appreciate other people going near him. So before he was brought to see his parents for their brief daily visiting, she would twist his arm, pinch him, and generally physically abuse him to make him scream and cry. Because George and May were not interested in a crying baby, he would promptly be sent away, so psychonanny could keep control over him. Now, remember, that was David. She loved David.
Bertie she hated. She saw him as an intruder on the great thing she had going with her fantasy son. So she just left him to rot. She would throw him in the crib, and ignore him. She never fed him properly. Bertie would starve for days, and then she would over feed him so he got sick. Psychonanny seemed to enjoy watching Bertie suffer as much as she enjoyed “loving” David. Bertie had digestive problems for the rest of his life because of psychonanny. Not only that, but it seems she refused to touch him, hug him, or interact with him at all, which is a really unhealthy thing to do to a baby.
Now, others on the royal staff suspected something was up with psychonanny. But the issue was not brought to May’s attention until after the birth of her daughter Mary. A new nanny was brought on, Charlotte “Lala” Bill. If you’ve seen the miniseries The Lost Prince, she was the good loyal nanny Prince John loved. Lala Bill noticed that psychonanny was unusually possessive about David. She told some of the other staff members, and they weren’t surprised. Lala discovered there were concerns about Bertie being underfed, and that apparently one of the reasons no one had blown the whistle was that if anyone else touched David, she would yell at them, or beat David himself if she believed he had been seeking interaction with other people.
When Lala finally got a good look at the boys, she discovered David’s entire body was covered in bruises, and Bertie was very sickly and malnourished. She went to one of May’s ladies in waiting, and when psychonanny was confronted, she suffered a complete mental breakdown from which she would never recover. Apparently during her three years with the family, psychonanny had never had a single day off. That seems kind of unhealthy to us, but perhaps she was considered “reliable” by the parents of her charges?
Psychonanny’s abuse would have long-term effects on the family. She may have been responsible for both David and Bertie’s insecurities, and David’s “issues” with women, as well as Bertie’s long-term health problems.
You can’t really blame the whole situation on her, though. Their two brothers who survived, Harry and Georgie, never had to deal with psychonanny but still had plenty of issues anyway. Or at least Georgie did. I don’t know much about Harry except a few rather bizarre facts I’ve come across in books about the rest of the family.
Now, one book by Charlotte Deepvat tried to suggest that psychonanny didn’t exist, but every other book I’ve read on the family confirms her existence and that she was totally psycho. Most of the details I mentioned were from Anne Edwards’s biography of Queen Mary.
Part four: Bertie and Elizabeth
One of the things this movie got right was the relationship between Bertie and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the woman behind the man, and a complete HBIC in her own right. They also had a very close marriage, and it was a love match.
Bertie and Elizabeth first met at a children’s party when he was ten and she was five. They were served cake with cherries on it, and Elizabeth pulled off her cherries and gave them to Bertie. Elizabeth was the daughter of Scottish Earl, and her family was very prominent. Her parents actually thought themselves quite above the Windsors, who were of German descent.
When Bertie and Elizabeth met again, at a ball in 1920, Bertie immediately became charmed by her. He worked up the courage to ask her to dance, and almost immediately fell in love with her sparkling personality. It took a bit longer for Elizabeth. She didn’t notice right away that Bertie, who was incredibly shy, was attracted to her. She also wasn’t entirely comfortable in the royal circle. She also had a bit of a crush on a guy on Bertie’s staff named Jamie Stuart.
Bertie tried everything he could think of to spend more time with Elizabeth. He arranged to go hunting with her brothers on her family estate of Glamis. Having spent more time with her, and convinced she was the woman he wanted for the rest of his life, Bertie proposed to Elizabeth. She turned him down. Next he talked his sister Mary into making Elizabeth a bridesmaid at her wedding. That gave Elizabeth a more intimate look at life in royal family. She was impressed, but also a bit frightened. While she did grow up in a noble house, and was used to castles and servants and the like, the family dynamic in the House of Windsor would be enough to scare off most people. Bertie proposed again, and was refused.
But Elizabeth did get more involved in the royal circle. George and May thought she was charming and approved of Bertie’s choice. George really liked her, which was unusual for him. He hardly liked anyone. Elizabeth also became friendly with Bertie’s siblings. The whole family supported to match because of how happy she made Bertie. He hadn’t had much luck with girls in the past.
Jamie Stuart having married someone else, Elizabeth began to look at Bertie as a more serious prospect. She had fallen in love with him much more gradually then he’d fallen in love with her. She also discovered there were things to like about the royal lifestyle, even if it was a bit bizarre. One afternoon Bertie asked Elizabeth to take a walk with him. He asked her to marry him again. This time she agreed. “Alright, Bertie,” she said.
Bertie depended a lot on Elizabeth. She had a much more forceful personality than he did, and she was much better with the public. Bertie drew greatly from Elizabeth’s strength and toughness. She also had a rather biting wit (by her own admission she wasn’t always nice) that amused Bertie greatly, and a warm personality that comforted him and distracted from his insecurities. She was the reason he was able to face the public. Bertie was completely loyal and devoted to her. Bertie is one of the few royal men who never cheated on his wife. Why would he? He knew his life would be awful without her.
Part five: Bertie and his parents.
I’ve already gone over psychonanny, and that situation certainly did not put the parenting of King George V and Queen Mary in the best light. The problem was that George and May just weren’t cut out to be parents. Perhaps in different circumstances, or if they’d had less kids, things would have been better. But as it was, May regarded pregnancy and childbirth as her “punishment for being a woman” and both parents saw their children as heirs more than anything else. To be fair, they were not quite as horrible as they’re often portrayed. There are certainly worse parents in the world, and part of it could be blamed on their generation. But even for the time period, they weren’t as affectionate with their children as they should’ve been. Nicholas and Alexandra, of the same generation and also royalty, did a much better job.
Bertie’s sister Mary had the best relationship with their parents of all the children. Royals tend to have an easier time with girls than boys. But of the boys, Bertie was probably his father’s favorite. The portrayal of George V in the movie was pretty accurate. He was an angry man. Not always, mind you. It was rather surprising reading the letters he wrote to his children because, though he is not very affectionate or warm, he doesn’t seem nearly as angry as he’s generally represented. I think it was a temper more than anything else. He had a nasty temper. He would often send his sons to his study to “talk to them”. This was bad. It meant they were about to get screamed at. Royals are usually passive aggressive, not aggressive. But not George. The quote about wanting his children to be afraid of him was accurate; he did say that. And his children were afraid of him. Bertie’s brother Georgie once passed out out of fear of being yelled at by his father for being late to dinner.
Bertie, as a child, was seen as a disappointment by his father. George was not sympathetic about his left-handedness, his stutter, or any of his health problems. Like David, Bertie was sent to military school at age thirteen. Because of his shyness and unpreparedness for school (the boys had been educated at home, and their tutor didn’t do a good job), Bertie was at the bottom of his class. This got him into a lot of trouble with his father. Being put on the spot by George, Bertie’s stutter often got worse. George’s attitude in the movie, yelling “Out with it!” and berating him, was pretty accurate. George felt that if Bertie tried hard enough, he should be able to talk normally. George also didn’t seem to realize or care that by yelling at him he was making the situation worse.
But as Bertie got older, his relationship with his father improved. At least on George’s part. I don’t think Bertie was ever comfortable around his father. But George began to look upon him more fondly when Bertie made a suitable marriage and never showed any signs of rebelling. George was always comparing David and Bertie, to the detriment of both of them. When David was pleasing his father, it made Bertie look worse. When Bertie was pleasing his father, it made David look worse. Like in the movie, George did often complain about David to Bertie. But he also did the opposite. Sometimes when he was with Bertie he was badmouthing David, and sometimes when he was with David he was badmouthing Bertie. George was a bit more relaxed with his younger sons; he didn’t even send Harry to military school, and he reluctantly gave Georgie permission to leave the Navy.
Bertie’s mother May was more sympathetic. She never opposed her husband on anything, and her attitude towards her children was fairly distant. In the movie, when George dies, David starts sobbing and tries to hug her. She looks off put, and her expression seems to say: “Why is this person touching me?” While in real life she wasn’t quite that cold, she wasn’t a big fan of hugs and kisses. At least not when it came to her sons; she was more affectionate with her daughter and grandchildren. May did not appear much in the movie even compared to her husband, but she was the more dominant figure in Bertie’s life. May would invite her children in to see her for an hour every day while she was dressing for dinner. During that time, which was often the only time her children saw her, she would teach them to make things (she taught all her children needlepoint and knitting) and make things for them herself. She also told them stories and taught them poems and songs. Those visits meant a lot to her kids, especially Bertie.
May was also very proper. She was a devout monarchist, and believed in the Divine Right of Kings. That meant she genuinely believed the monarchy had been set up by God, and that her husband (and later son) were God’s representatives on earth. That was one of the reasons she always allowed her husband to treat the children the way he wanted to. Because Bertie followed in her footsteps in being a good monarchist who put the crown before anything else, she maintained a decent, if cold, relationship with him. May was very dignified and was opposed to showing emotion in public. For instance, after Bertie died, May coolly explained to a visitor that it was so strange that he was the third son of hers to die unexpectedly.
Both of Bertie’s parents seemed to like Elizabeth better than him. Or at least that was how it looked to the family. When she was late to dinner, George would excuse her. “You’re not late, dear, we’re just all early.” That sort of behavior would not have been tolerated from one of his children. George never lost his temper in front of Elizabeth, or her children Lilibet and Margaret. Not losing his temper in front of someone was hard for George.
Part six: Bertie and David
This is by far the longest part because I kept digging up all kinds of quotes and stuff I felt I had to include. Something interesting I discovered is that Bertie actually kept a very detailed diary for most of his life, but I could only find bits and pieces of it in certain books. I guess the royal family hasn’t wanted to publish the whole thing. I can’t imagine there’s much they wouldn’t want getting out, though. I have to admit I know more about David than Bertie, so I may go on a bit about him. It’s just so much easier to find books on David and Wallis than Bertie. A lot of what I know about Bertie actually comes from books about his wife. I do have sympathy for both David and Bertie, which not a lot of people do. But you have to understand, the same things were interpretted differently by both of them, and the fact that they did get along very well for many years indicates to me that there wasn’t a lot of fundamental conflict there. It was more just drama. I do have two more parts planned, about the rest of the family (the people who were barely in the movie or not in it at all but were important to the whole story) and how the royals communicate with both eachother and other people.
Overall, I was really unhappy with how the movie portrayed David, and Bertie’s relationship to David. I mean, we all know David had his faults, but he was not nearly as much of an asshole in real life as he was in the movie. The movie also heavily overplayed, like many books and other movies before have done, the “conflict” between David and Bertie. Now, I know a lot about David, Wallis, and all the drama involved there, but I’ll try and focus only on what related to Bertie and the problems with the version of events portrayed in the movie.
Most of the contemporary evidence suggests that before the beginning of the Wallis era in 1934, the two brothers were very close, and that even into the Wallis era, there was not much direct conflict between Bertie and David. Furthermore, when the conflict did happen, it wasn’t an overnight thing. While David’s Abdication undoubtedly upset Bertie a great deal, it was actually a series of events that occurred over the next few months that widened the gulf between the two.
As children, David and Bertie had been very close. They shared a room, had the same tutors, and spent the majority of their time together. Besides the normal sibling conflicts(and there weren’t even that many of those), there was never much tension between them. As boys when their father tried to pit them against each other, both defended the other. The two brothers and their sister Mary were seen as a trio by the rest of the family. In their teen years, the boys were best friends. George did not allow his sons to have much in the way of friends, so David and Bertie relied on each other. Here’s how David described Bertie in his diary: “Bertie is a delightful creature and we have so many interests in common.”
David rarely mocked Bertie for anything, and Bertie seemed to regard him as an ally against the tyranny of their father. During World War I Bertie complained to David about their parents in a letter: “The parents have got funny ideas about us, thinking we are still boys at school or something of that sort instead of what we are.”
Bertie acted as a go-between for David and several of his girlfriends while David was in France during the war. When they were apart, David and Bertie constantly exchanged affectionate letters. Both praised each other’s abilities. David wrote to a friend of Bertie’s time during the war: “I must say I admire him tremendously for this and don’t hesitate to tell you he’s one of the best.”
After the war, before David was sent on his first royal tour he and Bertie spent the whole night listening to records and goofing around together. As the conflict between David and George increased because of David’s growing rebellion against his father’s control, Bertie took David’s side. He wrote to David about their father’s complaints: “This of course is due to the great popularity which you have everywhere and Papa is merely jealous.” Several years later, he still felt the same way. As George continued to criticize David, Bertie felt that, “His great complaint against you, of course, is due to jealousy. He knows too well what a success you have been and I must say that at times his jealousy is most apparent.”
While the increasing change in their positions did put more distance between them, Bertie regarded David as a close friend as well as a brother. David was sent on many tours to represent the British Empire, while Bertie remained at home. Bertie knew how uncomfortable David was with his royal position, and when David wanted to avoid another tour right after getting back to one because he felt sick, Bertie offered to go in his place. Considering Bertie’s discomfort with crowds, that obviously wasn’t something he had a personal desire to do. They were close enough that both brothers were comfortable confiding in the other about their insecurities and personal problems. Of course, though he had a much better time speaking than Bertie did, David wasn’t comfortable with being constantly on display either.
When Bertie first became interested in Elizabeth, David encouraged Elizabeth to accept his proposal. Of course, their roles became increasingly different once Bertie married. David was the heir, still enjoying the single life, and Bertie was content to be in the background and settle down to a family life. Elizabeth liked David, and regarded him with a lot of affection. Years later Elizabeth would recall how David had helped them set up their home, and how his encouragement had boosted Bertie’s confidence about being in the public eye. David, for his part, wrote to friends that Elizabeth had added a lot of cheer to family gatherings. As children, Bertie’s daughters had been very fond of David and would often go to his private residence at Fort Belvidere to go swimming. Their nanny recalled that he would always come to read to them after having tea with Bertie. Elizabeth often recalled years later how well they’d gotten along before Wallis came along. “We loved him so.” “He was so good to us then.”
In the movie, David accuses Bertie of trying to steal his throne. That very concept would have been considered ridiculous to both of them. In 1928, when their father was ill while David was out of the country, Bertie wrote to him of a rumor that was going around that Bertie was going to steal the crown from under David’s nose like something out of the War of the Roses. They both had a good laugh about how ridiculous that was.
The first cracks in their relationship emerged in the early 1930’s when Bertie became much closer to his father. Part of it had to do with George’s kindness to Elizabeth and their daughters. George showed much more affection for Bertie’s girls than he ever did for Bertie himself. By the 1930’s George had become increasingly angry and bitter about David. He resented David’s refusal to settle down and marry someone suitable, and odds are good he also continued to be jealous of David’s popularity as Bertie suspected. In many ways, David reminded George of his own parents, both of whom George had a complicated relationship with. May often remarked that David had some of the negative qualities she associated with her mother-in-law Queen Alexandra, and with his series of girlfriends and love of parties it was also easy to compare him to Edward VII. Whenever Bertie talked about the conflict between his father and brother year later, he expressed that George had been unfair and overly critical of David, but that David purposefully went against his father’s wishes to bring it on. David had three or four serious conversations with either of his parents in his entire adult life. Bertie did not fare much better. May wasn’t comfortable expressing serious feelings with her children, and George would yell and criticize and confront, but couldn’t listen and respect his children’s’ feelings. However, it’s hard to say the conflict between David and George was because of either one of them considering the majority of British monarchs have had conflicts with their heirs, and most of those were far more bitter.
Everything I’ve read seems to suggest that as Prince of Wales, David did his duties as was expected of him. George felt he was too open and accessible with the people, but outside of the royal circles inhabited by his father David was considered the most popular Prince of Wales in history. No royal until the advent of Diana Spencer had so many fans or was so well loved. Most of George’s criticisms against David had to do with his private life. David had a series of girlfriends, most of them married or otherwise unsuitable. The only one David ever hoped to marry (before Wallis) was Rosemary Leveson-Gower, who was probably the most suitable woman David ever gave a second look to. She was single, the daughter of an Earl, and widely regarded for her warmth and agreeability. Accounts differ as to how far the relationship went during their involvement in 1916. They met when she was a nurse in France and he was a soldier. Whether David actually proposed to her or not is unknown, but he did say later she was the only woman he ever seriously considered marrying (again, before Wallis) and letters from George and May indicate they did not approve. Apparently her family had a history of mental illness or something. Rosemary died in a plane crash in 1928, and by that point David had for years been involved in a complicated on-again-off-again relationship with a socialite named Freda Dudley Ward. There were plenty of other women that came passing through during that time as well, and none of them were anywhere close to suitable.
Though Bertie hoped desperately for David to settle down and have an heir to displace him in the line of succession, Bertie was not that troubled by David’s womanizing. Bertie was of the old-fashioned patriarchal train of thought that there were two different kinds of women; slutty ones men have sex with, and pure ones men marry. Bertie himself had had a few minor involvements with the former before he settled down with one of the latter. That sort of thinking is a cornerstone of the House of Windsor, though it never seems to work out very well for them. Elizabeth also subscribed to that type of thinking, which was why years later she didn’t want Prince Charles marrying Camilla, but allowed him to use her house to conduct his affair. Bertie and Elizabeth had no issues with David having affairs with unsuitable women. It was the idea of him marrying one that disturbed them. Of course, Bertie was also disturbed by the widely held belief David never planned to marry anyone.
Bertie had been on good terms with Freda Dudley Ward when David was involved with her, but the girlfriend he had that Bertie liked best was Thelma Furness. She was an American heiress married to a British lord. She was also Gloria Vanderbilt’s aunt (that made her Anderson Cooper’s great-aunt). Elizabeth and Thelma got along really well. Bertie and Elizabeth would often come over to spend time with David and Thelma. Thelma later recalled that Elizabeth was the one person in the world she would want as her next-door neighbor if she had to live in suburbia. They went ice-skating together in the winter, and swimming in the summer. Thelma’s children also played with Bertie’s a few times.
In January 1934, Thelma had to leave the country. She was very worried that while she was gone David would seek out the company of his ex-girlfriend Freda. So, she asked her friend Wallis Simpson to watch over him while she was gone to make sure nothing happened. Naturally, something happened. Thelma presumably didn’t see Wallis as a threat because she was ten years older than Thelma and not as attractive. She was also, as far as Thelma knew, happily married. Needless to say, things did not end well for poor Thelma. So from the very beginning of David’s relationship with Wallis, Elizabeth in particular had a reason to be upset. Furthermore, both Bertie and Elizabeth seemed to blame the situation on Wallis, as is the royal custom for situations involving male members of the royal family and female commoners.
From the moment Elizabeth and Wallis met, at some point in late 1934, they didn’t hit it off. Elizabeth disliked Wallis before she met her on behalf of Thelma, and their personalities clashed as well. There are accounts of both of them making unflattering remarks about the other to third parties. Wallis and Elizabeth did see each other a few times at parties between 1934 and 1936, but they did not interact much. Elizabeth and Wallis’s dislike of each other meant David and Bertie were hanging out even less. As David got more involved with Wallis, he started paying less attention not only to Bertie, but his family as a whole. Wallis couldn’t get on with the royals; they found her forwardness off-putting. By late 1935, the situation had gotten to the point that when Wallis arrived at a party Bertie and Elizabeth were attending they left right away.
When George V had his final illness, David and Bertie flew to see him at Sandringham together. Before George’s death, he made a bunch of remarks about how he didn’t like David. He even mentioned how he hoped David would never have children so Bertie would get to be King. Most people, knowing the end was near (as George did), would try to bring their family together and end their life feeling like the people they loved knew what they meant to them. George seems to have had the exact opposite approach. As George’s illness dragged on (he never really recovered from his sister’s death in December 1935), his doctor became impatient. So, with permission of the family (accounts differ as to whether or not Bertie was involved with the decision or not; David and May definitely were though they later denied knowing exactly what he was up to) his doctor euthanized him to speed things along. It was considered important that he die at night so his death could be in the morning papers instead of the “less dignified” afternoon papers. Yes, that actually happened. Anyway, when George died, David completely freaked out. Now, David was not the brightest man in the world, but surely he’d seen this coming. To be fair, David had written to one of his girlfriend in the ‘20’s about his firm conviction he would never take the throne because the monarchy wasn’t going to last that much longer. As a child whenever the possibility of him being King one day was brought up, David would burst into tears. But his freak out was still far beyond what was expected.
David burst into tears, grabbed his mother, and sobbed on her for several minutes. Then he went to call Wallis. The same night, he also asked that the clocks at Sandringham be set on to normal time. George V had had the clocks set a half hour early so he’d have more time to shoot in the summer and because his mother had always been late for everything. David didn’t make this demand, as is depicted in the movie, before George died. He also didn’t do it while at George’s bedside as depicted in some other movies. It was after the fact; David was frustrated by the confusion over what time to put as George’s time of death. While perhaps it would have been respectful to wait longer, the change was perfectly reasonable. The idea of having your house live in a time-zone of its own is pretty damn stupid, and the rest of the family seemed to agree with David. It’s not like it was an ancient tradition; it went back only a few decades. Bertie said he was “delighted” about the change; if he had been in David’s position he probably would’ve done the same. Everyone except for the courtiers most loyal to George V agreed the old system was stupid. Even May.
The next day, Bertie and David flew to London to prepare for the funeral. During the time immediately following George’s death, the two seemed to get closer. They spent a lot of time together, and David included Bertie on all state papers and asked him to attend meetings related to the funeral and the coronation with him. Looking back, some hangers-on suggested David only did that, particularly in regards to Coronation meetings, because he knew he was going to leave Bertie to be King, but I really don’t think David had any idea what the future held for him or Bertie until at least October 1936, probably much later. David and Bertie still had respect for each other at this point, so it seems more likely to me that David thought he was in over his head and wanted Bertie’s support as he got used to his new responsibilities. Particularly as he wasn’t quite bold enough to bring Wallis along. Of course, David and Bertie didn’t talk about Wallis. David and Bertie were both incredibly non-confrontational people, and David knew Bertie wasn’t a fan of Wallis and didn’t want a row over it. Bertie hoped that David’s relationship with Wallis would cool off with him on the throne. During his first few weeks on the throne, David saw much more of Bertie than Wallis. But he was on the phone with her constantly, and he invited her to stand with him while he watched him being proclaimed King from a window in Buckingham Palace.
But, as 1936 continued and the reign of Edward VIII drew nearer to its close, Bertie saw less and less of David. Bertie and Elizabeth likely agreed with many of David’s close friends who claimed that David’s entire personality had changed. That wasn’t entirely the case, but the stress of being on the throne coupled with his infatuation for Wallis had made David more aloof towards his friends. Now, I’m not going to go into the whole issue of David and Wallis’s relationship (it was a lot less bizarre than people seem to think) but generally you need to get some idea what was going on to understand his actions and everyone else’s reactions. You know how when you’re young, and you get about two weeks into a relationship you reach a place where you think the other person is the greatest person who ever lived? And all of your thoughts revolve around them and when you’re going to see them next? And all your conversations come back to something funny they did or said? And your friends all roll their eyes at you but you don’t care because you’re in love and they don’t understand?
With Wallis Simpson, David lived in that place all the time. But because he still went through his periodic bouts of depression (he described it as a “black cloud” coming over him and according to his cousin Dickie he regularly locked himself in his room for days on end) it wasn’t a very happy place. He genuinely believed that she was “all and everything I have in life” as he wrote to her, and that she could somehow “save him” from his despair. David went through many major mood swings during 1936; the more I read about him the more convinced I get he was bipolar. If you read enough books on him, you can find fairly reliable accounts of him demonstrating pretty much every symptom there is. Bertie was almost definitely aware of David’s issues from the time they were both teenagers. I say almost because the only member of the family who really wrote about any of this as far as I can find was Dickie Mountbatten, but plenty of people outside the family commented on it and most of them didn’t know David nearly as well as Bertie did. In the past, David had kept his problems in check surprisingly well. Of the thousands of engagements he did on behalf of his family, he only got a few dozen complaints. A lot of writers tend to focus on those complaints, but it is worth noting that on at least one of his tours he performed all his duties as expected despite having told most of his inner circle he was about to kill himself.
Bertie, and the rest of the family, noticed a lot of changes in David as well as the atmosphere at most royal gatherings. “Everything has changed,” Elizabeth said to sum up the situation. For a large part of summer 1936, David was on vacation with Wallis in the Mediterranean. Before he left on that trip, he and Bertie seemed to still see each other fairly regularly and got along fairly well given their differing opinions on Wallis. It was after David returned that things took a serious turn. The movie did portray the royal trip to Balmoral in September, but not very accurately. Even my mother, when she saw the scene about David and Bertie’s confrontation, whispered in my ear “That didn’t happen, did it?” and I told her it didn’t. But something that did or didn’t happen did have quite an effect on Bertie and Elizabeth.
For years, the royal family had gone to Balmoral in Scotland for “vacation”, though I doubt Bertie or any of his siblings considered it much of a vacation. Traditionally, members of the government and the Archbishop of Canterbury are invited. But David wasn’t too keen on that idea, so he didn’t include the Archbishop and a few other people he knew didn’t like him. Bertie and Elizabeth, hearing about this, invited the Archbishop to come stay with them as their guest. Because of that, Wallis Simpson’s presence, and David’s increasingly weird behavior, there was destined to be drama at Balmoral.
Another problem came from David’s new found love for economizing everything to do with the monarchy. This behavior wasn’t entirely unusual; most new monarchs either bring spending way up or way down depending on their personality. But David hadn’t always been like that; in the past he’d been very generous with his staff and extravagant about personal expenses. What I am imagining happened was that Wallis somehow got a hold of the royal financial records and, not really understanding how the monarchy works, been in total awe of how much money was being spent. She probably told David he had way too many staff (he did, that’s part of being a royal) and told him he could be spending like half as much. Wallis often gave David advice, and always insisted he take it. Wallis was one of those people who believed she was always rights, and David believed Wallis was “the most wonderful woman in the world”, as he never tired of telling people, and if she said she was always right, then that meant he better do what she said. For her part, Wallis did seem to genuinely believe she was helping. As part of his new bargain basement attitude, David cut staff at all the palaces and tried to sell different royal possessions he didn’t think were necessary. He recruited Bertie to help him cut costs at Sandringham. To be fair, this extended to David’s personal life as well; he took to wearing his father’s old clothes and asked that slivers of soap left behind by palace guests be sent to his room for him to use himself. May, and her loyal courtiers, were angry about David doing anything to spoil royal traditions. Bertie didn’t seem to regard what David was doing nearly as negatively as his mother (though he wasn’t fond of the idea), but he was confused about David’s motives and suspected Wallis was trying to extort money from him.
Bertie had also heard a lot of unflattering stuff about Wallis from relatives like Georgie and Dickie who were willing to spend more time with her. Wallis did not know how to act around royals; she just assumed that if David was okay with her behavior everyone else would be as well. This led to her making enemies and pissing a lot of people off. To give some examples, she would tell David to do things for her in front of other relatives, and when she and David visited Bertie and Elizabeth she tried to advise them on how to arrange their garden. At Balmoral, Bertie and Elizabeth knew she would be acting as hostess and were not pleased with this.
The day that Wallis arrived, David sent Bertie and Elizabeth to attend a hospital opening he claimed he was unable to do because the “mourning” for his father. Considering he and Bertie had the same father, people didn’t buy that excuse. This was more behavior that Bertie found bizarre and suspect. What Bertie and Elizabeth didn’t know was that David was a complete mess that week. A few days earlier, Wallis had correctly assumed that their relationship wasn’t going to end well for anyone. She promptly told David she was going back to her husband, and she wished him the best without her. David called her crying, and persuaded her to go back to the original plan and join him at Balmoral. Wallis may not have been serious to begin with (she could be melodramatic and would do things intended to get a reaction out of David), but David took it all very seriously. That made him completely on edge.
So, Bertie and Elizabeth arrived, and Wallis tried to greet Elizabeth, which Elizabeth passed up as she did in the movie. Wallis often took charge of arranging entertainment at David’s parties, but in this case she took even more control because David was a complete mess. David tried to keep it together, but Bertie knew him well enough to know something was wrong. When Wallis wasn’t around, the family all got along much better, but Bertie knew David was distracted. David avoided all serious talk with Bertie, and Bertie was reluctant to press him about personal matters. They saw very little of each other while in the past they’d usually stuck together at family events. Bertie later complained that, “I never saw him alone once.”Elizabeth felt David had not interacted enough with his guests, telling May he didn’t make them feel wanted. “It is very sad, and I feel the whole difficulty is a certain person.” It was to become Elizabeth’s habit to not refer to Wallis by name. “That woman” would be her favorite expression.
While there wasn’t any overt conflict involving Bertie, there was some involving Wallis, who was behaving a bit erratic. Georgie complained that Wallis was treating David harshly and trying to stir up trouble. He even accused her of blatantly flirting with him to try and get a reaction out of David. Bertie may not have witnessed any of this, but he probably heard about it. Bertie was willing to believe anything about Wallis. I’ve been focusing more on her negative qualities and behavior, even though I do like Wallis and feel she was misunderstood. That’s because, from Bertie’s point of view she didn’t really have any good qualities. Bertie likely believed some of the stories that were going around, including that Wallis was receiving some kind of income from David. He also didn’t believe Wallis loved David and may have bought into a popular theory that Wallis was conspiring with her husband and friends to get as much money as possible out of David before she would dump him and leave him a mess. Bertie also likely believed Wallis was trying to make David increasingly mentally unstable so as to more easily exploit him. It’s hard to tell exactly what he thought as Bertie kept fairly quiet about his feelings at the time for fear of alienating David. Elizabeth was more open about Wallis, but she stuck to jokes and avoided serious accusations except in private. But we can get some idea from what they said later and what the courtiers closest to them were spreading about. There were two rival theories going around about Wallis’s hold on David: one involved her using some sort of bizarre sexual trick and the other involved her playing the Anne Boleyn card to great success. Both were just rumors, but Bertie and Elizabeth probably heard of them and may have believed one. Unlike as portrayed in the film, the Prime Minister didn’t tell any rumors about Wallis to the family though he may have mentioned them to people who later passed them along to the family. I also question how seriously any of Wallis’s supposed other relationships were taken by anyone except for gossipy housewives and hangers-on. Many courtiers compared Wallis to a witch or vampire (yes, the terms “witch” and “vampire” were thrown around) and felt she put some kind of spell on David. Bertie and Elizabeth both believed that eventually the spell would be broken and David would either lose interest in Wallis, or she would lose interest in him and break his heart. In old age, Elizabeth expressed surprise to one of her friends that David and Wallis’s relationship had lasted. Long story short: Bertie and Elizabeth regarded Wallis as a very bad person and felt David was being controlled and exploited by her. This wasn’t exactly what was actually going on, and a lot of Bertie and Elizabeth’s dislike of Wallis came from lies they’d been told as well as sexism and classism (it was the 1930’s after all) but to them at that point in time it was the truth.
Through October and November, Bertie saw next to nothing of David. David had started pressing his advisors about his desire to marry Wallis, but Bertie only heard of this second hand. It’s hard to know what Bertie was thinking or feeling, but he was probably concerned about David’s future more than his own as this point. He never would have guessed in a month he would be King. I’m not going to go into all the political issues going on, but suffice to say David did have his hands full. He finally confided in his mother and sister about Wallis in late November. May was very upset and worried about whether David would be able to stay on the throne. On December 3rd, she invited Bertie and Elizabeth to tea with David and ambushed him hoping to get him to put aside Wallis at least temporarily. May did most of the talking, and David insisted he would be dealing with the situation on his own. Bertie was concerned for David, and wanted to come see him. He also took pains to disassociate himself from his mother’s attitude for fear of causing more drama. “I do so long for you to be happy with the one person you adore. I do realize all your great difficulties and I feel sure that whatever you decide to do will be in the best interests of this country and empire.” That was what he wrote to David in his next letter, requesting they meet to discuss things on their own. Elizabeth included her own letter which summed up her concerns about how Bertie was feeling:
“Darling David. Please read this. Please be kind to Bertie when you see him, because he loves you, and minds terribly all that happens to you. I wish that you could realize how loyal and true he is to you, and you have no idea how hard it has been for him lately. I know he is fonder of you than anyone else, and as his wife I must write to tell you this. I am terrified for him- so DO help him, and for God’s sake don’t tell him that I have written. We both uphold you always. We want you to be happy more than anything else, but it’s awfully difficult for Bertie to say what he thinks, you know how shy he is. Do help him.”
David immediately agreed to meet up with Bertie, but cancelled several times. Bertie was being harassed by various courtiers trying to get information and give him contradictory advice. David was overwhelmed by people telling him different things and many who didn’t feel they could get a word in with David turned their attention to Bertie instead. Wallis also fled the country on December 3rd, and that left David even more troubled. Wallis had left because of the press attention and the advice of David’s supporters who thought David would be better suited to take their advice without Wallis around. Instead, this made things worse as David was living in constant fear that something might happen to prevent them from being reunited. David’s supporters insisted he wait on making any kind of decision or getting the government further involved. They pressed him to give up on marrying Wallis for the time being and let her remain out of the country for six months. David wouldn’t do that. It’s interesting that if David had listened to his supporters from the beginning, and been more discreet with Wallis and put off the idea of marrying her the public probably would have warmed up to the idea eventually and given the government no choice but to allow the marriage. Charles and Camilla took that path, and it worked out in the end. If they had tried to marry right after Diana died they would have faced far more opposition than David and Wallis did.
For the short term, Bertie wanted the same thing as David’s supporters (and even Wallis); for everything to be delayed until after the Coronation (planned for spring 1937) at which point anger would have died down and Wallis could return. Wallis even publicly released David from his promise to marry her, which back then would have been a big deal as it was felt that once a man had promised to marry a woman he was expected to follow through. The press at the time actually interpreted this as her ending the relationship, but her intention was just to release him of any obligation to her. Now, once the press got involved and once David brought up the possible marriage to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the government, everything was kind of set in motion. But though David certainly thought he was in too deep to back off, if he had listened to his advisors he still might have remained on the throne. The problem arose once Stanley Baldwin told David the marriage would not be allowed, and the press spread the story about that it wasn’t going to be allowed. At that point David had to chose to fight the issue (which Churchill encouraged him to do) or give in and give up either the throne or Wallis. He chose to give up the former, which was to him by far the lesser sacrifice; he never enjoyed being King all that much.
By the time Bertie met with David on December 7th, David had made up his mind. David had gone without sleep for several weeks and Bertie found him pacing in his study, looking very worn out. He told Bertie he decided to give up the throne. Bertie was obviously upset, but his concern for David made him stay the night to see if he could help. With the exception of a few brief trips to talk to his wife and mother, Bertie stayed with David at Fort Belvedere for the rest of the crisis. The whole situation stressed Elizabeth out to no end; she wasn’t around for any of this and worried how Bertie was holding up. She became ill and was stuck in bed for the next two weeks. Bertie was obviously upset, but he kept his feelings to himself and focused entirely on sorting things out with David. Before the Act of Abdication was finalized on the 10th, Bertie and David worked out as financial agreement. This, more than Wallis Simpson even, led to the break in their relationship.
I can’t say exactly what happened considering every book I have gives a different account. Basically, an agreement was made for David to receive an income, which would hopefully come from Parliament. But in the event that Parliament did not grant him an income (back then Parliament was responsible for deciding what the royals got paid) Bertie agreed to take care of it. The whole thing was more arranged by their various advisors than David and Bertie themselves, but apparently David had indicated to Bertie he didn’t have any money. And then it turned out he actually did, and Bertie felt lied to and betrayed, particularly as he realized Parliament wasn’t going to give David a dime. Now, considering evidence is very inconsistent in regards to both how much money David had and how much money he told Bertie he had, it’s hard to tell whether David was being intentionally deceptive or not. Two of my books on David say that he actually didn’t have any money; one even claimed he was actually in debt. But another book claims he had plenty of money and intentionally deceived Bertie because Wallis’s obsession with money had rubbed off on him. The rest seem to think no one at the time knew how much money David had or didn’t have but suggest he insinuated he was worse off than he was. The situation was further complicated by the fact that David had given a large chunk of his money to Wallis. To be specific, it was 300,000 pounds, which after using a British inflation calculator and then putting the figure into dollars was $24,611,911.88 which is really quite a lot of money. He had settled this money on Wallis in March 1936. Just, you know, because. It wasn’t even her birthday. Even Wallis thought this was ridiculous and told him she wasn’t comfortable accepting it. But she never did give it back as far as I can tell until right before they got married. Not to mention all of the jewelry and clothes he bought her. I believe there also may have been a car and house. He also apparently blew a lot of money adding more bathrooms to some of the older palaces and hiring some kind of “mystic” to perform “black magic” to help with his bouts of depression. But except for the money he gave to Wallis we really don’t know how much he spent on anything or how much he started out with. The people who supposedly knew seem to give different figures.
As far as Bertie was concerned, all Bertie knew (or had been told) was that David had much more money than he had led Bertie to believe he had. Bertie felt David had intentionally lied to him. Two courtiers who openly held a personal dislike for David, Alan Lascelles and Alec Hardinge, encouraged Bertie in this belief. Bertie did not want to believe anything particularly bad of David, but given what he believed about Wallis’s obsession with money and what he’d been told Bertie felt he had to assume the worst.
But this was a few months later; at the time of the Abdication Bertie did not believe David was being dishonest about anything. Whatever anger Bertie may have felt he kept to himself. Before he left, David bowed to Bertie and according to Bertie’s diary they “kissed and parted as Freemasons”. Insert your own Freemason related conspiracy theory here. At first, Bertie did not seem to blame the Abdication on David. He was upset and wished David had acted differently, but he felt it all came back to David being under the control of a certain person whose name Bertie and Elizabeth avoided using. David received affectionate letters from most of the family. Here’s part of Elizabeth’s: “I wanted so much to see you before you go, and say “God Bless You” from my heart. We are all overcome with misery, and can only pray that you will find happiness in your new life. I often think of the old days and how you helped Bertie and me in the first years of our marriage. I shall always mention you in my prayers.”
To a friend, Elizabeth confided she had a lot of sympathy for David because she felt Wallis was going to break his heart very soon and he would too late realize his mistake. But once Bertie and Elizabeth came to believe David had lied to them, that sympathy started to go away. But it wasn’t just the financial issue that led to the conflict. There were many other factors. One had to do with the intense dislike between Elizabeth and Wallis. Elizabeth began to express her feelings about Wallis more openly once Bertie was King. For her part, Wallis tried to convince David in her letters that Elizabeth was involved in some kind of conspiracy against them. Wallis believed Bertie was controlled by Elizabeth. Another factor was David’s fans. David had been very popular, and a most of the British public had wanted him to remain King (even though many did not want Wallis around). Of those, a vocal minority disliked Bertie because they felt he failed to measure up. Some even felt he had stolen the throne. Many letters arrived at Buckingham Palace. Most were supportive, but quite a few wrote saying that David would always be King in their eyes. One newspaper referred to Bertie as “weak and unintelligent” while praising David for his charm. Former Prime Minister David Lloyd George joked that he wanted to “cause a stink” at the Coronation because he felt the wrong man was being crowned. Many of David’s supporters went the opposite way. Bertie found himself surrounded by new “friends” all of whom had never taken any interest in him in the past. Some of them had been very close to Wallis and then lied to Bertie and Elizabeth claiming they never liked her. With the exception of people like Walter Monckton who had been friendly with Bertie all along, most of David’s friends were kicked out of the royal circle. Bertie and Elizabeth knew they were fair-weather friends who probably never liked either brother all that much. A poem was written about these people by Osbert Sitwell called “Rat Week”. Even though David had nothing to do with any of this, Bertie’s anger with both factions of David’s friends may have colored his impression of his brother.
For the first few months after the Abdication, Bertie and David talked on the phone nearly every day. David would give Bertie advice (none of which was helpful) and Bertie would tell David what was going on with the family. Whatever tension on Bertie’s side, David seemed to still like him at this point, writing to a friend of Bertie: “I know that he and I could not be on better terms as brothers and that he is watching out for my interests in England in every way he can.”
At some point in February, overwhelmed by royal duties and having been told by his advisors he needed to distance himself from David, Bertie told David the phone calls were going to have to stop. Bertie was reluctant to do this because he didn’t want to hurt David’s feelings. David was stuck in Austria without Wallis staying with her friends the Rothschilds. He had been told he couldn’t see Wallis until her divorce was final because the scandal might lead to her divorce not being granted. Needless to say, he was bored and lonely. Bertie, on the other hand, had tons of stuff to do. “I do hope David’s nerves will stand the strain of waiting so long,” Bertie told a friend. But finally, increasingly angry about the financial situation and David’s crazy fans, Bertie told him to stop calling. As Bertie had predicted, David’s feelings were hurt. This pushed him more into believing Wallis’s crazy theories about Bertie being against them. Not only that, but Wallis and David developed a bit of an “us against the world” complex. The major turn relationship between David and Bertie happened by late February 1937, at which point their letters to each other became very cold and unaffectionate. In the past they had been very warm to each other. Bertie also tried to renegotiate the financial agreement that Bertie had felt deceived about. David agreed, but his supporters continued to harass Bertie about being “fair” to him the entire time. David also reminded Bertie that Balmoral and Sandringham had been in his name and that if he was not settled with properly he might not give them to Bertie. This was not a serious threat (if it had been David would have tried to carry it out as he didn’t get what he wanted) but it offended Bertie. Some of the courtiers now working for Bertie insisted he include in any agreement that payments would stop if David came back to live in Britain without permission. That part of the agreement upset David, who still believed he would someday be allowed to come home. Bertie still thought that too, and may have told David he would be allowed home in two years. By the time two years came along Bertie no longer wanted to ever come back.
The final issues that drove a wedge between them were David’s wedding and what title Wallis would get. David wanted his family at the wedding. On the advice of his wife and mother, Bertie decided no member of the family would be allowed to attend. Bertie had allowed their sister Mary and brother Georgie to visit David in Austria, but he felt that allowing them at the wedding would imply the family had accepted the marriage. When it came to Wallis’s title, Bertie declared she would not receive the HRH that women marrying into the royal family usually receive. Because no morganatic marriage existed in Britain and women usually were entitled to use their husband’s title, many felt Bertie didn’t have the right to do that. But from Bertie’s perspective it wasn’t just that he disliked Wallis; Bertie felt David and Wallis’s marriage would only last a few years and he didn’t want to run into the issue of having to take it away from her down the line and not being able to. Bertie and Elizabeth feared Wallis would divorce David and continue to use her HRH in her future endeavors. Later, when that issued did actually come up with Sarah Ferguson the royal family took it away as part of the divorce, but in 1937 Bertie wasn’t sure the royal family could do that. Not granting Wallis the HRH would be what David felt was the greatest injustice taken against his wife. From that point on, he would bother his mother and brother about it almost every time he spoke with them. For the rest of their lives, there would be tension and distrust between David and Bertie and they would never get back any of the closeness they had once shared.
Part seven: The rest of the family
King George V and Mary of Teck had six children:
Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, known as David: 1894-1972
Albert Frederick Arthur George, known as Bertie: 1895-1952
Now, they were included in the movie and I’ve gone over them. But the four others are not very well known…
Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary, known as Mary: 1897-1965
Other than David, Mary was the sibling Bertie had the closest relationship with. As children, David, Bertie, and Mary would usually play together. Growing up in a family of boys, Mary was a bit of a tomboy, and was considered more daring than her brothers. She loved horses, like most Windsor women. There was probably some awkwardness when George and May had a painting done of the family in 1911 that included David and Mary, but not Bertie. In the 1910’s and 1920’s Mary was better known to the public than Bertie. This was mainly because of her being the only girl in the family as well as her passion for elegant dresses. There were a lot of postcards printed of her dressed in evening gowns. But nowadays, Mary is fairly obscure. There have been no books printed about her since the 1920’s, and it’s really hard to get good information on her. Mary married the Earl of Harewood in 1922, and they had two sons, one of whom is the current Earl of Harewood. That whole branch of the family is on the outs with the Windsors now because Mary’s sons both were fond of unsuitable women and getting divorced. Mary was very close to her mother, and was probably the favorite of both parents. There was some minor drama over her continued loyalty to David after he and Bertie had drifted apart. She refused to attend Lilibet’s wedding in 1947 because David had not been invited.
Henry William Frederick Albert, known as Harry: 1900-1974
Harry is probably the most obscure of George and May’s children. He did not serve in the Navy, unlike his brothers, and his father felt he was “delicate” and he was educated separately from the other boys. Comments from other people in the family seem to suggest he wasn’t very bright. Despite a rumored affair with pilot Beryl Markham, he kept pretty much to himself. Not a lot of society types recalled very partying with him. The only quote I’ve ever found on him involved him praising Hitler, and I’m hoping that one isn’t real. In 1935 he married Alice Montagu-Scott, a Scottish noblewoman. They had two sons, one of whom inherited Harry’s title of Duke of Gloucester. He was appointed Governor-General of Australia during World War II.
George Edward Alexander Edmund, known as Georgie, not that he particularly liked that nickname: 1902-1942
Georgie was the wildest and most fun of the brothers. As a child, he was given much more freedom than his older brothers. He was the most intelligent and artistic person in the family. He was close to his mother, as she was more cultured than the rest of her sons. Georgie hated the military life and actually got permission to leave the Navy in the 1920’s. As a child, he was closest to his younger brother Johnnie, but as an adult he became very close to David. They lived together for several years and both frequented the nightclub circuit. Georgie was bisexual, and very slutty. He was not considered safe to have in the back of a cab with people of either sex. He also had problem with cocaine and morphine, among other things. Georgie may have been bipolar as well, and he seemed to have had bouts of depression similar to David’s. In 1934 George finally took a beard wife in Princess Marina of Greece. Georgie was considered really charming, and there was a crazy idea that went around during the Abdication Crisis that Georgie should succeed to the throne over Bertie or Harry. Despite what the Daily Fail would have you believe (they love this story and will mention it in any article involving the early Windsors), this idea was not taken particularly seriously as everyone in the know knew Georgie was far more of a wild card than Bertie. Georgie had three children with his wife (and probably more with women who weren’t his wife) and he died in a plane crash during World War II.
John Charles Francis, known as Johnnie: 1905-1919
Until recently, Johnnie had been the most obscure member of the family. Johnnie had epilepsy and likely autism as well. He was known for making amusing remarks about anything and everything. He once called a Member of Parliament visiting the royal household a “funny looking old man” to his face. Because of his illness, Johnnie was kept out of the public eye. He was sent to live on a farm away from the rest of the family during World War I. He was closest to his brother Georgie and grandmother Alexandra, and they both visited him quite a bit. The public knew he existed, they just didn’t see very much of him. In the movie, when Lionel asks Bertie about Johnnie, he was probably reflecting the curiosity that many in Britain felt upon remembering Johnnie at all. My grandmother, who grew up in Britain in the 1930’s once told me of her shock when she found a book on the royal family that mentioned that George and May had had a sixth child at all. She immediately wondered what had happened to him, but found next to nothing except that it was probably some kind of childhood illness. Children died a lot more in the early 20th century than they do now, so Johnnie’s death would not have been seen as mysterious or worthy of any kind of questioning. Most of the public had probably forgotten Johnnie had even existed in the years after his death. His funeral was small and very private, and there were no lasting memorials. His parents and siblings rarely mentioned him. Bertie would not have known Johnnie very well. He was sent away to school when Johnnie was just a baby, and he would have been busy with school and military duties during most of Johnnie’s life.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, known as Lilibet: born 1926
She’s the Queen. Bertie really adored her, and spoiled her a bit. She got a car for her tenth birthday. Bertie was a good parent, not only for a royal, but in general. He spent a lot of time with his children. He once said Elizabeth was his pride, but Margaret was his joy.
Margaret Rose, known as Margaret Rose and then just Margaret: 1930-2002
Margaret was a little trouble maker, and a complete Daddy’s girl. Bertie tried to give her extra attention so she wouldn’t feel like the “spare” or be jealous of her sister. She was much closer to her father than her mother, and she would often sit on Bertie’s lap while he did paperwork. She was completely devastated by his death, which she felt ruined her life.
Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas George Mountbatten, known as Dickie: 1900-1979
Dickie was Bertie’s second cousin, and Prince Philip’s uncle. Until 1936, Dickie was David’s best friend, at least according to Dickie himself. But strangely, once Bertie was on the throne instead of David, Dickie changed his mind and decided he now wanted to be Bertie’s best friend. Isn’t it funny how that worked out? Dickie was like something out of Tudor England. Despite being at best a minor royal, Dickie took every opportunity he could find to insert himself into history. Elizabeth greatly distrusted Dickie, sensing he was a fair-weather friend who put his own best interests first. Bertie was less doubtful simply because Dickie was one of the few people who immediately tried to help Bertie adjust to being King. In his later years, Bertie caught on more to Dickie’s ambitions after Dickie set up Lilibet with Prince Philip and tried to declare that the royal family would become the House of Mountbatten once Lilibet became Queen. I could spend all day writing about Dickie’s various antics (he was once involved in a plot to overthrow the British government, he slept with anything that moved, he funded the case against Romanov pretender Anna Anderson, he was the one who turned Prince Charles into the self-serving weirdo we all know and love…) but that would take up far too much space. Suffice to say Dickie was fairly important in the Windsor family story and Bertie’s life.
Part eight: Royals and communication/other stuff
This is the last of my The King’s Speech posts. Sorry I’ve taken so long with all this; I am still looking for a new laptop that does what I want. I thought I’d go over assorted other things I remember from the movie that were not totally accurate and elaborate on some assorted things…
-Bertie’s stutter in real life was worse when he was under stress. Naturally, public speaking was very stressful for him. When he was relaxed with his family his stutter was barely noticeable. Even in his surviving speeches it wasn’t as bad as depicted in the movie. But it was probably at it’s very worst when he was confronted with immediate stress, like dealing with his father. George would often yell at his kids in a room full of guns. Not fun. Even David on rare occasions stuttered when he was highly uncomfortable.
-Bertie’s stutter is believed to date back to age six or seven when he was forced to go back to his parents after spending several months with his grandparents while his parents were away. His grandparents actually treated him decently, so you can imagine how upsetting that was for him.
-Bertie would have probably understood German. He was educated in it as a child for years, and would have probably used it with relatives who spoke German before World War I. By the mid-1930’s he probably would have been a bit rusty, but usually even when you can no longer remember how to speak well in a language you can understand it. Then again, it’s possible that in the movie Bertie did understand what Hitler was saying, but just didn’t feel like explaining to his kids. Or maybe Hitler was such an angry asshole even people who understood some German wouldn’t understand him.
-Lionel would have called Bertie Your Royal Highness/Your Majesty. This is backed up by their letters to each other and Lionel’s diaries. If Lionel had, upon meeting him, insisted on calling him Bertie, Bertie would have probably accused him of being a communist and gotten the hell out of there. Some people have questioned the accuracy of Elizabeth calling upon Lionel alone like that, which of course is probably not what happened in real life. It would not have been the “done thing” for Elizabeth to go by herself to meet someone in a strange commercial building, but Elizabeth could be quite pushy when she wanted to be. I think if she pressed the issue, her handlers wouldn’t have had much of a choice. Not to mention her driver presumably would have been waiting for her near by. Of course, I doubt it happened like that in real life. Bertie actually met Lionel after he was recommended by a friend in the theatre world, likely Bertie’s ex-girlfriend Phyllis Monkman.
-There was some unpleasantness glossed over in the film. Usually I don’t highlight unpleasantness when it’s not necessary, but considering the film went out of its way to misrepresent and exaggerate unpleasantness whenever it involved David and Wallis (who were not Nazis, by the way), I feel the need to mention this. Bertie was strongly pro-appeasement. To the point of breaking protocol to promote these beliefs. And Bertie was a stickler for protocol. Members of the royal family are not supposed to give the public any indication of their political beliefs. That’s why the only thing we know of the Queen’s politics is that she hates Margaret Thatcher. Of course, supporting appeasement was common at the time, but the movie portrayed him as being in line with Churchill and understanding the threat Hitler posed from early on. Bertie didn’t even trust Churchill until well into the war. He didn’t want him to be Prime Minister. And then there’s this…
“Some documents from the period have already entered the public domain, giving an indication of the royal couple’s views. In the spring of 1939 George VI instructed his private secretary to write to Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. Having learnt that ‘a number of Jewish refugees from different countries were surreptitiously getting into Palestine’, the King was ‘glad to think that steps are being taken to prevent these people leaving their country of origin.’ Halifax’s office telegraphed Britain’s ambassador in Berlin asking him to encourage the German government ‘to check the unauthorised emigration’ of Jews.”
To be fair, you know what they say about hindsight being 20/20.
-There wasn’t enough smoking. Bertie was only smoking in like half the scenes. Major historical inaccuracy right there. Bertie swore by cigarettes. Literally. Despite what he said in the movie, he did swear quite often and not as an exercise to help him speak. Cigarettes “calmed his nerves” and anyone who dared tell him any different would not have been taken seriously. Even after he died of lung cancer, his family wouldn’t admit it was the smoking that killed him. Because if they did that would bring up all kinds of unpleasant issues for his relatives who still smoked. I bet good money if you asked Bertie’s great-grandson, the notorious smoker Prince Harry, he would tell you that: “Smoking didn’t kill my great-grandfather, Wallis Simpson did. So fuck off and let me enjoy my fag.”